Lessons From Turtle Island: Chapter 1
Chapter one from Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw. Copyright 2002 by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw. Reprinted with permission of Redleaf Press, St. Paul, MN; www.redleafpress.org
CHAPTER ONE: Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms (Download entire chapter here)
In light of current discussions about embracing diversity in early childhood classrooms, the question could certainly be asked, “Why not a book about diversity in general?” After all, many teachers are trying to move away from isolating groups of people or cultures as topics of study, and most teachers certainly believe that books and curriculum materials about many diverse groups of people should be incorporated into the classroom throughout the year, in all units of study, and across the curriculum. So why isolate Native Americans as a topic for discussion?
There are two critical reasons for focusing on Native American issues in education. The first is the blatant bias with regard to Native peoples that continues to thrive throughout our schools. Long after “Little Black Sambo” images, which are so degrading to African Americans, have been removed from classrooms, we still see blatant stereotyping of American Indian peoples deeply embedded in school culture and curriculum. For example, class dictionaries show degrading images of “Indians” and “Eskimos,” and textbooks still contain excerpts from authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, who speaks of “marauding savages.” Books and materials for young people mix up and misrepresent Native American Nations, as if they were all one culture, and depict Native peoples as primitive or living only in the past. Meanwhile, our mass media bombards children with cartoons and old westerns, complete with savage images of “wild Indians,” while beloved sports teams, many actually representing schools, turn Native peoples into caricatures and mascots. For the sake of all our children, teachers and schools absolutely must acknowledge and begin to rectify these huge problems..
There is a second reason for focusing on the topic of Native American issues in education. By delving more deeply into particular cultures, we can begin to better understand true issues of diversity in general. In looking at the problems so blatantly confronting one group in our educational practices, we can begin to see similar issues among other groups. As teachers, when we learn more about specific cultures, we learn to ask the right questions. For example, if symbols used in American Indian ceremonies are sacred, and Indian people therefore ask us not to incorporate them into art projects with children, are symbols used in some African ceremonies also sacred? Hadn’t we better ask? As we learn to ask questions, we also discover where to go for answers. We begin to realize that many of the materials marketed to teachers are not written by individuals from the cultures they attempt to represent. As awareness rises, teachers learn to look more closely at what we teach and what resources we use. Teachers truly need more in-depth information about all cultures. Exploring the issues faced by one group sensitizes us to issues that affect us all.
The educational community has yet to deal with problems related to how Native American cultures and peoples are represented, or omitted, from the curriculum in our schools. While interest in multicultural education continues, issues such as the blatant stereotyping of Native peoples within schools, and their almost total exclusion from curriculum materials, do not even make it to the table to be discussed. Several years ago, when Sally asked her son’s literature teacher if her class would be reading any material written by Native American authors, the teacher replied that there were no Native American authors! A social studies teacher volunteered that the students would gain an Indian perspective when they read Chief Seattle’s speech (given in 1854). Since the class was currently studying the French and Indian War (1754–63), it would seem that the teacher either was unaware of the involvement of American Indians in that conflict or felt their contribution to history was too insignificant to invite study until the middle part of the nineteenth century. If our teachers remain so ignorant about the role of Native peoples in the entire history of our country, how will non-Native children gain any perspective on the problems that remain to this day?
Problems related to the portrayal of Native American peoples also abound within the early childhood field. While teachers may pay some attention to including African American curriculum materials in their classrooms, little or no thought is given to Native cultures. We have identified four areas of concern with current practices in the early childhood field:
- Omission of Native American materials from the curriculum
- Inaccurate portrayals or information in the curriculum
- Stereotyping of Native American peoples
- Cultural insensitivity
While the initial reaction of teachers is often that these problems don’t exist in their classrooms, as they look closer, teachers typically find that they do. By examining each of these areas of concern, teachers can begin to look more deeply at their own programs and assess aspects that can be changed or improved.
