Talking to Your Childrenís Teachers About Cultural Relevance

     Lack of cultural relevance in the classroom concerns many parents whose children attend public schools. Often Indian education is limited to a single unit that is taught during Indian Heritage Month. Many times at the high school level it is confined to the history classroom. Sometimes it is offered as an elective class or as an after school activity with an annual powwow thrown in for good measure.
     Individual parents have the power to move Indian education from the margins to the mainstream - one teacher at a time. Starting now, hereís what you can do.



 Question Assumptions Including Your Own

      Many people assume that educators have in-depth training about the subjects they teach. After all, they went through four years of teacher training and passed licensing tests. The truth is that American Indian culture and contributions were probably not included in their course of study. 
     Teachers donít know what they werenít taught. They canít teach what they donít know.

Educate the Educators

    Be proactive. Take teacher education into your own hands by providing your childrenís teachers information about American Indian culture, history and achievements. Since many teachers feel overwhelmed by stacks of papers, faculty meetings and lesson plans, make plans of your own to present the facts in small doses throughout the year. 

Act as an Ally

     Introduce yourself to your childrenís teachers. Express your concerns about the need for Indian education in the classroom. Explain how culturally relevant material motivates Indian students to learn and succeed. Assure teachers that content standards and cultural relevance arenít mutually exclusive. Tell them that you want to help them make sure that the educational needs of all children in the classroom are met. 

Check Out the Curriculum

     Look through your childrenís textbooks. Scan them for stereotypes. Notice the critical places where American Indians should be mentioned but arenít. Make a list of misinformation and omissions. Find out when those chapters will be taught. Time your suggestions to the teacher about a month before the material will be covered.

Position Yourself as an Expert

Offer to serve as a resource person in the classroom. Some things you can volunteer to do are: 
Be a classroom speaker. 
Help the teacher arrange for other speakers from the Indian community. 
Suggest culturally relevant classroom activities. 
Help arrange a field trip. 
Provide the teacher with copies of relevant articles from books and Indian newspapers. 
Give the teacher a list of Indian-friendly videos and books that can be used in the classroom. 
Donate a book or a video for the classroom. 

 Tie the Culture to the Curriculum

     Understand that state content standards force teachers to stick to the curriculum. Work within that framework. Suggest that high school government students compare the Great Law of Peace and the U.S. Constitution. Make sure your childís math teacher that American Indians independently invented the zero. Compile a list of American Indian inventions that the science teacher can use as a handout. The possibilities to weave culture with curriculum are endless.

Take it One Step at a Time

     Doing just one of the things suggested above can create positive change that will last a childís lifetime. Investing even an hour or two in your childrenís classroom is the smart thing to do.

Reprint permission granted by  Kay Marie Porterfield:


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