- Seek to Know Program, University of Minnesota
- Indigenous World View and Philosophy
- Natural Literacy, Natural Numeracy
- Suggested Reading
- Recommended Reading for Teachers
On a wintry afternoon at Center School in February, 2009, science educator Jim Rock talked about an indigenous view of the world and how that perspective has shaped his understanding and teaching about mathematics and science. As an educator, Jim combines conventional education and training with years spent living and working in Central and South America. This experience, which included learning about indigenous technology like the khipu strings, helped turn his path toward education.
During his nearly 30 years as a teacher of chemistry, physics and astronomy at Waziyata (Wayzata) High School, Jim also developed the “Seek to Know” summer program at the University of Minnesota. Students from around the country were introduced to an indigenous view of math and science that incorporated science, music, sacred sites, the river, and experiential learning.
Through his experiences, Jim has developed six terms that essentially define an indigenous view of math and science, which he calls natural literacy, natural numeracy. During the following conversation, Jim offered his understanding of these terms as they relate to his own experiences and learning; suggestions for improving math and science pedagogy; and a compelling discussion about recommended books and other sources.
Joe Rice (Center School Executive Director): We’re hoping to get your thoughts on indigenous teaching, on indigenous pedagogy, especially related to science. We would like science teachers to be able to go to this site and call upon how you teach science to Indian kids or how you teach indigenous science. So they can get an idea how one person is doing it and maybe it will provide some insight or ideas on how to do that.
Jim: There’s a good term: “isomorphism.” That’s the process that one experience triggers another and they mirror each other but not exactly. So we need each other’s reflections, literally like that mirror so then we adjust and reach this homeostasis kind of thing. Something new comes in and we shift, or something old that we remember.
Joe: That reminds me of how people talk about how the songs are key to our survival. To me it’s the same kind of thing because those songs are generated from that same kind of process. Some of those songs are really old but they reflect so much of what people have gone through.
Tell us who you are in whatever manner you would like to answer that question…
Jim: Hau Mitakuyepi. Michante etan wopida tanka. Thank you very much from my heart for this opportunity to speak with you today, my relatives. Wambdi Hanyetu emakiyapido. My name is Jim Rock. My dad is Sisseton Dakota. His name is Garrett Wilson. He’s one of those last dozen or fewer first-language, Dakota, fullblood speakers. I apologize for speaking before others [these Elders]. I am very grateful and ask for their help, for their correction, for guidance, and knowledge in a humble way. How I happen to find myself here is the goodness of guys like Joe who have a common vision to allow our people to be who we are… and to learn the way we are and do.
I guess I didn’t know I would grow up to be a “science educator,” that’s one of those terms that I guess we wear. It’s just an approach that I’m grateful for, that through his [my father’s] grandmother and his father, grandfather, that’s been passed down to us. How we’re a relative of all that is around us. There’s humor in that approach because it means be humble or stumble. So our family stories are based on our stumbling. We’re trying to find out what this universe is and so as I’m thinking of him and the stories he passed on. He said, his father — I didn’t get to meet him — he said “You can keep anyone’s attention for 15 minutes but after that you better know something!”
My dad didn’t speak English until he was about 8 or 9 years old. His grandmother, who was as mother to him [after] his mom passed when he was about 12, never did speak a word of English. She died about eight days short of 100. So we’re very grateful for that longevity, for that way of seeing and knowing and feeling and being a part of the community. He said she was known as a Wahpe winyan or woman who knows plants & looks at the leaves. She would take him around [and show him the plants when he was only 12]. After this he went through the boarding school experience…
I grew up here in the city in St. Paul and Minneapolis. I didn’t have that formative reservation experience. So I guess as we sort out the levels of colonization and decolonization. We recognize the blessings and the pain, in a good way… I grew up in St. Paul - East Side, mostly urban, so that’s why my heart is here for the kids at Center School.
I’m very grateful for my wife’s influence also. She was a single mom who kept herself in education and earned her doctorate. She’s Odawa, Ojibwe, Little Traverse and Grand Traverse Bay bands, Michigan, east side of the lake. She grew up in Sioux Falls. Her grandfather was Leland Standing Bull. She had a Lakota grandfather so she is Lakota not by heritage but by community. Her kids are Dakota from the same place that my dad grew up. So just in a brief way to say how we can be grafted back together to that core place on the trunk and the roots and the leaves – that cycle - it’s really come true in my family. We have wonderful kids, a wonderful granddaughter. We feel the responsibility. She just turned two this week and she’s hearing two or three languages. Hopefully that wonderful plastic mind, that clay mind that can still be molded especially up to age 3 or 5, whatever the research is saying… to honor all those branches and roots on the tree. So it’s a challenge but when we go out east to her powwow and those of us here where the prairie meets the pines and the great lakes, [we] dance in many moccasins.