Another problem in the early childhood field is inaccurate curriculum materials related to Native American peoples. Since teachers may lack the background to adequately evaluate materials, they often make inappropriate selections. This leads to misinformation and stereotyping. Later, non-Native children may have difficulties relating to Native American peoples because they lack an accurate historical and cultural perspective. This lack of understanding is clearly evident on some high school and college campuses today, where American Indian students and families protest the misuse of cultural symbols and the stereotyping of Native peoples as mascots, while many non-Native students and alumni claim they are honoring them. Inaccurate curriculum finds its way into early childhood classrooms via two routes:
- Curriculum materials written and produced by non-Native people who purport to represent Native cultures, but are not able to do so authentically
- Societal traditions that perpetuate myths and inaccuracies with regard to Native peoples
Children’s literature offers numerous examples of books with Native American characters and story lines written by non-Native authors. Some of these books are written by prominent authors and circulate widely. This is a problem. Non-Native authors frequently misrepresent cultural traditions, and characters may behave in a manner inconsistent with their tribal culture. For example, reviewers Slapin and Seale (Santee/Cree) note the following in Annie and the Old One (Miles 1971):
The traditional dress is not accurate: the hair styles are wrong, the moccasins are wrong. The blanket designs are wrong, the design of the weaving on the loom is not Navajo—or even “Indian.” The design on the pot is not authentic. (1998, 42)
Authenticity is important. Europeans and European Americans realize that Europe is composed of many different nationalities and cultures. Therefore, readers would not accept a book about an Italian man described as wearing a Scottish kilt (unless the character was experiencing a huge identity crisis!). Teachers must demand a comparable degree of authenticity in books about Native peoples; otherwise, we perpetuate the myth that all Indians are essentially the same rather than members of more than 500 distinct Nations. Chapter 8 includes a more detailed discussion of problematic children’s books.
Curriculum guides with suggestions for “Native American activities” abound. By selecting and isolating a particular art tradition, item of apparel, or celebration, they encourage non-Native children to view Indians as exotic and different, rather than helping children understand similarities among all peoples. Worse yet, they often ask children to reproduce sacred objects, thereby degrading and mocking important cultural and spiritual traditions. Several of these activity books are discussed in more detail in chapter 8.
A further way in which inaccurate information is transmitted in schools, year after year, is through societal traditions, most notably Thanksgiving and Columbus Day celebrations. These two days have become firmly established traditions in classrooms across the country. Not only are children fed untrue or sanitized information, but also they are often encouraged to act out scenarios that probably never happened. A focus on holidays is often referred to in multicultural education as a “tourist curriculum.” Classrooms look at an ethnic or cultural group for a brief period each year, usually related to a particular holiday, before returning to a largely European American curriculum. The focus is on exotic differences rather than commonalities among peoples. In a tourist-type approach, Native peoples are highlighted during the Thanksgiving season and are largely forgotten thereafter. Other racial or cultural groups get their turn later, with African Americans “studied” during February, Asian Americans around the time of Chinese New Year, and Latino groups during early May, or on Cinco de Mayo.
There are, of course, numerous problems with this approach to diversity in education, but let’s focus on the specifics of Thanksgiving and Columbus Day, since they are the two days that heavily affect Native peoples. Children are taught, year after year, that on Thanksgiving Pilgrims and Indians had a wonderful feast together in peaceful harmony. The truth is, 90 percent of the Native population of Massachusetts died of disease within a few years of encounter with Europeans (Loewen 1996, 80). Pilgrims stole their seed grain, robbed their graves, and exterminated entire villages. In one encounter, 600 Pequots, mostly unarmed women and children, were burned alive when their village was torched (Zinn 1990, 14–15). Thus, for many Native American peoples, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning—for the extermination of peoples, the wholesale theft of lands, the loss of cultures and languages, and the long spiral of grief and despair.
In light of this more complete picture of Thanksgiving, isn’t it amazing that we continue to perpetuate the myth of harmony and understanding? In classrooms all around the country, kindergarten teachers dutifully dress children as Pilgrims or Indians, complete with construction paper hats or feathered headbands, for the annual school play. In addition to imbedding inaccuracies firmly in children’s minds, this gives them the impression that they can become Indians by dressing up in what is deemed Indian attire. Would teachers dream of dressing up children in blackface for Martin Luther King Day? These annual rites, intended or not, are a mockery of Native peoples and must stop.
While explaining the real history of Thanksgiving might be too graphic and frightening for young children, inaccurate legends can be replaced with new traditions. When Guy asked his Lakota elders for advice to share with teachers, they explained that the idea of giving thanks is part of the traditions of Native peoples. Teachers should focus on the concept of feeling thankful for what we have, they advised, and also emphasize the coming together of families to celebrate unity. It is the view of these elders that the stereotypical trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday, such as the Pilgrims and Indians, should be dropped from the curriculum. Teachers must think about these ideas and decide how they can make meaningful changes in their own classrooms. Some teachers use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to share a class feast. Families contribute favorite foods to share together, and all cultures are celebrated.
