ERIC Identifier: ED459990
Publication Date: 2002-01-00
Author: Jacobs, Don Trent - Reyhner, Jon
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Preparing Teachers To Support American Indian and Alaska Native
Student Success and Cultural Heritage. ERIC Digest.
This Digest briefly summarizes literature related to preparing educators to
bring about American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) student success and
discusses what "success" in life means for Indian students of all ages and their
extended families. We draw our information from both Native and non-Native
sources, with the idea that educators need to prepare AI/AN students to live in
and give back to both local and global communities.
Nearly 30 years after Fuchs and Havighurst concluded that schools "should
follow the Indian voice" (1973, p. 306), Deloria and Wildcat echo the idea that
Indian education must become a process "that moves within the Indian context and
does not try to avoid or escape this context" (2001, p. 85). This is the
expressed, yet unmet, goal of the federal government's policy of Indian
self-determination, one that shapes the content of this Digest, which is in two
parts. The first part points to the goals of Indian education, and the second
part focuses on how to reach them.
High expectations. Too often
student success is defined in terms of test scores. While not discounting
academic achievement, traditional expectations for AI/AN learning involve the
whole child. Although the Indian voice differs some from one community to the
next, Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockern, in "Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our
Hope for the Future" (1990), describe a model for expectancy patterned after
accumulated American Indian wisdom that, although intended for "at-risk"
learners, seems especially applicable to AI/AN children. They challenge
traditional Western expectations relating to learning theories, discipline,
youth empowerment, and school structure. Like Jacobs and Jacobs-Spencer's
"Teaching Virtues" (2000), it brings virtues such as courage and generosity back
into the education equation, not as behavioral tools, but as a way to give
meaning to academic mastery and enhance social responsibility. These two books
offer an American Indian and Alaska Native perspective that supports a
"democratic consequences" model of classroom management as described by McEwan
Values and reciprocal contributions. Many publications address the fact that
spirituality and reciprocity (giving back to others) are vital to Indian
learning, and more and more educators believe, in the words of Slattery (1995,
p. 79), that "curriculum must include the wisdom embedded in Native American
spirituality." New books such as "Ecology, Spirituality, and Education:
Curriculum for Relational Knowing" (Riley-Taylor, in press) are evidence that
Slattery's call is being heard. American Indian voices speaking on AI/AN
spirituality are found in Deloria and Wildcat's "Power and Place: Indian
Education in America" (2001). In examining the issues facing Native students,
they write how teachers must be prepared so Western (European American)
paradigms can coexist with Native worldviews about life's complex
interconnections among peoples and with nature. They focus especially on the
need to relate to one's local community and geography, an approach to learning
referred to as "place-based education," a relatively new term for how American
Indians traditionally viewed teaching and learning.
Since most teachers of AI/AN students are non-Indian (Pavel, 1999), it would
be helpful if teacher candidates planning to teach AI/AN students learned at
least some of the spiritual traditions of the local population. Teachers can
support parent and community teachings, realizing that "book knowledge," while
having its place, should not thoughtlessly supplant the "collective wisdom"
learned through the ages and passed on to each new generation by elders.
Teachers cannot be expected to carry the major responsibility for facilitating
the development of Native identity, but they can honor the important
contributions of families and elders. To the degree that spirituality represents
the sense that all things are related, educators must also work carefully to
address racism issues in the classroom, a subject addressed well by Cleary and
Family support and role models to provide student motivation. It is critical
that teachers of AI/AN children work with students' extended families to enlist
their support for literacy and academic achievement; reinforce their efforts to
pass on their culture; and help their children develop a strong, resilient, and
caring identity. American Indian and Alaska Native families, reacting to
assimilationist pressures in schools, can hurt their children by creating in
them ambivalent attitudes toward schooling (Peshkin, 1997) or even antischool
"oppositional" identities (Ogbu, 1995). Teachers should realize that however
culturally sensitive they might be, students can react to them as members of a
group that often has proven to be insensitive. While educators must work on
changing schools to be more welcoming of AI/AN students' languages and cultures,
they also need to work with American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Through community partnerships AI/AN students can, as a group, succeed
academically and overcome obstacles that may be placed in their way. Prospective
teachers also can learn how to utilize organizations such as the American Indian
Science and Engineering Society, which can provide support programs and AI/AN
role models who prove educational success can be achieved without cultural loss.
EFFECTIVE PEDAGOGY AND CURRICULUM
Languages, cultures, and
bicultural adaptation. Currently, many AI/AN groups are becoming more aware
that, if they do not do something immediately to stem the loss of their
languages and cultures, they will be lost forever. Non-Indian teachers will not
be able to do much about language loss but can contribute much by learning a few
key phrases and otherwise giving respect to the importance of culture and
language. Schools, such as Rock Point Community School in the Navajo Nation,
that nurture bilingual and bicultural perspectives have shown improvements in
learning environments and academic success (McLaughlin, 1992). Also by learning
how to provide place- and community-based curriculum and instruction, teachers
can provide students with a relevant, practical, and motivating education where,
in the words of Corson (1998), Indigenous learners can actively participate in
shaping their own education.
