«“Before We Teach It, We Have to Learn It”: Wisconsin Act 31 Compliance within Public Teacher Preparation Programs A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO THE ...»
In order to learn it, we must truly understand it In order for instructors of teacher preparation courses to comply with Wisconsin Act 31, they themselves must have a firm understanding of American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues. As stressed by Starnes (2006) teachers continue to be unaware of the diversity of American Indians and therefore continue to incorporate stereotypes in the classroom without fully understanding the implications of doing so. Based on the survey data, the majority of instructors teaching the courses do not have a background in any of the foundations areas of Wisconsin Act 31. Rather, they have a background in education as well as an affiliation with this department. The courses that are utilized to prepare future teachers tend to be education courses that spend a relatively small amount of time addressing the fundamentals of American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues and instead focus more on the human relations component.
For those courses that are not education-related and focus more on American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues, the general observation is that the more specific the course the more depth of content there is in actually teaching about the necessary components of Wisconsin Act 31. The information received in these courses have more value in addressing what future teachers will need to utilize within their K-12 classrooms. By focusing on the content necessary for future educators to incorporate into their curriculum, the discipline-specific courses provide the foundations for what is truly needed within the classrooms.
In theory, future educators should have already received the basics on American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues within their own K-12 education. Then the teacher preparation program would provide the tools for future teachers to bring the same information into their classrooms in order to address issues of stereotypes and the more human relations components of Wisconsin Act 31. However, there continues to be a breakdown in the system of needing fundamental knowledge and practical use with human relations. In turn, there is a cycle of lack of knowledge or depth of understanding within American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues that leads to teacher preparation training that discusses Wisconsin Act 31 but does not provide the fundamental knowledge that future educators can bring into their classrooms. There remains an assumption that the purpose and goal of Wisconsin Act 31 is effective and that the knowledge is in place. However, making that assumption in a teacher preparation program allows students to pass through the program without having the knowledge in place to pass on to students in K-12 classrooms. Students continue to come into teacher preparation programs with preconceived notions of American Indians without being corrected through the program and then sent back into schools to continue the cycle. A greater understanding of American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues is needed before teaching in the classroom.
Significant Findings One of the strengths to a mixed methods approach as stated by Blaikie (2010) is that mixed methods research “help(s) answer research questions that cannot be answered by one method alone” (p. 219). This “model is advantageous because it... can result in well-validated and substantiated findings” (Creswell, 2010, p. 213-214). On the other hand, mixed methods also have limitations. One argument is that data obtained from a mixed methodology “can be difficult to compare the results of two analyses using data of different forms” (Creswell, 2010, p. 214). Although this limitation is a valid argument, I believe the approach is beneficial in understanding how the research questions and thus the data collected from each intersect with one another to provide a more solid response to the purpose of the study resulting in a better understanding of the significant findings.
Due to the concurrent mixed methods approach, the significant findings were more prominent and well validated through the combination of the survey data and the document analysis of the syllabi.
Wisconsin Act 31 has the intention of providing students with an understanding of American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues. In addition, Wisconsin Act 31 seeks to address an overall approach to human relations as well. Yet, students are continuing to enter teacher preparation programs without the fundamental knowledge necessary to pass on to students within their classrooms. A component of this issue is with the courses that future teachers are required to take to receive their teacher licenses. Furthermore, issues lie within the backgrounds of the instructors and content of those courses. The majority of courses tended to be in an education or education-related field and not focused on American Indian topics. Within the courses themselves, courses that did not focus on American Indians spent relatively little time addressing the fundamental components of Wisconsin Act 31 and rather focused more on the human relations and diversity component rather than specific information pertaining to the American Indian components.
The majority of instructors, although well educated, lacked a solid background in American Indian topics and were more focused on education-related topics. Furthermore, majority are non-American Indian instructors and although many expressed the importance of relating to a community, many did not have connections to American Indian people and communities. Additionally, experiences, both professional and personal with American Indians, were reported as being limited among the respondents.
However, majority were aware of Wisconsin Act 31 as well as having a firm understanding of the essential components of Wisconsin Act 31, there tended to be lack of addressing these components within the courses based on the time spent and resources utilized within the syllabi. Overall, the courses that prepared future teachers the best for complying with Wisconsin Act 31 are those that spend the entire semester addressing American Indian topics as these courses provide the fundamentals necessary for Wisconsin Act 31. Yet, it remains that no one course currently being offered addresses all of the issues related to Wisconsin Act 31 in teacher preparation programs.
Nevertheless, the majority of the respondents who are teaching the courses report that they feel well prepared to instill the necessary knowledge in future teachers for their work in K-12 classrooms. In addition to the responses addressing the reasoning behind feeling prepared to educate future teachers, one of the respondents also reported limitations of preparedness. Although confident in their own preparedness, one respondent conveyed that while students are provided with a solid foundation on the history and culture of American Indian people, there is an issue with providing specific curriculum to be created and integrated into everyday teaching. The concern of the respondent reflects the findings from the 2000 UW-Extension Native American Task Force survey indicating the major need of teachers was having a limited curriculum and a lack of age/grade appropriate material. The same respondent indicated that this is one of the difficulties in preparing future teachers for compliance with Wisconsin Act 31.