Columbus Day is another holiday that grossly distorts history, leaving Christopher Columbus as a mythic hero and ignoring the mass extermination of the Arawak people, their enslavement, the theft of their lands, and the colossal brutality of Columbus and his men. As an example, Arawak people who did not fulfill their quota of gold tribute to the Spaniards had their hands chopped off and many bled to death. In only two years after the arrival of Columbus, half of the Arawak population was dead, and a report from 1650 shows no Arawaks or their descendents left on Haiti (Zinn 1990, 4–5).
Once again we are left with a history that many teachers feel is too gruesome to share with young children. However, this does not mean we need to lie to them. Teachers from middle school through high school and college must begin to present a complete picture of Columbus to their students. Lakota elders emphasize that teachers must be blatantly truthful about Columbus. To do otherwise tells children that it is okay to lie, as long as it is the right lie. Columbus Day is one holiday that these elders would like to see vanish. In the meantime, teachers of younger children can stop reading untruthful stories about Columbus to their classes and instead focus on integrating materials about Native peoples of today into their classrooms. This is better from a developmental standpoint anyway, since young children learn best when material is concrete, real, and relevant (Bredekamp and Copple 1997, 126).
Stereotyping Many young children already hold stereotypical beliefs about Native American peoples. In a study published by the League of Women Voters in New Brighton, Minnesota, over three-fourths of the kindergarten children gave at least some stereotypical answers to questions regarding Native Americans (Hirschfelder 1999, 3–8). While stereotyping of American Indian peoples is widespread in the media, many materials used in schools also present stereotypical images, and teachers may not have the awareness to adequately screen for these misrepresentations. Such images can creep insidiously into the classroom, perhaps in a class dictionary that depicts a buffoonish “Eskimo” (Eastman 1964, 30) or on a butter container with a picture of an “Indian princess,” placed innocuously in the dramatic play area.
The following list describes some of the many stereotypes associated with American Indian peoples. While some of the books listed as examples have been around for decades, they are still widely available in school and public libraries, and many are still sold in bookstores. Some of the examples are very recent publications.
- An igloo’s a house for an Eskimo.
- A tepee’s a house for a Cree.
- A pueblo’s a house for a Hopi.
- And a wigwam may hold a Mohee.
This stanza is clearly an attempt on the author’s part to reflect the diversity of Native Nations, and perhaps to counter the prevalent image that all Native peoples traditionally lived in tipis. However, the attempt is flawed because the author portrays Native peoples in the past and not in the present. A House Is a House for Me is a clear example of how a well-meant effort to diversify curriculum can go badly astray if all the factors are not considered.
Hollywood has created stereotypes of American Indian music, along with stereotypes of demeanor, mannerisms, and dress. A typical example of stereotyped music is the fake war chant used by fans of the National League baseball team in Atlanta, students at Florida State University, and others. Rhythmic stereotypes also abound. One often hears a pattern of four beats, with the first heavily accented: “DUM dum dum dum, DUM dum dum dum.” None of these stereotypes is heard in the music of any Native cultures; nevertheless, they make their way into “Indian” songs for children. For example, in Silver Burdett’s Making Music Your Own (1971), a music series that was adopted by many schools and is still available in libraries, a song in the kindergarten volume titled “Playing Indians” (p. 75) contains stereotypes in both the melody and words:
Playing Indians is such fun / Let’s be Indians now . . .One of the problems with school music series is that the editors tend to select one or two allegedly traditional “Native American” songs, often without any apparent consultation from the cultures the songs supposedly represent, and use them as representatives of Native American music. This presents children with an extremely narrow and often inauthentic perspective about Native music. In actuality, American Indian music is extensive, extremely diverse, and continually evolving in the contemporary world, as is the music of most cultures. Some curious anomalies appear in these series. For example, the supposed Hopi “Butterfly Dance” in the kindergarten volume of the Macmillan series The Spectrum of Music (1980, 27) has exactly the same melody, with the exception of the last note, as the alleged Hopi “Grinding Corn” song in the first-grade volume of the Silver Burdett and Ginn series World of Music (1988, 126), yet the words are completely different. In some music books the only Indian songs that are included are those with vocables (syllables with no apparent meaning)—no words or translations (The Spectrum of Music—Level 1 1980, 55 and 59; Silver Burdett
Did you ever see a Sioux / Ride across the plain . . .
Did you ever see a Crow / Paddling a canoe . . .
Navahos sit in the sun, / Making bowls of clay . . .
