ERIC Identifier: ED459989
Publication Date: 2002-01-00
Author: Lipka, Jerry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Schooling for Self-Determination: Research on the Effects of
Including Native Language and Culture in the Schools. ERIC Digest.
This Digest briefly reviews the educational effects of assimilationist
schooling and later efforts to create schools supportive of American Indian and
Alaska Native (AI/AN) self-determination. It then describes examples of tribal-
or community-controlled programs that use students' Native language as the
language of instruction and incorporate traditional culture into the curriculum.
Any such review of the literature must begin with a reminder: Indigenous
communities vary in their cultural, linguistic, and geographic circumstances as
well as in their education goals. Therefore, it is not possible to prescribe
specific programs across such a diverse array of situations.
SOME IMPACTS OF ASSIMILATIONIST SCHOOLING
federal education policy beginning in the 1870s and continuing for a century
emphasized assimilation as the goal of AI/AN education. Lewis Meriam's 1928
report to the Secretary of Interior indicated that AI/AN schools were
understaffed, had irrelevant curricula, and employed under qualified teachers.
Many observers since that time have described effects of assimilationist
policies, which separated AI/AN students from their communities and forced them
to attend boarding schools, ultimately weakening AI/AN languages and cultures
(recent accounts include Deyhle & Swisher, 1997; Lipka & Mohatt, 1998;
Lomawaima, 1999; Skinner,1999; and Swisher & Tippeconnic, 1999). In fact,
more than 40 books have been written to document the impacts of the Indian
boarding school era.
The exclusion of AI/AN languages and cultures in Western schooling drove many
AI/AN students toward a marginalized identity (LaFromboise, Coleman, &
Gerton, 1993). In these cases the very act of learning required a student to
deny his or her personal, cultural, and linguistic heritage (Garrett,1996). Some
students, faced with pressure to deny their heritage and embrace the values and
goals of Western schooling, chose instead to resist. Ogbu's (1987) work across
cultures reported resistance to schooling among AI/AN and other marginalized
ethnic minorities, which in turn led to poor educational achievement and low
While the costs of assimilationist schooling were high, resulting in the
weakening of Native cultures and languages, marginalizing Native identities,
alienating students from the goals of schooling, and producing high rates of
school leaving, the benefits to students who persisted were often low. Leaving
local knowledge and language at the schoolhouse door was resulting in
"subtractive bilingualism"; that is, many students were failing to attain
academic competence in English while at the same time losing knowledge of their
Indigenous languages and cultures (Deyhle & Swisher, 1997).
FINDING A NEW WAY--SCHOOLING FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
decades following World War II, AI/AN leaders fought for legislation to protect
their rights to self-determination (Reyhner, 1989). With the successful passage
of the "Indian Education Act of 1972" (P.L. 92-318 as amended) and the "Indian
Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act" of 1975 (P.L. 93-638), a new
era began in Indian education. The past three decades have seen a variety of
efforts to restore and revitalize Native languages and cultures through the
schools (Demmert, 2001). Through such efforts, a growing number of Indigenous
students have the opportunity to use Indigenous knowledge and language to meet
"both" local "and" Western education goals (Deyhle & Swisher, 1997; Swisher
& Tippeconnic, 1999; Yazzie, 1999). This "both/and" paradigm (Lipka & McCarty, 1994) supports an educational approach that values both Native and
Western knowledge, as illustrated in the following examples.
ACADEMIC AND EVERYDAY KNOWLEDGE
Concurrent with this
movement to connect Native and Western culture has been a reevaluation of what
is considered appropriate academic knowledge. In conducting research of tacit
knowledge of children in rural Western Kenya, for example, Sternberg and
colleagues (2001) concluded that the knowledge learned in everyday life may be
distinct from that which leads to success in school. Similar research conducted
in Alaska with Yup'ik Eskimo students (Grigorenko et al., 2001) found that rural
Yup'ik students outperformed students from an Alaskan regional center on a test
of practical knowledge. Yup'ik elders, researchers, and teachers have
demonstrated how to connect practical and cultural knowledge to a school's math
curriculum (Lipka, Wildfeuer, Wahlberg, George, & Ezran, 2001). For example,
the elders used the everyday practice of building a fish rack, a rectangular
structure used to dry salmon, and connected this to the mathematical topics of
perimeter, area, and physical proofs (Lipka & Mohatt, 1998). The connection
of local knowledge to schooling is not an easy process, however. The challenge
is to adapt local culture and knowledge to Western schooling without
trivializing and stereotyping.
Today, many AI/AN communities are
employing a both/and approach in their school systems. The sample of programs
described below have met at least two of three criteria derived from research
syntheses by Deyhle & Swisher (1997), Swisher & Tippeconnic (1999), and
Yazzie (1999): (1) the program must involve community/tribally controlled
schools, (2) the program must use the Indigenous culture and language, (3)
academic achievement must show a significant and measurable gain.
