An Analysis of Quantitative Research on the Impact of Neoliberal Multiculturalism on the Indigenous Languages of Mexico and Guatemala

Yoshioka, H. (2010). Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala. Latin American Research Review, 45(3), 5–34.

Economic globalization is a contemporary concern that presents potent challenges.  The emphasis of achieving economic wealth through assimilating into a singular, mainstream society applies great pressure for every demographic internationally.  The demographic that experiences the most pressure due to its sociopolitical history of oppression is that of the marginalized, indigenous populations.

Hirotoshi Yoshioka (2010) explores this economic pressure and its impact on indigenous languages in her quantitative study entitled “Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala.”  Yoshioka (2010) argues that economic globalization, particularly neoliberal multiculturalism, has and continues to negatively degrade indigenous languages and cultures.  The expansion of economic wealth has forced many marginalized, indigenous populations to either except extreme poverty, or to assimilate linguistically and culturally to achieve socioeconomic mobility. “Although today’s multicultural reforms certainly help some indigenous people overcome hardships and become included in mainstream society,” she contends, “the changes that seem apparently beneficial to indigenous people can be detrimental to their cultures” (p. 10). This is because they must assimilate linguistically and culturally as well as move away from local communities to compete economically.

The data that Yoshioka employed in her research was the most recent nationally representative data of Mexico (2000) and Guatemala (2002).  This data was gathered through the two nations’ censuses. As the Mexican census data is a 10% sample, Yoshioka employed a sampling weight to balance it with that of Guatemalan data.  Both censuses counted indigenous people by both the inclusion of the respondents’ self-identification as well as the usage of indigenous languages.

Yoshioka segmented and analyzed the data in two parts.  In the first part, she examined the correlation between socioeconomic and community characteristics in relation to indigenous language usage among self-identified indigenous people. The purpose of this is to explore whether indigenous language usage is related to socioeconomic background. In the second part, Yoshioka analyzed how indigenous language usage among children of indigenous language speakers differ by their parents’ and households’ socioeconomic status and if the household head’s spouse speaks an indigenous language. However, Yoshioka was limited in her sampling of children because the most recent census data for both countries did not provide any information about the ex-spouses.  Therefore, she could not account for children who came from unmarried homes.  As a result, she focused exclusively on children ages six through eighteen who lived with both of their parents.

For both parts of the analysis, Yoshioka employed multinomial logistic regression models for the use of indigenous languages, three explanatory variables, and several sociodemograpic factors. For the dependent variables, she divided the indigenous language speakers into monolingual and bilingual (indigenous and Spanish languages) to examine “whether independent variables considered in this study relate differently to indigenous language use on the basis of whether people use indigenous languages as their only language” (Yoshioka, 2010, p. 13).  Yoshioka then applied principal component analysis for Mexico’s asset index based on household’s access or ownership of several resources, such as running water, electricity, and primary cooking fuel. As the Guatemalan census does not account for income, Yoshioka equated Guatemala’s household wealth data with Mexico’s data on asset index for households. Also, Yoshioka (2010) “clustered the data according to municipalities in which respondents lived to obtain robust standard errors, because a person’s place of residence may influence indigenous language usage” (p. 13). Lastly, she could not measure temporary migratory movements or the indigenous language usage of the respondents that occurred five years before the current censuses.

Yoshioka’s findings poignantly reveal the systemic ramifications for indigenous communities inherent within neoliberal multiculturalism movements. The cost of socioeconomic mobility requires the denouncement and exclusion of indigenous heritage and language, as the mainstream societies perceive indigenous language as antiquated and primitive.  Therefore, to be prosperous is to speak the mainstream language, the language of socioeconomic success. Furthermore, “a person’s level of education is negatively correlated to indigenous language usage, which is especially true among those who speak only indigenous languages in both countries” (Yoshioka, 2010, p. 17). This is based on the perception that education is means of perpetuating the power stratification through instilling the importance of a monolingual, unified consciousness (Spring, 2014). Lastly, in both countries, those with higher asset indexes are significantly less likely to speak indigenous languages as the only language or integrate them into Spanish.

Yoshioka found that significantly more Guatemalan children speak indigenous languages than those in Mexico.  However, if the head of household speaks both an indigenous language and Spanish, the children in both countries are more likely to speak only Spanish. Children whose parents are indigenous language speakers and married to non-indigenous language speakers are much more common in Mexico than in Guatemala.  However, in both countries, children who come from higher socioeconomic households are much less likely to speak indigenous languages as their only language. Furthermore, children in both countries are significantly less likely to speak indigenous languages when living in an urban environment. This is due to the fact that they are surrounded by Spanish-speakers at a much higher concentration than their rural counterparts. “Therefore, [from these findings] we can infer,” Yoshioka (2010) argues, “that when people speak Spanish, they are less likely to teach their children to speak indigenous languages, which indicates the difficulty of preserving indigenous languages among younger generations” (p. 27). Based on all of these findings, she contends that, “the goal of today’s indigenous language preservation must be to help people speak both indigenous languages and Spanish and to ensure that they are included in societies rather than that they speak only indigenous languages and are economically marginalized” (p. 31).

