Political and administrative structures of Education

A key issue in education around the world is who determines what form it will take.  Is education the responsibility of the people being educated, or should it be the responsibility of someone else?  In the case of Alaska Natives, Native Americans and other indigenous peoples around the world, they are increasingly adamant that it is their fundamental right to determine the educational future of their children.  Based on examples from the five readings and any other information/experience you can bring to bear, write four one-page papers in which you examine the cultural and educational implications of indigenous people assuming responsibility for each of the following areas, including what you think might be different from current educational practice.

1. Political and administrative structures of education

2. Professional roles associated with education

3. Curriculum content in the schools

4. Their own cultural and intellectual property

Political and administrative structures of Education

Many of the quotes taken from the AEPS article, “The Participation of Indigenous Peoples” in section 2.3, highlight why it is important that indigenous people assume responsibility for their community’s education, ranging from administrative to curriculum development. Too often outsiders have come into an indigenous community, asked a few questions, listened only to the answers that best fit in their research, left the village and put into practice the outcomes of the research that was biased and didn’t take into account any true understanding of the culture or ways of being or forethought to the effects the outcome would have. (AEPS, pp. 6-7)

“They never told us what they were doing and we never asked why they were there.”

“They take advantage of us just like we were children and use our knowledge to become big shots in the south.”

“We just gave them anything they asked for even if it did not make us very happy.”

“Even if they were friendly we were still a bit afraid of them.”

Interacting with western political organizations poses a change in how Indigenous groups traditionally made decisions.  As pointed out in the AEPS article, speaking aloud in front of a group, making demands, asking questions, trust of western traditions, are all relatively new process for indigenous people. Groups wanting to involved indigenous people will also need to make some adjustments. Applying guidelines such as those from ANKN, Guidelines for Culturally-Responsive School Boards would be a good start. For example, including Elders as advisors to include traditional values and ways of knowing into decision making.

Having indigenous people responsible for making decisions about how the schools are run might have a big impact on how successful children are receiving an education that will help them in their future.  As pointed out in the “Coolangatta Statement,” Article 26 of the “United Nations Declaration of Human Rights” “states: i. Everyone has the right to education. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that indigenous people want a non-indigenous education.” (pp. 2-3) Indigenous people need to participate in community school boards, community advisory boards, or state-appointed education committees in order to have a voice in decisions that are being made for their children and to have access to a culturally appropriate education.

These professionals must also consider themselves role models, much like described in Shawn Wilson’s article, “NOT JUST KNOWLEDGE, BUT A WAY OF LOOKING AT THE WORLD GWITCH’IN NATIVE ELDERS.” Elders also act as models for the way people should be living their lives. Not only do they tell the people what they should be doing, but if they are going to be respected Elders, they must be living that way themselves. By modeling correct behavior, Elders are able to set community standards of behavior” (Wilson, pg. 20)

Professional roles associated with education

Indigenous people looking to become school superintendents, principles, or teachers who have not had experience with western-style politics or education processes, will also be faced with a huge learning curve when obtaining credentials needed for these roles, until colleges and universities also implement indigenous viewpoints within the traditional western academic system. In many cases, such as in higher education in Alaska, attempts have been made to help prepare future teachers and administrators for roles in indigenous communities. Unfortunately, according to a Jan 2013 report from CAEPR, “ Why Aren’t They Teaching? A Study of Why Some University of Alaska Teacher Education Graduates Aren’t in Classrooms,” many of the graduating teachers aren’t employed as teachers the Fall after graduating. In this study only 41% were in the classroom, and only 30% were working as full-time teachers in Alaska, and only 17% were working outside of the Big 5 Districts (Anchorage, Fairbanks Mat-Su-, Kenai, or Juneau). And in looking at the percentages of new hires outside of the Big 5 Districts, the report suggests it is still difficult to find qualified teachers for rural communities.

