Culturally Responsive Teaching February 18, 2018, 3-7 p.m. Miller Room, Mackey Center, York College
Come join the York College Education Department for this enriching event for educators, featuring Dr. Scott Simpson. This event is free for any alumni in the teaching field, though seating is limited and registration is required. Registration closes on February 11. There will be a dinner break from 5 p.m.- 6 p.m. Alumni/Guests can eat in the campus cafeteria for $5.
Dr. Simpson works for the non-profit Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE). Before joining the TIE team as a Learning Specialist in 2008, he spent 6 years as a high school English, drama and speech teacher in Texas, Nebraska and Colorado, and taught 10 years as a full time English and English Education professor at York College in York, Nebraska, at Black Hills State University, and at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He holds an M.A. in English Curriculum and Instruction and a Ph.D. in English Creative Writing, both from the University of Nebraska– Lincoln. He also spent about 3 years as the Executive Director of a youth and family camp in the Rockies of Northern New Mexico. He's a published poet, writer and songwriter.
The achievement gap between Native American K-12 students and their non-Native peers is staggering: test scores in reading and math are often well below grade level; graduation rates are at 67 percent, compared to the national average of 80 percent. Combine that with an outrageously high suicide rate among Native populations (nearly double the national average) and it’s more likely that a Native man will commit suicide than graduate from college. Schools on reservations are often understaffed, underfunded, and dealing with substandard facilities.
At the end of an era of No Child Left Behind, it’s apparent that Native children have been.
It’s a complex and multifaceted problem with no simple solutions. However, Dr. Scott Simpson ’85 and colleagues at the non-profit Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE) are addressing elements of the problem that they hope will have lasting effects not just in education in their home state of South Dakota, but across the United States.
Simpson has worked with TIE since 2008. As the organization began looking at the problems Native students in South Dakota face, it quickly became apparent that a hidden issue was an oversight in curriculum: Native voices were not represented.
In most public schools classrooms the curriculum is unintentionally Euro-centric—from the literature that is chosen for study, to the names used in the word-math problems, to the worldview proposed by the science and social studies lessons. The message subtly reinforced is that Euro-American culture and worldview is more important than Native values.
Interviewing Elder Joseph Marshall III for the OSEU project
"When students start to feel like ‘well, what they really want is for me not to be me,’ that’s a problem,” Simpson said. “Education shouldn’t be something that pushes individuals not to be themselves, but to be more fully and completely exactly who they are in a real and productive way. That’s education at its best. If I feel like I have to leave who I am at home, I can’t learn.”
To address this deficit, TIE and the South Dakota Department of Education worked with the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes of South Dakota, asking tribal leaders to identify essential understandings of their shared culture that they wanted to pass on to the next generation. This grew out of recent research that shows if classrooms are culturally responsive, students are more likely to engage and have positive outcomes.
The concepts the elders identified, the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) Essential Understandings (OSEU) are the core values of the people. They focus on lands and environment; identity and resiliency; culture and language; kinship and harmony; oral tradition and story; sovereignty and treaties; and tribal way of life and community development.
Simpson and his colleagues interviewed tribal elders on camera and created an online repository of oral history that is available to all, as well as a guidebook for educators on how to incorporate the OSEU in the classroom. The goal is for these principles to be discussed not just in history class or social studies units on Native populations, but to embed them into every part of the curriculum.
“Teachers don’t need more to teach. They have plenty of material already to cover,” said Simpson. What TIE seeks to give them is resources for ways of teaching that incorporate the OSEU concepts—such as examples or activities, to reinforce the message that Native voices are valuable.
After developing the materials, TIE spent a year showing teachers at one particular reservation school how to implement them. At the end of the year, the teachers who had been most reluctant had become the biggest supporters.
Another problem TIE is working to overcome is the high turnover rate for teachers in the state—especially in reservation schools. Simpson says that at some reservation schools, they have seen 100 percent turnover in 12 months. Many times, the school year starts and there are still teaching positions vacant. Even in non-reservation schools, there is a problem with teacher retention in rural areas in South Dakota.
Educators on a retreat in South Dakota
Giving new teachers a way into the local culture and helping them identify resources in the community has been an important part of Simpson’s work with TIE. They developed a mentorship program for new teachers called the WoLakota Project that incorporates the OSEU. In the three years that they’ve offered the program, they have had a high rate of success at retaining participating teachers.
While there is not much data yet to prove the success of these programs, there is strong anecdotal evidence to show that they are working. The State of South Dakota is now implementing the OSEU in public schools across the state. TIE’s WoLakota Project is expanding their work to Native populations in Wyoming and North Dakota. The National Board of Teacher Certification and the Bureau of Indian Education are partnering with TIE to scale up the program into the HEART Initiative (Helping Educators Achieve, Reflect, and Teach) in Mississippi, Hawaii and New Mexico—three other states with high Native populations.
They are also investigating how this culturally responsive model could be used in other communities. Could they interview black, Hispanic or immigrant community elders to determine a set of core beliefs that legitimizes those cultures in particular classrooms? “The core of this system is allowing our educational practice to be deeply influenced by the elders of the community,” said Simpson.