I’ll be goldenrod and you’ll be aster: the case for revolutionizing Western methods of teaching using Indigenous ontologies
Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (MA)
Abigail Droge, Ph.D.
Daniel Radus, Ph.D.
An interesting facet of living as a human in the 21st century is contending with the end of the world. It’s been imagined in a thousand ways over the past twenty years. Will it be zombies? Aliens? An AI revolution? Or will it perhaps be something more mundane, more “down-to-Earth”? The floods, the droughts, the famines, and all the rest of the cataclysmic global events that occur every year have taken center stage in the world-ending debate, parading under a name as threatening and expansive as the Boogeyman: climate change. A recent article from NPR covered the United Nations’ 2022 Convention on Biological Diversity, in which the major talk of the town was “humanity's senseless and suicidal war with nature” that has us currently marching towards the downfall of most of all the life on the planet (Ross). However, despite the conference being about biological diversity, the focus of the conference was entirely on humanity and humanity’s survival, despite mankind being only one of the millions of different species that is facing extinction in the face of climate change, a mindset that is decidedly undiverse. At the conference, Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, said that, Fundamentally, we need to safeguard our life support systems in the face of accelerating nature loss. Inaction is absolutely not an option because it will put us only at greater risks of pandemics, which none of us want, it undermines our efforts on securing our climate, and it makes our food production systems much more vulnerable. (qtd, in Ross) Her statement encapsulates the inherent issue with the current Western understanding of human’s relationship with the world around them. It is not that we should save the planet because every species deserves the respect and dignity to exist in a world that they did not destroy, but rather that we need to save our “life support systems.” The species that we share the planet with are “food production systems” rather than neighbors, cohabitors, and friends. This statement belies a human-first, everything-else-second frame of mind that is largely to blame for the global climate crisis that we’re facing today. Even though Shaw is an activist herself, and so her politics are more progressive and planet-focused than many Western thinkers, this Western ideal still pervades the ethos she was presenting in her speech, highlighting how human-focused the discussion around climate change is even at the most progressive level. This perspective, which pervades understandings/teachings of the world on all levels in the West, is something that must be revolutionized in order to successfully save all beings on planet Earth, not just humans. Using the Indigenous ontologies, stories, and memories from Robin Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013), this essay intends to critique the current Western education system, taking a specific interest in the English classroom, and suggest ways for the education system to rectify some of its inherent issues by re-narrating our relationships and connection with the world around us. This will be achieved by first identifying some of the factors that influence Western thought, most specifically that of Western Scientific perspectives. I analyze the ways these perspectives inform K-12 education, and the different ways that these perspectives have produced a Western populace that is decidedly human-centric and why this has led to a destructive relationship with our environment. From there, Indigenous ontologies and educational practices will be introduced and examined, making note of different positive relationships that have been made by introducing Indigenous thought and practices into certain Western classrooms. The paper concludes with the case for combining Western and Indigenous thought to create a K-12 classroom experience that is more focused on the relationships humans share with all other beings, and the suggestion of two different ways this combined education could be applied to English Language Arts classrooms. The West’s Eurocentric understanding of human importance, ownership of ideas and land, and hierarchy of beings has led the world to environmental catastrophe, and it is only through an understanding that creates a cohabitation between humans and everything else on the planet that we will be able to pull the brakes on our rapidly approaching destruction. As an aside, as a settler graduate student, it is necessary to clarify that I don’t have the cultural background or heritage to begin to comment on the stories or histories of Indigenous peoples outside of what Indigenous scholars have presented themselves. Though this paper will be working with the teachings of Indigenous scholars such as Kimmerer and using them to make arguments about the current world, and any mention of Indigenous concepts and ontologies are the result of research, it’s also necessary to clarify that any misrepresentations of Indigenous traditions are misinterpretations, not reflections of the knowledge itself.
LoGerfo, Joanna, "I’ll be goldenrod and you’ll be aster: the case for revolutionizing Western methods of teaching using Indigenous ontologies" (2023). Master's Theses. 172.
American Literature Commons, Biodiversity Commons, Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research Commons, Environmental Studies Commons, Indigenous Education Commons, Indigenous Studies Commons, Native American Studies Commons