Native American Ways of Educating: A Paradigm of Learning

In an earlier post, I wrote about native science as providing a new paradigm for learning science.  The paradigm that I wrote about was based on the work of Gregory Cajete’s Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence (Library Copy).

UnknownMy own view is that Native science, as explored and presented by Dr. Cajete, is a paradigm that offers science educators a robust, and experiential way to engage their students in the learning and exploration of science. In this blog, I have described this as the humanistic science paradigm, which you can read more about here. It’s the ideas in Native science that I wish to talk briefly about here, and suggest that Cajete’s ideas should be a part of the movement recently to develop a new generation of science standards.

According to Cajete, “Native science is a metaphor for a range of tribal processes of perceiving, thinking, acting and ‘coming to know’ that have evolved through human experience with the natural world.” He emphasizes the notion that Native science is based on using the entire body of our senses in direct participation with the world. It is this notion of direct participation that is fundamental to a humanistic paradigm, and as Cajete points out, forms the foundation of the Native science paradigm.

Native science is holistic. Although Cajete points out that Native science includes such areas as astronomy, farming, plant domestication, plant medicine, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, metallurgy, and geology, Native science goes further and extends these fields by including spirituality, community, creativity, and technologies that sustain and support environments of human life.

Dr. Cajete also observes that both scientists and non-scientists question whether there is such a thing as Indigenous science. Many argue that science is really a Western idea, and that Indigenous science knowledge is therefore not science. But, there are many that argue that Native science is indeed science. Cajete informs us that Native science can not be isolated from culture, and that when one is speaking about Indigenous or Native science, “one is really talking about the entire edifice of Indigenous knowledge.

Native American Ways of Educating

Julian Vasquez Heilig extends this thinking in his recent post “Native American Ways of Educating.” Heilig identifies problems in the education of American Indians, and based on research by Borunda and Martinez-Alire (link to their research article in The Journal of Transformative Leadership & Policy Studies), suggests that the standardization of American education (Common Core, High-Stakes Testing) is the antithesis of a paradigm of learning that emerges from native science.  See my recent eBook, The Mischief of Standardized Teaching & Learning for the an in-depth discussion of the havoc standardization has played in the education of American children.

Heilig writes:

The United States consists of lands that have been considered home to American Indians for thousands of years. Given this continuous relationship to the land there are orientations within American Indian culture that not only honor nature but that promote a relationship of engagement and harmony with the earth that calls upon one’s observational and mindful capacities. This culturally grounded worldview has inherent value for not only American Indian children but all children who now call this land their home. A world view that enhances relational skills with the earth promotes a framework that respects the existence of all living things; understands one’s reciprocal relationship with the earth; the impact that humanity has on the earth and its resources; our obligation in protecting her as well as our responsibility in healing her when humans fail to protect her…read more…

Cajete’s paradigm of learning and the research by Borunda and Martinez-Alire provide the evidence that Native American science and learning should be espoused as part of any curriculum and teaching effort in our schools.  For example in Chapter 6, A Sense of Place in Cajete’s book, he outlines the science of living in relationship with nature:

Key questions for traditional Native Americans included how individuals and the tribal community could ecologically respect the place in which they lived, and how a direct dialogue among the individual, the community, and the natural world could be established and maintained. Wherever Indigenous people lived, they found ways to address these questions of survival and sustainability in profoundly elegant ways. They thought of their environments “richly,” and in each environment, they thought of themselves as truly alive and related.

We have ignored the significant contributions and ways of learning in American Indian tribes.  As David Orr suggests, we’ve tended to ignore the relationship that humans have with the earth.

What’s been your experience with Native science and learning?

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: A Revolutionary Paradigm of Teaching for Energy and Environment

In a democracy, there are differing views on how the government and industry should deal with energy, energy sources, and the environment.  I’ve visited the American Presidency Project, and there you can read the complete platforms of the Democrats and Republicans.  You have to go the Libertarian Party and the Green Party websites to read their platforms.  You might set up a project where your students visit these websites, and extract the respective party’s positions on energy, the environment, and science research.  How do the party’s differ in their understanding of the environment, and recommendations for the future?

