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Indigenize the Institution

Education should be taught from many perspectives, not just the Western way.

Photo of Savannah Smith
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Education should be taught from many perspectives, not just the Western way. 

The U.S. higher education has been formed around Western ways of thinking and teaching and has thus hindered all students of learning many different ways of knowing. Non-western classes are often in special topics or departments that many may never take.  

There are approximately 370 million Indigenous people in the world making up around 5% of the population, belonging to 5,000 different groups, in 90 countries worldwide. Native Americans, the Indigenous people of this land, have only a 51% high school graduation rate with only 5% going onto college and then 10% of those graduate in 4 years. What is missing for these students to keep them in school?

Inventions and innovations in math, linguistics, government, economics, music, art, medicine, and science all have roots in Indigenous knowledge that is often not acknowledged but have been influential. Due to Westernization after the forced colonization of countries, many are unaware of the knowledge that was already known in Indigenous communities.

If we incorporate Indigenous knowledge in mainstream classes, it gives all students a different method of learning material and gives the Indigenous students something to relate to in a space that they may already be uncomfortable in. 

In order to be respectful of the people the knowledge is being taught from, professors, teachers, community members, and elders will be apart of creating and if possible, teaching the curriculum.

One of the main differences between Indigenous and Western thought is that you learn to better yourself as a person as well as your community while Western thinking is much more based around individualism and gaining something to get ahead in your career. Learning with Indigenous thought will enable students to learn something for more than a grade mark or letter of recommendation. All students will understand that knowledge can be learned in everyday life in a non-academic setting (as it was before secondary education even existed) and can have more meaning than just applying it as a commodifiable skill.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • A classroom or academic assignment

Tell us about your work experience:

I am graduating this semester from Mills College with a B.A. in Ethnic Studies with a minor in Sociolgy. I have worked at Mills' Ethnic Studies Department for 3 years and have interned and worked at a few Native organizations over the past few years but have an interest in Public Health.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

As a member of the Navajo Nation attending a private liberal arts college far from home and my community, this idea was inspired by both my culture and my learnings from Ethnic Studies. I ask you all to reflect on your own backgrounds and experiences in academia and see what was learned in your institution and from whose perspective was it taught.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Savannah!

I hope you had a good start to the year. The ideas phase of the Higher Education challenge is closing in 16 days. I hope you will post your idea there ( You just need to resubmit your idea (a simple copy and paste) and the community can help build on it.

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