Students teaching students

Yesterday I saw the great presentation, Online Pushback:UnBan Anti-Racism Education in Iowa, a forum by Indigenous youth of the Great Plains Action Society related to Iowa’s ban on teaching Critical Race Theory or Anti-Racism Education (video below).

Indigenous Youth Organizers, Alexandrea Walker and Keely Driscoll, have started a youth-led movement to demand that the current Iowa Administration unban Anti-Racism Education, aka, Critical Race Theory. For the sake of health and safety for all, it is imperative that Kim Reynolds reverse the overtly white supremacist decision to ban anti-racism education plus diversity, equity, and inclusion programming in the classroom and in all state-funded institutions

At the 12:15 mark in the video above, my friend Sikowis Nobiss introduces her son Alden who is in sixth grade. With the ban against teachers teaching about anti-racism, he spoke about his idea of students teaching each other as an alternative.

Sikowis: Hello everybody. I am here with my son today and his name is Alden and he’s in sixth grade. And he’s being affected by the ban on critical race theory or as we like to call it anti-racism education, decolonization work, diversity equity inclusion. Those are better terms for it because critical race theory is a term that they’re using to manipulate the situation, to make it sound like it’s critical, you know that it’s being like overtly hard on something when really it means how like you know analyzing something specifically or properly.
So, Alden is in grade six and you know he’s got some interesting thoughts about this, and I wanted to ask him like what does he think, what do you think about the ban on critical race theory?
Alden: It’s not that good.
Sikowis: How come?
Alden: I mean people should know that what happened in the past or else the history is just going to repeat itself. Just the same thing that happens over and over right? Seems like it isn’t going to stop if people don’t take action and more people like Reynolds is going to ban stuff.
Sikowis: And you had an interesting idea, you had said that teachers can’t teach critical race theory right? But students can. Can you tell us more about that?
Alden: The governor only said that teachers couldn’t say stuff like that and they couldn’t teach stuff like that, but that doesn’t mean schools can’t just be used to teach inside like only teachers.
Sikowis: So, who would teach like you want?
Alden: Kids to teach each other. Yeah the more educated kids that are like me I guess that know about what happened in the past.
Sikowis: Very good thank you so much Alden. We appreciate you making those remarks. That took a lot of bravery for him. I’m very proud of that.
I hope you guys could hear that. He basically thinks that if teachers can’t teach critical race theory then why can’t students do it? So that’s his idea. He thinks that students can teach each other in their spare time. During recess during, lunch time and that’s something that he’s going to try to do. So, we have a book that he’s going to share called 500 Years After Columbus, which is a curriculum guide for teaching better indigenous studies for k-12. So, he’s already taking a look at that.


Just as the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls triggered shock waves across the country, bringing conversations about violence against Indigenous people into the classroom, so did the discovery of 215 children’s remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this year.

As the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, we can expect Canadian teachers are thinking about how they can better weave Indigenous perspectives into their lesson planning.

In the past, events like this rarely made it as national news, staying inside our Indigenous communities where the pain remained hidden from the rest of Canada. Now, teachers are talking about them with their students — how history and society influence individual situations of race-motivated violence and cultural genocide. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are equipped to teach the truth and acknowledge the important role schools play in reconciliation.

We owe it to all students to bring truth and drive reconciliation in classrooms by Linda Isaac & John Estabillo, National Observer, September 16th, 2021.

For specific teachings on Indian Boarding Schools and the United States assimilation policies—a history educators say is central in contextualizing present day culture for Native and non-Native youth alike— statistics are even bleeker.

“Over the course of the last couple of years, we’ve identified five states—only five states— that have even mentioned Indian boarding schools in their content in their state content standards, which is unimaginable,” said Sam Torres, director of research and programs at The Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Those states, surveyed by NABSHC in 2015, are: Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. 

“It’s obviously a representation and reflection of what is being valued in educational and curricular context,” Torres said. 

For its part, NABSHC—an organization that has been at the helm of increasing public awareness on boarding schools since its founding nearly a decade ago—in 2020 released its first ever Truth and Healing Curriculum. The curriculum, available for free online, is made up of four lessons on Indian Boarding Schools focusing on history, impacts, stories, and healing.

The vast majority of Americans don’t learn about Indian boarding schools growing up. These Native leaders and educators want to change that by JENNA KUNZE, Native News Online, SEPTEMBER 13, 2021

We owe it to Indigenous educators who are triggered and challenged to deliver education around a topic like residential schools that have impacted them. Educators like me, who when viewing the images of children with their plain clothes, short hair, and empty eyes — identities stripped — still struggle to separate the pain we hold from lesson planning.

We also owe it to non-Indigenous educators who lack confidence in teaching because they weren’t taught the truth about the atrocities of the residential school system. This is a significant blocker to the successful integration of truth-telling in our classrooms, which can be solved by supporting educators in their journey of learning.

We must ensure the materials passed down to educators are written accurately by authentic voices. We need ongoing government funding and access to professional learning programs. Alberta is one province that does this well. Its Teacher Qualifications Standard requires educators to take courses in foundational knowledge of Indigenous history.

We owe it to all students to bring truth and drive reconciliation in classrooms by Linda Isaac & John Estabillo, National Observer, September 16th, 2021.

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