Here are some quotes that I’ve taken from these parties’ platforms (Democrats, Green, Libertarian and Republican).  Match the quotes up to the parties.  I’ve included five quotes to make a bit more difficult! (Follow the linked word for the correct answer)

We realize that our planet’s climate is constantly changing, but environmental advocates and social pressure are the most effective means of changing public behavior.

Global climate change is the planet’s greatest threat, and our response will determine the very future of life on this earth.

We can — and should — address the risk of climate change based on sound science without succumbing to the no-growth radicalism that treats climate questions as dogma rather than as situations to be managed responsibly.

Strengthen and enforce laws that prevent toxic industries, toxic dumps and air pollution from targeting ethnic minority communities.

If we want things to stay as they are–that is, if we want to maintain our technological, economic, and moral leadership and a habitable planet, rich with flora and fauna, leopards and lions, and human communities that can grow in a sustainable way–things will have to change around here, and fast.

If you followed the links for each of the words in the above quotes, you now realized that the last quote is not from any of the political parties, but from Thomas Friedman’s book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need A Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America. Friedman’s book is a description of a paradigm for change that is green.  Code Green, Friedman’s way of describing this paradigm means this:

Green is not simply a new form of generating electric power.  It is a new form of generating national power—period.

I would use Friedman’s book not only in a university course, but it would provide very interesting STS topics for investigation for middle and high school students.  For example here are the titles of the first few chapters:

  • Where Birds Don’t Fly
  • Today’s Datde: 1 E.C.E. Today’s Weather: Hot, Flat and Crowded
  • Our Carbon Copies (or, Too Many Americans)
  • Fill’Er Up with Dictators
  • Global Weirding
  • The Age of Noah (this one might give you a problem)
  • Energy Poverty

Each of these topics could be turned into an STS project in which teams of students explore that particular chapter in Friedman’s book, and then suggest an action project that involves other students, or citizens in their community.  I’ve described STS Themes and How To Teach Them at the Companion Webiste for our book, The Art of Teaching Science.  It will give you some ideas on how to apply Friedman’s book to actual classroom activities.

What suggestions would you make to using Friedman’s book to teach the paradigm of “green?”

Additional Sources & Resources

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works

House Committee on Energy and Commerce

United State Environmental Protection Agency

Judge Rules Against Intelligent Design in Dover, PA Case

In what might become a landmark case in the cultural wars in science education, Judge John Jones ruled that teaching “intelligent design” would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. In this Blog, I have written about this case, and other’s that impinge of the teaching of evolution in the public schools. In the Dover, PA case, which was heard last fall in Jones’ court, the advocates of “intelligent design” challenged the teaching of evolution in the Dover schools, and suggested that science teachers read a statement questioning evolution, and directly inserting the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes. Judge Jones, in his 139 page ruling stated that “We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

The ruling is important because at the heart of the case was whether or not “intelligent design” was a scientific theory, or a religious belief. At the trial, advocates for each side presented their case. However, in his ruling, the Judge not only took the Dover School Board to task, but acused several of the Board members of lying about their views under oath.

Interestingly, Judge Jones sent a warning to those who claim that the trial was being held in an “activist judge’s” environment. He made it clear that his court is not an activist court. The real activitsts in this case was the national group and authors of intelligent design books and papers, none of which have been reviewed favorably by any science group. Their motives have been one-sided, and that is to figure out a way to go around the First Amendment.

There is also a challenge here for the science education community, and that has to do with the nature of science teaching. Are our students challenged in our science classes to learn how to develop theories to explain observations and informtion that they might assemble themselves, thereby being directly involved in “doing science?” Much of of the content of science classes has to do with “learning about science” in contrast to “doing science.” The “learning about science” paradigm is driven by our science standards, and the beliefs of what science teachers think is their role in the teaching of science. Telling students in a science class that a theory is explanation of observations and facts will not, in the long run, help students understand science. Students need to be involved in the process of doing science to gain an understanding and appreciation of the scientific process.