Science, Math

NATIVE ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY STUDENTS: GUIDELINES FOR MATHMATICS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS; AISES Conference document, American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Books, 1630 30th Street, Boulder, CO 80301; 303-939-0023, FAX 303-939-81501995, 38 pp. From AISES, $3

In the spring of 1994, NSF funded AISES to sponsor a conference whose 30 participants developedd this document. I have extremly mixed feelings about the resulting guidelines document. The overwhelming majority of trhe participants apparently had no background in science or math themselves. Most of the guidelines are common sense kinds of things. The big focus seemed to be on curriculum development. That focus is deceptive. Identification of so-called "basrriers" to Indian successes in science and math boils down, if you are familiar with thereal situation in Indian education, to lack of money for everything from textbooks to labs to teacher training.

You can see diagrams and outline of contents on the AISES web page describing this guidelines booklet.

I am a former editor and author for two of the biggest U.S math-science curriculum projects which were undertaken in th late '50's and early '60's by the U.S. government to improve math science education for mainstream society students, under the technology shock of the Russians launching the first space satellite, Sputnik. Hundreds of millions of dollars was spent on these huge projects. Nobel laureate scientists and leaders in many specialist filds took part. Virtually unlimited money was available for apparatus development, and for preparing attractive publications. Stringent evaluations were follows; experimental and control groups consisted of hundreds of thousands of students. Thes development projects lasted over periods of 5 years and more. They were later expanded into teacher training, and there was special federal aid for schools to buy and equip school teaching labs.

By contrast, what's available to any native group is next to nothing. It is my opinion that math, in particular, cannot and should not be developed by a small, shaky group. Math curricula must be integrated, and planned and structured to cover a wide variety of topics at increasing depth and sophistication as the years go by. Small groups can design supplementary units.

Words -- guidelines -- are no substitute for money. Math can't be learned from 1939 dog-eared old algebra books, the only math texts a reservation school I worked with in the fall of 1995 had for all the students, grades 7 - 12. Just about all the books this school had were donations. And had there been money for texts, there was no one on the staff nor for many miles around who could have advised about good choices. There was no space in the 3-room school building for a hands-on lab. I've ben to other reservations where a new school building has been built. Usually there is no lab space because no one thought of it, (labs hav to be designed with sinks, storage space, gas burders, electrical outlets, etc.) If the building is large enough, you can do a belated (expensive) conversion of a classroom. I've seen new school libraries where they ran out of money without getting any books for the new shelves.

Guideline 2.3 "include holistic and spiritual approaches" -- what does that mean? It just means some new edu-jargon, that's what. A verbal distraction, a decoy, from realities of Indian education. I review a great set of elementary science curriculum materials on this page. It will cost your school $2000 - $5000 per grade for startup implementation and $1200 - $2,000 per grade each year for renewable supplies (if nothing is lost or broken and you don't have to buy any more books). It would take 3 years of planning for any Indian school to implement that, because the first year would be scheming to get the cash, planning to hustle the money somehow (a year of waiting to see if your proposals made it and how big the cuts were). And proposals that simply say "Our school needs equipment, supplies, books" are not looked on with favor by grantors. Not innovative enough!

These guidelines are no substitute for the money to catch-up Native schools after more than 100 years of total neglect, and huge ripoffs of federal native funds by border-non-Indian public schools, that have bukilt great facilities (that the Indian students are quickly pushed out of) with these federal funds over 30 years. There's all kinds of little science books you can buy that are basically "101 real cheap experiments you can do with paperclips and string". So hey hey hey, let's have a curriculum development project to put the Indian sign on this: 101 el cheapo science thingies you can do with, um, basswood fiber twine and, mmm, rocks.

Make me a microscope of paperclips and string. Make me an Indian-style one of twine and rocks, put a feather on it. A high-school quality microscope costs more than $500 today, one for junior high about $300 and one for elementary $100. And you have to have them cleaned and adjusted professionally every couple of years ($50-$100 per microscope), Make me some computers from clay and woodcarvings. Hook up to the Internet so all the kids not just the occasional Native school computer teacher, can get on regularly enough to learn. Do it with beads or leather thongs, put a feather on it.

So these conference folks went and talked for a while and came up with curriculum development guidelines. Where's the guidelines for how to get and effectively use the money? That is what is needed M - O - N - E - Y. But what we got, instead, in Indian Ed, is huge budget cuts.

So, if you got it -- the money -- from someplace already, maybe these guidelines will be some kind of help, in case plain common sense didn't help you think of them already. But what it looks to me like is more like decoying Indian people into the idea that they could hire a couple people to write up some little units of traditional stories, let's say legends about constellations, legends about plants, and wham! they would have a "holistic science/math program." This is not true, it will only direct your attention away from the idea that you need about $250,000 (minimum) to get started equipping your (small) school with equipment, supplies and library, and quite a bit more than that for your high school. That doesn't include salaries. It's for stuff, appareatus, xpendable supplies, books, expendable workbooks and lab books, facility space. These guidelines will not help meet those real needs. Reading them may be exciting to some; for me it just makes me feel rather bitter. Yet it could also be useful in planning proposals that can attract grant money to implement a real science program with adequate facilities, lab equipment, computers, textbook series, other books, and supplies. Reviewed by Paula Giese

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 1996 - 7:16:06 AM