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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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Teachers who continually incorporate misinformation or no information at all perpetuate the stereotypes and misconceptions that continually plague minorities, including American Indians, who have a unique history with the United States both in the past and the present. Many of these stereotypes can then lead into racism and discrimination. Bigler, Brown and Markell indicate in Sleeter (2011) that Curricula that simply depict or label groups or group members (for example pointing out a person’s race, ethnicity, or gender) may draw students’ attention to group markers and differences and invite stereotyping without engaging them in questioning their own thinking. (p. 16) Therefore, educators need to go deeper into the content and look at the context and application of the material. By addressing racism directly and critically, students will become more aware of not only the cultural diversity around them but also develop an understanding of cultures that potentially are in conflict with their own beliefs and values.

Yet allows them to not discriminate against these alternate ways of thinking and instead embrace the commonalities of humanity.

History of Wisconsin Act 31 In 1987, the American Indian Language and Culture Education Board issued a statement recognizing that “rampant racism due to American Indian treaty stipulations has become a critical educational issue” and that “much of the racism can be directly attributed to misinformation and lack of information on the treaty rights issues.” The board unanimously passed a resolution calling upon the Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin State Legislature to work with tribes to develop and implement curriculum units which accurately describe the history of the tribes of Wisconsin and the government to government relationship to the federal and state governments. The board urged that this curriculum be taught in every school district in the state. (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2009, p. 3) Within the state of Wisconsin, events in the 1980s and 1990s brought treaty issues to the forefront due to enforcement of court rulings and discrimination throughout northern Wisconsin. J.P. Leary, as reported in Zehr (2008), stated that “it became apparent that really what we had... was a history of misrepresentation, marginalization, or invisibility of Native American people”. This brought attention to the fact that there was a problem within education and a need to address the lack of knowledge behind American Indian issues and culture. Wisconsin state standards were added to address this gap. Due to the treaty issues in northern Wisconsin, the “Wisconsin legislature passes a law (s.11819(8) Wis Stats), commonly referred to as Act 31, to address the apparent racial conflict between its Native and non-native citizens” (Christensen & Poupart, n.d., p. 2). Within the law, social studies standards were created for grades 4, 8, and 12 to cover the areas of history, culture, tribal sovereignty, and current issues among the American Indian tribes of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Education Act 31 was instituted in 1990. Within Act 31, students are required as part of the Social Studies, Standard B History Performance Standards to be able to address the history, culture, tribal sovereignty, and current status of Wisconsin American Indian tribes and bands in grades 4, 8, and 12. In looking more closely at the content standards there are three levels in which students need to address native peoples, Wisconsin history, United States history, and world history. The Wisconsin Department of Instruction (2008) requires that by the end of fourth grade students can “explain the history, culture, tribal sovereignty, and current status of the American Indian tribes and bands in Wisconsin”. By grade 8 this expands to students being able to “summarize major issues associated with the history, culture, tribal sovereignty, and current status of” Wisconsin American Indians (WI DPI, 2008). Finally, by the time of graduation, in grade 12, the Wisconsin Department of Instruction (2008) requires that students are able to “analyze the history, culture, tribal sovereignty, and current status” of Wisconsin tribal nations. The standards essentially mean the same as far as content regarding history, culture, sovereignty, and current issues facing Wisconsin American Indian people. It is the level of understanding that changes from grade four to grade 12 from explanation to summarization to analysis. In essence, students are to obtain the content and then look critically at applying it to American Indian and American societies.

The state standards for American Indian topics are very broad and do not go into much detail as to what is expected of the schools as far as content and how much time should be placed on the topics of American Indian history, culture, sovereignty, and current issues. The Wisconsin Department of Instruction (2012) only states within statute

121.02 that as part of the social studies curriculum, include instruction in the history, culture and tribal sovereignty of the federally recognized American Indian tribes and bands located in this state at least twice in the elementary grades and at least once

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This is the only place where an amount is provided on how much should be included, twice in elementary and once in high school. Yet, there are no specifics on whether it should be two units, two weeks, two days, etcetera. The wording again is very broad and limiting, yet allows for schools to determine what adequately fills the state requirement.





The national standards are essentially the same with regard to the amount of time to be spent on these topics. However, several standards go more in depth with regard to the content at various levels, another gap in the curriculum.

By looking more in depth at the standards and what is currently stated it becomes clear that there remain problems within the standards that need to be addressed in order to properly teach American Indian history, culture, and sovereignty in our schools, at least within the state of Wisconsin. American Indians as a minority tend to get left on the back burner for more prevalent minorities in particular areas. Students are knowledgeable about significant movements and injustices within our country and the world such as the Holocaust, the Slave Trade, and the Civil Rights Movement. Yet they are shielded from similar events within American Indian history. This is only the beginning of where the gaps begin to appear within the curriculum.

