The Native American population in the United States is one of only a few populations in the world that have been forced to utilize an educational system developed for a different population and different culture. The educational system imposed on Native Americans has been developed from a European model, filtered through mainstream American development and culture. It was developed for a value system and developmental model quite different than that of most Native American peoples. That is quite likely at least a part of the reason that the dropout rate for Native Americans in the United States educational system is the highest of any cultural group. It is even higher for reservation educational institutions than for those in urban settings.
The current educational system for Native American students on the Hopi and Navajo Reservations began as religious training with missionary schools at the end of the 1800’s. In the first two decades of the 1900’s, the Department of the Army provided the schooling, mostly based on a military school model, of course. Then the education of “Indians” was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). That department continued the military model for decades, in mostly boarding schools on and off the reservations. The militaristic aspects were softened with the advent of day schools on reservations later in the century.
The curriculum materials for all the schools were derived from curriculum materials used in schools all over the country. There was little or no consideration of the needs of the community, of the culture of the parents or students or of the values of the local culture. There was simply an imposition of a system from outside.
Later, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when local school boards began to take control of the schools through The Indian Self-Determination Act, the board members had only one model of schooling: the militaristic and boarding schools that they had attended. Only rarely could contemporary good educational practices be incorporated into the reservation schools. Additionally, the BIA kept control of the testing and the educational requirements that were to be utilized at these schools. Thereby they kept control of the values and processes that had to be taught.These tests were designed for the general, non-Indian population, with little or no normative information from Native populations. There is a great deal of data indicating that minority populations generally perform poorly on nationally normed standardized tests. There is literature indicating that there is cultural bias in the tests, both in content and in format. Since judgements concerning school and teacher quality are made based on student scores on standardized tests, it is most often found that teachers emphasize the content, values, and format presented by the test.
Bureau of Indian Education and Public Schools are required to use individual state standards based on the location of the school. In all states, the state standards are derived from and for the normal population of students in the large cities of the state. This, again, assures that mainstream, non-Native values, standards, and processes are enforced.
Hopitutuqaiki uses ideas presented by Jerome Bruner as to how man thinks about his surroundings as a way of organizing its classes. The ideas Bruner used were 1) same and different, 2) structure and function, 3) cause and effect, and 4) patterns. Those conceptual ideas cross all subject areas, allowing for an integrated curriculum. During 2017 Strategic Planning sessions, the Hopitutuqaiki Board determined that it should work toward a language immersion, arts-based school for Hopi students, beginning with preschool and expanding to higher grade levels. It is anticipated that the school will use Piaget's developmental levels to organize classrooms.