Let’s pretend we’re Iroquois, / Shooting with our bows . . .
Hi-yah! Hi-yah! Hi-yah! Hi-yah! Hi-yah! Hi-yah! Hi!
One of the most insidious stereotypes of Native American peoples is their dehumanization in books and songs. They are often portrayed as animals in children’s books, because authors and illustrators seem to believe that just adding a headdress automatically makes anything into an “Indian.” The following are just a few of the numerous books that portray Native American peoples as animals, or vice versa: The Eleventh Hour (Base 1993), which shows a tiger in feathered headdress; Teddy Bears ABC (Gretz 1975), which includes two teddy bears carrying a headdress; Richard Scarry’s Find Your ABC’s (Scarry 1986), which includes a cat dressed in buckskin shirt and headdress and a raccoon in a headband and feather; Clifford’s Halloween (Bridwell 1967), in which a dog wears war paint, a blanket, and a headdress and smokes a pipe; Alligators All Around: An Alphabet (Sendak 1962), in which one alligator wears a headdress and carries a tomahawk, and another alligator sits stoically, smoking a pipe; and The Stupids Step Out (Allard 1974), which shows a dog wearing a headdress. Native peoples are further objectified when they are used as objects for counting in children’s songs and counting books. The most widespread example is undoubtedly “Ten Little Indians,” which spreads generationally by word of mouth and is perpetuated in music books such as the kindergarten volume of Silver Burdett Music (1985, 30). Many adults who grew up singing this song themselves have a hard time understanding why it is objectionable. They must remember that items used for counting are almost always inanimate objects or animals. To group Native Americans with animals or objects is the height of dehumanization. It supports an image of Indian peoples that is undifferentiated by culture and less than human. Just to experience how it feels to be a counting object, try putting your own race or ethnic group into the song. Would any of us sing about ten little white boys, Jews, or African Americans?
This is one of the most common “Indian” activities used by teachers of young children. Some activity books, such as More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 51–56), give specific directions for war bonnets or headdresses. They illustrate the somewhat prevalent attitude that children can play Indian, just as they might play cowboy. The important difference is that cowboy is an occupation, while Indian is a race. Native peoples do not consider making headdresses or using feathers in “Indian” projects to be acceptable. To Native peoples, feathers are sacred. They are often used in ceremonial practice. As a comparison, teachers would not have children make and wear yarmulkes, the traditional rounded caps used by Jewish men to cover their heads in the presence of G-d, as a strategy for understanding Jewish people.
We often hear references to a “peace pipe,” and in More Than Moccasins children are directed to make peace pipes out of toilet paper tubes (Carlson 1994, 36). The Pipe is so sacred to Native American peoples that it is brought out only for very significant occasions. Although traditional teachings about how the Pipe was given to various Indian Nations differ, all agree on the sacredness of the Pipe. To the Lakota people, the Chunupa (Pipe) symbolizes earth, all things that grow on earth, and all things that are on earth. This is represented on the Pipe by leather, feathers, sweet grass, and sage. Indian people consider the term “peace pipe” to be derogatory and feel that class projects that involve the Pipe take away from its sacredness. They therefore regard such activities as highly inappropriate, in the same way that people from other religious traditions would object to children creating representations of their sacred icons.
To many people, the term “sun dance” evokes images of an exotic Indian dance (or perhaps a particular automobile). Several activity books, including The Kids’ Multicultural Art Book (Terzian 1993, 22–25) and Multicultural Festivals (Weir 1995, 43–45), suggest having children make the buffalo skull from the Sun Dance. The buffalo skull is part of the Wi Wacipi, one of the most sacred ceremonies in the Lakota religion. Needless to say, it is held in deep respect, as are important religious icons in other faiths. Incorporating sacred items such as this into class art projects demeans them. Instead of helping children understand Native cultures, it teaches disrespect for their beliefs and traditions.
Many teachers introduce totem poles as individual or class sculpture projects. Global Art (Kohl 1998, 127) gives directions for making totem poles out of boxes, while More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 169–171), Multicultural Festivals (Weir 1995, 15–18), and The Kids’ Multicultural Art Book (Terzian 1993, 30–33) suggest making them out of egg cartons, paper towel tubes, boxes, or paper. Totem poles are still carved by Native Nations in the Pacific Northwest to preserve important teachings, traditions, and historical events and communicate them to future generations. A common phrase in the English language, “low man on the totem pole,” conveys a huge misconception. Among Indian people, the bottom of the totem pole is the most sacred place to be since the one at the bottom supports the whole world. While totem poles were never worshiped, a misconception of missionaries that led to the wholesale destruction of totem poles, they are used in important ceremonies. When teachers simplify totem poles by turning them into craft projects, they take away their deep meaning.
