Remember those oversize, heavy history textbooks we labored to carry and studied as middle- and high-school students? Do you recall whose stories or histories were or were not included in these books?
After learning about the founding fathers and a skewed sampling of great American heroes, the historical stories or perspectives of women, African Americans, Native Americans and many other oppressed Americans were often overlooked. Those textbooks often failed to include a more complete American story. They didn’t provide us with the critical knowledge and perspective we needed to better understand our country’s history and gain an understanding and appreciation of our differences.
Today, textbooks are still often written with the missing voices and perspectives of many Americans, especially the Native American narrative.
In 2012, the National Museum of the American Indian conducted a content analysis of American Indian subject matter featured in US textbooks. This study found little evidence that these textbooks included any substantial information about important Native American history, culture and contemporary life. There certainly was no integration of Native perspectives into the larger narrative of American history. Resources for classroom teachers were often incorrect, incomplete or denigrating to Native children about their own histories. It was clear that a majority of K-12 students and teachers lacked knowledge, understanding and access to authentic resources about Native Americans.
Propelling the Native American narrative forward
Based on this study, the museum committed to creating an online resource that would address these deficiencies. Native Knowledge 360° was created out of a desire to provide accurate resources on Native American history and culture to K-12 educators. NK360° would provide lesson plans, student activities, videos and documents to tell a more comprehensive story and to challenge common assumptions about Native peoples. The museum’s ultimate goal for NK360° was to transform teaching and learning about Native peoples.
To produce this unique educational resource, education staff collaborated with the National Council for the Social Studies to develop a framework called Native Knowledge 360° Essential Understandings. This built on the 10 themes of NCSS national curriculum standards:
- Time, continuity and change
- People, places and environments
- Individual development and identity
- Individuals, groups and institutions
- Power, authority and governance
- Productions, distribution and consumption
- Science, technology and society
- Global connections
- Civic ideals and practices
The NK360° Essential Understandings framework, developed in collaboration with Native communities, national and state education agencies, and educators, adapted these key concepts to reflect the rich and diverse cultures, histories and contemporary lives of Native peoples. The framework reflects a multitude of untold stories about American Indians that can deepen and expand the teaching of history, geography, civics, economics, science and engineering. In 2018, the museum launched the NK360° national education initiative.
A number of factors influence our decisions about which topics we select. Foremost, we listen to teachers in conversations and through evaluation processes to determine what they need and will use. We also analyze learning standards and curricula to find out the topics that schools are required to teach. The initial teaching modules designed for grades four through 12 highlight histories of the Northern Plains treaties, Pacific Northwest history and culture, Pacific Northwest fish wars and Inka road innovations. The museum recently released modules on American Indian removal and the “sale” of Manhattan, each created in collaboration with tribal communities. Several lessons are also available in Native languages and Spanish.
How resources are put together, shared
The format ranges from simple lesson plans to modules that are taught over several class sessions. Included are teacher instructions, student activities, document images and videos of Native people sharing their stories. Teachers accessing this information hear the voices of contemporary Native Americans talking about their community and the importance of their history.
To introduce educators to these resources on the Native American narrative, the museum hosts teacher professional development programs that reach across the country and globally, modeling the content and pedagogical approach. In July 2020, the education team hosted its first virtual webinar series for educators. The three-part series was geared toward fourth- through 12th-grade teachers. Participants learned about the problematic Native American narratives about history and discussed strategies to help students use primary sources to inform a better understanding of the Native American experience.
Over 2,500 teachers attended that virtual institute worldwide, which was recorded and reshared as an EdX course entitled ”Foundations for Transforming Teaching and Learning About Native Americans.” There are currently 822 enrolled in the EdX course, and more than 40,000 people have viewed the recordings. Since 2020, we have served over 65,000 educators in our virtual and in-person sessions.
To produce and disseminate the resources, the museum also reaches out to state and local education officials. The museum introduces these officials to its education resources, demonstrating how NK360° can supplement existing curricula and inform developing history and social studies standards. For example, Washington adopted NK360° to supplement its state curriculum guidance.
NK360° has also gained the interest of early childhood educators, and we are exploring expanded formats that will address the education of young children about Native cultures through literature and objects from the museum’s collection.
As I reflect on the goals and impact of this unique online resource, I like to think of it as paving the way for our schools’ curricula, textbooks and teaching materials to become more reflective and inclusive of the cultures of all children, giving voice to multiple historical and cultural perspectives to build appreciation and understanding of others’ histories and cultures.
Explore NK360°’s free resources and our school and public programs (also produced using the Essential Understandings) on our website.
Maria Marable-Bunch is the associate director for museum learning and programs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. Her career in museum education spans over 25 years and ranges from history to art to science. She is also a practicing fine art artist.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.