Representation and Reciprocity in Early Childhood Education: Cross Cultural Field Insights in an Anishinaabe Context

Introduction

In 1971 when I heard that the National Teacher Corps was recruiting students to teach in Indigenous communities, I was thrilled and sought out the recruiter somewhere in an ivory tower on Bascom Hill. She was happy to accept my application, but I was floored when the young Black woman told me that I was the first Indigenous person she had ever met even though she was recruiting for the Wisconsin Indian Teacher Corps. I wanted to teach and was able to interview. I was told I was not accepted because with a degree in Mathematics I would not be able to relate to Indigenous children at the elementary level, though it may have had something to do with my long hair worn in braids, tied with red ribbons.

(Dennis White, Lakeland Anishinaabe faculty)

This recollection hints at the pronounced and personal impact of colonization and race relations in the United States. The Teacher Corps was created as part of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to address the need for teachers in predominantly low-income areas (Woodcock & Alawiye, 2001). Yet, as the quote suggests, a tribal member, the Lakeland faculty instructor, was barred from teaching in his own community, one considered low-income. This illustrates how assimilationist history and colonization changed over time from more explicit oppression (e.g., boarding schools) to the illogical nature of credentialing policy in the Teacher Corps. Today, the opportunity gap compels us to consider alternate approaches and pedagogies for meeting each child’s needs (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019). The disparity between the demographics of the children who are not meeting expected academic standards and those of the teaching staff suggest the need to better prepare teachers for under-represented communities (Brayboy et al., 2012). Creating pathways in Indigenous communities to teacher credentialing is a part of the larger partnership between the University of the Midwest (UM) and the Lakeland Anishinaabe community. We use pseudonyms for people, places, and agencies in our research.

As Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators working and writing together with early childhood education (ECE) teacher candidates at UM, we explore the experiences of teacher candidates crossing cultural contexts in an international field experience within the United States. The term Indigenous is used in reference to Native American Peoples, First Peoples of the United States, and specific tribes in the United States. The choice of the term Anishinaabe is intentional as it refers to a group of culturally related Indigenous people, including tribes within the United States and Canada (Treuer, 2012). Through the use of a more global term, we seek to protect the privacy of the tribe. However, we acknowledge the importance of using tribal names as too often unique and varied lived experiences are generalized or erased through the use of labels such as Native American, American Indian, First Nations and Indigenous. The impact of colonization, specifically as it relates to the sovereign status of an Indigenous community, was explored throughout the field experience by the teacher candidate researchers, the UM faculty, and the Lakeland instructor serving as both participants and authors. This is an uncommon practice in research on experiential learning and strengthens our practical insights. The UM faculty and teacher candidates all identify as white women and the Lakeland instructor as an Anishinaabe man. Visiting a nation within a nation and unpacking the policy, law, and governance as it relates to early education provides possibilities for cultural border crossing. We propose that critical reflection on historical impact provides insight for how lived experience and racial awareness influences the teaching of children by teacher candidates.

Context

International Field Work in ECE

Research on teacher education that addresses diverse student populations has suggested the need for teacher candidates to critically define and explore the histories and lived experiences of children and families (Auld et al., 2016; Nieto, 2010). Urgency for this work is partially fueled by the continuing demographic disparity between educators (predominantly white middle class) and the populations they teach (children of color) (Ladson-Billings, 2005).

International fieldwork literature has focused on short-term global experiences where faculty have investigated student interest, involvement, and insights (Madrid et al., 2016; Moss & Marx, 2011). In teacher education, field experiences in diverse settings offer teacher candidates opportunities to step out of their familiar contexts. However, the quality of such experiences has been critiqued, with suggestions of potentially detrimental impacts as these experiences may fail to provide support for deep internalization of self-awareness in a new cultural context (Auld et al., 2016; Madrid et al., 2016). In some instances, contrary to intended program goals, Western ethnocentrism, biases, and colonial mentality are actually reinforced (Cushner & Chang, 2015; Smolcic & Katunich, 2017). Current research includes few experiences within the United States, working with Indigenous populations exploring the effects field experiences have on teacher candidates or the Indigenous communities. The notion that international work can be conducted within the borders of the United States warrants further consideration as nations within a nation (Sumida Huaman et al., 2019).

 
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