June 21, 2010

Washington curriculum tackles ignorance

Tribal curriculum aims to break down stereotypes

By Linda Shaw"We really want to break down a lot of the stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about the tribes and tribal people," said Denny Hurtado, state director of Indian education, and one of the project's leaders.

With the 1974 Boldt decision, which reaffirmed tribal fishing rights in Washington, "people were saying things like, 'Why do these Indians have special rights?' " Hurtado said. "If they really understood the history and the truth, they would understand that we've always had these rights."

Right now, most Washington students learn little about Native Americans, and even less about tribes in Washington state, where there are 29 federally recognized tribes--more than all but a handful of other states.

Textbooks don't help much--the one Kingston Middle School uses for state history ends its discussion of Native Americans around 1877.

Even in Kingston, where students live within minutes of reservations belonging to the Suquamish and Port Gamble S'Klallam tribes, many know little more than their names.

Many teachers shy away from teaching more because good materials have been hard to find, and they fear getting it wrong.

"It's truly just out of not knowing," said Gayle Pauley, of the state education department. "I used to teach third grade ... and there were so few authentic resources, it always bothered me."
Comment:  Another great article on the right way to teach about Indians. I hope these programs spread from Montana and Washington across the country.

Several points here:

  • Other than reading James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, I haven't studied school textbooks. But this confirms how limited they still are.

    This puts the lie to the claim that everyone should take "American history," not ethnic studies. When textbooks omit a century-plus of tribal history, that's whitewashing.

  • It's good to know teachers are willing to do more. But everyone involved in education should've done more to find or create high-quality materials years ago.

    This isn't rocket science, people. I probably could go to a Native library and put together an acceptable set of resources in a day or so. Ignorance of what's available isn't much of an excuse.

  • Once again, we see a direct line between stereotypes and tangible harm. Non-Indians think Indians are savages who disappeared long ago. The few remaining ones are wretched wards of the state. They haven't earned anything, so they must be getting special rights.

    Until 1974, courts denied local tribes their treaty-bound rights because of this kind of thinking. So stereotypes helped keep the Indians in poverty, unable to support themselves through fishing. Stereotypical thinking--i.e., ignorance--determined how whites would treat them.

    So a lack of education is the problem and education is the cure. That's why education contributes mightily to the elimination of social ills. In the old "give people a fish or teach them to fish" maxim, teaching is usually the best solution.

    For more on the subject, see Ethnic History Corrects American History and Mainstream History = Pro-White Propaganda.

    Below:  Some history conveniently omitted from Washington state's textbooks?

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