American Indian educators’ ideas to better teach native students

MinnPost photo by Steve Date
The fifth annual Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering was intended to bring together Minneapolis American Indian students in a celebration of culture, nature and experiential learning activities.

By almost every standard measure, Minnesota’s American Indian students are at or near the bottom of achievement and graduation rates compared to other groups.

According to 2012 figures, the high school grad rate for American Indian students was 42 percent, compared to 76 percent for the general population. The dropout rate for Indians is nearly four times the statewide average.

While some culturally specific programs are experiencing success, few of our mainstream schools are doing well with native kids — at least in the way the state of Minnesota is measuring progress. Teachers, administrators and parents are all struggling to find ways to improve this.

I accompanied some of the American Indian students from my school last week to the Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering in Minneapolis. Mde Maka Ska (“White Earth Lake” in the Dakota language) is more well-known as Lake Calhoun, which had the misfortune to be renamed after John C. Calhoun, an outspoken supporter of slavery in the mid-19th century. 

The fifth annual event was intended to bring together Minneapolis American Indian students in a celebration of culture, nature and experiential learning activities. One school administrator described the day to me as a fun cultural and educational opportunity that is better for the kids than “the usual Valley Fair-type days at this time of year.”

I had a chance to ask several American Indian teachers and administrators about why Indian students tend to perform poorly in our schools. In this video, you’ll hear what they had to say about how schools and educators can improve teaching (and assessing) of our Indian students.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Susan Wetenkamp-Brandt on 05/29/2013 - 11:48 am.

    These educators are wise…

    And I would just like to add that ALL kids (and adult learners, too!) benefit from experiential learning, getting active, getting outdoors and connected to the environment, building trusting relationships with educators, and being treated with respect. Think about what the opposite of that is: rote and de-contextualized learning, being stuck inside and inactive all day, and not trusting that the teacher cares about and respects you as an individual. How is that an effective learning environment for any child or adult? It’s not. But it’s entirely too prevalent in our school system.

    Just because kids from more privileged backgrounds get along in “regular” school experiences doesn’t meant that they wouldn’t do even better if they had access to more of this kind of high-quality educational experience. (And of course, those more privileged kids DO get access to more of this kind of experience – it just happens outside of school, on the parents’ dime & time.)

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