Each year as the nation celebrates Native American Heritage Month, educators look for lesson plans and resources to keep their students engaged. Some of these teachers use government-created resources or follow government mandates to teach Aboriginal history, such as: B. Recently published materials in Oregon and a new Indian education law in California.
These states and many others are taking steps in the right direction to ensure that students see Aboriginal history and contemporary experiences as nuanced, relevant, and impactful.
However, these developments become meaningless if we are not able to answer the following question: How do we ensure that our teachers are both well prepared and well equipped to start sharing information and materials that they probably never received it yourself in a formal classroom? ?
Any major changes to what we expect K-12 teachers to do in the classroom raise concerns about teacher bandwidth, time, and materials. As a former middle school social studies teacher in Tennessee and Georgia, I understand these feelings of being overwhelmed and underserved.
For this reason, states, professional organizations, and universities—not teachers—should create professional development programs so that educators can do a good job of teaching these lessons. Teacher preparation programs and ongoing professional development opportunities must help teachers feel prepared to accurately and honestly tell the entire history of this nation.
This means building respectful relationships with Indigenous Nations and Indigenous Communities, Tribal Colleges, Indigenous Educators, Tribal Education Departments and Indigenous Education Researchers. It means honest, accurate history instruction for teacher candidates. It means using indigenous teaching materials and hiring indigenous teachers and staff. It means providing solid funding to create and continually update educational materials. It also means giving teachers and students plenty of space for individual learning opportunities and self-reflection, and using the classroom as a space to amplify Indigenous perspectives and priorities.
This work can support a shared future that is relationship-based and focused on our collective well-being.
This work is urgently needed as the number of states developing K-12 curricula for Indigenous peoples continues to grow.
For example, in June 2019, Kentucky State Assemblyman Attica Scott introduced legislation mandating the creation of new African and Native American history curricula. In September of that year, Oregon officials began releasing dozens of new lesson plans from the state’s tribal history/common history curriculum.
And in October 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation mandating statewide college credit for Ethnic Studies, including Native Studies. In September of this year, Newsom signed the above-mentioned India Education Act to support local education working groups made up of school districts, government agencies and indigenous representatives to collect information and develop educational materials together.
Illinois lawmakers are currently working with the state’s Indigenous people to introduce a new education law next year. The bill would mandate teaching Indigenous history in Illinois classrooms; hopefully it will also provide resources and teacher training informed by indigenous peoples’ perspectives to support the implementation of the mandate.
The work of states like Kentucky, Oregon, California and Illinois joins decades of advocacy in other states. Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin all have materials designed to teach K-12 students the indigenous history of the Native Americans whose territories occupy their states.
Before new ways of teaching Aboriginal history can impact students, we need to help teachers expand their knowledge of the subject.
Some of this has been statutorily codified: Hawaii and Montana have state constitutional mandates to teach Indigenous histories, while Arizona, Connecticut, California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming all have state statutes that encourage or mandate the development of K-12 content about Indigenous Peoples.
And there are current calls in other states, including Alaska, Kansas and Minnesota, for similar initiatives to be developed.
Such efforts are consistent with national guidance from the National Council for the Social Studies, which “has called for the creation and implementation of social studies curricula that expressly present accurate accounts of the lives, experiences, and histories of indigenous peoples, their sovereign nations and highlight and their interactions—past, present, and future—with Euro-American settlers and the United States government.”
These initiatives are all designed to directly combat the explicit eradication of Indigenous peoples in K-12 education. As researchers have noted, nearly 87 percent of K-12 social studies standards represent only pre-1900 Native Americans.
Related: Tell us your story about the Bureau of Indian Education
Additionally, civics often erases tribal sovereignty. By the time students reach my college courses, many are frustrated by their lack of information about indigenous nations and peoples.
But before new ways of teaching Aboriginal history can impact students, we need to help teachers expand their knowledge of the subject. Even as the country’s teaching workforce has become more diverse, the percentage of native teachers remains disproportionately low, accounting for about 0.5 percent of all K-12 teachers.
The vast majority of US teachers are white women who, like most Americans, have received very little accurate information about indigenous peoples in their own K-12 and higher education experiences.
The groundbreaking Reclaiming Native Truth study from the First Nations Development Institute and Echo Hawk Consulting sets a number of educational goals, including benchmarks for teacher preparation. His timing is spot on. As more states expand their Aboriginal history offerings and mandates, now is the time to improve teacher professional development.
Well-resourced Aboriginal history courses should become the basis of teacher training programs. The work does not end with the approval of a curricular assignment; it’s just the beginning.
Meredith L. McCoy is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and History at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
This story about teaching Native American history was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.