©2002 Environmental Education Outreach Program & Northern Arizona University
Chapter 1, Section 2:
Most tribes in Arizona are currently experiencing a shortage of trained American Indian environmental employees. Approximately 50% of environmental professionals in most tribal natural resource programs are not American Indians. Tribal resource managers and those concerned with traditional culture are anxious to see more American Indian students choose environmental careers. As a teacher, you see our students in a special way. You are our childrenís guardian in school, and their guide to different forms of knowledge.
Teachers of American Indian students are still trying to develop more effective ways to teach European science and English language skills. Some of our students are not comfortable competing for high grades and classroom rewards. For these students, competing for admission to college may seem like a strange, foreign exercise. Many of our children do very well in school; others care little for the process. Each seed produces its own plant and must be encouraged to grow and flourish as best it can. We can provide protection and nourishment for our young students with knowledge that is useful and interesting. We can show them that our heritage is as important as other subjects in school. We can encourage students to explore their world, to examine the secrets inside cells and inside water and inside the Earth.
Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.
Studies of American Indian learning styles emphasize that competitive, individualized students. Alienation from the methodology causes them to drop out mentally and physically. Internal satisfaction is a much stronger motivator than competition and external rewards. Among the most powerful interior incentives for American Indian and other students are: the desire for personal and community empowerment and self-determination; curiosity; reaction to feedback; the longing for competence; a fondness for self-expression and toward imitation. (Linda Cleary and Thomas Peacock, Collected Wisdom: American Indian Education, Boston: 1998, contains a concise, insightful examination of these issues.)
Teachers often feel the need for greater family and community support. A studentís attitude toward math or science is learned at home and in the community. We should cultivate respect for all knowledge: traditional and scientific. Children should grow up admiring scientists, teachers and biologists as much as they admire athletes or TV actors. They need to hear about the important work environmental professionals do: cleaning up dangerous hazards, restoring health to water supplies, bringing beauty back to the landscape, helping endangered species survive. Science as a job needs to be validated at home and in school.
American Indian students respond well to experiential learning that expects more than listening to lectures. Hands-on participation in lessons and projects involving people and issues from the studentsí own communities makes learning more relevant and interesting. Knowledge is seen to have many worthy sources and many important uses. Learning is not necessarily a foreign activity imposed by outsiders; learning is an honorable American Indian tradition, too.
We owe more to our teachers than we can repay. Keeping restless young minds focused on books and lessons can be very difficult. Our students have natural talents and curiosity and intellectual powers that must be challenged. Only by daring them to learn will they advance. We must not offer them an easy or lazy way out. High standards in school must be echoed by high expectations at home and in the community. Students need to know they are special; but they must also know that they are expected to grow in stature by learning and contributing to community well being.
A number of programs in the Southwest are designed to assist educators of American Indian students. The Environmental Education Outreach Program (EEOP), at Northern Arizona University offers a broad range of teacher training workshops and activities with students covering air and water quality issues, as well as solid and hazardous waste. Counseling and mentoring American Indian students interested in these fields must be a high priority. Arizonaís colleges, universities and community colleges offer a wide variety of educational options that you will find listed in Chapter 4. A timetable to guide students in preparing for college is provided on the following page.
Last updated: May 26, 2005