I’m a teacher at Waziyata or North (incorrect as “Wayzata”), they don’t necessarily know their name or want to know it, and that’s definitely part of the struggle. I’m there for our kids and for those who have open hearts and minds to pass on what my family taught me. Just being there, just our presence, is confronting in ways I wouldn’t want it to be. I want to be in a good heart. I think it’s sometimes irritating [to the colonizers] that we’re still here. Some people want a clean version of history — theirs! I guess in many ways I’m the thorn that hasn’t left [or been removed after… wow, 27 or 28 years [of] chemistry, physics and astronomy. That pays the bills, but my heart has always been working in other settings, most recently at Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College here on Franklin Ave. Until last May or June for two and a half years there.
I did a “Native Skywatchers” class. I really love this urban setting because our students come from all over Turtle Island, many nations, sovereign & international groups. It allows us [and] in many ways forces us, to trade eyeballs, to see multiple histories of who we are, who we’ve always been, and who we want to be. Sometimes when you’re in one setting — only one version of our indigenous history is what you learn and that’s good too… the grounding. [But] I’m grateful to be in an urban environment, it’s challenging also. I teach mostly chemistry and astronomy also.
Seek To Know Program, University of Minnesota
For 15 summers at the University of Minnesota we did Aandogiikendaassowiin the “Seek to Know”[Ojibwe] or Wasdodyawachinpi [“Curiosity”-Dakota] program. It was occasionally sponsored by AISES, the American Indian Science Engineering Society for Math and Science. We had indigenous students from all over Turtle Island and we also had science, music, sacred sites tours along the river here, experiential learning. It was through General College on both St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. I codesigned the curriculum with Ben Blackhawk of the Hochunk nation. [Watch a 5-minute clip of us from the March 24, 2006 Almanac at TPT 2.
Those are the things for Ben and I that [energize and] sustain us. It might only have been for two, three, four weeks in the summer, but eventually we actually grew four levels of that program as well, as students who would return. We had an introductory level primarily for 9th grade students that looks at an indigenous view of math and science — some things that I call natural literacy and natural numeracy. We can come back to that. The second year they begin to specialize more, perhaps in biology or [other] sciences but they’re all still integrated. We had a heart, health, medicine plant, technology level and a computer robotics level with indigenous mentors from IBM, etc. It morphed over the decade and a half or so. We had students from Southwest and we were hoping to do an exchange with [SIPI] students in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We get siblings and generations. The best thing was that we actually grew some replacements. The idea would be indigenous teacher ed. Because you get tired. It’s fun to get in there and have all the hands-on manipulative materials but I can feel I’m into my fifth decade now. It’s good to know we can mentor some others.
Indigenous World View and Philosophy
Indigenous View of Math and Science
As I’ve tried to unpack it and understand my own view, and see how that matches up with the literature and the research especially in the last 15 or 20 years that we’ve had this research from mentors like Dr. Greg Cajete. I’ve had a chance to meet and work with him. My wife Roxanne has had a chance to work with the Maori in Aotearoa [New Zealand]. We were there [with Dr. Cajete at WIPCE the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education] in 2005. It was wonderful to be in someone else’s indigenous context. They asked both of us [Dr. Cajete and myself] to be on this panel describing indigenous math and science. The Maori also have turned their language from what was considered a dying language to now a very vibrant language with all kinds of levels of education going on. Their goal was to have 500 Ph.D.s in five years and they’ve surpassed that. It was wonderful to be in their presence and put these ideas together.
So as I kind of sort it out, there are four, five, six terms. I would say that it is interdisciplinary… An indigenous world view or philosophy is interdisciplinary. It doesn’t mean that “everything is thrown together in some random way.” That’s unfortunately the outside perception. But we’re not afraid to see patterns of patterns. We’re not afraid to see the metapatterns and the patterns of connections. Being an astronomer, that’s how we see those stars, constellational patterns. So I call that [interdisciplinary view] a “constellation of thoughts.” There’s a weaving, so it’s interdisciplinary, like the music piece or the storytelling piece may have multiple purposes, objectives and multiple seeds that are planted in our soul that grow and bear fruit over time. There’s the mathematics that’s in the music and the ethics and values — so it’s interdisciplinary.
It is also holistic in that it’s not a fragmented piece of this and a piece of that. So the interdisciplinary fact/[part] and the holistic facts/[parts] come together and they support each other… The part contains the whole and the whole mirrors even greater wholes above it and again, I suppose because I’m an astronomer. I’m realizing we have this beautiful little blue Ball of Life, this gift around this star, this one yellow, main sequence star. They say that this yellow sun takes about 230 million years to go around the galaxy once. They say it’s been around about 20 times. 4.6 billion years and we’re just one galaxy of 400 billion stars, but there’s a 100 billion galaxies. And they’re all dancing, and it’s not always a pleasant dance!