Traditional Native American dance regalia should not be equated with a dance costume. The regalia of Native dancers represent a part of their personal identity and also their affiliation with a particular Indian Nation. Dance regalia are considered sacred. Nevertheless, More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 48) suggests that children make dance bustles out of pizza boxes and paper plates. Indian children don’t play with dance regalia, because they are taught to respect it. Non-Native children also should be taught cultural respect. They should not be encouraged to make or play with Native American dance regalia.
Teachers err when they assume Native American drums are just musical instruments, as are most drums in European cultures. Thus, they often assemble materials for children to create “Indian” drums. More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 83–84) suggests that Indian drums be made from oatmeal boxes. To American Indian people, the Drum is sacred and represents the heartbeat. It is treated with great respect. For example, singers at powwows never leave the Drum unattended. Indian children do not make drums; neither should non-Native children create drums designated as Indian.
Out of ignorance, teachers may assume that fetish necklaces are just cute pieces of jewelry. More Than Moccasins suggests carving the animals out of soap (Carlson 1994, 64–65). The fetishes used in traditional Native necklaces were given to individuals and families and are similar to the historical family and clan crests in European societies. As such, they carry special, spiritual significance. Just as children from one family or clan would not make or wear the crest from another family, teachers should not encourage children to re-create fetishes from Hopi or other Native Nations. To do so contributes to misunderstanding and a lack of respect for cultures not their own.
Dream catcher kits are commonly sold in craft stores, and The Kids’ Multicultural Art Book (Terzian 1993, 44–45) suggests making them out of paper plates. It is important for teachers to understand the significance of dream catchers; otherwise, they may introduce activities that mock cultural traditions. Dream catchers are traditionally given to children by their parents, as was the case with Guy, who gave a dream catcher to his young son when he was having bad dreams. The purpose of the dream catcher is to catch the child’s dreams in its web so that the bad dreams can melt away in the morning sun. It is sacred to the parent and child relationship and creates special memories. To see the dream catcher reduced to a class craft project takes away from that special significance.
A typical stereotype of American Indian peoples is one of mysticism and magic. Some activity books, such as The Kids’ Multicultural Art Book (Terzian 1993, 18–19), suggest that children create “magic power shields” out of paper plates. Teachers should be aware that many Indian people do not appreciate seeing traditional objects referred to as “magical,” with symbols that have special significance to individuals incorporated into class projects. Activities such as this can build barriers between cultures and create animosity. Part of learning to understand and respect various cultures is becoming aware that symbols may mean different things in different traditions. For example, in many Native cultures the clown is considered sacred because he makes you laugh. This is a very different significance than that accorded to the clown in European American society. To refer to “magical power shields” reinforces stereotypes of the superstitious American Indian and suggests that Native Americans are not as advanced spiritually as other peoples.
Teachers sometimes assume that it is okay to have children create Navajo (Diné) sand paintings because colored sand is used for other art activities. The activity books Global Art (Kohl 1998, 125) and More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 172) give specific directions for children to make Navajo sand paintings, although the authors acknowledge that they are part of religious or healing ceremonies. Sand paintings are indeed sometimes used as part of Diné healing ceremonies, and Diné elders confirm that they are regarded as sacred in the culture. It may be helpful for teachers to reflect upon how they treat the sacred practices of other religions. For example, while early childhood teachers often incorporate bead stringing into the art curriculum, they do not go a step further and have children make rosaries. Diné sand painting poses the same kind of situation. While working with colored sand may be a fine art activity, teachers should not associate children’s art explorations with sacred Navajo sand painting.
Another typical preschool art activity, straw blown painting, is transformed into an Indian pictograph project in More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 166). Pictographs were a way for Native cultures to pass down their histories to future generations. They were very significant to the culture, as the people would have to determine what events were most worthy of preserving. Thus, while blowing air through straws to move paint is a fine art or science activity for young children, associating a craft project with important Native traditions is not.