Pedagogy and curriculum. Cleary and Peacock (1998) found that teaching styles
common in American schools often fail to meet the needs of AI/AN students. Many
studies have found that classrooms across the United States are characterized by
teacher-centered direct instruction where students are expected to sit quietly
and listen to their teacher or do seat work, except when called upon by their
teacher to answer questions (Lipka & Mohatt, 1998). While highly motivated
students can do relatively well in such classrooms, students who may question
why they are even sitting in a classroom can rebel.
Generally, books on Indian education (e.g., Reyhner, 1992) call for teacher
preparation that leads to a constructivist and experiential approach that is
both community- and environment-centered. This allows students a more active
role in their own education. In "Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous
Education" (1994), Gregory Cajete concludes that "a primary orientation of
Indigenous education is that each person is their own teacher and learning is
connected to each individual's life process." However, this does not mean that
teachers do not also need strong preparation in the subject matter they plan to
teach (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001).
Native teacher education programs. The vision statement for Oglala Lakota
College's teacher preparation program reads,
graduate highly qualified, professional, motivated, committed teachers who
possess and who will teach Wolakota in a multicultural, changing world.
(Wolakota refers to the whole person in balance and in harmony spiritually,
physically, mentally and socially.)(1)
the University of Alaska's Cross-Cultural Education Development (X-CED) Program,
founded a quarter century ago, is a field-based teacher training program that
believes "traditional cultures face a series of modern choices" and Yup'ik
teachers act as cultural brokers "negotiating a curriculum with the help of both
village elders and outside facilitators such as the professors in the X-CED
program" (Lipka & Mohatt, 1998, pp.26-27). Both of these programs also
provide critical follow-up support to their graduates once they start teaching.
Discussing the views of one of the many teachers
they interviewed, Cleary and Peacock sum up their research:
key to producing successful American Indian students in our modern educational
system ...is to first ground these students in their American Indian belief and
value systems. (1998, p. 101)
Lee, and Gabbard (1993) describe research-based content for specialized American
Indian and Alaska Native teacher training programs that includes
anthropological, sociological, and historical foundations of American Indian and
Alaska Native education
culturally responsive, bilingual, and ESL instructional methodologies
guidance on how to "Nativize" curriculum to reflect the American Indian and
Alaska Native experience
learning through internships in American Indian and Alaska Native communities
that content is a start, the goal of teacher education is to produce teachers
who do not disempower AI/AN students and who prepare them to move comfortably
among different cultures while valuing the unique cultural assumptions of their
home, community, and heritage.
Brendtro, L. K., Brokenleg, M., & Van
Bockern, S. (1990). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future.
Bloomington, IN: National Education Service.
Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the mountain: An ecology of Indigenous education.
(1st ed.). Durango, CO: Kivaki.
Cleary, L. M., & Peacock, T. D. (1998). Collected wisdom: American Indian
education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Corson, D. (1998). Community-based education for Indigenous cultures.
Language, Culture, and Curriculum, 11(3), 238-249.
Deloria, V., Jr., & Wildcat, D. R. (2001). Power and place: Indian
education in America. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.
Fuchs, E., & Havighurst, R. J. (1973). To live on this earth: American
Indian education. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Jacobs, D., & Jacobs-Spencer, J. (2001). Teaching virtues: Building
character across the curriculum. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.
Lipka, J., & Mohatt, G. V. (1998). Transforming the culture of schools:
Yup'ik Eskimo examples. Sociocultural, political, and historical studies in
education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. (ED 431 565)
McEwan, B. (2000). The art of classroom management: Effective practices for
building equitable learning communities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
McLaughlin, D. (1992). When literacy empowers: Navajo language in print.
Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico.
Ogbu, J. U. (1995). Understanding cultural diversity and learning. In J. A.
Banks & C. A. M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural
education (pp. 582-593). New York: Macmillan.
Pavel, D. M. (1999). Schools, principals, and teachers serving American
Indian and Alaska Native students (ERIC Digest). Charleston, WV: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ED 425 895)
Peshkin, A. (1997). Places of memory: Whiteman's schools and Native American
communities. Sociocultural, political, and historical studies in education.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. (ED 431 565)
Reyhner, J. (Ed.). (1992). Teaching American Indian students. Norman, OK:
University of Oklahoma.
Reyhner, J., Lee, H., & Gabbard, D. (1993). A specialized knowledge base
for teaching American Indian and Alaska Native students. Tribal College, 4(4),
26-32. Retrieved January 25, 2002, from
Slattery, P. (1995). Curriculum development in the post-modern era. New York: