Empowerment through education

by AARON K. SCHWENDIMAN

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools rose 26 percent between 1985 and 2007. As enrollment in public schools and adult education programs increases in the United States, the quality of what is taught to children and adults becomes more important.

Jennifer Isleib, a University of Utah student majoring in education, said education is the key to the future.

“Without the education of the past and present, humanity would be lost,” said Isleib, who works as a teacher’s aid at Dilworth Elementary. “Knowing our past is how we are going to make changes in the future, especially with young children because they are our future voice.”

One of the most important subjects in school is history. One aspect of history that is very important is learning about American Indians, said David Keyes, a social studies specialist in the Salt Lake City School District.

He believes that teaching children about American Indians is important because their story is everyone’s story.

“We need to know about the many tribes and nations that were here before the encounter with Europeans,” Keyes said in an e-mail interview. “We also need to know what happened to these peoples as a result of the encounter and how these tribes and nations continue to be part of our story today.”

In many schools today, history curricula mention cultures very quickly and then move on, Keyes said. American Indians are only mentioned briefly in many of the lessons taught in school, and many of the textbooks in Utah schools today devote only a chapter or two specifically to American Indians before and at the time of the European encounter, Keyes said.

According to the Utah State Office of Education Social Studies Core curriculum handout, the first lesson about American Indians is not until the 4th grade. This is a brief mention of the American Indian settlement on the East Coast during the encounter with the Europeans and some details about American Indians settling in Utah.

As it is very important to educate children in public schools, it is also very important to educate adults about issues that have been taught incorrectly in the past. Forrest Cuch, director of the Division of Indian Affairs, has made it a goal to inform kids and adults about history.

Cuch is a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and was born and raised on the Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah. When Cuch attended elementary school he was taught that American Indians didn’t make any contribution to civilization.

In 1994, Cuch became the social studies department head at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. During this time Cuch developed a multi-cultural program and taught a full load of classes.

Cuch has also developed an “empowerment training” program for members of Indian tribes. This 10-month program taught as many as 30 people at a time about the history of their culture, spiritual, physical and mental health and taught participants how to live a better life for themselves and their children, Cuch said.

“We let them choose by showing a contrast of both worlds,” Cuch said. “After 10 months many of them were empowered to get off welfare and live a better life.”

Cuch hopes in the future these programs can be expanded to include all types of cultures because cultural diversity is what makes the world beautiful today.

Incorporating many cultures into curricula in public schools is important for children to learn about cultural diversity.

Teaching and educating children and young adults will help them understand the issues that American Indians deal with. Society still uses language, images and generalization that reinforce stereotypes associated with minorities, said Keyes, the social studies specialist.

“Over the past decade we have had an explosion of excellent materials for teachers to use,” Keyes said. “At a societal level we can continue to hope that our nation becomes more sensitive to American Indian issues.”