Face painting is another way in which non-Native children associate Native American peoples with war and violence. More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 71) gives directions for war paint and other types of Indian face paint. Recently, Guy was asked to bring Native American dancers, singers, and storytellers into the Dayton schools for a special program. At the first school they visited, the dancers wore regalia but did not have time to paint their faces. The children enjoyed the program and responded positively. After lunch, however, the dancers had enough time to apply paint before the afternoon performances. As the dancers entered the stage, the children became frightened and began to scream hysterically. They screamed so loudly, in fact, that they drowned out the Drum. When the children had finally calmed down, Guy explained the significance of the colors of the paint and described how the manner in which the face is painted tells a story. The dancers then related how each design used in their face paint was given to them in ceremony. When evaluating activities, teachers must recognize that television, movies, and books have all created powerful images for children of war-painted savages. Introducing face painting as an “Indian” activity reinforces these images and detracts from the significance and symbolism of the paint to the individual and the culture.
As with drums, activity books such as More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 78–82) treat Native American rattles as rhythm instruments to be copied as classroom projects. Among Indian people, however, rattles are sacred and are used in ceremony. Thus, while it is fine to use rattles or maracas in the classroom, teachers should not cross the cultural boundary of making specifically “Indian rattles.” Rattles have a special significance in Native cultures that should be respected.
Kachinas look like exotic dolls to educators who don’t appreciate their cultural significance. They appear in the Native American toys section of More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 97) and as paper cut-outs in Multicultural Festivals (Weir 1995, 11–14). To the Hopi people, Kachinas are sacred and are given for a special purpose. Thus, it is not appropriate to have children make them as an arts and crafts project.
Teachers sometimes have children make “Indian” vests from paper bags. The Kids’ Multicultural Art Book (Terzian 1993, 16) and More Than Moccasins (Carlson 1994, 41) give instructions. Brown bag vests are not sacred, but they do reinforce the “all Indians are the same” stereotype that is common among children and society as a whole. While some Indian peoples wore leather vests, others did not. Another problem with this type of activity is that it conveys the notion that children can become Indian by dressing up. As with other cultures, the apparel of American Indian people is part of their identity, both as individuals and as part of their Native Nation.
When considering activities that involve materials held sacred by particular groups of people, teachers should reflect on the care that other segments of society may use in similar situations. In a recent production of the Verdi opera Nabucco, set designers for the Cincinnati Opera Company wanted to include an enlarged text of the Torah, sacred scripture of Judaism, for the backdrop. They realized, however, that this would not be acceptable practice since the Torah is holy text. Rather than pushing ahead anyway, they turned to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati for assistance. Eventually, a Samaritan text was located and used for the production. Although use of this text was considered acceptable by the Jewish community, it is still considered sacred and therefore must be given to a synagogue at the end of the production rather than discarded (Hutton 2001).
Educators should take note that having children make sacred objects in school, such as many of those cited above, has been ruled by at least one court as transgressing the separation of church and state. In White Plains, New York, a federal judge found a school district in violation of the law for allowing a teacher to have children cut out elephant-head images of the Hindu deity Ganesha, make toothpick “worry dolls,” and build an altar for an Earth Day liturgy (Zielbauer 1999; Associated Press 1999).
Our goals for educators reflect a deep conviction that learning environments for all children will improve as teachers become more informed about specific issues in diversity. In order to help future generations, we must first inform and guide teachers. Changing the way we teach is never easy. Patterns of teaching and favored curriculum activities and materials can become deeply ingrained. Thoughtful educators, though, never stop learning and improving. Our goals, then, are directed at changing outcomes for children as well as educating and empowering teachers to make appropriate choices of curriculum materials and teaching strategies. The following chapters expand upon these objectives.
- Understand similarities among all peoples
Children quickly perceive and comment on differences among people. Through appropriate curriculum and sensitive teaching, they can also begin to understand the similarities that link all peoples.
- Understand, respect, and embrace differences among peoples
Young children are egocentric. They have a hard time understanding thatnot everyone views things the same way they do. Adults often seem to have the same problem when dealing with cultural differences. Carefully selected curriculum and teaching strategies can help children feel comfortable with differences among peoples without viewing people from cultures other than their own as exotic or weird.
- Develop accurate images of Native peoples
We know that even young children hold inaccurate and stereotypical images of American Indians. Our goal is to counter these images with positive, accurate images that reflect Native peoples today.
- Educators should take note that having children make sacred objects in school, such as many of those cited above, has been ruled by at least one court as transgressing the separation of church and state. In White Plains, New York, a federal judge found a school district in violation of the law for allowing a teacher to have children cut out elephant-head images of the Hindu deity Ganesha, make toothpick “worry dolls,” and build an altar for an Earth Day liturgy (Zielbauer 1999; Associated Press 1999).
