Regaining Stewardship Over American Indian Education
Very little contemporary American Indian education is tribally focused. Instead, we are presented with reams of policy and research about Indian students that concentrates on explaining dropouts, low graduation rates and other problems.
Important though these issues are, they tend to assume that Indian students are foreigners in American culture and education. And in a sense, they are. Many American Indian students with strong community and culture ties to their nations reject the individualistic values and emphasis on gain that the American education system assumes. Indians, after all, tend toward collective or community participation and working toward community achievements. For Indian communities, collective learning, decision-making, and collective sharing of profits, as is done in tribal gaming, is the norm.
Unfortunately, most of the history of Indian policy has been the story of assimilating Indian people into the values and culture of the mainstream. The boarding schools, for example, were designed to remove students from their communities and immerse them in schools that intended to show them the way to enter American economy and society.
Today, Indian communities are working to regain control over the education of their children. Since the 1970s, most tribes have increasingly moved to assume the administration of schools that have been created, funded and managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), through the use of subcontractors.
But most tribal day schools must still conform to various educational regulations and accreditation requirements. Consequently, BIA rules tend to prevail. The result is that tribes have limited cultural and organizational influence on teaching methods, curriculum content and cultural content.