Rock Point, Arizona. Schools in Rock Point teach all classes in the local
language--Navajo. Deyhle and Swisher (1997) report on ethnographic research
conducted by McLaughlin:
administrators, teachers, and community members designed K-12 instruction in
Navajo to reinforce the cultural and linguistic resources of the students who,
at that point, had the lowest test scores in the Navajo Nation.... These Navajo
students now consistently score higher than other comparable reservation
children on tests of reading, language, and math in English. (p. 171)
and Holm (1995), also studying Rock Point Community School, report "students
have considerably more confidence and pride [than comparable students at nearby
schools]" (pp. 147-148).
Fort Defiance, Arizona. Schools in Fort Defiance also offer the option of
being taught with Navajo as the language of instruction. Before the program was
instituted, only one tenth of Navajo five-year-olds were competent in Navajo;
additionally, many monolingual English students were not academically competent
in English. After the school established a voluntary Navajo Immersion (NI)
program, "NI students did considerably better on tests of Navajo language
ability [than those in the English-only program]" (Holm & Holm, 1995, p.
150). Meanwhile, NI students tested as well in English proficiency as the
English-only students, while the majority of the fourth-grade English-only
students tested lower in Navajo than they had in kindergarten. In sum, the
Navajo immersion students were gaining control of their own language at no loss
to their knowledge of English while the English-only students were barely
maintaining competence in English with great loss to their Native tongue.
Further, the NI students greatly outscored the English-only students in math.
Honolulu, Hawaii. Brenner (1998) reports on an experimentally designed study
based in Hawaii, the Kamehameha Early Education Project. Using ethnographic
methodology, she and other educators studied how Native Hawaiian children
developed mathematical knowledge in everyday life (e.g., shopping and
interacting with their families), then used this information as a foundation for
an experimental math curriculum. Brenner also supported the use of pidgin in the
classroom. Brenner found that "the children in the experimental class scored
much higher on the standardized math test. The control class averaged at the
54th percentile, while the experimental class averaged at the 82nd percentile"
(p. 233). Brenner's research design was able to isolate the change in
instructional strategy as the variable most strongly associated with the
Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Canada. Some results of a long-term research and
development project of the Kativik School Board, an Inuit-controlled school
district in the Canadian Arctic, found that Inuit students involved in an
Inuktitut language program did better on tests of Inuktitut than those enrolled
in the English classes or French classes (Wright, Taylor, Ruggeiro, MacArthur,
& Elijassiapik, 1996). They also showed steady improvement in English. While
students in all three language programs tested at the same level for
conversational Inuktitut, the students in the Inuktitut program did considerably
better than the others on the more difficult academic language proficiency
this indicates is that Inuit children in the Inuktitut program are developing a
level of language skill that will allow them to use the Inuktitut language to
solve complex mental problems. . . . [Further,] Inuit children in all three
programs began kindergarten with positive self-esteem (most children see
themselves as smart, nice, happy, etc.).... However, ...students in the
Inuktitut program showed an increase in self-esteem. (pp. 12, 15)
research efforts of the Kativik School Board show how long-term systematic
research can help locally controlled schools make decisions and develop programs
that result in positive, community-defined student outcomes.
The last few decades have shown a steady
increase in the number of efforts by tribal- or community-controlled schools to
use their language and culture as an integral part of the fabric of schooling.
These efforts need to be systematically studied. As Tippeconnic stressed, "research must not only determine how well students are doing academically but
also explore how Native languages, cultures, and ways of knowing influence the
teaching-learning process in local and tribally controlled educational settings"
(1999, pp. 46-47). And as Yazzie explained, "We can assume there is a direct
relationship among culture, curriculum, and learning in American Indian
schooling experience. But to what degree? We do not know" (1999, p. 97).
At this juncture, evidence exists to support pursuing the inclusion of Native
language and culture in educational programs serving AI/AN students as a
strategy for improving academic and other educational outcomes. However, much
more needs to be known. Further, research must be context specific, taking into
consideration the circumstances of the local community and--as illustrated in
the Kativik School Board example--it must focus on the education goals set by
particular AI/AN communities.
Brenner, M. (1998). Adding cognition to the
formula for culturally relevant instruction in mathematics. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 29(2), 214-244.
Demmert, W. G., Jr. (2001). Improving academic performance among Native
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Garrett, M. (1996). Two people: An American Indian narrative of bicultural
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Grigorenko, E. L., Meier, E., Lipka, J., Mohatt, G., Yanez, E., &
Sternberg, R. J. (2001). The relationship between academic and practical
intelligence: A case study of the tacit knowledge of Native American Yup'ik
people in Alaska. Unpublished manuscript.
Holm, A., & Holm, W. (1995). Navajo language education: Retrospect and
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