Teresa L. McCarty, a world-renowned expert on Indigenous education issues, delivered the 12th annual AERA Brown Lecture in Education Research on October 22 to a packed house of 500 attendees at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., and to more than 300 online viewers from around the world. McCarty’s lecture, “So That Any Child May Succeed —Indigenous Pathways Toward Justice and the Promise of Brown,” was the first Brown Lecture to focus on Indigenous education issues.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, McCarty is the George Kneller Chair in Education and Anthropology. She is also the Alice Wiley Snell Professor Emerita of Education Policy Studies, Justice and Social Inquiry, and Applied Linguistics at Arizona State University, where she served as co-director of the Center for Indian Education.
AERA President Jeannie Oakes welcomed the audience, noting that the Brown Lecture was inaugurated in 2004 not only to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, but also to “acknowledge that even 50 plus years ago, that the best and boldest social scientists were bringing innovative ideas and methods to understand the persistent problems of racial injustice in our society.”
In introducing McCarty, Kofi Lomotey, chair of AERA’s Social Justice Action Committee, said, “As a highly distinguished expert on Indigenous education issues, there is no one better qualified than Dr. McCarty to examine the hard-fought pathways toward educational justice forged by Indigenous educators, parents, leaders, and allies, as well as the ongoing challenges in fulfilling the promise of Brown.”
In her lecture prologue, McCarty explored the 1868 founding of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, VA. Though the Hampton Institute was the first boarding school in the eastern United States to enroll large numbers of Native American students, it employed an “erase and replace” curriculum. She explained that the school’s function was to “erase Native languages, replace with English. Erase Native religions, replace with Christianity. And so on.”
She connected Hampton with Brown, explaining how it “situates” the “ruling in a complex multiracial, multiethnic history of people, power, and privilege within the nexus of the settler colonial state.”
McCarty broke down her historical narrative into three movements: “Movement 1–Preconditions, 1953–1965,” “Movement 2–The Push for Self-Determination,” and “Movement 3–The Current Movement.”
In the first movement, McCarty described the detrimental impact that the 1953 American Indian termination policy had on Native peoples. The termination policy revoked federally recognized tribal sovereignty and “freed” Native peoples of their treaty- and trust- protected rights, including the rights to education. As a result, 106 Native nations and 11,000 Native citizens were politically disenfranchised and dispossessed of 2.5 million acres of land.
She concluded the movement by saying that despite the hardships and disruptions that were caused by federal force, Native people have never been passive recipients of federal dictates. In fact, Native students appropriated White school space, building peer and school cultures that reinforced Indigenous identities.
In Movement 2, McCarty shone a spotlight on Indigenous self-determination as she told the story of Rough Rock, a school that opened its doors in 1966 to 220 Navajo elementary students, almost all of whom spoke Navajo as a primary language. Rough Rock was the first school to be run by a locally-elected, all-Indian governing board, and the first to teach through the Native language.
She then presented research by Navajo educators, Agnes Dodge Holm and Wayne Holm, which revealed that Navajo-speaking children who learned to read first in Navajo outperformed students in English-only programs on standardized tests.
McCarty ended Movement 2 by saying, “Decisions about the language of instruction are never neutral; they call into question who will teach, what will be taught, and how it will be taught—in essence, who will control the schools.”
McCarty began Movement 3 by dedicating her lecture to the late Richard Ruiz. She recalled his views on language and voice, and stated that his “call for voice is ever more urgent in the current policy moment, when students’ accomplishments are measured by high-stakes English standardized tests; when the word ‘bilingual’ has been purged from federal education policy.”
She noted that Native language and culture instruction are crowded out of schools as low-stakes subject matter, and that Indigenous education is suffering. She showed the audience research conducted by Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy and Margaret Maaka, which found that since 2001’s No Child Left Behind Act, the achievement gap between Native and White students has widened in almost every area.
McCarty went on to say that the third movement is “a movement by Indigenous educators, parents, communities, and allies to reclaim school space in ways that support Native students in achieving academically.”
McCarty ended her lecture with an epilogue about Alice Piper, a 15 year-old Paiute girl who was denied admission to Big Pine public school in 1923. This decision was based on California’s School Law, which stated that a school district had the power to “exclude children of filthy or vicious habits … and also to establish separate schools for Indian children and for children of Chinese, Japanese, or Mongolian parentage.”
Piper and other Paiute families sued, and the California Supreme Court ruled in their favor, stating that “denial to children whose parents, as well as themselves, are citizens of the United States … is a violation of the fourteenth amendment.”
The lecture was made possible through the generous support of 13 Friends of Brown: American Anthropological Association, American Institutes for Research, American Political Science Association, American Sociological Association, American Statistical Association, Arizona State University Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Association for the Study of Higher Education, ETS, George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, SAGE, Spencer Foundation, University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, and University of Maryland, College Park College of Education.