The data and their interpretations paint a stark picture of the future of indigenous languages in both Mexico and Guatemala. The strengths of Yoshioka’s research methodologies lie in her transparency.  She identifies limitations and explains how she compensates for them.  For example, Mexico’s data sampling was 10%, so she implemented a weighting system to balance the data to compare and contrast it with that of Guatemala. Yoshioka also explains how she had to employ proxy data to compare Mexico’s asset index to Guatemala’s household wealth. She also identifies her limitations in measuring migratory patterns.

While Yoshioka is very transparent in her limitations, there are a couple of areas that are not addressed.  First, there is no rationale of why she chose to focus on the indigenous languages of Mexico and Guatemala.  Both of these countries are heavily impacted by neoliberal multiculturalism and global economic expansion, but there is no exploration of her decision. The selection criteria may be imperative to the findings and how they compare.

Second, there is no discussion or explanation of her intersectionality and positionality as a researcher, and the lens they provided her during her analysis of the data. Although the inclusion of intersectionality and positionality is not popular in empirical and positivist research, these elements of experiences do contribute to the interpretation of data and should be explicit.

Third, the accessibility of the writing is very limited. She, for example, never defines neoliberal multiculturalism, nor does she explain any of the statistical methodologies she employed in her research.  Therefore, she is writing to a very limited audience, which is ultimately less impactful.

Last, while her findings are very significant of deeply embedded challenges, she does not offer any viable solutions. She simply states a goal, but no ideas on how to address it.

This study has highlighted a seemingly obvious idea for me to explore economics within my area of inquiry.  Before reading Yoshioka’s research, I had never perceived economics as a means of forcing assimilation. I had always understood economics as a symptom of oppression because most indigenous peoples and communities within the United States are impoverished.  Now, I understand that economics is a powerful tool through which mainstream society forces assimilation through language and culture through the lure of wealth and socioeconomic opportunities. In the future, I will explore the impact of economics in the active marginalization of indigenous peoples, not only within the US, but also internationally.

An area of further study could explore how the data set may have changed if critical indigenous inquiry had been implemented.  How would the questions on the censuses change to be more respectful and representative of the indigenous populations it is researching? Would this impact how many people are labeled as impoverished, especially if the indigenous people are choosing to live without the criteria set by Mexico’s index asset data (which is established with a Western lens)? How would the interpretation of the data change if critical indigenous inquiry were used?  Indigenous peoples must be included in the process of research, especially if they are the focal point.  The co-construction of knowledge is a very powerful way in which indigenous peoples can be empowered.  This empowerment can help transform the deficit perception of indigenous peoples’ languages and cultures into one of assets.  Therefore, more studies should be done by indigenous peoples, or at least through using the critical indigenous inquiry process, to ensure that indigenous peoples are ethically represented as powerful, important peoples with critical knowledge and understandings of the world.



Indigenous Language and Culture Backdrop and Educational Revitalization Efforts

I was struck by the discussion regarding the power of indigenous languages in Teresa McCarty’s (2005) journal introduction entitled “Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights.” In the introductory article, McCarty (2005) explains that while indigenous populations may comprise a small percentage of current, world demographics, they do, however, disproportionally possess most of the world’s languages.  She demonstrates this point through the employment of statistics.  McCarty (2005) states that although, “indigenous peoples comprise 4 percent of the world’s population…they speak 4,000 to 5,000 of the world’s more than 6,000 languages” (McCarty, 2005, p. 2).

These languages are threatened by the legacy of colonized diaspora that negatively impact indigenous identities.  Diaspora jeopardizes knowledge and epistemologies that are directly connected that are autochthonous, or indigenous, to specific peoples and lands.  The core of these knowledges is understanding ways of life within particular locations and circumstances through.  These knowledges are orally transmitted to younger generations of indigenous peoples as a means of perpetuating traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world.  This traditional and orally linguistic transmission of cultural ways of knowing is violently disrupted by the linguistic genocide of indigenous peoples.  Therefore, as language and traditional knowledge is inextricably fused, discourse about indigenous self-determination and education cannot occur without active consideration and exploration of the both elements.

More specifically, McCarty (2005) argues, that the “shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous” (p. 3).  However, the ramifications of a monolingual and resulting monocultural educational system limit the scope of knowledge, epistemologies, and worldviews transmitted to younger generations.  As a result, indigenous linguistic and cultural educational movements have begun to reclaim and propagate traditional ways of knowledge through language in schools.  This effort is bolstered by the ideology that perceives and respects the cruxes of language and self-determination.