I think we need to take the large or holistic view and not get so divided and conquered. That’s not just from an indigenous perspective but as humans. We’re egocentric, we’re ethnocentric, we’re geocentric. Even if we were just galacto-centric that wouldn’t be enough!
Then there’s intergenerational, which is recognizing the long view [Those numbers I just mentioned can be kind of boring but we need that long view]. The long view was of “seven generations”, where we come from and what we pass on to, and even that was a metaphor for the power of life itself. Today we see that in DNA. We are living on this side [post-1952 DNA Xray photo] of that knowledge base during my lifetime. [Perhaps] we didn’t know what those shapes were but now we see why we are truly Mitakuyapi, we’re all Relatives. It’s not a stretch to say that the blade of grass and the whale and the skunk are all Relatives. So again, atoms are made in stars. When yellow stars Inyan become big and red Wi after 8 to 10 billion years the hydrogen is no longer making helium [like] when it’s yellow, the helium becomes carbon, and that red star will blow up and make these little carbon molecules - these little soccer balls. Sixty carbon atoms on the corners of a truncated icosahedron - soccer ball shape. So literally star stuff is blowing around and some of these planets receive those seeds of life, whether they come by as comets [of water] or nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus [atoms]. Again I could say through “Creator’s vision” this recipe, this plan, this DNA… it’s like alphabet soup but it’s an alphabet of life. It spells all of the Relatives…
In that sense it will lead us to the fourth term, which is spiritual. As indigenous people we acknowledge that there is more than ourselves and there is a Great Mystery. There’s so much that our body within this spacetime existence [continuum] cannot wrestle between our ears and hold in our hands. Literally, star stuff are us… Star-Stuff-R-Us!
These atoms are billions of years old, I’m billions of years old… but yet I’ve been around the sun in this form 50 some times. It forces you and opens you up in a beautiful way to be humble to that Great Mystery that holds all of this — the chaos and the cosmos, the disorder and the order, the second law of thermodynamics — without energy going into a system [it decays]… We see nature’s way so there is that energy — [Taku Shkan Shkan – the Always Moving, like E = mc2]. So we’ll see a fern leaf pattern or clouds or this idea of a fractal that everything has within it… the part has the whole in it… clouds and shorelines are like the veins in leaves, like our arteries, branches in a tree, these basic patterns and patterns of patterns - the forms. It comes down to, at least what our human mind tries to wrestle [with], are a few forms [That energy is Always Moving into these forms].
You can take Plato and take that idealistic philosophical tradition of these basic forms that all existence seems to come from. In terms of an indigenous world view or philosophy, I’ve also struggled with, as I’m speaking this in English or as I’ve learned it in German and Greek and Latin because to learn science means to learn the colonizers’ languages. It’s “Greco-Roman tongue wrestling.” And they often say, “Science is acultural, math is acultural…” Yet it’s definitely rooted in cultural perspectives and the soil of those languages is Europe. But this is Turtle Island. It doesn’t mean we can’t have the best of both and more than both.
My dad grew up with Vine DeLoria, Jr., and Vine DeLoria Sr. baptized my dad. As you read what our wonderful indigenous philosopher Dr. DeLoria did in those books from 30 years ago [like], Metaphysics of Modern Existence. I got to hear the two of them speaking a couple of years before he passed, about one of his last books that was just coming out, The World We Used To Live In. The struggle was always with what do we write down, what’s the written part we pass on, how do we do that? I’m still discussing that spiritual piece here, that fourth component, how can that be somehow documented and/but kept alive?… because paper and ink, or ones and zeros in a digital format, it’s a better technology, but we’ve also been cautioned about that. He was very hesitant, as is my dad… as I’m saying, I’m nervous seeing this here (gestures to camera), I recognize that I’m part of a new generation but I recognize in that intergenerational and spiritual way that there are reasons why we don’t want to go too far from what has always worked. But I also see that our languages are really threatened at this point. We’re at that turning point, very much so.
So those are four pieces but I’ve also come up with a couple more. Think of those as the four directions, and then Above and Below. These are terms from critical literacy or critical pedagogical theory and practice. All this philosophy and theory doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t work. With kids, with all of us, day to day, footstep to footstep, heartbeat to heartbeat. I hope I can live that theory and walk it. I try to. But we need to think of decolonization. That’s a cleansing process, as we smudged with pejihota (sage) here too, to recognize that things can change in a good way and we can have the best of the old ways and to vision for the future, the new ways.
The decolonization recognizes that our languages… as we seek [all] these universal languages [like DNA], well, that English may not [be], no, definitely is not the best vehicle for carrying these concepts forward [We need to rename and reclaim life in all its forms in our own languages].
Joe: Alex Ghebreggzi, at the University of Minnesota, said this summer that the limit of English is that it is a lingua franca, or a trade language. It’s all about making transactions and business and things like that. But it’s not related to the “all,” which a lot of indigenous languages still are. That was one of the weaknesses. That’s why people have a hard time expressing indigenous thoughts in English because of that weakness, it never had that capability because its genesis wasn’t in the land. It rose out of a need to make money.
