February 22, 2012

Western vs. Native education

Little Bear tells teachers to rethink education in native frame

By Robin PoonIn his speech, Little Bear described the differences he sees between how natives and westerners view the world.

“The western way is very linear,” he said in an interview with the News following his address. “Time is a good example. We go from A to B to C to D and so on.”

Little Bear said that this linear way of thinking extends to the hierarchical school system.

“If you’re in Grade 1, you’ve learned that and let’s move on.”

By contrast, the native approach to learning focuses on repetition and renewal, as can be seen in annual rituals and customs, he said.

“Things happen over and over again. We tell the same stories every year.”

Little Bear disagreed when asked if reviewing the same concepts repeatedly would make it difficult to introduce new material.

“Even the idea of new…is from this linear notion, this dichotomous notion. In Blackfoot and other types of language, there are no words for new and old.”

Another difference is that western education emphasizes specialization while native learning prizes “being a generalist rather than a specialist,” said Little Bear.

Little Bear added that native learning is based on “knowing a bit about everything.” It also explores the “relational networks” connecting humans with each other, animals, plants, and so on.

He called on teachers to recognize those differences and account for them in the classroom.
Comment:  For more on Native education, see Inuit Students Talk with Astronaut and Aztecs Favored Universal Education.

Below:  "Leroy Little Bear speaks to participants at the Lower Nicola Indian Band networking conference on native education at the Lower Nicola Band School Friday." (Robin Poon/Merritt News)

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