Maybe we are in the wrong

Bird Droppings July 31, 2022
Maybe we are in the wrong

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who have no right to talk. Too many misinterpretations have been made; too many misunderstandings have come between the white men about the Indians.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce January 14, 1879, addressing representatives of the President of The United States

Sadly, nothing has changed over the hundred-plus years since Chief Joseph surrendered. Today, over three hundred thousand complaints against the Bureau of Indian Affairs are unanswered and in courts throughout the country. The highest suicide rate of teenagers is on reservations. Around the country, we are arguing about illegal immigrants. Many of these people’s ancestors in Arizona and New Mexico were kicked off their land when we won the Spanish-American war. Navahos, Apaches, and many other tribes were dispersed to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma and never allowed to return to their ancestral homes. We are so self-centered that we can argue about illegal immigrants; maybe we are genuinely the illegal immigrants.

“If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. There need be no trouble. Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to grow and live.” Chief Joseph

So often, my thoughts come randomly after a few hours of sleep, and I will get up and walk around. Last night, at about four in the morning, Pat woke me up; she was heading out to walk as she does every morning. A thought stuck with me. It seems the powers to be back in the day and now always want to mass produce. In the world of the late 1800s, as far as Native Americans go, it was coming up with a blanket policy and no pun intended to cover all tribes. There was no consideration of the language and culture, just as it included education, using the Carlisle School as an example. The white way was the best. No exceptions. Indians should be farmers like white folk. No more hunting and gathering, no more Sundance ceremonies banned in the late 1800s, or rituals that might offend Christian folk. Treaties and promises were made almost with little or no attempt to fund and/or implement that plan. Corruption ruled what little funding did find its way to reservations and holding areas. As I thought, it was straightforward to tie this government outlook to today’s education coincidently.

In 2004 a massive educational bill was passed entitled No Child Left Behind. The critical point was that by 2014 all children would be on grade level in math and reading. Sadly, funding was left by the wayside and for states to implement as best they could. However, penalties were still in place for not meeting the standards imposed. All children, including all socio-economic, cultural, children with disabilities, ethnic groups, and any other sort of subtitle that might be thrown in. Children would be evaluated with standardized tests given in specific grades, and to graduate would have to pass these tests. Dr. William Ayers, that same fellow accused during the last presidential election of being too friendly with our president, is a nationally known educator and author who has this to say.

“The root of the word evaluation is ‘value,’ and authentic assessment includes understanding first what the student’s value and then building from there. Authentic assessment is inside-out rather than outside-in. It’s an attempt to get away from sorting a mass of students and closer to the teacher’s question: Given what I know, how should I teach this particular student.” Dr. William Ayers

One of our state’s efforts to get assessment in line with national standards and accountability has been a new math curriculum and subsequent testing. On the front page of today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Only 52% of the students who took the End of Course test for Math I in May passed.” This was across the state averages in high schools on this particular test. State department of education people is saying it will take time for students to get used to the new curriculum. In special education, we were to tell parents in IEPs that kids may be in high school for five or six years due to higher standards for graduation. I question who is setting the bar up and why.

Reading the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is due to No Child Left Behind legislation mandated standards. What about schools that are so far behind that no matter what bar level is set, it will not happen? Many reservation and inner-city schools have never hit AYP to date in nearly ten years of testing. Another sad point is that it is common knowledge among administrators and educators that test scores and zip codes correlate strongly. How is that for a statistic? Borrowing a phrase now that is a Catch-22, yes, most definitely. I had an idea last night after a brief discussion in a blog over what could be done. I asked for some time to think about solving this dilemma, and I went by Barnes and Noble to get some backup material.

Great educators have known the answer for many years, and John Dewey offered suggestions and thoughts well over a hundred years ago. Numerous other authors have expanded on and clarified Dewey’s thoughts, and all seem to come to one conclusion the solution is not in one test fits all, one curriculum fits all; it is not about leaving children behind, which is happening at an alarming rate currently. So here it is about one child at a time.

“Teachers are explorers. As they explore the world and lives of their students, they cast lines to different ways of thinking. Teaching is often bridge building; beginning on one shore with the knowledge, experience, know-how, and interests of the student, the teacher moves toward broader horizons and deeper ways of knowing.” Dr. William Ayers, To teach the journey of a teacher, 2010

You might say, where do we start? We start asking students. After talking with many students of the Foxfire program who graduated many years back, I see that there are commonalities in their opinion of what they learned. They learned about community more than any other topic. This has come up numerous times. It was not a measurable academic lesson or standardized test score; it was the interactions with others in a practical and viable manner. It was being allowed to be an individual and to be creative. It was about one child at a time.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuse the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice One

John Dewey emphasized the democratic classroom, giving students a voice and allowing their past experiences to be utilized, not just those perceptions and experiences of the teacher. This idea of One Child at a Time may sound a bit far-fetched, but when you look at how we currently test and evaluate, it is not truly an indicator of what a child knows or even cares about, and it is what has been drilled in the past semester. So often, you will hear the term lifelong learner, and yet is cramming for lifelong learning standardized test? Is 52% of students taking tests failing lifelong learning? What if we could take a bit more time to learn who the student is and allow that student’s weaknesses and strengths to be incorporated into the learning process and developed? I would say would not it be great if we could do an individual IEP for all students instead of a blanket testing policy. Would it not be great if each student had a portfolio that accompanied them in each grade, showing progress and achievements? One child at a time is the key to educational success and/or failure. I will wander more again, so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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