Therefore, not only should language revitalization efforts include grassroots initiatives, but also those at all levels of education because loss of indigenous languages and the subsequent knowledge continue to threaten indigenous students’ academic achievement.  This connection and the result it renders is that the educational inclusion of indigenous epistemologies “can lead to a different kind of schooling experience and a different kind of learner” (McCarty, 2005, p. 4).  Indigenous languages, McCarty (2005) contends, belong in the very classrooms that have historically and systematically oppressed their use and transmission, and therefore further marginalize indigenous populations.  However, by including indigenous languages and knowledge in education, these traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world can empower indigenous peoples and communities toward self-determination.

Indigenous language revitalization efforts in education are at the core of my research agenda, especially those implemented on reservations.  This article illuminated the interconnectedness of the concepts of language, knowledge, of the “power of place.” I completely agree with the argument that education should be the first step in initiating language revitalization efforts.  This is especially powerful due to the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples through the educational process.

However, as language is not extrinsic from other cultural aspects and ways of knowing, it should not be taught in isolation.  It is a means of transferring traditional, cultural knowledge.  Therefore, it should be taught as a tool through which cultural knowledge is transmitted.  Although there are many educational programs that attempt to instill linguistic and cultural knowledge, the one I most subscribe to is that of the mother-tongue immersion program.

The mother-tongue immersion program completely immerses children in the traditional, mother-tongue language throughout the entire of the school day in kindergarten.  The language is spoken by elders of the community as a means of exposing and encouraging students to use it, but also as a means of teaching traditional knowledge.  As the children progress throughout the grade-levels, the languages employed by the schools are 50% English and 50% mother-tongue.  The Maori have developed implemented this linguistic and cultural immersion program and have rendered positive results that have resulted in other, international schools to adopt similar programs (Reyhner, 2003).  The mother-tongue immersion program is theoretically supported by the information provided in McCarty’s article and is one that I would like to research further.

McCarty, T. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination , Anthropology , and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1–7.

Reyhner, J. (2003). Native Language Immersion. In L. L. Jon Reyhner, Octaviana V. Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco (Ed.), Nuturing Native Languages (4th ed., pp. 1–6). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved from

Analysis of an Ethnocentric Charter School on an American Indian Reservation

Fenimore-Smith, J. K. (2009). The Power of Place: Creating an Indigenous Charter School. Journal of American Indian Education, 48(2), 1–17.

Charter schools have often been endorsed as an alternative to the public school system, as it allows for more freedom in curriculum and instruction while still adhering to state standards.  Specifically ethnocentric charter schools have been employed to address the complex and unique needs and challenges surrounding the educational struggles of marginalized and colonized indigenous populations.  The objective of ethnocentric charter schools is to integrate traditional indigenous linguistic and cultural ways of knowing into the Western educational platform.

In the article “The Power of Place: Creating an Indigenous Chart School,” Kay Fenimore-Smith (2009) outlines her study of an ethnocentric indigenous charter school on an undisclosed reservation in northwest United States.  The article outlines a two-year study to identify and examine the challenges and successes of Eagle High School (pseudonym) during the school’s first two years of operation.  The purpose of the study “was to provide a historical record which could serve as a basis for evaluation of the school as well as documentation and analysis of policies and practices of a fledging Indigenous charter school” (p. 2).

Fenimore-Smith (2009) builds upon other related studies that explore the complexities of the development and implementation of linguistically and culturally integrated curricula in American Indian schools.  The research and initial year of operation of the school began in the summer of 2004.  Although Fenimore-Smith (2009) was unable to consistently visit the school during its first year, she did attend school board meetings and school functions, interviewed staff, and conducted multiple classroom observations.  During her sabbatical for the 2005 fall semester, she regularly volunteered at the school to maintain daily contact with the students and staff.  For the remainder of the school year, Fenimore-Smith (2009) occasionally met with school staff and attended in-serve sessions in addition to other school functions.

The research was conducted through a variety of ethnographic methodologies, such as field-notes on interviews, meetings, and observations.   Other strategies included taping daily journal entries, and collecting school-related artifacts, such as student/parent and staff handbooks, classroom handouts, and school schedules.  Fenimore-Smith (2009) employed the triangulation model of reviewing the data by comparing the information garnered through the taped notes to the interviews and artifacts.  Additionally, the initial analysis of the data was reviewed by the school administrator and student who transcribed the interviews.  As the data revealed several themes, Cummins (1992) theory of cultural differences was implemented as the framework and lens from which the findings were dissected and analyzed. The theory outlines four elements that affect minority student access to education: incorporation of students’ language and culture; community participation in school; instruction; testing.  As Cummins (1992) theoretical framework is based on educational access, Fenimore-Smith (2009) contends that the study’s findings are grounded in practical application.