Therefore, there emerges an imbalance between providing the educational side of Wisconsin Act 31, such as general human relations and inclusion in curriculum, and the specific foundations of Wisconsin Act 31 including the history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues of Wisconsin American Indians.
In relation to the discrepancy between curriculum and foundations, other respondents expressed concern over the limitations of Wisconsin Act 31. One respondent reporting a yes answer to feeling well-founded to prepare future teachers for compliance with Wisconsin Act 31 reflected on Wisconsin Act 31 in general emphasizing the complexity of Wisconsin Act 31 and its limitations. The respondent went further by indicating that although compliance is good to consider the goal of a student teacher program should be comprehensive critical analysis. In contrast, one respondent reported that due to the course including ethnic and gender issues in general, there is a limited amount of time to be spent on Wisconsin Act 31 information. Therefore, a suggestion from this respondent was to have a 3-credit course specifically dedicated to Wisconsin Act 31. Finally, one respondent stated that Wisconsin Act 31 is an ongoing project that has a long way to go. Based on the culmination of these responses, several educational implications have developed from the research data.
Educational Implications In the late 1980s to early 1990s, the state of Wisconsin witnessed an extraordinary amount of racial discrimination and violence due to what was known as the walleye wars (Satz, 1996). The intense reaction to the ruling sent a firestorm throughout the northwoods of Wisconsin resulting in a call for action. The call was to educate people about treaty rights, culture, and sovereignty of American Indians throughout the state of Wisconsin in order to address the blatant lack of understanding about American Indians.
Wisconsin Act 31 was created to bring specific elements into the classroom to teach students about the first peoples of Wisconsin and address the stereotypes and discrimination the people continue to face. Although the intentions were good, over 20 years later discrimination and lack of knowledge about American Indians remain.
Children continue to not be properly educated about American Indian history, culture, treaty rights, sovereignty, and current issues.
Based on the intentions of Wisconsin Act 31 combined with the research presented through the survey data and document analysis, the overall implication is that there needs to be a uniform understanding of what courses comply with the teacherlicensing aspect of Wisconsin Act 31. Furthermore the content of those courses in relation to Wisconsin Act 31 needs to contain not only basic American Indian foundations but also how to incorporate that content into appropriate classroom curriculum. The courses also need to go beyond the walls of each educational institution and work with other education programs throughout the UW System. Doing so provides a more uniform preparation for future educators. In the initial contact period, my inquiry was often forwarded to others beyond the licensing certification officer resulting in confusion about what courses comply specifically with Wisconsin Act 31. Based on my findings, there should be a database held by the Wisconsin Department of Instruction of the courses from each institution regarding the courses that comply with the teacherlicensing requirement of Wisconsin Act 31. Overall, there are general issues of compliance within the lack of cohesion among the courses and therefore needs to be consistency in courses offerings throughout the state of Wisconsin.
In relation to the courses, the research indicates that there is a need to change the system of licensing teachers in the field in order to have a more uniform process of courses that comply with licensing to address all components of Wisconsin Act 31 throughout the University of Wisconsin System. The potential to make this change could occur through the reorganization of the American Indian Studies Consortium that was used throughout the University of Wisconsin System to bring about more general cohesion between American Indian programs and departments. Through the consortium decisions could be made to determine the fundamental aspects that would be necessary in a teacher-licensing course.
The course should be specific to the Wisconsin Act 31 components of history, culture, sovereignty, and contemporary issues of Wisconsin American Indians as well as American Indians in general. In addition, the course should incorporate curriculum aspects for future teachers to be able to apply what they have learned and the specifics of Wisconsin Act 31 into the K-12 daily lessons throughout the course of a year instead of just specific times such as Thanksgiving. Instead of distinguishing between educationrelated courses and discipline specific courses, courses should combine the American Indian components of both to present a fully rounded course for future educators.
Finally, in addition to specific implications for uniform courses, a general idea brought out in the research is to bring more cohesion to University of Wisconsin institutions and relationships with American Indian communities throughout the state of Wisconsin. Due to the lack of personal and cultural experiences among the instructors of Wisconsin Act 31 compliant courses there needs to be more connections with American Indian communities throughout the state of Wisconsin. Not only will universities throughout the University of Wisconsin System come together, there should be a bridge between American Indian communities throughout the state. Doing so allows for the incorporation of American Indians into classrooms within not only teacher preparation programs, but also K-12 schools allowing for more authentic information to be presented instead of the stereotypes and misconceptions currently in place throughout K-12 education. In addition, bridging the American Indian and non-American Indian populations will generate a better understanding between higher education, public education, and American Indian communities. Generally speaking, as reported by a respondent, “there is still a long way to go but [Wisconsin Act 31] is an earnest ongoing project”.
Recommendations for Future Research In considering the foundations of Wisconsin Act 31, the significant findings from the research, and the educational implications of the research, several recommendations occur for future research. First and foremost, ideally all institutions with teacher preparation programs would provide input from their institutions to give a more complete representation of teacher preparation throughout the entire University of Wisconsin System with regard to Wisconsin Act 31. One institution that did not participate, UWSuperior, is located in close proximity to American Indian communities and offers a summer course to specifically address Wisconsin Act 31 issues for educators.