A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Indian education curriculum

Jun 15, 2017 - By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

The Legislature has given the go-ahead, but devising it will be a complicated job

The two Wind River Indian Reservation tribes, Wyoming legislators and state education leaders marked a significant achievement earlier this year when the Legislature approved a new state law calling for an American Indian education component to be included at Wyoming public schools.

It took a couple of legislative sessions to get it done. Work on the legislation was difficult. Now, something even harder begins: devising and implementing the curriculum itself.

At the meeting last month in Lander of the Legislature's Tribal Relations Committee, an official with the Wyoming Department of Education agreed not to interfere as the tribes developed the school curriculum. That word -- "interfere" -- is going to be the operative term in the transaction. Like it or not, the state is going to have get involved at some point.

The specifics of what the curriculum must entail will be left to the experts, and that's where the delicacy comes in. A curriculum that complies with and conforms to Wyoming's modern-day educational standards is no simple thing, and it won't be permitted in the schools if it doesn't meet the same basic criteria as courses in reading, science, math and other subjects.

Certified school curricula must be data-based packages of material that can be taught by teachers in any district, and which will contribute to the overall progress in education that has become the intense focal point of the scrutiny which all schools are under. It must be researched, factual, teachable, measurable and relevant. Only then can the state say "OK, start teaching this to all Wyoming's children."

To qualify as true school curriculum, the new material will have to be much more than a drop-by from a tribal elder who says the Pledge of Allegiance in a native language, or a demonstration on building a teepee -- useful and entertaining as such visits can be. Schools have had meaningful interactions with tribal people, customs and stories for many years, but an actual school curriculum is a different matter.

Eventually, the Wyoming Department of Education will have to see the curriculum proposal, evaluate it, and either sign off on it or require changes. Otherwise, no go.

If that constitutes unacceptable "interference," then there will be further difficulties and delays as the program is put together.

The layers of instructional technique, testing evaluation and accountability required for anything being taught in public schools combine into a formidable set of requirements.

It makes for a big job -- and a very important one now that state law is mandating it.

To swing it, the tribes probably will have to employ professional curriculum builders. The instructions to those pros must be crystal-clear: Ensure that the historical richness of the grass-roots material is meshed into a structured education program that fits Wyoming school standards.

It might take a pinch of state "interference" to get it done.

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