The findings of the research are significant of the systemic challenges faced by Eagle High School.  Eagle High School’s mission statement of “[Eagle High School] is dedicated to recognizing an individual’s worth and dignity and mutual respect between all people. [It] will provide a new educational environment and unique curriculum to bridge educational, cultural, economic and social gaps” (p. 5).  Although Eagle High School consistently attempted to strive toward the goals outlined in the mission statement, it ultimately was largely unsuccessful due to unforeseen challenges. The findings highlighted that the school did not adequately train teachers to integrate Native language and culture and the language and culture classes were not integrated into curricula.  Furthermore, some students were resistant to participate in traditional cultural activities and language and, as the focus of the curricula shifted, the students requested structured, more Western activities.  Lastly, there was no community and parental involvement, and 79% of the students failed the state standardized assessment.  However, the study did reveal that students felt valued by the teachers and, while the community and parents were not actively involved in the school, they expressed appreciation of the school and its mission.

While the findings are very compelling, there are research methodologies and a claim within this study that should be further addressed.  If there are no transparent or valid research methodologies, the study cannot be duplicated as a means of testing for reliability.  Unfortunately, this opaque approach muddles the validity of the findings, no matter how compelling they appear.

The first element is the fact that Fenimore-Smith (2009) admits to have had limited access to the school throughout the first year of her research.  However, she does not address how limited the access was nor in what capacity.  She also does not discuss if this affected her research methodologies and findings, or if she compensated for the lack of access through the implementation of another approach.

The second element is that there are no explanations of how she completed or how often she conducted her research within the two years of her study.  Other significant and absent research facts are the protocols for the interviews, who the participants were, how the participants were selected, and what demographics the participants represented.  Moreover, she never indicated the objective(s) of the classroom observations or how the observations were equated into findings.

The third element is the vagueness of the school and location.  Employing a pseudonym for the charter high school as well as excluding the name of the reservation serves no real purpose.  However, it does perpetuate the ideology that all indigenous communities are culturally and linguistically identical and, therefore, these facets do not contribute to the unique challenges encountered on each reservation.

The fourth element is the employment of a student-participant to analyze the findings. It is not an objective practice to have the student who transcribes the interviews also interpret the data to provide a Native perspective, particularly if the student may know the interviewees.  This knowledge may alter his/her answers due to inherent biases against the interviewees. Furthermore, there is no indication if the student was a participant in the research or served in other capacities as well, such as also being an interviewee.

The last element is that while Fenimore-Smith (2009) claims that she built her research on other similar studies, there are no explicit mention of any other studies’ findings or how they were conducted.  This statement begs the question of to which studies was she referencing and how did they correlate to her research methodologies and findings.  Explicitly comparing and contrasting research methodologies and findings would have also been another way of ensuring the reliability of the findings, especially if they contribute to the research framework of indigenous educational challenges encountered on reservations.

It is very important, however, to acknowledge that throughout the research process, Fenimore-Smith (2009) addresses her intersectionality and positionality as an outsider to both the indigenous community and the school in which she conducted her research.  She also recognizes that her relationship with the students and staff may have been influenced by their perception of her as a teacher and colleague, therefore altering the data rendered from the ethnographic methodologies.  Fenimore-Smith (2009) notes that she is “fully aware that my interpretation of events may indeed affect ‘the interests and lives of the people represented,’ and it is with this knowledge that I present my findings and as understandings, not explanations” (p. 5). The acknowledgement of her positionality and intersectionality reveal layers that may otherwise be undetectable, inherent biases present throughout the findings.

While teaching in a public school within the heart of the Navajo Nation, I also encountered some similar challenges.  The issue that resonated most with my experiences was that of parental and community involvement.  I had approximately 90-95 students in my 6th grade writing class, but for parent-teacher conferences or “report card parties,” only about 15-20 parents would attend the events. The main issues that prohibited the majority of my students’ families from attending were fiscally embedded.  For example, many of the parents would not attend school events because they did not have enough money to pay for gas, they only had enough gas to go to the grocery store, or they did not have any gas in their vehicle tanks.

Furthermore, many parents were disengaged from their students’ academics due to a myriad of other obstacles.  However, the commonality demonstrated by all the parents was that of multigenerational trauma stemming from the impact of colonization, particularly the boarding school era.  Many parents and community members did not feel comfortable meeting in a school setting due to systemic cultural abuse that was perpetrated by the education system.  Therefore, following the theory of multigenerational trauma, the trauma experienced by the grandparents and parents of my students at the hands of educators in Western schools was instilled in the younger generations.  Thus, not only does this explain some of the lack of parental involvement, but it can also be attributed to the resulting lack of American Indian academic achievement.

Research that explores the complexities of parental and community involvement would be beneficial for American Indian students.  I am particularly interested in learning of any reservation schools that have implemented Epstein’s (2002) triangular partnership model that outlines six types of involvement (Olivos, Jimenez-Castellanos, & Ochoa, 2011). As the model should be tailored to better address the needs of the specific communities in which it is implemented, it would be fascinating to see how it has been adapted throughout various reservations.  As parental and community involvement increase student academic achievement, it is imperative to study different approaches to reach particularly traditionally marginalized and colonized populations.

