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«“Before We Teach It, We Have to Learn It”: Wisconsin Act 31 Compliance within Public Teacher Preparation Programs A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO THE ...»

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The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has developed a set of Wisconsin Educator Standards for any person who is seeking licensure in the state of Wisconsin. A person can obtain a license by demonstrating proficiency of these standards through an approved program. The first standard required is that teachers know the subject that they are teaching. More specifically, a teacher needs to “understand the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the disciplines she or he teaches and can create learning experiences that make these aspects of subject matter meaningful for pupils” (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2008). When taking into consideration Wisconsin Act 31 which designates the incorporation of American Indian history and culture in grades 4, 8, and 12, a future educator in these areas should be able to teach students to “think critically and analytically about issues relating to American Indians” as well as be able to address “stereotypes, omissions, and inaccuracies concerning American Indians” (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2009, p. 1).

Yet, in over 20 years of implementation of Wisconsin Act 31, students are still graduating from high school without this knowledge.

Ned Blackhawk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison experiences the difficulties in teaching American Indian history and culture to students who have a lack of understanding of American Indian people which should have been addressed in their primary and secondary education. Students are coming with inaccurate preconceived notions of not only who American Indian people were and are but also the history of the people. Blackhawk (2007) expresses “that American history was written to celebrate certain chapters of the national story over others.... The endless cacophony of simplistic media representations only deepens the challenge” (p.1165). As a Wisconsin Ho-Chunk member who grew up in a non-American Indian community, I became keenly aware at a young age of the misconceptions people hold about American Indians, past and present. However, it was not until I became an instructor with the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire did I realize the extent of the problem that continues in the 21st century. Similar to Ned Blackhawk, I too have experienced students, including future educators, who have a lack of understanding and stereotypes of American Indian people. Based on Blackhawk’s personal account as well as my own experiences, it is clear that there is an educational problem within primary and secondary schools in Wisconsin.

Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to explore how teacher preparation programs play a role in preparing future educators for teaching about American Indian history, culture, and contemporary society in Wisconsin public schools. The courses, including course content and the instructors teaching the preparation course(s), that qualify teachers to teach American Indian history, culture, and contemporary issues, can provide insight into where the breakdown of knowledge occurs with regard to fulfilling the requirements of Wisconsin Act 31. The information gathered will be compared to Wisconsin standards to determine whether teachers are adequately prepared to teach American Indian history, culture, and contemporary issues in order to comply with these standards. Furthermore, the study will explore how teacher preparation programs factor into the compliance with Wisconsin Act 31.

Research Questions

The questions that will be utilized to address the purpose of the study are:

1. How are institutions of higher education within the state of Wisconsin meeting the requirement of Act 31 in preparing students in teacher preparation programs to teach American Indian history, culture, and contemporary issues?

2. What courses, in Wisconsin teacher preparation programs, are required for future educators that comply with licensing requirements?

a. What content is covered in these courses that address the Wisconsin

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Definitions The terms Native American, American Indian, Indian, First Nations and Indigenous Nations all represent the same diverse group of people that reference the first peoples of the North American continent. For the purpose of consistency, I will continue to utilize the term American Indian throughout the research due to the fact that most academics within the state of Wisconsin, whether through state government agencies or academic programs, refer to this diverse group of people as American Indian.

The Wisconsin state statutes referring to the inclusion of American Indian history, culture, and sovereignty of Wisconsin tribes was originally included as part of the 1989biennial budget bill that was numbered 31 in 1989. The bill addressed various educational needs including the appropriation of funding for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction American Indian Studies Program. Therefore, there is no “official” title for the Act as it relates to the American Indian components. For the purpose of this research, the statutes that apply to the research will be referred to as Wisconsin Act 31.

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“Knowledge of oneself is power, and you acquire it by looking into yourself to see what strengths and weaknesses you have. You accomplish this through looking at your own reactions to everyday situations, both good and bad” (Barnhardt &

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Introduction As an educator, a person is challenged to continually adapt to changing curriculum and standards. Educators frequently must determine what is taught to address the requirements within the curriculum as well as how to present the material. Yet it appears that teachers are not being properly prepared to incorporate issues of diversity and multicultural education within the classroom. Teachers rely on her or his background and experiences which tend to include misconceptions and stereotypes, particularly when dealing with American Indian history and culture. Inaccurate material affects students’ understanding of society and as a result perpetuates stereotypes. The history of Wisconsin Act 31 as well as nationwide state mandates on American Indian history and culture demonstrate a continuing need to properly prepare teachers for these subject areas.

Through analysis of state mandates, classroom content continues to be an issue in accurately representing American Indian issues. In order to adequately address American Indian history and culture in the classroom, a teacher must be appropriately equipped to do so.

In this chapter, an understanding of the need for multicultural education will initially be explored within the context of the classroom. Following an examination of multicultural education a focus will be on the misconceptions and stereotypes present in current curriculum. In connecting curriculum to history, a review of the history of Wisconsin Act 31 will be presented followed by a look at nationwide state mandates with regard to American Indian history and culture. The current state of American Indian content in classrooms will then be discussed in relation to the need of prepared teachers.

