Examining What is Valued in Traditional Education

Quarterly, E. (2005). Editors ’ Introduction Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination , Anthropology , and Human Rights, 36(1), 1–7.

The reading in question introduces a number of ideas regarding indigenous education in not only our country but across the world.  Most importantly I believe, the editor raises a number of points around the languages that are valued and taught around the world and how this globalized approach is causing marginalized cultures and languages to go extinct.  The most astounding fact is that 6000 of our world’s languages are now only spoken by less than 10& of the total worlds people.  Two things pop out to me in this statistic.  One, there are 6000 languages, wow!!  Two, I am surprised to see that even 10% of the world speaks these languages when I can think of maybe 15 that are spoken in the US in total.  I do however completely agree with the authors point that we need to raise awareness about these disappearing languages and do more to affirm their existence and encourage their proliferation.  It is, of course, good to have a means for people to speak a similar language to communicate but with advances in technology we can more than facilitate communication while still appreciating diverse cultures.  To lose one of those languages is, as the authors say, to lose a part of our history, a piece of culture, and  to neglect part of our collective human experience.

Withstanding my agreement of the authors general purpose, I would have a couple of question regarding indigenous education and culture.  First of all I am not sure that I completely understand or appreciate the definition of indigenous in the first place.  I am wondering if there are places that indigenous people do not currently exist and if there are areas where indigenous people are currently refugees away from their true home.  I also wonder how it is possible to respect all cultures while still carrying on their languages and customs.  I think that to have an outsider come and probe the culture of some indigenous people would be inherently disrespectful.  I think that to truly carry on the knowledge and customs of indigenous cultures they cannot be approached with an industrial mindset of simply preserve and protect but rather cherish and uphold.  How do we change the type of knowledge we value from that which is respected by the majority to that which is cherished by the community.

The reading directly ties to my own thoughts regarding culturally responsive teaching as well as blatant acts of cultural depravity at both my school/district and the state as a whole.  To the second point, our state has a law banning the language that a LARGE number of our students speak as their first language.  The law while written (at least on paper) in somewhat good intent is actually a blatant act of racism and prejudice against students who do not share a similar background of the ruling majority.  I watch in sadness as students lose their home language and pieces of their culture which harms in the present (cannot communicate with their own parents) and likely in the future.  To the first point we see classrooms in schools that are forced by their curriculum to study literature that has nothing to do with the lives of their students.  While students become assimilated into the status quo it becomes harder and harder for them to keep up as they make the choice to lose a part of themselves or be lost within the system.

The article is nothing else fires me up about the potential of culturally responsive teaching and reflective practices.  I think that as we modify our tools as educators we modify the system that so often assimilates or simply leaves students behind.  As educators we have a higher calling than maybe anyone as we lay the foundation for how future generations think and act which is the true mechanism of societal change.

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