Olivos, E.M., Jimenez-Castellanos, O., & Ochoa, A. M., (2011). Bicultural Parent Engagement: Advocacy and Empowerment. New York: Teachers College Press.

The Power of Language in Academia and Indigenous Populations

Language has always been a passion of mine.  The concept that arbitrary utterances possess meaning and shape ideas within the worldviews of those who employ is profound.  The fact that some ideas can only be conveyed within the language they were conceived tantalizes me.  Language is a means of perpetuating social constructs, identities, histories, ideas, and worldviews.  It transforms, shifts, adapts to the ideological, cultural, political, and social needs of those who implement it.  It is a reflection of society and, ultimately, humanity.  This is precisely why Tuhiwai-Smith’s (1999) chapter entitled “Imperialism, History, Writing and Theory” from Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples immediately captivated me.

The chapter begins by outlining the various forms in which Western imperialism and colonialism have impacted indigenous communities.  Understanding the continual effect and perpetuation of imperialism and colonialism is the critical and initial step in decolonizing research methodologies, as “decolonization is a process which engages with imperialism and colonialism at multiple levels” (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999, p. 20).  Tuhiwai-Smith explains that the connection between imperialism and colonialism is that colonialism is an extension through which imperialism is exacted.  Western imperialism, which began in the fifteenth century, can be described as economic expansion, subjugation of ‘others’, idea with multiple forms of realization, and discursive field of knowledge.  Imperialism follows a linear chronology of “ ‘discovery’, conquest, exploitation, distribution and appropriation” (p. 21).  Colonialism is the act of economic, political, social, and cultural domination.  One form of colonialism is the determination of which version of history is repeated and, therefore, legitimized by mainstream society.

Tuhiwai-Smith (1999) argues that the standard of determining legitimate history was through the implementation of written language.  Western imperialist researchers perceived written language as an objective criterion for categorizing people as “civilized” or “savages” within racial stratification. This methodology was informed by the notion that written languages separated humans from animals.  The researchers reasoned that written literacy skills required a critical objectivity that animals do not possess.  This myopic ideology was then transferred to the categorization of indigenous populations as their histories, ideologies, cultures, and worldviews were orally transmitted. Therefore, Western researchers, employing the binary of human/animal, classified indigenous peoples as “savages,” as they were perceived to be closer to nature and more animalistic due to their oral traditions and lack of “civilized”, written literacy skills.

Tuhiwai-Smith (1999) contends that indigenous people need to reclaim history by providing their own accounts of it.  “Coming to know the past,” she argues, “has been part of the critical pedagogy of decolonization. To hold alternative histories is to hold alternative knowledges” (p. 34).  While numerous perspectives of how indigenous decolonization should be written, Tuhiwai-Smith (1999) eventually sides with notion that “Academic writing is a way of ‘writing back’ whilst at the same time writing to ourselves” (p. 37).  Basically, indigenous scholars should academically write so that the research and writing is accessible to those within academia but, more importantly, to themselves as indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, the variation of the purpose, perspectives, and intended audience contribute to a more holistic understanding of the complex issues surrounding indigenous populations.

While reading this riveting, albeit dense work, I realized that Tuhiwai-Smith’s (1999) purpose for writing this chapter is two-fold in nature.  Based on her ideas and approach to writing, I gathered that the first purpose is to raise awareness of White, Western scholars of the imperialistic and colonial ideologies and methodologies that inform research and writing about indigenous populations.   The second purpose is to motivate indigenous peoples to be more involved by writing and conducting research that will challenge and decolonize academia.  These ideas have been highlighted in the previous paragraphs.

Tuhiwai-Smith’s (1999) style of writing supports this insight as it draws attention to the challenges that stem from most widely-accepted scholarly work written from White, Western perspectives.  For example, she illuminates this challenge with the statement of, “even the use of pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘we’ can cause difficulties when writing for several audiences, because while it may be acceptable now in academic writing, it is not always acceptable to indigenous audiences” (p. 37).  She contends that the employment of these pronouns excludes indigenous peoples.  After reflecting on this point, and continuing to read, I could not help but notice the her use of first-person singular and plural pronouns.  For instance, she writes, “Any consideration of the ways our origins have been examined, our histories recounted, our arts analyzed, our cultures, dissected, measured, torn apart and distorted back to us will suggest that theories have not looked sympathetically or ethically at us” (p. 38). After rereading sections of the chapter, I realized that it is riddled with first-person singular and plural pronouns.  I just was unaware of it until she explicitly drew my attention to it.  This illustration underscores her purpose of raising awareness of White, Western scholars and the language they use when writing as well demonstrating to indigenous scholars now to academically write to themselves as people.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples. In Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous People. New York: University of Otago Press.

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.

