Friday, April 27, 2012

Jacqueline Joseph Pata, Exec Dir of National Congress of American Indians, on Curriculum/American Indian Students

[Editor's Note: A chronological list of AICL's coverage of the shut-down of the Mexican American Studies classes at Tucson Unified School District is here.]
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Jacqueline Joseph Pata (Tlingit)
Jacqueline Johnson Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, was on the lunchtime plenary panel yesterday at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's America Healing conference. Among her remarks was one that stood out to me.

We (American Indians) don't need, Pata said, state departments of education telling us what is, or is not, acceptable curriculum for our children. 
Pata is absolutely on-target with that remark.
Too many of the books our children are asked to read give them stereotypical portrayals of monolithic American Indians as savages who terrorized pioneers, or, tragic heroic figures of the past who fought the good fight but are now all dead and gone.
Too many of the assignments our children are asked to complete ask them to answer questions where the right answer is one in which they must agree with that point of view. 

It is no wonder American Indian students disengage from school. Wouldn't you?! It is no surprise that our children drop out at such high rates, and, that so many of them choose to end their own lives. 

We can all do a lot to interrupt that way of teaching, but we've got to have the courage to do it. 
Do you have the courage to stop teaching Little House on the Prairie? Though it is much beloved in the United States, it is full of stereotypes, bias, and errors. In it, you see savage Indians scaring Ma, and you see heroic ones who choose to protect Laura and her family from the savage ones. The thing is, both portrayals are incorrect. Embracing them, however, lets Americans feel good about what they have today. In teaching Little House, teachers are miseducating the students in their care.

Native children in those classrooms are not only miseducated, they are--in effect--assaulted. State departments of education are populated by people who love Little House. In that light, it is easy to see why Pata is calling for state departments of education to revisit their actions. 

If you're interested in critical writing about Little House on the Prairie, you're in the right place. I've written a lot about it. You can read my blog posts (there's a list of them on the right side of the page), or you can read my full text article, "Indigenizing Children's Literature."

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has video of some of Pata's remarks here:

1 comment:

northierthanthou.com said...

I think the key is developing better alternatives and getting them approved for the curriculum. Too often academics are content to critique, but if we can't set out a viable replacement, then people fall back on the stereotypes, even if they know better. ...it's what they have to go on.