!(right)files/jim_rock2.jpg(Jim Rock speaking about his indigenous view of the world.)! Jim: I think of English like an ocean where many rivers are flowing into it. If you think of southern Europe, northern Europe, Rome, Greece, but before them 2,000 years earlier they went south to vacation and learn from Egypt and the Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians… [to] the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, west Africa, and all those traditions, the Egypto-Babylonian and Greco-Roman, those four [linguistic -cultural rivers] flowed together in various ways of conquering North-South-East-West. And let’s not forget our indigenous relatives in what is today called “Spain and France” — the Euskadi/Euskara speaking people, the Basque people, who were documenting the spiritual tradition of the hunter-gatherer on their cave ceilings [30,000 years ago] as we did. They had the horses, the bison, and bear. When you see those animals on the cave ceilings, again taking it back to astronomy, those are perhaps the star animals, and in that sense they’re spirit animals, ephemeral, they’re here but not here, and they’re here in a more palpable way than I can touch myself. That DNA is the link. There is a spiritual side to the DNA, that physical-chemical piece. Those four directions I just referred to and then the up and the down, the DNA has adenine and thymine, they’re always paired like North-South or East-West. And then the [other pair] cytosine and the guanine, the A-T/C-G, they’re always paired, then you have the sugar/phosphate/sugar/phosphate/sugar/phosphate, up one side and down the other. So inherent in that, in the molecular architecture, are the six directions.
So it’s the decolonization piece as I look up and down [the universal life language of DNA]– but which is up and which is down? Because if you ask the polar bear, he knows “up” is toward Waziyata Wichanhpi [North Star], and if you ask the penguin, well she points up too! And they can both be right. So which way is up, polar bear or penguin? “Yes… there’s a greater truth.” It’s not just black and white, again think of the colors of the polar bear or penguin… [or skunk].
The answer is: “Yes! — it’s both, it is rainbow gray, and it’s all the ways that they can both be in truth.” Because it’s the [“One Ball that holds us all” I like to say] the center, hochoka, nawayee, the Center of the universe, Makoche Chokaya Kin, right out there, where the Misi Sibi, the Wakpa Tanka, the Mnisota Wakpa, and that Big Island Wita Tanka [our Dakota Chekpa — Genesis Navel site], where the rivers come together at Mendota, Bdote, again in decolonization to use those terms for “Fort Snelling.” They knew exactly when they put that [genocidal] diamond-shaped fort there — that’s our two freeways, our two arteries [“up and down” from where Two Rivers meet — DNA@the Center].
That’s part of what I wrote in that curriculum for Center School, this is a natural heart (chante, ode/odis) but you look at the dam now and the bridge and the 35W bridge and the infrastructure, [I wrote this piece of the curriculum exactly 13 hours before the bridge collapsed later that day killing Ben’s cousin Julia Blackhawk and 12 others… 13… They are trying to make it an artificial turtle heart with] the locks and the power lines, and of course the Stone Arch bridge which was for the railroad when J.J. Hill came in [and dynamited our origin cave Wakan Tipi at the burial mounds where I was born]. He found a way as we say in English, the trade language, a way to bring the wheat, a migrant species, and displace the corn… and then the logging.
They put a monetary value on every piece of DNA, every piece of the whole. These “numberless numbers of buffalo” [our ancestor-relative which was reduced to only 300 — near extinction] at three dollars per tongue could [not so] easily be replaced if desired, but this was not desired by those who could not see they were priceless and precious and sacred to us. The concept they didn’t seem to have was that of renewability and non-renewability and sustainability. Those are all parts of that decolonization [to restore the precious and sacred, indigenous relatives].
The sixth [term], I’m not sure if it’s up or down, is conscientization. It’s actually from a Portuguese word [see Paolo Freire]. It means thinking about our thinking [and more]. It’s meta-cognition. It’s being aware that our thought patterns may not be our own thought patterns. It’s deeply rooted in the indigenous language(s) of place. Local and growing outward to global, and growing out beyond global. Recognizing what’s here first and those layers of history, the archeological view of that. Indigenous presence is still here. As they say in real estate, location, location, location. We’ve been here, we’re still here, we’re going to be here. The question is “In what form will we be here?” Will we still have our own thought processes? So the conscientization and the decolonization, those are the up and down, that’s the basis… our roots, our location, where we are. We’re rooted in Unchi Maka, Maka Ina, (grand)mother earth. We’re walking in their footsteps.
Joe: Would mindfulness be a part of that?
