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Develop an inclusive history plan for students

Generations of students of Native American heritage have sat through history lessons in which their culture was ignored, misrepresented or just barely mentioned. They were told the state’s tribes were completely wiped out in the 1600s, were taught to equate words such as “savage” with indigenous culture, or saw only the cartoonish Native American stereotypes shown in movies, television shows or as team mascots.

Even now, while a typical November history lesson might mention that native peoples joined English colonists in Plymouth, Massachusetts at the so-called first Thanksgiving feast, the history curriculum taught in most Connecticut classrooms generally does not go much deeper than somewhat cursory mentions of native culture.

“Imagine being a Mohegan student (or any student for that matter) and being taught that your people were uncivilized, or taught the concept of Manifest Destiny from the perspective of the United States and colonialism, and not from the perspective of the millions of indigenous peoples who were so adversely affected,” Beth Regan, “Morning Deer,” vice chair, Council of Elders of the Mohegan Tribal Nation said in a formal statement issued Monday. “Or imagine not learning of the beautiful culture, language, ceremonies and history of your people who lived here long before any Europeans?”

Regan made her statement this week in offering support of 19th District state Sen. Cathy Osten’s proposed bill requiring the teaching of Native American history in Connecticut’s public schools. Regan was among the representatives of the state’s five tribal nations who announced support for the bill after Osten said she will resubmit it when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Osten, a Sprague Democrat, first introduced the measure in March. A public hearing on the proposal was conducted just days before the coronavirus pandemic cut short the legislative session and effectively killed pending bills.

Osten’s measure mirrors national efforts underway in recent years that aim to improve teaching about the too-often misinterpreted or ignored indigenous peoples. In 2015, a Pennsylvania State University study found that 87% of what is taught about Native Americans focuses on pre-1900 and more than half of U.S. states named no individual Native American in history standards. Following these findings, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. developed a curriculum that strives to bring greater depth and breadth of understanding about native cultures.

Certainly, it’s beyond time for Connecticut to join this effort. We commend Osten for her bringing the woeful state of education about Connecticut’s Native Americans to the forefront. We agree that no child should have to endure feeling invisible, disrespected or ignored during classroom history lessons and recognize that for many years this is exactly what has happened.

Still, we also understand the doubts raised about the bill by the state’s commissioner of education and the Connecticut Education Association. “Increasing the number of topics legislatively each year is not a sustainable practice and represents a significant shift of curricular decisions from teachers, administrators and locally elected boards of education to the legislature,” the CEA’s Ray Rossomando said in March testimony about the bill.

In 2019, a law mandating teaching about Black and Latino studies was enacted.That curriculum must be in place for the 2021-22 school year.

We agree a piecemeal approach to retooling history curriculum is likely not the most efficient or effective approach, no matter how important is the subject matter being promoted. Not only must something be removed from each packed school day each time a new mandate is added, but there’s also little doubt history curriculum, too-long dominated by a male, white, Euro-centric viewpoint, ignores the rich diversity and contributions of many marginalized communities beyond those represented in the 2019 law or the current proposal.

Rather than adding mandates to teach about individual groups and cultures, it is time to re-tool all history curriculum to be more inclusive and representative of the diverse state and nation we are. In addition to promoting teaching about Native Americans, Osten might also push the legislature to require education officials to begin such a comprehensive curricular overhaul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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