Finally, a review of the significance of teacher preparation in addressing American Indian issues within the classroom will be provided including examples from Montana, Hawaii, and Wisconsin.

Multicultural Education One of the more recent trends in education is multicultural education, particularly emphasizing the incorporation of minority cultures and voices in classrooms, including classrooms where there tend to be few ethnic minorities present. The need for students and society in general to be aware of diversity is obvious due to racism and discrimination. The incorporation of varying perspectives and diversity in the classroom is essential to all students’ education. Castagno (2008) indicates that “when educators fail to address race, they fail to address students’ needs” (p. 330). Not only are students’ needs not addressed but also they are unaware of the cultural diversity surrounding them and what in the future could potentially be confronting them. In understanding the unique histories of various cultures, students and society in general, are better able to understand the intersecting avenues of culture and become not only aware but also appreciative of cultural diversity.

As the movement of multicultural education broadens into classrooms across the United States, it is essential to remember that cultural diversity does not simply mean becoming aware of or recognizing different cultures. Nor does it mean gaining a respect for other cultures. Instead, it requires an incorporation of cultural values and knowledge into the current mainstream curriculum. In order to effectively accomplish this, educators in the classroom need to have the knowledge base in order to teach about different cultures. A mastery of content knowledge is essential to any area of education and perhaps is more so important to the incorporation of cultural studies. Gary Howard (2006), in referring to a statement by Malcolm X, states “We can’t teach what we don’t know” (p. 6). Yet there continues to be a large population of teachers who “are inadequately prepared to teach ethnically diverse students” (Gay, 2002, p. 106). With specific reference to American Indians, there are additional issues associated with the lack of history and culture found within the classroom.

The exclusion of Indians from America’s story also excludes them from a prominent place in our collective understanding of the American ‘we’. But that is not because there is no story of consequence to be told. Quite the contrary, American Indian cultures are filled with great thinkers and doers and with histories at least as complex and exciting as those included in the largely Eurocentric body of knowledge acquired by American’s graduating seniors.

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American Indian Education In addition to accurately understanding the use of multicultural education within the classroom, a difference must also be recognized between multicultural education and American Indian education. Often multicultural education lumps all cultures and ethnicities into one generalized category. However, it is important to acknowledge that American Indians have a unique status among American society past and present distinguishing the need for further development of history, culture, and contemporary issues in the classroom. The primary difference between American Indians and any other minority within America is based on political distinction. American Indians are not simply labeled as the first peoples of the country but are recognized as distinct political entities. In 1974, the case of Morton v. Mancari reinforced the idea that there is a unique relationship between American Indians and the federal government. Furthermore, there is an obligation by the federal government to maintain the relationship present with American Indians today. Therefore, unlike any other racial group or ethnic group within the United States, there is greater need to understand the legal aspects of American Indians in society, historically and presently, separate from the generalization of multicultural education.

Curriculum “Simply infusing representation of racially and ethnically diverse people into curriculum only marginally affects students’ attitudes because racial attitudes are acquired actively rather than passively” Christine Sleeter (2011, p. viii).

In determining what to include in curriculum and placing much of the work on educators in the classroom, Starnes (2006) reminds us that “many non-Indians do not understand how distinct these tribal groups are. Perhaps as a result of cultural stereotyping, Hollywood images, and a lack of inclusion and accuracy in classroom instruction” (p. 187). Teachers are unprepared to teach about the various histories and cultures of different groups because they simply do not have enough information about the groups or are unfamiliar with the incorporation of multicultural education. Gay (2002) indicates that teachers “may be familiar with the achievements of select, highprofile individuals from some ethnic groups in some areas” but “know little or nothing about the contributions of Native Americans” and other smaller groups in similar areas (p. 107). In addition, teachers are unaware of the “less publicly visible but very significant contributions of groups in science, technology, medicine, math, theology, ecology, peace, law, and economics” (Gay, 2002, p. 107). By not understanding the full history and contributions a particular group has to American society, teachers may only provide a glimpse into cultural diversity. “Simply infusing representation of racially and ethnically diverse people into curriculum, based on the assumption that students will develop positive attitudes by seeing diversity, makes only a marginal impact on students’ attitudes” (Sleeter, 2011, p. 16).

As a result, a teacher may also inadvertently reinforce stereotypes and misconceptions about a particular group. Alridge, Brown and Brown as referenced in Sleeter (2011) acknowledge that although great changes have been made in textbooks over the last 10 years by incorporating “content that previously was absent... [texts] continue to disconnect racism in the past from racism today” (p. 2). The addition of content is not the same as addressing the stereotypes and misconceptions about American Indians, as well as other minorities, and further does not address the connection between the events that happened in history to the events taking place in contemporary society today. Rather, racism is addressed as “a few bad individuals rather than a system of oppression, and challenges to racism as actions of heroic individuals rather than organized struggle” (Sleeter, 2011, p. 2). Students are not taught to think critically about the additional content, only to cover it in the textbook. By looking selectively at the material, the continuation of stereotypes and racism continue.



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