Jim: Yes, mindfulness with heart. My dad came back from Korea, he was wounded and recuperated in Japan. He was a paratrooper. In 1952 they sent him to England for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. He’d never been away from the reservation and some of those elders, those wonderful names [Dakota names], they told him before he left, and they had never left themselves, that you’re going to see some amazing things and then they were very specific with him about some events, and held ceremony. When he saw those events and came back and related what had happened, his dad told him, in Dakota, “When the world around you is a battlefield, your best weapon is your mind” — so, mindfulness.
But again, with heart. I was taught to hunt, my dad made his own arrows. You wouldn’t take that life without the prayer or tobacco. Those European ancestors and relatives of mine in Spain or France or England or Germany, they also made the offerings before hunting and gathering, reciprocity. That’s what has been forgotten. To share in a socialistic sense. We recognize that “I’ve got mine” is not enough. You’re not going to live in a harsh environment where you’ll be tested constantly.
So my dad comes back from this terrible, brutal experience, what they call shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder, and in the healing process of welcoming a warrior home and kind of downloading: “Remember when we said you would see this and this and this, did you see the moon? Did you look up at that full moon and see our faces and remember these ceremonies? With that mirror we can always be in communication [remember that term: isomorphism].” He said, “You’ve just traveled around the world but the longest journey you can ever take is from your head to your heart.” I think that’s something we’ve heard in many of our traditions around. So there’s mindfulness but without the heart and without the roots, without the up and down direction, that’s conscientization… maybe conscience is thought of as mind with heart.
Paolo Freire — he’s from Brazil, he wasn’t indigenous but he got really good at this, he worked with communities that were threatened in Brazil for their oil and their rare woods and their minerals and their labor “value.” He recognized in language circles, in literacy circles, where that revolution began. He had to leave Brazil during military rule and he went to Bolivia. And that brings us full circle because I was allowed to be in Bolivia, Peru y Ecuador por un ano y media. For about a year and a half [I worked] with a group, there were seven of us, who worked with Papa Florencio Duran, his son Ruben, for a literacy agency [Alfalit — honored by UNESCO]. The techniques of that literacy agency, I can’t say or document it, but they were Freireian, because they had grown at the same time by indigenous folks on the western side of South America, the Andes and the coast, and wow, that was amazing.
I had been studying chemistry and astronomy here and I had a year left in college when the invitation came up. I got to know Ruben here in the states. Some missionaries sent him up to the University of Washington, he was in Minneapolis. He said “My father and my mother were/are Quechua speakers… Your dad’s like my dad…” So I’ve been gifted to have these [North-South] families. [Ruben’s folks are… my hunka Quechua folks are] passed on now.
So I went down there, four thousand miles, and I find out this little red bird, this scarlet tanager flies all the way from Red Lake [near] Canada-U.S. border, follows down the Mississippi flyway and stops off at the Yucatan. The Mississippi Wakpa Tanka which is also the Wanagi Tachanku, Milky Way — The [cosmic] River in the sky, the River of Ancestors, is a mirror. These birds have multiple processes of [navigation like] smell, a compass in their mind, these little iron crystals in their minds that they’ve documented. They have redundancy in multiple systems of navigation. About half way down they’ll rest and then they go on to Bolivia. I had an experience up near Leech Lake when I was about 7 or 8 years old [with my dad up there]. I had forgotten about it until I was in my 20s in Bolivia. There’s a quick story… [that also happened to remind me of this earlier red bird experience when I was a boy with my dad].
[Nearly five years ago on 5/23/04] a friend of mine was walking across Minnesota. He did a little at a time every Sunday. He’s a little older than I am, a birder, a bird watcher. He spent his whole life recognizing birds. It was a privilege to be able to walk with him for a part of it. We were walking right down past Heart of the Earth Ode Aki school. It was a rainy day in May, really coming down. We had our umbrellas and rain coats, walking outside. Everything was grayish almost green. We were kind of watching our feet and kind of looking up at the same time.
We saw this streak fly in front of us, south to north, left to right, as we were in front of the school. He said, was that orange? I said I thought it was more red. He said, oriole? I said, tanager? We couldn’t really see it. We looked around and didn’t see it but we could hear it. So we stopped and walked up the sidewalk and you could see the kids’ artwork, medicine wheel drawings, buffalo, painted and then taped to the windows. We were wondering if he or she went down into the window well. We’re about three steps from it, I had tobacco in my pocket, I took a handful of tobacco and took three steps and got lower with each step and laid it on the window well.
I took three steps backward and we’re standing there with our boots facing forward when the bird came out and landed on my hiking boot. I was just, pidamaya, miigwech, mahalo, thank you… in every language I can think of. I’m thinking, “You’re being selfish, your friend has studied birds, so please would you go visit my friend?” And after about 20 seconds, it moved from my right boot to Harvey’s right boot. And stayed there about 20-30 seconds and then went back in the window well. We turned and hugged each other [Harvey and Ben know I had written a song for this redbird and my “dads” about 10 years earlier before this “perfect landing!”].
