Time to Indigenize American Education

In the outstanding book Teaching Truly: A Curriculum to Indigenize Mainstream Education, Four Arrows (Don Trent Jacobs) and his fellow authors provide a revelatory opportunity for us teachers to get to the heart of what is important in education. Being indigenous, Four Arrows explains in an interview with Derrick Jensen, “relates to a nature-based reality that is so very different from the dominant cultural one.” The book is all about how to help your students see another way of being, based on the worldview of traditional indigenous people of the United States, that challenges and opposes the mindset presented in textbooks, standards and mass media by the dominant culture and educational hegemony.

adult-education-379219_640Four Arrows offers many examples of this, including other ways to perceive economics (traditional cultures had gift economy based on the fundamental value of generosity) and math (he says we could use word problems to solve the world’s crises), but one of my favorites is Helen Keller. Most history books mention Helen Keller only briefly, and even then as an example of how you can rise above your shortcomings. These textbooks never mention her vital roles in the women’s suffrage movement, the socialist party and the radical labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World. “These were intentionally left out of most curricula because having a ‘hero’ with this history is not in the interest of the growing corporatist ‘ruling’ class,” writes Four Arrows. He advocates for history lessons that teach through stories, connecting with our ancestors and showing how we can learn from them to create a better future that is not bound by the ruling cultures of the past.

And let’s face it, our educational system needs its hegemony dismantled. We are at the mercy now of an all-powerful agent of knowledge and wisdom: the standardized test. It is the be-all, end-all of student achievement and knowledge. What is true for the test is true for our students, and they become the products of this test. There becomes only one way of writing an essay or answering a question because that is the way to get it right on the test. But we are in a time now where we need to question the hegemony of the world more than ever. With California drying out and Florida about to sink underwater, poisons in our water and species dying, we need to unleash the creativity, wisdom and passion of today’s youth on the world’s problems, not indoctrinate them into the system that created them.

So take a moment, in the testing season before us this spring, to challenge the reality presented by the educational hegemony. Encourage your students to ask questions about the way things are and challenge them to learn the whole story, not just the reality presented in their textbooks. Bring some wonder back into your classroom. Indigenize their minds.