Posts Tagged 'Keanna Ross'

To My Teachers of the Past

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!
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Retrieved from The Ways, © 2019 Wisconsin Education Communications Board.

By Keanna Ross

Growing up, when my teachers or classmates found out my ethnicity, they treated me either as a foreign creature or as if they knew my entire life story: “You people still exist?” “Do you live in a teepee?” (I live in a sturdy house like the rest of my family and my ancestors actually lived in wigwams.) “You won’t have to work as hard for college because you get to go for free!” (If only they knew that my tribe is so poor, they avoid students’ emails and phone calls in order to avoid giving out an $800–$1,100 grant, which I have yet to receive in my fourth year of college.) Or, my personal favorite, “You’re lucky, you don’t have to ever pay taxes!” (Hahaha, I wish!) As you may be able to assume, I am Native American–well, half anyway. My dad is Ojibwe and Oneida, and our family is from the Bad River reservation in northern Wisconsin.

From childhood to adulthood, I have always been very involved in my culture. Though my mom is German, she was always much more enthusiastic about having my sisters and me know our Native half. She would sit with my grandma, my dad’s mother, and learn about all of the traditions; she took us to powwows religiously, learned how to bead, learned how to make regalia, allowed us to dance. When my mom passed away in the fall of 2015, she requested a traditional Ojibwe service at the Congregation of the Great Spirit, the Native American Catholic Church founded by my family years ago. Because of my mother and grandmother, my sisters and I have always been very involved in our culture and always will be. As you can see from this small backstory, my culture is very important to not only me but also to my entire family. I wear Native pride on my sleeve.

Due to this pride, I openly share my background with everyone. This is not a bad thing when people want to become educated. It is a bad thing when you’re a shy second grader, and your teacher puts you on the spot during November because we are talking about the pilgrims and the ‘Indians,’ and makes you the example ‘Indian’ to represent a whole nation. It is a bad thing when you are a senior in high school and you are told by a classmate, “You should be happy the Europeans came! They made this place better,” without having any knowledge of the cultural genocide that occurred.

Along with a HUGE majority of K-12 students, I have only ever been taught small fragments of the truth. We have been taught only one perspective. Imagine the knowledge being passed down as an animal exhibit at the zoo. As students, we have only been taught what we can see when we grab onto the binoculars. We have been focused on only one tiny part of a truth. If that is all we are taught, that is all we grow to know, because we are never taught to take the binoculars away from our eyes and see the rest of reality around us.

This cycle is still happening. Children are being taught a single perspective. This is not only a problem with Native American history being accurately represented but also African American history, Japanese American history (which I have yet to formally learn about), Mexican/American history… world history! As a sophomore in college I took an African history course, taught by an extremely knowledgeable and sweet man from Nigeria. You wouldn’t believe how many times he had to correct students when they referred to Africa as a COUNTRY, or implied that it was tiny, not modernized, or that they felt sorry for Africans. People do not know how huge the CONTINENT of Africa is; they do not know how many diverse countries are in Africa. This professor would always tell us stories about how people would ask– because he was from a country in Africa– if he knew their friend who was located on the opposite side of the continent! This is sad because this is all a result of inaccurate education.

In American schools, we are only taught about the slave trade and of Africans being “primitive;” we only learn about the dehumanizing of these people. When I learned about Egypt in sixth grade, I was never taught that it was a country in Africa; it was never even mentioned. When learning about Native American history, we were taught that the pilgrims and ‘Indians’ had Thanksgiving and that the stealing of homes was consensual. We were told that the Europeans helped the natives. We were taught about the Trail of Tears in high school, but this only consisted of a section of a chapter which was not its focal point. We were not taught that it was wrong of the Europeans; we did not mourn the deaths of millions of indigenous people (not only in what we call America, but also Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, what is now known as Mexico, and also Canada, along with South America, Hawaii, and many many more).

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If I could suggest anything to my teachers of the past, it would be to take into account all of your students. Stop teaching the dominant narrative of colored people being less intelligent and less capable. It does not matter what your background is, you can teach history with a broader perspective. You can represent ALL of your students, truthfully. Be open to, not only, learning from your students, but also changing how you teach. Understand that history textbooks were made by white Americans who create them to appeal to a certain audience. Learn with your students, because what you were taught is not coming from a point of multiple perspectives. Becoming the difference in your students’ lives is educating them on different people. It is allowing yourself to stray from tradition. Be the one who helps develop humans who are knowledgeable about the world, instead of the one who contributes to stereotypes.

As an educator you should care about how you are shaping the future. Let’s take the binoculars off and see the entire reality and truth.

 


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