I guess I share that because it takes many feathers for that [long] flight. It takes many of us being open to the possibility[and vision] of flight. I know the science part, the rational left brain, I can come up with a million reasons why it couldn’t happen and why it shouldn’t happen but it did happen. [Redbirds of a feather stick together — from the Wright brothers to the Apollo Eagle’s moon landing and beyond? And what about this kind of “colonization” and “decolonization?” — Recall Apollo “13.”]
Natural Literacy, Natural Numeracy
That’s part of why I’m saying, when you put those six terms together [like those feathers — it flies! Interdisciplinary, holistic, intergenerational, spiritual, conscientization and decolonization] then we get [a 7th direction-center-heart- navel that connects those other 6 directions] something that I have to try to put into words, and I call it natural literacy and natural numeracy [Learning to read nature in its own languages and number patterns]. I think I came up with that in the early 80s when I found myself at White Earth teaching and thinking. Because… I grew up in the shadow of 3M and I knew they made tape, I could smell it and I figured if I liked molecules and medicine plants and I studied their shapes… but how do we get students interested?
I realized that everything is a chemical. But “chemical” doesn’t have to be just a toxic, profit-making substance or whatever. I came up with about nine or ten molecules that I thought would be really essential to know. [Like] those involved in photosynthesis and respiration and so on. Then we made the shapes and you can make it tactile. You use all the senses, multi-sensory, and there’s another term for that: synesthesia. In fact, I guess we were all synesthetes back when we were all in our mothers during the first two thirds of the pregnancy. For six months, our five senses were still joined. They were not yet differentiated. In some rare people, some wonderfully gifted people, one in a hundred thousand they say, at least two of those five senses are still joined. So they process the sensory information of the universe where a color might give them a number or a taste; a touch might give them a sound or a taste. It’s hardwired — you can’t make it happen, you can’t make it not happen.
As I wondered what are some of these learning techniques that might transfer or why do we remember something so vividly, the ancient memories, and even those dreams that come. When they may be, in fact, intergenerational dreams. That’s one of those terms I said earlier [holism and fractal], the piece that contains the whole, the seed that grows in that right generation at the right time, seven generations later, it blooms when it’s ready.
It’s a long answer to [your question about an] indigenous philosophy and world view. Let’s see, I’ve covered that it’s interdisciplinary, holistic, spiritual, intergenerational, those are the four directional pieces. There’s the decolonization and conscientization part, where we’re always mindful of where we’re standing. The conscientization is more here [down? Earth? or head?] but sometimes we have to look out [up? in? or heart?] to get the bigger view and be aware that we’re standing on the bones of our ancestors, and to be respectful.
Joe: When I hear you say decolonization, I think of purification. It’s taking away some of the pollutants, some of the things that have entered into your system, kept it from operating as it should, cleaning out some of the mess. I’m trying to think of a word for chemicals that get in the way of things.(metabolic poisons)
Jim: I think of a stick in a [spinning] bicycle wheel, it stops the wheel!
Joe: It’s amazing how much better you feel coming out of the sweat.
Jim: Yeah — you can breathe again… It’s that rebirth, like synesthesia, when we come out our senses are new. We’re open to the new experiences.
One of the things I learned in South America is the knotted string system, the khipu or quipu. During the time I lived with Ruben’s family in Lima, there was a museum there, the Yoshitaro Amano Museo in Lima, a Japanese name museum. There’s a lot of Japanese-Peruvians and German-Peruvians. It’s very multicultural and international. In those drawers were these, I guess today you would call them today a flash drive or floppy disks, technology we don’t use, our technology keeps shifting but hopefully the data that is contained within it is worthy of knowing or being remembered — passed on. Because our technology changes so quickly that… well, how many reel to reel tapes or electromagnetic patterns we’ve lost?…now silent voices in warehouses.
It’s fascinating to think these people, a couple of thousand years ago, in the Andes, would take colored knotted string, it could be llama wool or cotton dyed, and the knots are numbers. The relationship of how the strings are attached to each other shows the data relationships. I saw those in 1979 and 80, and when I shifted from chemistry to chemical education after coming back from places like the Amazon and the Andes and realized that my chemistry education didn’t prepare me, that I’m back in daycare.
Those guys [chemists] know how to wear the white lab coats but now I’m with the people that know how to take blow gun poison and the piranha teeth and sharpen that dart. They use icthyhotoxins and tetrodotoxins… [natural chemicals in those amazing fish and toads] and then they hunt. The cardiotoxins, curare/curarine the skeletal muscle [heart] relaxants. Back up here now we have the Bakken Library, electromedicine history, Frankenstein, and they have the herb garden. That’s one of the places we would bring our Indian students in the summer. I could bring some of what I learned from the south. Right here by Lake Calhoun where we always had our foxglove, our digitalis, the willow and the aspirin, you figure out how to make and use those medicine shapes.
