Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Institutional-Level Bullying of Native American Students

Although Justice Might Be Blind – Privilege has 20/20

On average, about 50% of Native American students drop out of high school. There are several factors contributing to these large rates at both the institutional and student levels. There are so many issues connected with why Native Americans drop out of school it can become overwhelming to know where to start if someone wanted to do something about it. A very good resource about Native American student drop out factors can be reviewed HERE.

I’ll try not to get off on a rant about how the US educational structure was/is designed for the privileged majority’s style of learning. Nor will I fume on about how, after more than 100 years or so, Native Americans have not done so well within these educational structures. What I do want to discuss, is one specific Institutional-level factor that contributes to Native American students dropping out of American schools. Researchers have come up with different labels for this particular issue such as, poor student-teacher relations, teacher’s lack of empathy toward the student, unsuitable curriculum, unacceptable testing methods, and inadequate measurement of student intelligence. I believe it is important for these labels to be combined into one encompassing classification. The most appropriate and honest label offered, for what Native American student’s experienced throughout history and even now, in American schools is – Institutional-Level Bullying.

What is Bullying?

A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.

The act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something.

Bullying is a form of abuse. It involves repeated acts over time attempting to create or enforce one person's (or group's) power over another person (or group), thus an imbalance of power. The imbalance of power may be social power and/or physical power. The victim of bullying is sometimes referred to as a target. Bullying types of behavior are often rooted in a would-be bully's inability to empathize with those whom he or she would target.

Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.

The harmful effects of bullying on students (children) are significant. There has been a recent strong movement to address the bullying that happens to school aged children in America. What finally got the school’s attention, it seems, were the many suicides by students who were bullied. There’s a video on YouTube showing students who took their own lives after being bullied by school mates. No child should ever have to endure bullying. And the schools are correct in taking these matters very seriously. Folks in power have taken these matters so seriously that there has been state laws passed that will punish bullies for their inhuman acts. Currently there are only six states without bullying laws.
Entering The Twilight Zone

Imagine if you will… it is 2029 and foreign invaders have entered and now rule what use to be called America. They are two-billion strong with a military that is used to suppress any civil or individual disobedience. The new rulers believe in an all powerful and all knowing kangaroo god. Any other form of worship not related to kangaroo is outlawed. The new kangaroo rulers have superior thoughts, culture, and abilities, or so they say. They take the indigenous American children and teach them about the values of worshiping kangaroo and the history of how the kangaroo people came to be such great human beings. The books that the children read discuss how the kangaroo people discovered America and made it in the image of kangaroo and its values.

The new kangaroo ruling people, in their superior wisdom, decide that the indigenous Americans have too much land and that in order for their kangaroo folks to succeed, they will need this land for their own use. So, they decide to gather up all the indigenous Americans and march them to an undeveloped, unsustainable area. The kangaroo leaders, because of their generosity decide to provide the Americans with enough money to maintain a level of poverty for a while.

Most of the indigenous American leaders are murdered and any person or groups not complying with the new laws are killed, along with killing their women and children. This policy resulted in millions of indigenous Americans being slaughtered. The kangaroo educational system believes in starting the day with a pledge of allegiance to the kangaroo. The indigenous American students are now taught, using the kangaroo model, by putting each student in a small confined box with a loud speaker blasting in moral teachings. While the kangaroo children have excelled in this form of education, the indigenous American children do not. Although the indigenous parents complain that their children are not learning and getting the necessary education as the result of this new, kangaroo model, it is kangaroo laws that children must attend the school.

Institutional-Level Bullying

After several years when the kangaroo people have transformed what used to be America, into kangaroo land, I wonder how the indigenous American children, at least the ones who survived, are doing in their new schools. I’m not sure if you have heard this but, before the kangaroo folks arrived, America used to be the greatest country on Earth. Remember, God blessed America! I am sure it would be offensive to have the kangaroo people teach the indigenous American children that their people were all savages and that the kangaroo people brought civilization and righteousness to this land. I would assume the children of the old America would have a hard time in the new kangaroo educational system – because the old American educational system was the greatest in the world.