- Learn to accurately evaluate Native American curriculum materials In most cases, teachers lack the background and education to adequately evaluate Native American content in the literature and materials they use. With increased knowledge and sensitivity to diversity issues, they can make more informed choices.
- Develop appropriate strategies for implementing Native curriculum Teachers often feel that the best way to learn about American Indians is to isolate them as a unit of study. A much more respectful and developmentally appropriate strategy is to integrate Native literature and curricular materials throughout the year, in all units of study.
- .Develop a resource file of appropriate Native literature and curriculum materials As teachers begin to discard inappropriate materials, there are many outstanding Native children’s books and resources to take their place. Teachers need to be knowledgeable about the materials available and where to find them.
- Understand how to recognize and avoid stereotypes of American Indian peoples Teachers need to become sensitized to the many stereotypes of Native peoples that abound in our society. Only then can they adequately screen materials and terminology that promote inaccurate and negative images.
- Know where to go to find answers about Native issues in educational environments Inevitably, there will be some popular book or teaching material that teachers wonder about. Knowing whom to contact to ask respectful questions empowers teachers to continue to improve their teaching materials and practices.
- Allard, Harry. 1974. The Stupids step out. Pictures by James Marshall. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Associated Press. 1999. School scolded for Hindu dolls. The Cincinnati Post, 22 May, 2A.
- Banks, Lynne Reid. 1980. The Indian in the cupboard. Illustrated by Brock Cole. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
- Base, Graeme. 1993. The eleventh hour, reprint ed. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
- Bigelow, Bill, and Bob Peterson. 1998. Rethinking Columbus, 2d ed. Milwaukee: Rethinking Schools.
- Bredekamp, Sue, and Carol Copple. 1997. Developmentally appropriate practice in earlychildhood programs, rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
- Bridwell, Norman. 1967. Clifford’s Halloween. New York: Scholastic Book Services.
- Carlson, Laurie. 1994. More than moccasins. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.
- Cohen, Miriam. 1967. Will I have a friend? Pictures by Lillian Hoban. New York: Macmillan.
- Eastman, P. D. 1964. The Cat in the Hat dictionary. New York: Beginner Books.
- Gretz, Susanna. 1975. Teddy bears ABC. Chicago: Follett.
- Hirschfelder, Arlene, Paulette Fairbanks Molin, and Yvonne Wakim. 1999. American Indian stereotypes in the world of children, 2d ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.
- Hoberman, Mary Ann. 1978. A house is a house for me. Illustrated by Betty Fraser. New York: Viking.
- Hoffman, Mary. 1991. Amazing Grace. Pictures by Caroline Binch. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.
- Hutton, Mary Ellyn. 2001. “Nabucco” research pays off. The Cincinnati Post, 19 July, 1B.
- Joslin, Sesyle. 1961. What do you do, dear? Pictures by Maurice Sendak. New York: Young Scott Books.
- Kohl, MaryAnn F., and Jean Potter. 1998. Global art. Illustrations by Rebecca Van Slyke. Beltsville, Md.: Gryphon House.
- Loewen, James W. 1996. Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: Touchstone.
- Making music your own. 1971. Morristown, N.J.: Silver Burdett.
- Merriam, Eve. 1964. What can you do with a pocket? Illustrated by Harriet Sherman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Miles, Miska. 1971. Annie and the Old One. Illustrated by Peter Parnall. Boston: Little, Brown.
- My first picture dictionary. 1990. Glenville, Ill.: Scott Forsman–Addison Wesley.
- Ogle, Lucille, and Tina Thoburn. 1976. The Golden picture dictionary. Illustrated by Hilary Knight. New York: Golden Press.
- Penner, Lucille Recht. 1994. The true story of Pocahontas. Illustrated by Pamela Johnson. New York: Random House.
- Scarry, Richard. 1986. Richard Scarry’s find your ABC’s. New York: Random House.
- Sendak, Maurice. 1962. Alligators all around: An alphabet. New York: Harper & Row.
- Silver Burdett Music centennial edition. 1985. Morristown, N.J.: Silver Burdett.
- Slapin, Beverly, and Doris Seale. 1998. Through Indian eyes: The Native experience in books for children, 4th ed. Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center.
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- Terzian, Alexandra M. 1993. The kids’ multicultural art book. Charlotte, Vt.: Williamson Publishing.