Well, I figured out how to make these khipu strings to encode chemical structure. So a red string would be carbon. If you want six carbon atoms, put a six knot in there, that’s how they’re tied together. It was a tactile way, a kinesthetic way, touch it, that’s how I learned. Playing a game. My grandmother would play Scrabble with me. My dad taught me to sit quietly and watch the pheasants, or the deer coming by, to look for the pattern, to wait for it, to pay attention, because it’s there [this is Natural Literacy — learning to read the lessons in every feather, shell, leaf and rock, etc.]. We’re part of that pattern.
There’s a big fancy word, isomorphism, it’s something in psychology. Now Vine DeLoria Jr. was writing about these things thirty years ago in his book Metaphysics of Modern Existence, and also in The World We Used To Live In. In the spiritual sense and the philosophy sense, it’s still here as long as we honor it and make use of it and let it be in us. What I’m trying to say is that these patterns can wake up in our minds. Isomorphism is a sort of mapping, and that’s how these khipu strings work for me. I’ve seen it work with students and I’ve also had synesthete students [in fact, two in the same class of 19 students!]. Again, what are the chances of having a scarlet tanager go on your foot when that’s a very specific bird to you and your family and what it’s been in your life?
The strings hold the data that can represent something in the real world. But the mind is the bridge between these number patterns and what we think are sensory patterns in the real world, the five senses. We think this is real but the numbers are just as real. Everything is built of that, I guess the Greeks were talking about that, but we had that [philosophy — universal curiosity — Makasitomniyan Wasdodyawacinpi] too.
We recognize in the turtle shell the thirteen scutes and in the moon and in music, the 13 months and notes. Everything is connected to everything else and when it all starts to flow together in ceremony and you recognize that they’re still here, that’s what Vine’s book is saying. That’s an indigenous view of math and science, it’s not just Greco-Roman tongue wrestling. I’ve tried to put out these six words plus the seventh, natural literacy and numeracy.
It means let’s let nature tell us in her own alphabets, which aren’t letters, in her own numbers, which aren’t rational or irrational, I mean they are! But there’s “pi,” there’s “e,” there’s “phi” the golden ratio (Fibonacci’s numbers), but those are all Italian and Greek names. Don’t try to force her to tell you as you would like to hear, listen to the way she is telling you in her own languages [The Maya and others of us all recognized these numbers].
Diane Wilson [writer]: The phrase I’m keying on is “what are the learning techniques that might transfer.” Drawing on the idea of letting nature tell us, some of those techniques are tactile ways of learning, khipu strings, olfactory, all of the senses, the trip to the garden, dreams, music…
Jim: It comes out in different ways at different times but they’re all part of the same Story, it’s already in us. The mind has those pieces in its ancient mind. Vine Deloria writes a lot in his book about Jung and Cassirer. He’s trying to express our view while also using the “established” [Western view that also works for us].
Ernst Cassirer is a philosopher. I didn’t get turned on to Cassirer from Deloria’s book, I was just looking for a way to explain how these strings worked for me. Why did they speak to me in those drawers in the museum cases in Peru? And why did that come back to me when I found myself as a chemical educator on a reservation thinking “what’s the best way that I can bridge this beautiful universe and get my kids excited in a way that they can touch and see a pattern?” That was one of the best indigenous technologies that I’ve found. I keep finding many applications.
But Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), is cited in Vine’s book Metaphysics…, in 8 of the 20 chapters. And Jung also. Cassirer wrote a piece called “The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms.” He had it in three volumes but now the fourth has been translated into English. He died in 1945. He also wrote in 1944, Essay on Man, and that’s the one that Vine used a lot. Essay on Man is Cassirer’s synthesis of his work. His work was really the metaphysics of these symbolic forms.
If you go back through what I’ve been saying, there are these basic patterns or shapes. To Plato they were the five perfect shapes: the cube, the octahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron, and tetrahedron. Greek numbers. The first thing we do in our indigenous math and science program is to let the kids build these shapes. They come now as “Zometools” or “Polydrons” and they can build the shapes. It’s intuitive and they snap together with colors: yellow, green, blue, and red. Then they want to know, “what would you call that one?” Well, that looks like a drum.
Eventually you can introduce them to Greek names, but because in all of those names “hedra” means “face,” “ite,” we can say it in any of our languages to 20 kids in the room. The numbers, “tetra” “four,” how do you say it? “Dopa.” So tetrahedron is “Dopa Ite.” The soccer ball shape that I mentioned before… So of the five solids, if you cut their corners and edges, you’ll get 13 more. And that soccer ball shape is one of those 13. Now it’s called a truncated icosahedron in Greek, but you’ll see those forms, those pentagons and hexagons, they’re in nature. They’re in the turtle shell [pinecones and pineapples, etc.], they’re in numbers, 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,… those are the golden ratios, and now we know that the Mayan temples, for example, just as the Greek ones, they’re built on these ratios.
