«“Before We Teach It, We Have to Learn It”: Wisconsin Act 31 Compliance within Public Teacher Preparation Programs A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO THE ...»
While only reported by 9% (n = 2) of respondents, an emphasis was placed on not only knowing the content of history, culture and tribal sovereignty in both past and present contexts but being able to support student learning of these concepts. On a smaller scale, other responses included teaching American Indian history with more depth and from a critical perspective. A component of this relates to the idea of teaching across disciplines the issues of sovereignty and treaty rights within Wisconsin as well as other places. Related to teaching across disciplines is the concept of teaching information throughout the year rather than only a special day or week of celebration. As reported in the literature doing so often emphasizes the stereotypes associated with American Indians. In addition, only a general understanding is associated with American Indian history, culture, and sovereignty when minimalizing the time spent on these topics.
Finally, although only reported by 5% (n = 1), the idea that every citizen of Wisconsin should be informed about American Indian history, culture, and sovereignty in past and present perspectives, the Act is not well funded and even more so not enforced to be effective in producing the results intended by Wisconsin Act 31. In essence, there appears to be a firm understanding of the historical and legal implications of Wisconsin Act 31 including the importance of pre-service teachers understanding the purpose of the Act. However, enforcement appears to be an issue since the majority of college students preparing to be teachers have not been introduced to any of the required information as mandated by Wisconsin Act 31.
Essential components of Wisconsin Education Act 31. A significant component of Wisconsin Act 31 are the essential components of the act as they relate to American Indian history, culture, and tribal sovereignty. Therefore, respondents were asked to list what he or she deemed to be the essential components of Wisconsin Act 31. Of the 22 responses provided, 27% (n = 6) did not provide an answer to this portion of the survey.
The largest percentage (36%, n = 8) of responses mentioned the specific components of the written act including Wisconsin Indian history, culture, and tribal sovereignty as well as the general issues of minority group relations. Respondents in this group also mentioned again the importance of proper teacher preparation in education programs as an essential piece to compliance with Wisconsin Act 31. One respondent in particular mentioned that pre-service teachers are unable to teach about Wisconsin Indian history, culture, and sovereignty unless they have a strong understanding of these areas themselves. Based on this comment, it is clear that there is understanding of the idea of “before we teach it, we have to learn it” to be applied to pre-service teachers with regard to Wisconsin Act 31.
In relation to education, 23% (n = 5) of the respondents reported the need to develop suitable resources and curriculum for educators. More specifically respondents mentioned the need to have instructional materials that reflect cultural diversity as well as the multicultural nature of American society in the 21st century. The materials requested were those dealing with Chippewa treaty rights in particular as well as working in cooperation with the American Indian Language and Culture board to work on materials that address Wisconsin Act 31 requirements more fully. Due to the vague nature of the Act, it was mentioned also that updated social studies standards were present to specifically address Wisconsin Act 31 components of Wisconsin history, culture, and tribal sovereignty. Finally, making funds available to update the curriculum was mentioned within this section to maintain culturally diverse materials.
Although the idea of curriculum is broad in the sense of developing materials, 14% (n = 3) of respondents reported specifically the importance of understanding tribal sovereignty. In particular, all educators should not only have a broad understanding of tribal sovereignty and a basic definition but must understand how tribal sovereignty factors in to the history and culture of American Indian nations. In addition, educators need to be aware of how tribal sovereignty not only affects native communities but also how tribal sovereignty factors into American and international law legally and politically.
Similarly, treaty rights were mentioned by nine percent (n = 2) of respondents as an area of particular need for pre-service teachers. Not only the historical significance of treaties but in particular the application of treaty rights in contemporary society utilizing the Chippewa treaty rights issue within the state of Wisconsin as an example. Another nine percent (n = 2) reported the importance of integrating cultural and historical issues into the classroom at least twice at the elementary level and at least once at the middle and high school level. Within this group it was also mentioned that this frequently occurs during times such as Thanksgiving which is opposite from what should happen to avoid continued stereotypes.
An appreciation of culture and differing perspectives was also mentioned by nine percent (n = 2) of respondents as the majority of teachers within the state of Wisconsin are going to have a background that is not based in American Indian studies.
Furthermore, it was recognized that education about treaty rights and tribal sovereignty was considered to be of public interest to provide more of an understanding of these fundamental issues. One of the fundamental reasons for Wisconsin Act 31 is the public education component to address the issues of treaty rights and tribal sovereignty.
Additionally, nine percent mentioned the importance of the Superintendent to be in charge of making certain that Wisconsin Act 31 is fully addressed within school systems.
Further observations made by respondents in this section included going beyond the general history of American Indians and discussing current events as they apply to both native and non-native traditions, curriculum, politics, and culture in general. In relation to this, education about policy and legalized race-based discrimination as well as oppression also need to be addressed in a more in-depth manner as they relate to American Indian history, culture, and tribal sovereignty. In general, respondents mentioned the need to direct all schools to provide instructional programming that provides learning opportunities on general human relations.
Components necessary to teach or include in course to comply with the Act.