Indigenous Communities and Ethical, Qualitative Research Methodologies

The introduction of the Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies written by Denzin, Lincoln & Tuhiwan-Smith (2008) was packed with in-depth information regarding research methodologies.  It outlined the culturally intrinsic and purpose of historical and current, Western knowledge and epistemologically-based research methods.  Throughout history, qualitative and quantitative research have been implemented throughout the colonization process.  The research methodologies employed objectified the “other” through observing, participating in, interviewing, and ethnographies of indigenous populations.  Thus, “in the colonial context, research [became] an objective way of representing the dark-skinned other to the White world” (p. 4).  Therefore, Denzin (2008) argue, decolonizing research should be conducted, specifically critical indigenous qualitative research.

Critical indigenous qualitative research is a means of promoting self-determination and empowerment for indigenous populations through the inclusion of critical indigenous pedagogy (CIP).  CIP is the cultural and traditional worldview, knowledge, and epistemology that is inherent within every ethnic community.  As, CIP is political, critical indigenous research should adhere to a few guidelines to be more effective in the political self-determination and empowerment of indigenous populations.  First, the research considers the issues as stated by the indigenous community.  Second, it must honestly and ethically represent the indigenous population and those who participate in the research. Third, the research is accountable to the indigenous community and should be given to them first.  Last, it must take the history, context, and political power within the indigenous community as well as goals of resistance and emancipation of Western knowledge and epistemology into consideration. Therefore, the decolonization process reverses the objectification, inquiry, and critique of the Western systems of knowledge (Denzin, et. al., 2008).

Before reading this book segment, I previously maintained the understanding that colonialism was perpetuated through myopic political gain and social intolerance.  I did not realize that research of various indigenous communities was used as a means of justifying racism as well as political and social disempowerment.  However, I am not only aware and understand how the institution into which I am fully investing myself, academia, is intrinsically perpetuating Western knowledge and epistemology, but I can now balance my research strategies to promote self-determination and empowerment.  Though participating and working with indigenous communities in the United States to address benefits and needs of research in specifically education, I can help them regain political and social power as well as emancipation from the lingering grasp of hegemonic colonialism.

This excerpt strongly connects to my research agenda because of its egalitarian and ethical methodologies to produce qualitative research.  Previously, I was unsure of how to not only ethically approach research, but also how to empower those with whom I work.  Considering and involving the voices and CIP of those with whom I work, and even dispensing my research findings to them highlights an egalitarian approach.  Furthermore, it facilitates self-determination through the community utilizing my data to determine and implement programs to address the needs they specifically cited.

By following the guidelines listed in the selection, I will conduct my research through the lens of mutual interdependence and respect.  Therefore, I can help indigenous communities but, in addition, improve myself as a researcher and educator through “learning how to dismantle, deconstruct, and decolonize traditional ways of doing science [and] learning that research is always already both moral and political” (Denzin et. al., 2008, p. 3).  If I am to truly understand the educational issues surrounding the indigenous communities in the United States, I will need the tools to empower marginalized them through the egalitarian, decolonized research methodologies.  These methodologies will enable me to effectively and ethically address and portray the educational issues surrounding the indigenous communities to not only the indigenous populations themselves, but nonindigenous people as well.  My research will underscore mutual interdependence and respect, and therefore promote awareness to not only the educational issues surrounding indigenous peoples, but the impacts of colonization.


Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Introduction. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (pp. 1–20). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Challenges and Approaches of Language and Culture Acquisition Faced By American Indians

Reyhner, J. (2003). Native Language Immersion. In L. L. Jon Reyhner, Octaviana V. Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco (Ed.), Nuturing Native Languages (4th ed., pp. 1–6). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved from

When my soon-to-be father was preparing to visit the United States from across the world in India, his mother advised him to follow the adage of “When in Rome, doest as the Romans do.”  Although he was well-educated, worldly, and ambitious, he heeded her warning, as follows in Indian culture.  She wanted her son to be afforded all the opportunities of America and, to her, that meant that he assimilate himself into the Western culture and language so that his “foreignness” would be overlooked.

A few years later, he met and married my mother, and moved to my mother’s hometown, a small, rural town in Tennessee.  About a year later, I was born.  It was at the beginning of my life that I would receive and later recognize as my first lesson in language and culture.  My grandparents from both sides, hailing from India and my mother’s hometown, had specifically arrived for my birth.  As mine was a timely birth, my grandparents from India were able to attend my arrival through careful planning.  As is Indian custom, my father asked my grandparents what I should be named.  My paternal grandfather stated that he wanted me to be named Kalyani, after his beloved sister who had passed away decades earlier from tuberculosis.  However, after some discussion, everyone agreed that I should have an “American” first name so that I would not face future discrimination.  After being asked several times by the nurse to state a name, my parents asked her, on her last round of prompting, for the most common name of the year.  As you may well have guessed, it was Brittany.  My mother, in order to carve some uniqueness to the name, decided to spell it with an “i.”