Nationwide State Mandates A year ago, I knew very little about American Indian history, and what I did know about Montana’s tribes could have been gleaned from a tourism brochure. That’s because I — like most other Americans — am a product of a system of education that simply does not include Indians. In my high school class in Ohio history, for example, I learned matter-of-factly how the Shawnee, Wyandot, and Erie tribes disappeared when Mad Anthony Wayne killed them off to clear the way for “settlers” to move west. Today, I would call that ethnic cleansing. But the authors of my textbook didn’t even hint that it might represent some injustice. (Warren,

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The National Center for History in the Schools [NCHS] breaks down more specifically into the grades of K-4 and 5-12 what students should be learning in history with regard to American Indian people. At the K-4 level, students are expected to look at “paintings and artifacts to hypothesize about the culture of the... Native Americans who are known to have lived in the state or region” as well as develop personal accounts of the history of these people through “legends and myths” of American Indians within the state (NCHS, 1996a). Finally, in grades 3-4, students are supposed to be able to compare and contrast the lives of American Indians today with those who were present 100 years ago. However, if they are focusing on the artifacts and oral traditions and not being taught about contemporary people, how are they adequately supposed to be able to compare and contrast them with those who existed 100 years ago? In addition, 100 years ago, is far from the people who existed prior to contact. The incorporation of the time frame is confusing as artifacts tend to place American Indians in the far past and students are expected to compare and contrast people who are in our contemporary history and present day.

Next in the upper grades of 5-12, the standards start looking at more analysis of the origins and migrations of American Indians. Students are expected to use archaeological and geological data to explain these areas as well as be able to look at the change from hunting/gathering societies to the urban community living throughout time.

Then starting with ninth grade, students are expected to be able to compare and contrast the “common elements of Native American societies such as gender roles, family organization, religion, and values” along with their “languages, shelter, labor systems, political structures, and economic organization” (NCHS, 1996b). Finally, in high school, students should be able to explain the mound building societies commonly found in the Mississippi Valley.

Other areas within the National Center for History in the Schools tackle other issues throughout the history of the United States such as intercultural relations, civilization, and how American Indian societies changed as a result of European contact.

However, the emphasis on American Indian topics as specific parts of the standards ends around World War II resulting in a lack of standards focused on contemporary and current issues affecting American Indians based on the history of American Indians.

Overall, the standards at both a national and state level (within Wisconsin) should cover all aspects of American Indian life throughout history at all levels K-12. The problem with looking at archaeological and geographical data is that it gives students the impression that American Indian people are no longer existent. Why are students looking at “old” information when they have access to real living American Indian people? Why are schools teaching the idea that American Indian people are essentially out of the picture?

The standards tend to rely significantly on what was in the past with regard to determining culture based on what it was like prior to contact and during the time of contact. Examining the past is important as the effects of the past with regard to American Indian history and particularly sovereignty play a significant role in American Indian tribes today. Although the intentions and goals of the standards are good and would be beneficial there is little that exactly explains what it means to teach this effectively. There needs to be more available to teachers that explains what to cover, how much to cover, and how much time to spend on covering these areas.

Throughout the United States, other education systems are recognizing the same problem. Within the state of Montana, it is known that students can demonstrate knowledge on world events, national events and even historical aspects of the state of Montana. Yet, “most would be unable to locate the state’s seven reservations” and “almost none of the graduating seniors realize that more than 12 native languages are spoken on reservations and in urban areas throughout Montana” (Starnes, 2006, p. 185).

Due to the realization that Montana’s students are being shorted on their education of their state, a state law has been passed, Indian Education For All, with the hope to not only affect the students of Montana but those throughout the United States.

Starnes (2006) provides a solid foundation as to why everyone should be learning about American Indian history and culture. Arguing that the state standards alone does not cut it for the education being incorporated into all schools and the author addresses that issue by indicating that American Indian history is a part of our history and the people and their culture should simply not get brushed aside along with other immigrants.

In addition, there is also the added idea that learning more makes us more aware concerning culturally and socially important information about people whom we may have daily contact with.

The author does list concerns with the implementation process. The biggest concern is the use of funds within schools. Talk had already occurred that administrators were going to divert funds from Indian Education for All and apply it to other areas where there were shortages. The other issue that came to light is that of needing historically accurate and culturally appropriate materials for the classroom with the main issue of developing materials from a native perspective. At this point, there is no model for everyone to follow but the initiative still remains within the state. The next phase is to bring together all of the various components and place them into one vision for what Indian Education for All is to become down the road. The main goal behind completing this task is collaboration between people who traditionally had never worked together and may come from widely different cultures.

Classroom Content The impact or lack of impact, of Wisconsin Educational Act 31 which brought about these standards became clear with a survey conducted in 2000 by a Native American Task Force through UW-Extension. In 2000, the UW-Extension Native American Task Force conducted a multi-level approach to accumulating data for a study on the needs and desires for educational materials for classroom educators. The areas of interest are the appropriateness of the material to the topics, the perspective the materials come from, and teacher demographics which may play a significant role in material selection and utilization. Within the 400 school districts within the state of Wisconsin, 100 were randomly selected to distribute and complete the survey to at least 3 social studies teachers. The returned surveys included 135 from principals and 328 from teachers. Surveys were also sent to 58 teacher training institutions at which 52% responded. Finally, the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) districts were surveyed via telephone.



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