Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

‘Listen to Native People': What K-12 Curricula Leave Out (Q&A)

February 12, 2019 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It’s been nearly a month since Omaha Nation Elder Nathan Phillips and Nicholas Sandmann, a white student from Covington Catholic High School, appeared to face off on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Phillips was there for the Indigenous People’s March and Sandmann for the March for Life. A bystander captured the moment when Sandmann appeared to be smirking at Phillips, and then posted it on Twitter. The image quickly provoked a fire hose of outrage. Soon, videos shot from multiple angles surfaced, revealing that Sandmann and his male classmates had been previously taunted by another group—the Black Hebrew Israelites. The videos also showed Covington students engaged in chants and tomahawk chops to the sound of Phillips playing the hand drum. And, suddenly, the narrative became more complicated. For many, the additional videos were evidence that the teen and his classmates were victims, not perpetrators of racism. The calls to move past the debate were swift. But many Native people have said, “Not so fast.” For Rebecca Nagle, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, there were many lessons for educators. Education Week Editorial Intern Sasha Jones caught up with her recently to discuss them.

Many have argued that it’s time to move on from the encounter between the group of Covington Catholic High School students and members of the Indigenous People’s March. Why is anyone still talking about it, and why should educators still be thinking about it?

NAGLE: I think there’s a lot to take from it in terms of what educators and what our education system, in general, can do better. I think that the behavior of the Covington Catholic High School students, while unfortunate, is not rare and is reflective of larger problems within media and pop culture, but also K-12 curriculums, and what people are learning about Native Americans and what people aren’t.

What’s your response to the critics who say that it’s because some white students don’t often encounter students of color that they don’t know how to behave? Do you think that’s fair?

I can’t count how many times somebody has told me, “Oh, wow, you’re the first Native person I’ve ever met.” And you know what I say to that? That’s probably not true. It’s just the first time that you’re aware of it, because you’re meeting Native people all the time, we’re just invisible. So, you’re not coming to the conclusion that the person that you’re meeting is Native American. There are over five million Native people in the United States. The vast majority of us actually don’t live on reservations. We’re in urban areas. We’re in suburban areas. I think it’s helpful for students to be exposed to people who are not like them to build tolerance and to also learn. But you shouldn’t have to have those experiences to treat people who are different from you with respect, in my opinion.

What do you think the responsibility of schools is to teach tolerance?

I think there’s a huge responsibility for educators to teach tolerance. I think the idea of K-12 education is that we’re preparing young people to be good citizens. I think that tolerance is completely necessary for that. Beyond what we’re teaching students about individual behavior and how they should act, I think it’s important that we teach them about systems. What happened in the interaction between the high school students and Nathan Phillips is systemic because that’s how Native people are treated all the time. The dehumanization that those boys learn comes from systems. We need to teach them about how they work, what their impact is, and what can be done to change them.

Like you said, these incidents are not necessarily rare. What would you say to those who, in your words, are privileged enough to not have experienced them?

Listen to Native people. Native people experience this type of racism daily, and we know what it is. In this moment of reflection, I think for that learning to occur, Native voices really need to be centered, and to be heard, and to be believed, too. When people say, “I know what that look is because I’ve been on the receiving end of it"—it’s not just Native people, but also people of color and a lot of women—people need to listen to that experience, their lived experiences.

Bullying and racism play out in the classroom all the time. How can educators prevent this kind of situation from taking place?

We need to teach students how to intervene. That’s not [about] teaching people how to be a white savior. But we need to teach, especially white kids, when they see somebody who is white—it might be a peer, it might be somebody in their family—say or do something that’s racist, how to challenge that behavior and how to have hard conversations. It can be a scary moment to call somebody out in that way, so I think teaching people real skills around having those difficult conversations is something that I think most of our schools leave out of curriculum. Part of being a good citizen of a diverse country, a diverse city, or a diverse community is being able to have those skills, instead of just ignoring it or walking away, to stand up against that wrong.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as Q and A With Rebecca Nagle Lessons for Educators

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'A Universal Prevention Measure' That Boosts Attendance and Improves Behavior?
When students feel connected to school, attendance, behavior, and academic performance are better.
9 min read
Principal David Arencibia embraces a student as they make their way to their next class at Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, Texas on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Principal David Arencibia embraces a student as they make their way to their next class at Colleyville Middle School in Colleyville, Texas, on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
Emil T. Lippe for Education Week
School Climate & Safety 4 Case Studies: Schools Use Connections to Give Every Student a Reason to Attend
Schools turn to the principles of connectedness to guide their work on attendance and engagement.
12 min read
Students leave Birney Elementary School at the start of their walking bus route on April 9, 2024, in Tacoma, Wash.
Students leave Birney Elementary School at the start of their walking bus route on April 9, 2024, in Tacoma, Wash. The district started the walking school bus in response to survey feedback from families that students didn't have a safe way to get to school.
Kaylee Domzalski/Education Week
School Climate & Safety Most Teachers Worry a Shooting Could Happen at Their School
Teachers say their schools could do more to prepare them for an active-shooter situation.
4 min read
Image of a school hallway with icons representing lockdowns, SRO, metal detectors.
via Canva
School Climate & Safety Michigan School Shooter's Parents Sentenced to at Least 10 Years in Prison
They are the first parents convicted for failures to prevent a school shooting.
3 min read
Jennifer Crumbley stares at her husband James Crumbley during sentencing at Oakland County Circuit Court on April 9, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich. Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, are asking a judge to keep them out of prison as they face sentencing for their role in an attack that killed four students in 2021.
Jennifer Crumbley stares at her husband James Crumbley during sentencing at Oakland County Circuit Court on April 9, 2024, in Pontiac, Mich. The parents of Ethan Crumbley, who killed four students at his Michigan high school in 2021, asked a judge to keep them out of prison.
Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via AP