Growing up, I remember weekly phone calls between my immediate family and my grandparents in India.  While I eagerly looked-forward to our phone calls, they were often abbreviated and static-filled with delays and misunderstandings.  Although both of my grandparents, and my father for that matter, were taught British-English in the Indian school system, I recall one phone conversation that was very revealing about the importance of language.  It was through a phone call filled with eager and frustrated moments of silence caused by delays, when finally my grandmother asked angrily, “Why haven’t you taught them Hindi or Bengali?”  My father looked shocked before asking my sister and I, “Why haven’t you learned Hindi or Bengali?”  My mother ended up answering that we had not learned the languages because he never taught us.  At the time, I realized that I was missing other languages that would deepen the linguistic connection and close the physical divide between my grandparents and I.

Furthering this realization were the monthly letters my grandparents would send my family.  The biggest segment was written in Hindi and addressed to my father, but they would always write in English for my sister, mom, and I.  Although I had these very revealing and informative experiences, it would take me years to realize the gravity, depth, and pain of them, both for myself and my grandparents.  The thought that my grandparents wanted to transmit traditional Indian culture to my sister and I through language, language that my sister and I never learned, must have hurt them to some degree.  The only real way to explain and transmit nuanced culture and worldview is through language, the very element that I am missing.

Through these experiences and my absence of language, I have gleaned the significant connection shared by language and culture.  This understanding, combined with my years teaching on the Navajo Nation, have lent a unique lens from which I perceive the complex issues of language and culture faced by American Indians today.  Jon Reyhner (2003) in his article “Native Language Immersion” deepened my understanding of these challenges and supportive strategies surrounding language and culture acquisition for American Indians.

Reyhner(2003)  purports in that the transmission of language can be taught in schools through immersion teaching methods, namely indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs.  Indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs should implement similar approaches to second language immersion programs.  However, the distinction of purpose should be raised as indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs revolve around the transmission of indigenous language, content, and culture.  Second language immersion programs foster the acquisition of the second language and its relevant content and culture with minimal or no use of the first language.  The ideal ratio of first language to second language use in typical language immersion programs is half-day or partial immersion for students in the language they are to learn.  However, “the less students are likely to be exposed to a new language [such as an indigenous language] they are learning outside of school, the more they need to experience it in school” (Reyhner, 2003, p. 1).

Total Physical Response (TPR) is one strategy that many practitioners implement in language acquisition programs. TPR takes place when language learners physically respond to simple directions by following gestures.  It can aid in students remembrance of auditory phrases.  TPR Storytelling (TPR-S) can also be utilized by students to comprehend and act-out stories.  TPR-S lessons helps students comprehend and memorize new vocabulary through the vocabulary’s incorporation into stories by encouraging students to “hear, watch, act out, retell, revise, read, write, and rewrite” (Reyhner, 2003, p. 2).  TPR and TPR-S have demonstrated to be effective strategies in teaching the indigenous Northern Cheyenne and the Ho Chuck languages, and should be included in indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs.

Reyhner (2003) draws on two impactful and influential programs adopted by indigenous peoples both in New Zealand and the United States.  The Maori of New Zealand initiated the Kohanga Reo, or mother-tongue immersion program for preschool.  In the preschool program, elders would speak nothing but Maori, so the students were completely immersed into the Maori language and culture.  The parents demanded that the government establish public schools in which their children could continue learning Maori.  So, the New Zealand government established Maori immersion elementary and secondary schools.  Eventually, the immersion program was extended to universities to offer Maori immersion teacher training.

The Hawaiian language immersion program was based on the Maori example.  Therefore, the immersion program began with preschools and later spanned public schools after the English-Only law for schools had been amended.  The movement has now been described as the “renaissance of the Hawaiian language” (Reyhner, 2003, p. 3).  While the Hawaiian language immersion program has been established, indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs throughout the mainland are still being explored, and are mostly implemented at the preschool and primary school levels.  A significant reason for this relegation is that bilingual literature for older students that includes both indigenous languages and English is nominal.

There are numerous benefits to indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs, such as the propulsion of endangered languages and cultures.  Furthermore, based on the natural approach to language acquisition, the acquisition process of a second language is very similar to that of the first language (Reyhner, 2003, p. 4). Consequently, there are numerous studies and strategies that can be implemented to foster the acquisition of the second, indigenous language.  However, the larger, more pressing challenge is the lack of indigenous literature.  Moreover, the lack of bilingual indigenous and English curricula that can be implemented in the teaching of academic content directly impacts equitable education for American Indian students.

The National Center for Education Statistics (1989) states that, “American Indian and Alaska Native students have a dropout rate twice the national average; the highest dropout rate of any United States ethnic or racial group… Academically capable Native students often drop out of school because their needs are not being met while others are pushed out because they protest in a variety of ways how they are treated in school” (Reyhner, 1992).  Therefore, if the current educational system, which is based on the transmission of academic knowledge through the English language, is not resulting in more American Indian students graduating, then the system should be altered to be more inclusive.

