Sunday, November 21, 2010

Indian Education: Old Tricks in a New Era

I came from a different school of thought each time I embarked on a teaching job with Native American students in a State-run school.  I never seemed to fit the structure of the school, or the expectations of the top administration.  I saw the status quo floating all the while above the state-run educational system and I felt powerless to impact or change it.

As a child, I was very bored in reservation schools.  I became a teacher in first grade, and being one of the best readers, I was given the task of spelling-test-giver-outer to the lowest reading group.  I bought stickers for my "students" one day in the grocery store for the ones who got were to get a "100%" the next Friday, and took these to school.  I showed them to the teacher, more for the go-ahead, and she responded: "You will make a very good teacher some day."

I was angry.  I didn't want to be a teacher at six-years-old.  I wanted to be a "dinosaur scientist."

I grew up in opposition with many teachers, and year after year my mother remarked, "There is always a personality conflict between you and your teacher.  Why can't you just get along?" 

My expertise in Native American education comes from being that student, the small child, behind the desk, absorbing the pain inflicted upon me for daring to be smart, in a controlled environment, where over half of the teachers, secretaries, school nurses, and assistants gave me the message daily, that I was an Indian.

What I learned in reservation school, I taught myself.  I read the whole chapter when it wasn't even assigned, I rewrote information, and I listened to lectures.  I knew things by rote memory and could recite what was being taught on cue... however, given the opportunity I would probably have refused to. 

The old tricks of a Native American student still work today.  The trick is to be smart, but not to appear soThe trick is to learn, but not let the teacher know how much you knowThe trick is to write a poor paper the first time around, so that he/she won't expect so much of you until later in the year.

But moreover, the trick is to interrupt the teacher and make him or her start over six times, until he or she is so frustrated they lose control.  The trick is to see how much heck you can raise so that the teachers you haven't made your mind up about may decide to stay in their own home state after Christmas so you can have a string of unqualified substitutes from the border town for the final 19 weeks of the school year.  The trick is to keep pulling stunts with the substitutes until the entire 8th grade class is placed in "In-School Suspension."

The New Era of Indian Education has not changed much.  The school systems are still state controlled, with huge systemic issues far greater than a 5 foot 5 inch Indian educator like me.  The children still resist.  The staff still separates themselves (for the most part) from the student.  The smart ones... still teach themselves, and when they grow up, they move away, and it takes them 30 years to move home.

It isn't historical trauma... its educational trauma.  This trick is the oldest one in the book... assimilation.... and it is alive and well in the new era.

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