Native American Influence on Education

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Higher education in non-Western cultures is faceted and rich with multiculturalism. The diversity of higher education around the world can be seen in the integration of American higher education, as we know it today. Northern Native Americans have a prolific non-Western culture of education and we have seen this modernized by Tribal Colleges – notably since the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978 during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter (Pease-Pretty On Top, 2004). Looking back on the past 400 years or so of Northern Native American history will show the transformation of universal standards of pedagogy that have been and are still being integrated into American higher education today (Tharp, 2006).

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The pedagogy studied and observed throughout Native America is thought to be excellent – with a better record of accomplishment of engaging multicultural and multilingual classrooms while adapting and truly engaging the student (Tharp, 2006). The core of Native American instruction is observational learning, through “joint activity” from “bow-and-arrow tracking, tanning or doing laundry” (Tharp, 2006, p. 8). In regards to higher education today, tribal colleges use this instruction as the standard mode of education and it is one of the aspects of tribal colleges that separate them from standard American higher education (Nichols & Kayonga-Male, 2003). However, one area of American higher education where observational learning is used as a main form of education is doctoral education and because of these “processes have made doctoral education in the United States pre-eminent in the world” (Tharp, 2006, p.15).

Reviewing and comparing non-Western and Western cultures throughout time a common aspect of education is learning the language. Conversely, “motivational patterns” of education differ greatly with Native American study being primarily focused on pedagogy in and of itself (Tharp, 2006 p. 9). Over a period of twenty-five years the Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE) has created Standards for Effective Pedagogy that have been witnessed within American Indian classrooms – these standards are now being introduced into multicultural and multilingual primary, secondary and post-secondary areas of education to effectively attain “higher student achievement” (Tharp, 2006, p. 10). These standards include Joint Productive Activity, Developing Language and Literacy across the Curriculum, Teaching in Context, Teaching Complex Thinking, Instructional Conversation, Modeling and Demonstration, and Student Directed Activity (Tharp, 2006).

As American universities strive to collaborate, more with Tribal Colleges there has been a rise in the desire to understand what makes Tribal Colleges much more effective at teaching their students than the traditional university where Native Americans consistently have lower graduation rates, GPAs and test scores (Nichols & Kayongo-Male, 2003). The biggest factor for success in bridging these institutions is a “family-like support system” (Nichols & Kayongo-Male, 2003, p. 2). Even at the organizational level there is a system of values that were not being met with success during attempts at collaboration, in 1996 there was a shift in the effort to successfully collaborate when President Clinton signed in an executive order that required institutions to reach out and make connections, which began to lay the foundation that we see today in much more successful collaboration attempts (Nichols & Kayongo-Male, 2003).

While collaboration has improved, there has also been an improvement in the use of universal standards of pedagogy that are most effective when working with Native Americans and other minority cultures. One Native American based standard that has been proven through research to work in a variety of institutions (including American higher education) is academic instruction being dominated by the students themselves while the teacher assists in this method by “questioning, rephrasing and modeling” using “multiple standards” at the same time during the process (Tharp, 2006). When this student-led, learning occurs it reinforces the Native American tradition of the individual (at a very young age) being responsible and independent in their learning with the loving support of authority to help lead the individual as they mature in their academics – this empowerment is a central theme and focus of historical Native American learning that is shown to work at the university level as well (Nichols & Kayongo-Male, 2003). We can also see this in effect in universities such as the University of Miami that allows students to create their own major if a student feels as if none of the programs of study directly correlate to the needed learning required for their career pathway (University of Mimi, 2019).

Contextualization is the process off connecting academia and the classrooms to a student’s everyday life. Native Americans have a long record of utilizing this pedagogical learning style dating back over 400 years ago at the very earliest stages of a child’s life (Tharp, 2006). The child was integrated into society and everyday activities early on and when American education tried to break this type of learning by separating Native American children into boarding schools, they failed miserably (Tharp, 2006). This can also be seen as an issue in current testing for American higher education entrance exams where it is very common for questions to draw on the everyday experiences of mainly Westernized American youth (Nichols & Kayongo-Male, 2003). In recent years there has been a push for universities to holistically view an individual’s academic achievements and many other schools are becoming test optional as a way to incorporate diversity in their student body (Loesch, 2018).

Overall, both the Native American higher education system and American higher education have a closely related history and have greatly influenced each other throughout history. As the collaboration between tribal colleges and universities become strengthened and universal standards of effective pedagogy are further implemented successfully in the classroom, we will see an even greater influence of Native American education on American higher education systems. Thus, if done efficiently the overall graduation rates of Native Americans and other minority populations will rise over time as these students become more engaged in America’s higher education and way of learning overall. Through family life support systems, contextualization, collaboration, and strengthened pedagogy as a whole America’s higher education system will only continue to improve and engage diverse students across a spectrum of non-Western cultures.

References

  1. Loesch, M. (2018). Mind the gap: The relationship between socioeconomic status and educational outcomes. Maneto: The Temple University Multi-Disciplinary Undergraduate Research Journal, 1(1), 81-87.
  2. Nichols, T. J. & Kayongo-Male, D. (2003). The dynamics of tribal college-state university collaboration. Journal of American Indian Education, 42(3), 1-24.
  3. Pease-Pretty On Top, J. (2003) Events leading to the passage of the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978. Journal of American Indian Education, 42(1), 6-21.
  4. Tharp, R. G. (2006) Four hundred years of evidence: Culture, pedagogy, and Native America. Journal of American Indian Education, 45(2), 6-25.
  5. University of Miami. (2019). Independent Major at the UM College of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved January 12, 2019 from https://www.as.miami.edu/academics/undergraduate-studies/majors-minors/independent-major/
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Native American Influence on Education. (2019, Dec 30). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from
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