January 09, 2007

Students don't know Indians

Some Thoughts On Teaching About Native Americans by John A. DuerkWhile teaching social studies in a rural, Illinois high school, I observed a high level of ignorance and defensiveness about the Native American experience here in the United States. As a teacher who cares about history and its connection to contemporary matters of social justice, I found this to be rather disturbing. Most of my students simply did not have much prior knowledge about Native Americans beyond the generic stories they are told in grade school or the racist stereotypes that are propagated through the mainstream media. This bothered me because there is a serious disconnect between perception and reality--a disconnect that creates barriers which prevent young people from coming to terms with the past and understanding the present. After all, how can students place the current Native American state of affairs in the proper context if they lack knowledge of human experiences that have led to us all to this point? They cannot. In my history and government classes I tried to address these problems with lesson plans designed to challenge and overcome their ignorance and defensiveness.

In US History class, two of the most invaluable lessons I taught involved the voyage(s) of Christopher Columbus’ and President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy. With regard to the lesson on Columbus, my students read an excerpt from his journal and discussed the language he used to describe the native people he encountered. Then my students read two recent secondary sources that presented contrasting views of Columbus (one positive, the other negative). Finally, they had to write a paragraph (at least five sentences long) explaining which view they agreed with and why. A class discussion also followed the paragraph writing. Many students commented about how they had never read a criticism of Columbus. This reality speaks to the inadequacies of social studies instruction at the elementary and junior high levels.
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 1/7/07.)

Comment:  Generic stories from school and racist stereotypes from the media...yep, that's how most people learn about Indians.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hats off to Mr. Duerk! It's too bad that elementary school teachers don't incorporate this kind of curriculum. Instead of dressing up 4th graders as Indians we may be able to instill in children the respect for all existence of which we are a part of and the inherent worth and dignity of every Indian.