An Analysis of a Comparative Study of Taiwanese Aboriginal and American Indian Identities’ Impact on Educational Issues

Cheng, S. Y., & Jacob, W. J. (2008). American Indian and Taiwan Aboriginal Education: Indigenous Identity and Career Aspirations. Asia Pacific Education Review, 9(3), 233–247. doi:10.1007/BF03026713

When approaching an issue or challenge, it is of utmost importance that all perspectives be considered.  One such powerful perspective that may be rendered is through critically comparing and contrasting two seemingly similar groups or ideas.  The results highlight insightful binaries of similarities/dissimilarities and causes/effects.

This methodology of critically and qualitatively comparing two traditionally colonized and marginalized groups is especially beneficial in educational action research. The insights garnered through analysis of two groups can tease out commonalities and differences, but also an understanding of how and why.  One such study was conducted by Cheng and Jacob (2008) in their article American Indian and Taiwan Aboriginal Education: Indigenous Identity and Career Aspirations.

In the qualitative study performed by Cheng and Jacob (2008), standard comparative case study analysis was implemented to dissect the similarities and differences between a high school in Taipei, Taiwan, and a high school in Los Angeles, California in the United States.  The procedure of this case study was segmented into three stages: design stage, conducting stage, and analysis stage.  In the first stage, the researchers identified the research as an exploratory case study.  In this stage, twelve Taiwanese Aboriginal and American Indian students were selected.  The selected students were stratified by ethnicity, grade, and gender.  In the second stage, the researchers devised a survey comprised of identity, education experience, and career aspirations and conducted participant observations and in-depth interviews.  Most of the interviews lasted from 20-30 minutes, but a few talked for an hour about the topics covered in the survey.  During each interview, the researchers wrote field notes as well as recorded the interviews with a digital recorder.  Upon the completion of the interview, the interviews were transcribed and coded for cross analysis.  The third and final stage was the analysis of the data collected from both high schools (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

It is important to note that Cheng and Jacob (2008) integrated standpoint theory into their development and analysis of the research. Standpoint theory is borrowed from gender studies, a budding investigative field that highlights sociocultural and political systems of biases, oppression, and power. Standpoint theory calls the researchers to account for any bias they may possess throughout the research process that may influence the outcome of the study.

The qualitative comparative study revealed that there are many similar identity and educational issues surrounding Taiwanese Aboriginals and American Indians.  They both are disassociated with their identities due to sociocultural and political oppression and marginalization.  Most of the oppression and marginalization, in both cases, stems from a lack of exposure, engagement, and support in traditional language, cultural practices, and communities. Both groups experience educational challenges in the form of academic achievement that is associated with the disassociated identities.  However, the differences in how these results are rendered are highlighted.

The Taiwanese Aboriginals experience much stronger and blatant oppression than the American Indians.  The Taiwanese Aboriginal student participants reported that teachers and students consistently perpetuate ethnic stereotypes in school through their comments and trivialization of alcoholism and drug abuse. Although the government mandates traditional languages be offered weekly, it is the last language of four that the students are required to learn.  The students also do not want to learn or engage in traditional activities because there are few in the cities. These issues have resulted in academic underachievement (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

The American Indian student participants reported that they do not experience much racism or stereotyping due to Los Angeles being so diverse and multicultural.  They also stated that in school, they do not receive indigenous education or language courses, but they do not feel discriminated against.  However, they lamented that teachers were not knowledgeable about indigenous cultural practices and beliefs and did not integrate them into classroom lessons.  The students were able to engage in some traditional cultural practices such as powwows, even though they do not regularly visit their tribal communities on reservations.  The language loss is also the result of the students being raised by non-American Indian parents or, if their parents are American Indians, the parents not knowing the traditional languages.  These challenges have resulted in academic underachievement and high dropout rates (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

Although I have no personal or work experience with Taiwanese Aboriginals, I have lived and worked in the heart of the Navajo Nation for three years.  The results that were rendered in the study were exactly those that I had encountered on the reservation, with the exception of children being raised by non-American Indians.

I ventured out into the Navajo Nation as an undergraduate student-teacher from Indiana University.  It was through the Cultural Immersions Program that I was required to research, learn, and engage in meaningful discussions of Navajo culture and educational issues for an entire year before moving to the reservation.  Once on the reservation, I was overwhelmed but my conceptual knowledge of Navajo culture helped me connect and, through the generosity of those in the community, transform my knowledge into practice.  I was considered a staple in the community after just one year of teaching as the school district in which I taught always experienced high teacher turn-over.  When I asked the teachers why they were leaving, they always cited that they did not understand the students, the environment was too rural, or they did not feel welcomed.  I extended a few invitations to traditional cultural ceremonies and activities, whenever it was respectful to do so, to a few non-American Indian teachers only to be denied most of the time.

I was active in the community, tried to learn the language, and was very respectful of cultural beliefs and practices.  I not only saw these as opportunities to improve myself through broadening my worldview, but also as a means of helping my students connect to the material I was required to teach them. I often pushed myself with the question, “How can teachers make classroom lessons relevant to students’ cultures and lifestyles if they do not engage in them themselves?”  I was surprised when the school district wanted to highlight me as one of the few teachers who integrated cultural and lifestyle aspects into my classroom lessons.  What further surprised me was that I was the only non-American Indian who was trying to make my lessons culturally relevant for my students.  So, when reading the results of the study, I was not confounded when the American Indian students stated that their teachers were not knowledgeable or incorporating cultural relevancy into their classrooms.

Therefore, the question that is raised from the research results rendered is, “How does localized indigenous cultural teacher training impact academic achievement and teacher retention rates in American Indian communities?” Research concentrating on localized indigenous teacher training is relevant in the educational issues surrounding American Indian high school and higher education graduation rates.  If education is made more accessible through culture and relevancy, then the assumed result would be an increase of academic achievement.  Also, if the students are more responsive to classroom lessons, teachers would be less frustrated and over-whelmed, and be more likely to stay in the community.  Retaining teachers is crucial to the long-term academic success of American Indian students because it reinforces the much needed academic and personal support of students.  This research idea is just one more perspective and analysis that must be explored.  Thus, multiple means and perspectives of critically analyzing the cultural identities and educational issues surrounding indigenous peoples is pivotal to their academic success and ultimate self-determination.

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Brittani enjoys reading, experiencing and learning about culture, food, language, and travel as well as hiking with her beloved pooch. Her interests revolve around acculturation and educational issues encountered by American Indian students, particularly on reservations.

3 comments — post a comment


I found this blog by Brittanir9 very well written, insightful with depth of perception needed to understand and appreciate the finer nuances of educational action research.


This approach to teaching teachers within a specified culture is much needed to ensure an equal playing field for all students to receive a quality education in our country. I believe this would provide a more appropriate environment, that of one of a specific local indigenous culture relating to students.

Andrea Decker

Didi! I really enjoyed reading this. Your writing is so clear and crisp. It also reminded me that there can be a risk to lump all people who have indigenous experiences into one monolith; your essay reminded me of the necessity of seeking to authentically understand the particular experiences and values of all people. I also would love to know more about what you discover about teacher training and retention as you pursue this. I’m so glad to be cohort-mates with you, and I look forward to learning from and with you.

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