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TEACHERS GUIDE ADDS INDIAN VOICES TO HISTORY
STANFORD - Incorporating American Indian perspectives into American history can best be done with voices - those of authentic American Indians in the classroom and of students responding, believes Sharon Nelson-Barber, a Stanford University sociolinguist.
Nelson-Barber and her students in the Stanford course "American Indian Ways of Knowing" recently completed the first draft of a guide for high school teachers who want to add Indian perspectives to traditional history courses. The guide includes 12 transcripts of Native Americans telling their personal or handed-down perspectives on history.
The transcripts include two Southern Californians recounting how their ancestors reacted to Spanish missionaries and a Lakota woman reflecting on her own involvement as a teenager in resisting the Bureau of Indian Affairs' second siege of Wounded Knee in 1970.
"These are histories told in the oral tradition, in a different rhetorical style and cadence than students are accustomed to," Nelson- Barber said. "We hope to provide a videotape to high school teachers, too, but ideally, every class also would have invited speakers from the American Indian community."
Equally important is having the students react in their own voices, she said.
"Learning a new perspective on history requires reflecting on your own perspective," said Nelson-Barber, who is Rappahannock Indian and African American.
Her personal experience, as well as her research on cross- cultural communication, she said, has taught her that two-way communication reduces misunderstanding.
Her students must read and listen, but they are not expected to learn any set of facts about native American peoples.
"We want students to see that history is not just a matter of factual content but something that has been made and remade, that they make themselves," she said.
Students keep a journal, which "teases out" their own interpretations, she said.
Such methods "get students thinking," which should be the major goal of social studies but often is not, said Richard Gross, a Stanford University professor emeritus of education.
Gross has researched how school children around the world are taught history. He found that "nationalism colored the facts in the textbooks" of every nation studied, some to a greater degree than others. A recent spate of articles published on the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World, he said, provides many more viewpoints than have been traditionally available to the American classroom teacher.
"Seldom are students asked to take a position on something they've heard in class, to explain their reaction pro and con. We've had a long struggle to get teachers to present material as problem centered as opposed to fact centered," he said, partly because most standardized tests emphasize fact regurgitation rather than reasoning skills.
Putting authentic American Indian views at the center of a lesson almost automatically requires students to think, Nelson-Barber wrote in the teachers guide, because it "calls into question the traditional content, structure and perspective of what is commonly called American history. "
As an example, she cites her students' reaction to the Indian perspective on Spanish missions.
"Our students from California are often quite surprised and disturbed to learn that some Indians view the state's missions as sites of forced destruction of their culture," she said.
The teachers guide is called Histories of Resistance because it acknowledges that American Indians "have always been and still are historical actors, as opposed to passive victims," of New World settlers, Nelson-Barber said. Resistance does not mean simply violent confrontation but other efforts by native peoples to maintain elements of their culture and stories of history that don't agree with those they have been taught in school.
"The theme of resistance also offers a useful frame of reference for discussing and connecting non-indigenous historical struggles and narratives of resistance, or in other words, locating these histories in a broader context," Nelson-Barber said.
The guide, called Histories of Resistance," comes at a good time for California teachers because the state recently reworked its social studies framework so 11th graders focus on the 20th century, said David Tyack, Stanford professor of education and history. The teachers have more time to include alternative views, but guides such as this one are essential to help them translate for their grade level recent scholarship on groups traditionally left out of American history, he said.
About 30 California high school teachers have requested the 200-page guide for trial this year. Published with financial assistance from Stanford's Haas Public Service Center, it includes student-written histories from authoritative sources, transcripts of the lectures by American Indians, and suggested activities and discussion topics for high school-level classes.
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