Academic journal article Rural Educator

Reflections of Native American Teacher Education on Bear Ridge

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Reflections of Native American Teacher Education on Bear Ridge

Article excerpt

This study examines an elementary teacher education certification program delivered by a state university to Native American teacher aides on the reservation. Data were collected over two semesters using a Freirean critical theory framework to analyze the data and to explicate the problematic nature of Native American education. Analysis of the data indicated that the program reproduced Euro-American cultural values, was insensitive to Native American history or values, and did little to support individual teachers. Suggestions include the need for the program to acknowledge and address the historical cultural genocide that occurred in the education of Native Americans and the cultural and political hegemony of the teacher education program. More focus needed to be placed on supporting individual participants and their academic and cultural struggles in becoming teachers.

Recruitment and retention of Native American teachers and administrators to serve as role models for Native American children is an important issue relevant to the failure of schools to adequately educate and prepare Native American children for higher education opportunities, future employment, and the skills and abilities necessary for selfdetermination and autonomy. The statistics speak for themselves as Native Americans remain among the least educated of all ethnic groups in the United States. They suffer a school dropout rate of just over 25 % (St. Germaine, 1995) and next to Latinos are less likely of all other ethnic and racial groups to graduate from college or high school (Pavel, 1999). Native Americans are also the least likely ethnic group to enroll in public four-year colleges and universities as only 6% earn bachelors degrees compared to nearly 23 % for Euro-Americans (Wright, 1992). The cycle of poverty and subsequent poor education is selfperpetuating as a defective education system and concomitant social expatriation leads to dismal educational outcomes and subsequent effects on health, life expectancy, employment, and income (Grant & Gillespie, 1993).

Cited among the reasons for these dismal statistics is the lack of access to educational opportunities which are compounded by cultural gaps between the mainstream EuroAmerican education system and Native American culture (Pavel, 1999). More specifically, educational failure has been linked to an ignorance of native culture by EuroAmerican school staff, low motivation compounded by racial prejudice, student isolation, low expectations of teachers, and a lack of consideration of students' home and community problems (Butterfield, 1994; Reyhner, 1989; St. Germaine, 1995). Essentially, Native American children are unable to identify with or adapt to the culture of schools that reflect the norms of middle-class European-Americans. Content taught to Native American children and assessment strategies are often irrelevant to their culture and daily lives. In addition, learning styles of Native American students conflict with Euro-centric teaching styles (Nieto, 1996; Reyhner, 1989; Swisher & Deyle 1987). Grant and Gillespie (1993) noted that important to the educational success of Native American children is a curriculum that reflects their experiences, the training of Native Americans who understand the needs of their own culture and can act as role models for students, and the training of European-American teachers to be more sensitive to Native American culture.

The need to recruit Native American educators has led to the development of tribal colleges (Butterfield, 1994; Pavel & Colby, 1992) and the development of collaborative teacher education programs (Hyle, 1992). The Title II Teacher Quality Partnership developed by the Western University College of Education on the Bear Ridge Reservation1 is one such program that recruits, trains, and certifies Native American teacher aides already working in reservation classrooms. The college offers a sequence of methods and foundation courses needed for teacher certification in elementary education on the reservation. …

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