Friday, May 22, 2009

American Indian Teacher Education Conference at Northern Arizona University

Northern Arizona University’s College of Education to host an American
Indian Teacher Education Conference on June 12-13, 2008

The Campaign for High School Equity, a coalition of leading civil
rights organizations focused on high school education reform, reported in
November that less than half of American Indian and Alaska Native students
graduate each year, compared with more than 70 percent of all students
nationwide. U.S. Department of Education data indicate that more than 70
percent of American Indian and Alaska Native twelfth graders read below
grade level, compared with 57 percent of white twelfth graders.

Northern Arizona University’s College of Education is hosting a
conference on what kind of preparation Indian Nation’s need and want for the
teachers of their children to help accomplish the goal of closing the
achievement gap between the academic performance of American Indian students
and the rest of America on June 12 and 13, 2009.

Conference keynote speakers are Dr. William Demmert and Dr. Thomas
Peacock. Dr. Demmert (Tinglit/Sioux) is one of the founders of the National
Indian Education Association and was the first U.S. Deputy Commissioner of
Education for the U.S. Office of Indian Education. He has also served as the
Director of Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and been Commissioner
of Education for the State of Alaska. Dr. Peacock is a member of the Fond du
Lac Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and Associate Dean of the College of
Education at University of Minnesota Duluth. He is co-author of Collected
Wisdom: American Indian Education and The Seventh Generation: Native
Students Speak About Finding the Good Path.

A central concern of educational improvement is how to get teachers to
appreciate and respect traditional tribal values while at the same time
giving their students a world-class education that prepares them to live and
work in any society they choose. An ideal teacher for American Indian
students needs content knowledge about mathematics, science, history and
other subjects, and knowledge of teaching methodologies, including
methodologies that are congruent with how their Indian students learn to
learn at home and acknowledge tribal forms of learning.

The Navajo and other Indian Nations have rejected the historically
common educational policy of devaluing tribal cultures. For example, the
Navajo Nation’s “Diné Cultural Content Standards [for schools] is predicated
on the belief that firm grounding of native students in their indigenous
cultural heritage and language, is a fundamentally sound prerequisite to
well developed and culturally healthy students.” Empowering values of the
Diné individual to be taught include being “generous and kind,” “respecting
kinship,” “being a careful listener,” and “having a balanced perspective and
mind” as well as not being lazy, impatient, hesitant, easily hurt, shy, or
mad. Diné individuals are to respect the sacred, have self-discipline, and
prepare for challenges.

Two innovative schools working to improve student learning are the
Tséhootsooí Diné Bi'ólta' in Window Rock and the Puente de Hózhó dual
language school in Flagstaff that seek to revitalize and maintain the Navajo
language while providing their students with educational excellence. Part of
their success is based on parent buy-in as well as students learning
traditional values that include respecting their teachers and working hard.
Without parent buy-in the chance for success of any educational program is
very limited.

However, parents often have a very limited knowledge, based on
their own youthful school experiences, to judge what educational approaches
will help their children the most and can believe that traditional values
are best left behind. Educators must be both responsive to what parents want
while at the same time helping them to better understand what we know about
how to make schools better.

We need to develop teachers who can engage their students in a
rigorous study of local issues that tribal communities face, ranging from
diabetes and other health issues to issues of economic development, while at
the same time broadening their students’ horizons and engaging them to learn
more about both our nation and our world. And we won’t get or keep these
teachers we need unless we respect them and teach our kids to respect them.

More than ever, particularly during these hard economic times, we
need teachers who are committed to innovative and intellectually challenging
approaches to teaching Indian children as well as to an underlying set of
social and tribal values, for their commitment to encouraging Indian
students to act on their values. In addition, we need teachers who can help
students learn how to collect reliable data, to sift through that data for
relevancy, and to draw logical conclusions. We need teachers that motivate
their students not only reason but to act on their values in order to create
a better world for everyone, but especially for themselves and their

Conference co-chairs are Dr. Joseph Martin, NAU Associate Professor
of Educational Leadership and former Superintendent of Kayenta Unified
School District and Arizona State Superintendent of the Year, and Dr. Jon
Reyhner, NAU Professor of Education. Dr. Reyhner’s books include Teaching
American Indian Students, American Indian Education: A History and Learn in
Beauty: Indian Education for a New Century.

To learn more about Northern Arizona University’s Indian Education
Conference visit their website at
or contact Dr. Joseph Martin at (phone 928 523 5933)
or Dr. Jon Reyhner at (phone 928 523 0580).

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