When Native Americans, in the year 2010, have to recognize and celebrate columbus day in their schools – that is Institutional-level Bullying. Native American children being made to pledge their allegiances to a flag that was the symbol of their own people’s destruction – is Institutional-Level Bullying. For Native American children to be forced into a system that is designed for the privileged conquerors – that is Institutional-level Bullying. Please take another look at the Youtube video I earlier attached. Children taking their own lives is an extremely terrible thing and I do not want any family experiencing these tragic events. If something is happening at schools that is harming children it should be taken very seriously.  It seems from this video, and other news stories, schools are motivated to get serious when certain children are harmed or harm themselves.

Native American children, on average, have some of the highest rate of suicide and mortality compared to any other group. These are school aged children, many who have dropped out of school. Again, when asked why they are dropping out of school, the labels given are, poor student-teacher relations, the teacher’s lack of empathy, unsuitable curriculum, etc. They are expected to learn in a system that is designed for American children, not Native American children. Everyday Native American children have to enter an institution that disrespects their culture, expects them to be open to learning untruthful history, and when they drop out, that institution blames the victims.

On average in the US, Native Americans have a drop out rate of about 50%. On average in the US, Caucasians have a drop out rate of about 30%. I wonder if there would be any changes if those numbers were flipped.  Recall that 75% of Native Americans drop out of college before completion. Think about the reaction if it was reported that 75% of all students drop out of American colleges.

When the privileged are harmed, there seems to be new policies, laws, and social movements to stop that harm – instantaneously. When the minority folks are harmed, the privileged go Blind! Blind to the special needs of Native American students. Blind to how the current institutional structures are not working for certain students. And Blind to the fact that, until there are changes in the way educational services are delivered to Native American children, American schools are guilty of Institutional-level Bullying.

Peace, DAP


  1. hi,

    You just never know is being bullied.

  2. Hi Monique, I think you comment is missing a word or two. Peace, DAP

  3. Unfortunately, in my limited experience as an ad hoc college instructor in Canada, institutional-level bullying also seems to go on at the post-secondary level, too.

    Both times that I taught (first as a legal instructor, then as an economic history instructor), Aboriginal administrators were unreaonably demanding and harsh toward their Aboriginal students. (To further explain, both courses were partnerships between colleges and local Aboriginal organizations that were meant to enhance professional competence and employment competitiveness through skills and knowledge upgrading.)

    What I think happened was this: the non-Aboriginal school administrations practiced benign nelect out of an honest desire to let Aboriginal people manage their own affairs, while the Aboriginal organizations that provided the students for the courses were afraid of being embarrassed by potential student failures or irregularities. In the end, this meant that the non-Aboriginal parties turned a blind eye to minor student abuse and in fact seemingly failed to monitor course progress at all, while the Aboriginal "handlers" projected their fears about their own inadequacies onto their students (ironically, this meant that they insisted on standards that they themselves could not always fuly maintain).

    Although the intentions of both parties were good, the way they went about things was not at all optimal. In fact, because the Aboriginal administrators were so hard on the students, in each case I (and even a few of the other, non-Aboriginal course intructors) felt compelled to slightly relax academic standards slightly (e.g. not "dock" marks for assignments that were handed in late) in order to compensate for the stresses that were being unfairly imposed on our students.

    On the non-Aboriginal side of things, in the future I think that post-secondary institutions must not hesitate to ensure that instructors and Aboriginal partners aren't abusive to students, and should generally monitor course progress as it happens instead of simply wating for marks to be passed in at the end of term. On the Aboriginal side of things, I think that partner organizations' professional competency and capacity needs to be enhanced so that their repesentatives will behave in a more even, effective manner in dealing with their students.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me share this experience; I hope that some benefit will come about from it someday.

  4. I would love to see a qualitative study that captures the institutional bullying stories of Native American students. It would be so powerful to put some real voices behind the awful numbers that you cite David. Are you aware, has anyone done this already?