Schooling for Self-Determination: Research on the Effects of Including Native Language and Culture in the Schools

This digest briefly reviews the impacts of assimilationist education for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students and describes recent examples of successful AI/AN schools that incorporate students’ Native language and traditional culture into the curriculum. Four exemplary AI/AN programs are described that involve community‑ or tribally controlled schools, use Indigenous culture and language, and have resulted in a significant gain in academic achievement. These include Navajo programs in Arizona, a Native Hawaiian program in Honolulu, and an Inuit-controlled school that uses Inuktitut in Nunavik (northern Quebec).

Content Comments 

This brief digest provides a succinct introduction to the historical context and research on the impact of assimilationist education on current education strategies for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students. Four exemplary programs, identified by their meeting two of three research-based criteria for successful academic programs for AI/AN students, are described with clear indications of resultant academic gains. This digest does not provide details on any one study, but sets up a starting place for deeper inquiry into community-based programs for AI/AN students that have resulted in academic gains for those students. The author acknowledges the nascent nature of this research, as well as the need to take the variations of culture, language, geography, and academic goals across indigenous cultures into account when comparing or applying results.