Retrieved 12/09/2013 from http://www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/CAEPR/home/docs/2013_01-WhyNotTeaching.pdf

As pointed out in the “Coolangatta Statement,” section 2.4.3, “The teacher is a facilitator of learning, one who promotes achievement and success. In this context culturally appropriate environments are employed to reinforce knowledge being imparted to the learner, reaffirming the learner’s significant place in the world.” If the community has chosen to provide an indigenous education, it’s the responsibility for that decision to be respected and carried out by the academic professionals. “The question should not be one of “who knows best” when discussing the relative merits of these two information systems, but rather how to use both systems in a way that will maximize an understanding of the environment and ecosystems of this vast area.” (AEPS, pg. 10)

Because non-community members are tasked with administration and teaching roles, its important that they be exposed to traditions and ways of knowing through orientation programs such as described in ANKN’s Guidelines for Cross-Cultural Orientation Programs or Guidelines for Preparing Culturally-Responsive Teachers for Alaska’s Schools. The new hires must understand that they may need to go above and beyond what they might expect in a more urban school where there isn’t an indigenous population. Being open to new understandings and taking the role of facilitator rather then classroom dictator will be good first steps.

Curriculum content in the schools

Having more content specific curriculum in schools would clearly strengthen a community’s culture and provide appropriate training for students to become productive citizens of that community, being able to provide for themselves and others in a responsible manner. As mentioned in AEPS article and in other articles that we’ve read for this class, Indigenous people understand that their culture is always adapting to new situations and new understandings. Incorporating both an indigenous point of view along with a western point of view needs to be balanced so that students with different types of long-term education goals can be met. Unfortunately, due to financial resources, this can’t always be done in all communities and some students aren’t always prepared for their future.

This quote from the “Coolangatta Statement,” indicates the importance of indigenous people within their community to be in a position where they are advocating for a curriculum that is based on their traditions and values.

“Volumes of studies, research and reports dealing with Indigenous peoples in non-Indigenous educational systems paint a familiar picture of failure and despair. When measured in non-Indigenous terms, the educational outcomes of Indigenous peoples are still far below that of non-Indigenous peoples. This fact exists not because Indigenous peoples are less intelligent, but because educational theories and practices are developed and controlled by non-Indigenous peoples. Thus, in more recent times, due to the involvement of Indigenous peoples, research shows that failure is indeed present, but that this failure is that of the system, not of Indigenous peoples.” (pg. 2)

One of the biggest hurdles in learning and education is the definition of success. Too often that definition is held to western academic standards resulting in an advanced degree. Often students feel successful when they have learned enough so that they can provide for their family and share with their communities without living in an expensive house or being the caregiver to numerous material objects. If the curriculum was offered in a way that gives students choices about pathways, success might be achieved at a higher level.

Cultural and Intellectual property

Maintaining responsibility over one’s own cultural and intellectual property means that, from a cultural perspective, whatever medium is being made, the product accurately represents the culture itself and is not being interpreted without collaboration or knowledge of the final outcome. This does mean that there needs to be some kind of definition or at least some guidelines so that people of the culture, as well as outsiders, have an idea when to ask for guidance and “permission.”  Documents such as the UN Commission on Human Rights, “The Mataatua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples” and the AKNK’s Guidelines for Respecting Cultural Knowledge can be really good starting points. It is often hard to define intellectual property and often even within the responsible group, there can be disagreements about what needs to be credited and what can be used freely as public domain. Keeping the conversation open and being respectful when there might be a question can go a long way in creating a good relationship.

In education and curriculum development, using the expertise of the community Elders seems like the perfect opportunity on many levels. The Elders will know what is appropriate to be shared depending on grade level, sex, maturity, and audience. Using Elders as resources will also almost always result in placed-based activities that help to deepen the student’s learning experiences. Also using Elders as recourses for professional development training for teachers, aides, and other administrative personnel within a school district can help to authenticate the learning experience.


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