Although respondents reported on what they felt were the essential components of Wisconsin Act 31, this portion of the survey asked about what each respondent thought was necessary to teach in his or her course in particular. Out of the 22 respondents, 27% (n = 6) provided no answer. The most commonly reported area (69%, n = 11) by those who did report an answer was the inclusion of the history and cultures of Wisconsin tribal nations. Also reported with a higher percentage (44%, n = 7) was to include the topic of sovereignty. Both of these areas reported the most are directly related to the requirements of Wisconsin Act 31. Another area of Wisconsin Act 31 regarding treaty rights specifically emphasizing hunting and fishing regulations along with violations were reported by 31% (n = 5) of the respondents. Although not a directly stated component of Wisconsin Act 31, contemporary issues of Wisconsin tribal nations were also reported by 31% (n = 5) of the respondents.
Even though the above-mentioned directly related areas were the most reported, respondents also reported more specific areas as well that were felt to be important to include in teacher preparation courses. Twenty-five percent (n = 4) of the responses mentioned laws and policies that affect Wisconsin tribes as well as the political complexities of tribal nations. Four other areas were specifically mentioned by 13% (n =
2) of respondents that had less to do with the American Indian components of Wisconsin Act 31 and more related to education and social justice. Within the education related responses was for the student to understand the relationship between what he or she knows and how he or she learned that knowledge providing for a good understanding one’s own personal culture both objectively and subjectively. In relation to this is the ability to critically question self-assumptions and the systems that support these assumptions in relation to varied worldviews including the idea of how these may be different rather than wrong.
The social justice sections reported by 13% (n = 2) relate to this last part of the education related components of the course. One of these areas emphasized in courses is to be an advocate and to empower others to become socially responsible individuals. A part of this as future educators is to understand how traditional history instruction has neglected all marginalized groups rather than celebrating their contributions to the formation of America which brings future educators full circle with regard to Wisconsin Act 31 in addressing the stereotypes and generalizations that remain present in literature, movies, toys, and other areas of mainstream society. Again this element ties into the fourth response that future teachers need to be taught to seek alternatives to unjust and oppressive educational, social, economic, and political practices; in essence, alternatives to social inequalities. Respondents seemed to recognize the importance of combining education and social justice with the inclusion of these components.
In relation to the broader categories of education and social justice, several respondents more specifically defined areas relevant to the foundations of Wisconsin Act 31 that they felt necessary to include in their course(s). With regard to education, topics included connecting history, culture, and contemporary issues with tribal sovereignty, understanding the contexts in which knowledge is produced and learning takes place, and finally understanding why Act 31 is often not addressed in the schools and how as future educators can work to change this aspect. Although education and social justice are interrelated in the context of the survey, other defined areas within social justice included general race issues, racism, and stereotypes.
All of the respondents who provided an answer seemed to have a firm understanding of what he or she needed to include in the course to be compliant with Wisconsin Act 31. However, two respondents (13%) elaborated on issues with actually being in compliance with their courses. The first reported a feeling that very little had to be included in the course in order to be in compliance with the Wisconsin Act 31. In addition, the same individual reported that no one has ever checked whether the course not only is in compliance with Wisconsin Act 31 but also whether the course actually achieves the objectives of Wisconsin Act 31. Therefore, a course could potentially be fairly superficial with regard to history, treaties, culture, and sovereignty and still be complaint with Wisconsin Act 31. Yet, the future educators would not have the foundations necessary for teaching about American Indian topics as required by the Wisconsin Department of Instruction. The individual also reported that the themes emphasized in their particular course are due to personal beliefs that these themes are important for students to know and understand and not because of Wisconsin Act 31 or the Wisconsin Department of Instruction.
The second respondent to discuss issues with compliance in the classroom addressed the main issue brought out in the literature review regarding the need for training prior to teaching. The individual reported that almost no training was received to become an instructor for the course. The syllabus was pre-approved by the department and therefore the individual did not set the curriculum for the course. The individual had little prior experience due to only living in the state of Wisconsin for a year prior to teaching. Therefore, the respondent reported having zero knowledge of the history and culture of American Indians within the state to begin with. Within limited background knowledge, the respondent did report that it is important for students to think about the issues related to teaching American Indian students but that generally it is only a small component of the larger conversations about issues of inequality in schools for marginalized and minority students. Although there is a feeling of doing a good job at providing a theoretical framework to address issues of power, privilege, and inequality, there is a concern that due to the large amount of topics to be covered there is an issue of thoroughly addressing Wisconsin Act 31 within the course.
Defining sovereignty. Considering the importance of sovereignty within not only Wisconsin Act 31 but also as reported by the respondents, a natural follow-up question was to determine how each respondent defined sovereignty as it applies to American Indians. As seen throughout the survey, a number of respondents did not answer this question. Out of the 22 respondents reporting on the survey, 23% (n = 5) did not provide an answer to the question. The other respondents provided an array of definitions ranging from a basic answer to a more complex definition. In addition to providing a definition, several respondents elaborated more on their personal understanding. Due to the overwhelming diversity of responses, the results reported below are more generalized to the categories of generic sovereignty and limited sovereignty. There was no overarching agreement on what the definition of sovereignty is as applied to American Indians.
The basic foundations to sovereignty in general were frequently mentioned.