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Just Say “No” to NCLB
By Four Arrows (
Don Trent Jacobs)

I am Wahinkpe Topa. My mother was Cherokee and Creek. My father was Scots-Irish. My name comes from my adopted tribe, the Oglala, the people with whom I Sun Dance. I am also an educational professor and author, a Viet Nam era Marine Corps officer, and recipient of a University of Vermont grant designed to write articles like this one, pleading for people in “Indian Country” to resist further compliance to U.S. education mandates like those in the No Child Left Behind Laws.

In 1892, Captain Richard C. Pratt, the founder of Carlisle Indian School, presented a paper in which he said, “ A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

The result of all this was to use schools rather than guns to end “the Indian problem.” Bush’s NCLB education plans continue the violence against Indian children. We say we love our children, that they are sacred. So why do we continue to allow our schools to implement this law in spite of the fact that the most honored non-Indian education associations agree that the law does violence to children, especially children of color?
For example, the largest educational group in the country, the American Education Research Association has taken a stand against high stakes testing, saying, “Decisions that affect individual students’ life chances or educational opportunities should not be made on the basis of test scores alone.” The American Evaluation Association has taken even a stronger position:

High stakes testing leads to under-serving or mis-serving all students, especially the most needy and vulnerable, thereby violating the principle of “do no harm.” The American Evaluation Association opposes the use of tests as the sole or primary criterion for making decisions with serious negative consequences for students, educators, and schools.

If this rationale is not enough to cause our people to remember our sovereign responsibilities and rights for the sake of our children, consider that Title VII, the American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Alaska native Education Act that is inserted into NCLB clearly states: “It is the purpose of this part to support the efforts of local educational agencies, Indian tribes and organizations….and other entitles to meet the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indians and Alaskan Natives so that such students can meet the same challenging State student academic achievement standards as all other students are expected to meet.”

Section 7114 (c) (4) goes on to say that NCLB“will not diminish availability of culturally related activities.” Labeling schools and children as “low performing,” putting them at risk for take over, forcing them to adopt a curriculum that is not culturally related, and allow Indian and non-Indian educators who have been propagandized to reproduce a system of thinking about the world that is harmful to everything DOES diminish culturally related activities!
So what are we waiting for? The U.S. government does not have the funds to “take over” all of our Indian schools IF we stand together and all “say no.” We have research on our side. We have the language of the law itself on our side. More importantly, we have our cultural worldviews about the sacredness of our children and the traditional approaches to teaching and learning on our side.

During the Vietnam War, nearly 990% of the 86,000 Indians who enlisted volunteered, giving American Indians the highest record of service per capita of any ethnic group, and over half served in combat. Indian people, against all odds, and in spite of Captain Pratt’s educational agenda, are still here, still teaching the old ways. It is time for us to use this courage and warrior spirit for our children. We can attempt to vote the Bush administration out of office and hope that the Democrats will revoke NCLB, but this possibility is not strong on both counts. It is up to us to exercise our sovereign rights, for the sake of our children, for the sake of all of our futures. It is time for Indian country to take the lead!

Formerly Dean of Education at Oglala Lakota College, Four Arrows is now an associate professor in Education Leadership at Northern Arizona University and a faculty member at Fielding Graduate Institute. His articles and books in behalf of indigenous people can be viewed at www.teachingvirtues.net. His forthcoming book, Indigenous Worldviews: First Nation Scholars Challenge Anti-“Indian” Hegemony, includes contributions from Vine Deloria, Jr., Greg Cajeti and others who also believe that it is past time for us to take a stand.

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