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- Weir, Wendy. 1995. Multicultural festivals. Illustrated by Kelly McMahon. Santa Ana, Calif.: Wendy’s Bookworks.
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- Wilkes, Angela. 1991. My first word book. New York: DK Publishing.
- World of music. 1988. Morristown, N.J.: Silver Burdett & Ginn.
- Zielbauer, Paul. 1999. Judge rules school district erred on religion in classrooms. The New York Times, 22 May, B1
- Zinn, Howard. 1990. A people’s history of the United States, reprint ed. New York: Harper Perennial.
- Zolotow, Charlotte. 1966. If it weren’t for you. Pictures by Ben Shecter. New York: Harper & Row.
Culturally Responsive Teaching Resources
Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2009.
This resource provides early childhood educators a means of confronting and eliminating barriers of prejudice, misinformation, and bias about specific aspects of personal and social identity; most importantly, find tips for helping staff and children to respect each other, themselves, and all people. Individual chapters focus on culture and language, racial identity, family structures, gender identity, economic class, different abilities, holidays, and more.
- The Indian Reading Series: Stories and Legends of the Northwest. Grades K-6
- American Indians in Children’s Literature by Debbie Reese
- Culturally Appropriate Board Books for the Youngest Readers
- Suggested Books for Indian Education for All in Early Childhood
- Culturally Relevant Books Aligned with Early Reading First- OWLS Curriculum
- Eaglecrest Leveled Reading Series- www.eaglecrestbooks.com/
- Oyate Online Catalog- www.oyate.org
Teaching Young Children about Native Americans | ERIC Digest
Much remains to be done to counter stereotypes of Native Americans learned by young children in our society. Teachers must provide accurate instruction not only about history but also about the contemporary lives of Native Americans. A number of positive strategies can be used in classrooms, regardless of whether Native American children are members of the class. By Debbie Reese
Encouraging Acceptance and Compassion Through Play | Scholastic.com
Developing kindness and compassion for others is a critical part of young children's development. The ability to accept others - even if they are different - and feel compassion for them is an essential component of social competency. This is just as important as any academic training. Socially competent children are more successful in life. The ability to relate to and accept people who are different is not just a desired trait - it's a necessity for living in today's diverse society. http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3747370
Engaging Native American Learners With Rigor And Cultural Relevance |The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
This Issue Brief identifies strategies that foster Native American student engagement and improved academic achievement. Three areas that are identified in the literature as promising strategies for improving educational outcomes for Native students: Instructional practices, curriculum content, and school climate. Educators need not choose between high levels of achievement and culturally relevant practices; in fact, such practices, when interwoven, are supportive of teaching and learning.
Culture and Early Childhood Learning, University of Calif, University of Oulu, Finland
It is a routine finding in research across many content domains that when children are asked to learn or solve problems based upon materials with which they are familiar, or in ways that make “human sense” they learn more rapidly. These relations between culture and learning do not fade away, but become even more pronounced as children move from early into middle childhood and adolescence. http://www.enfant-encyclopedie.com/pages/PDF/Cole-Hakkarainen-BredikyteANGxp.pdf
An Investigation of How Culture Shapes Curriculum in Early Care and Education Programs on a Native American Indian Reservation: "The Drum Is Considered the Heartbeat of the Community”
This article investigates how culture shapes instruction in three early care and education programs on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The investigation is framed by the following research question: How does the culture of the family and community shape curriculum? Data analysis suggests that ongoing communication with parents and community about teaching within a culturally relevant context, building a sense of belongingness and community through ritual, and respecting children, families, and community are essential to defining the Native American Indian culture within these early learning programs. http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=EJ757633
Also, please check OPI Early Childhood
- National Head Start Organization- www.nhsa.org
- Montana Association for the Education of Young Children (MtAEYC) www.mtaeyc.org
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) www.naeyc.org
- Hopa Mountain's StoryMakers program is an early learning initiative that offers parents* of children ages 0-5 proven tools to support them in creating a home environment that gives their children the best chances for success in school. To view a recently recorded video on the importance of reading with and to young children, go to: http://www.hopamountain.org/StoryMakers.php
- HOPA Reading to Young Children video link- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXQHbAbnh84
- American Indians in Childrenís Literature- Critical perspectives of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society. http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2010/07/top-ten-books-recommended-for.html
- Culturally Appropriate Board Books for the Youngest Readers
- Teaching Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom A collection of tips from veteran teachers, advice from ESL specialists, and book lists that speak to the backgrounds of all your students. From Scholastic.com http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collection.jsp?id=39