Professional Development on the Cultures of our Students, and the Cultures We and our Students Need to Learn About
Submitted by David J. Rosen on September 18, 2016 - 10:07am
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As a CoP moderator and community member, I am posting this long message to four LINCS Communities of Practice: Program Management, Diversity and Literacy, Adult English Language Learners, and Evidence-based Professional Development. LINCS, of course, is focused on adult basic skills (including ESOL/ESOL) professional development. In order to be effective, part of what we as teachers, program managers, state and federal administrators, professional developers and researchers need to better understand is the languages and cultures of adult learners, and we -- and our students -- need to understand the cultures of others in adult basic skills classrooms and in our communities. Our democracy, our society, and as one writer, Jim Gray, has recently argued (see below), our ability to thrive may depend on it.
There are so many important communities, cultures and languages in our culturally diverse land. We could begin anywhere. However, I would like to begin with what I have recently realized is a huge gap in my own knowledge and understanding, the cultures of native peoples in the United States, so called "Native Americans," "American Indians," what Canadians often refer to as "First Nations" -- but maybe none of those words describes these peoples and their cultures in the way they want to be described, or in the way they know and refer to themselves. That's one of the first important lessons in learning about others' cultures, how they want others, outsiders, to refer to them.
Ask yourself, as I recently did, what words you associate with with these Native American or American Indian cultures. (I'll leave some space here to give you a chance to do that before you read my embarrassing confession below.)
The words that came to mind for me, as a privileged white male having grown up in a Midwest suburb and then city, for many years now having lived in an East Coast city, and having attended good schools and universities in Michigan and Massachusetts, were these:
"casino," "gambling," "new prosperity," "reservation," poverty," "alcoholism," "minority," "colonialism," "defeat," "treaty," "mistreatment," "cultural assault," "assimilation," "stereotypes," "disrespect," "arts and crafts such as dance, drumming, costumes, jewelry and pottery," "spirituality," and "appreciation of the national environment."
What did not come immediately to mind until I heard an NPR interview on Saturday about the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota was
"Nation," "sovereignty," "protectors of the environment" (instead of "protesters"), and "shared common interests".
I was surprised to realize how much I need to learn, despite my years of education opportunities, and also surprised to realize that my formal education did not include important basic information about and appreciation of these cultures. I realized that my information came from episodic informal learning, some from museum visits, and cultural sites I have visited, some from mystery novels by the late Tony Hillerman, but most from the media.
Today I read an enlightening LinkedIn article by Jim Gray, Standing Rock: The biggest story that no one is covering. But that is about to change, Gray writes,
"I think there's a visceral reaction that prevents some people in the non Indian community to find solidarity with today's Native American issues. Whether it's gaming, Indian children in the foster care program, religious freedom, sacred sites, or quality of life issues where the public must take the time to understand our perspective, we often find ourselves in the losing battle for understanding and acceptance."
Gray is right. I realize that I need to learn more about "Indian Country" and the "Protectors" of the environment in North Dakota, and also Native American perspectives in the places where I (have) live(d), Michigan and Massachusetts, that of course have Indian names. I need to understand the implications of these legal nations within our borders and how we can work together to achieve common goals.
I wonder if there is a role for LINCS, for some of its Communities of Practice, and possibly for additional LINCS courses, to help those of us who work in the field of adult basic skills to better understand the cultures of adult learners, and of the communities in which we and they live.
If you think so, how do you think LINCS might be helpful?
David J. Rosen
Moderator, Technology and Learning, and Program Development CoPs