Another study that may build on this article would be how American Indian communities are dealing with this systemic issue.  Are they creating and implementing programs that teach their indigenous languages and traditions? Are there programs to guide students both academically and traditionally?  If there are no programs that address these issues in the United States, then the lens should expand to include other indigenous communities that have set up programs to address these challenges, and studies should be done to measure the effectiveness in the achievement of their goals, so they can be implemented here in the States.


Reyhner, Jon. (1998). Plans for Dropout Prevention and Special School Support Services for American Indian and Alaska Native Students [Abstract]. Journal of American Indian Education. Retrieved from

The Implications of Scientific Misinformation on the 18th Century Biological Hierarchy

Stephan Gould’s The Measure of Man (1981) analysis and connection to my own research agenda.

Stephan Gould’s The Measure of Man (1981) sheds light on the 18th century scientific agenda of reinforcing racial or biological hierarchies in the United States. Through the manipulation of science, the data that was published and widely accepted perpetuated the racial agenda, maintaining the hegemonic power and relationship dynamics between whites and blacks. While other races were discussed and scientifically explored at the time, the greatest interest and discourse revolved around the intellects of blacks, and if their intellect should determine their social and political power.

Hierarchies have long been argued to be natural although they are consistently questioned and revamped to reflect contemporary political, social, and cultural perspectives and identities.  Thus, while hierarchies are constant, they dynamically transform and shift power within political, social, and cultural systems of identity. Aurora Levins Morales in Medicine Stories (1998) furthers this point with her position that those with privilege maintain that it is a “luxury they have earned by excellence, the natural way of life, the righteous and inevitable order of things” (p. 11). Morales (1998) also contends that hierarchies are used to “convince [those with privilege] that exploitation is not only justifiable but a kind and compassionate expression of their superiority” (p. 12).

While Gould (1981) demonstrates that 18th century scientific data was fabricated as a means of reinforcing biological hierarchies, he also states that “we must first recognize the cultural milieu of a society whose leaders and intellectuals did not doubt the propriety of racial ranking – with Indians below whites, and blacks below everyone else” (p. 31).  Those who supported the biological hierarchy of the time were divided into two groups. The first, “hard-liners,” believed blacks to be biologically inferior and their status in the racial hierarchy justified their enslavement and colonization.  Although the second, “soft-liners,” agreed that blacks were biologically inferior, they maintained that rights should not be contingent on intelligence (p. 31).

These groups were further divided into monogenism  and polygenism, those who maintained that all humans are the degenerative results of the lineage of Adam and Eve, as stated in the Bible, and those who contended that the human races began as separate biological species. Within the polygenist circle, there were two groups of scientists. The first group, the “lumpers” were scientists who focused on similarities between specimens to determine their biological relationship. The second group, the “splitters,” concentrated on minute differences as a means of establishing separate species.

Louis Agassiz and Samuel George Morton were strong proponents of the polygeny theory and were highly respected by contemporary scientists. While both men bolstered the polygeny theory differently, Agassiz by studying physical differences and Morton through craniology, the study of skull size, they reinforced the hegemonic understanding that blacks were closer to nature, and therefore inferior and not requiring equal rights.

However, it was Morton who manipulated his craniology data so extensively to support the biological stratification. Morton’s scientific process was to use ground mustard seeds to measure volume, as the assumption was that the more intelligent the person, the bigger the brain. Throughout his experiments, he omitted and miscalculated information as well as neglected to account for body proportions and sexual dimorphism (the typical physical differences found among the sexes) and their effects on brain size. He also systematically altered data to reinforce his subjective, prior understanding of the racial hierarchy.  Morton’s understanding and subsequent purposeful manipulation and misrepresentation of scientific data extended the long, unwavering shadow of science into the farthest discourses of race, biological hierarchy, human rights, colonialism, and slavery. To this day, the perpetuation of the hegemonic biological hierarchy is still masked by scientific data conducted and disseminated by those in positions of privilege and power.

The purpose of my research is to address racism that is paraded as science in the educational field. One illustration is that culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students “are grossly overrepresented in special needs categories” (Howard, 2011, p. 196). If the educational system has and continues to fail CLD students, especially under the guise of scientifically diagnosing them as special needs, research should be conducted into the causality of the failures. Through diagnostic research that is ethical and unbiased, in addition to accounting for diverse identities, the education system can broaden its myopic and misinformed practices of educating and addressing the needs of CLD students and communities. This, in turn, will initiate a more egalitarian political, social, and cultural structure that embraces diverse identities.


Garcia, S.S. & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Special Ed Research.pdf. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32–47.

Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of a man. New York, NY: Norton and Company.

Howard, C. (2011). Culturally Relevant for Critical Teacher Pedagogy : Ingredients Reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.