The concept of atoms, “atomos,” means “to not be able to cut.” You don’t have to be Greek to come up with that idea. Take a piece of salt. It’s a little cubic crystal, and get smaller and smaller. On the west coast of Peru there are these natural crystals, iron pyrite, gold looking cube shapes in the desert sand, and you can see the stonework that was done by the Inca and pre-Inca groups. They recognize these number patterns. They’re natural, they’re all around us.
I’m very confident that weaving patterns, the baskets, these are things we’ve always known. I hesitate and don’t want to do a math-science program that’s just retrofitting Greco-Roman words. I want to start here and then we can bridge.
What would be a few simple things that you can tell a person to start teaching differently?
Jim: The pedagogy, the how. There’s that theory but then there’s the practice. What keeps kids excited and awake and into it? First, it’s to switch it up. They say, “… age plus or minus a minute.” If they’re 12 don’t spend more than 11 or 13 minutes on the same thing. It’s probably good for us as adults too. There are some wonderful techniques as well. There is a national organization called National Urban Alliance. They looked at many techniques that helped keep urban kids, primarily African-American but also Latino and Native students [involved … in] whose achievement data there was a gap. What needs to be done to deal with this gap? For the last five or six years I’ve been attending sessions that they’ve provided. They bring in the latest research and these techniques are really good. I see why they work with us.
A couple of practical things: one of the people that they bring in is David Hyerle. He has come up with something called “thinking maps” and there are eight of them. He believes there are 8 thinking processes. When you visualize it, and that’s the key here, a lot of it is using not just the ears but the eyes and the manipulatives across the senses. But these 8 thinking maps are a way to show comparison/contrast, for example. What’s the same about this, what’s different? He gets kids to work in groups and brainstorm those words.
We’ve done this in indigenous language as well. If the process is truly how the brain works, then this isn’t a wasichu template. I would caution that I don’t believe there are just those eight. In fact, when I mention the soccer ball template, that’s something I use. The other processes involve cause and effect or this produces this. Or there’s a multi-flow map, where there are many causes in an event that lead to something in the spacetime flow and there will be many effects. Each of those in turn produces something new. Each of these eight maps has the potential to help kids wrestle their words and thoughts down on paper. And they do it in groups. As you said, relationship is central also. There’s that social theory piece because we’re very interactive as indigenous people. Words are good, but we won’t get into an argument and hurt somebody’s mind or heart over how you say it, or “you said that wrong.” Schools weed us out, they’ve been designed for that. And that’s part of the “master narrative,” the “official knowledge,” the one version of truth.
Dr. Michael Apple at University of Wisconsin, Madison, has a book called Official Knowledge that helps flesh out these terms. When you take these thinking maps, it really helps put things on paper, which is the accepted format, but now that we’re digital too… [with] hypertext levels… [we can use that to show our interconnected layers of thinking]. One thing that I like to use is the three-dimensional [thinking map] version of that soccer ball shape or “football” to the rest of the world. It has 32 faces and 60 corners. Carbon atoms blown out of stars make this shape all by themselves. They didn’t need humans to tell them how to do that. Humans didn’t invent the soccer ball. Carbon is the most social element in the universe. There is no better atom made in stars at sharing with itself and others. That’s its blessing and its curse. We get life but we also get chlorofluorocarbons. And fluorine, which doesn’t like to share… it hangs on and won’t let go. So we get these chemicals for fire retardants that end up in our water supply and they’re testing now to see what the effects of that will be.
Not to name corporations… but I’m grateful my path taught me the laboratory techniques. But then the Amazon reminded me that I’m indigenous and I’ll take it in an [indigenous] ethical, responsible, educational way. It wasn’t about [making a] profit for some company. I remember when they were teaching us about reactor design. They didn’t even look at what happens when you just let that flow stream out somewhere… [even] for the sake of profit. Now at least they are recycling the flow [for profit, not necessarily for the environment or the law].
For example, the David Hyerle flow map [can be used to show the law of conservation of matter that] realizes that nothing goes away, it just goes around and gets reused in multiple forms. That is an ethic. There is no “away.” I was living at White Earth when the government came and said we have this nuclear waste and we’re looking for a place to put it. They were looking at us and said, the soil here looks good. We said, “Have you noticed this is the longest river — the Missouri-Mississippi System — in North America. You think this is the best place for hundreds of thousands [or millions] of years?” And that’s just the half life. Those of us who know what these half life concepts are… we educate ourselves. We all need to know about this, especially that uranium fuel cycle and our relatives in the Southwest, etc.
I’ve always looked with an indigenous environmental ethic at science. That’s the other part when I say it’s spiritual, it’s ethical. That involves our philosophy, our axiology, our metaphysics. We have to be thinking and mindful of the inter-generational piece. We can’t make quick, short-sighted [selfish] decisions. They say that those concrete casks at Prairie Island will hold it for 10,000 years. That’s because it will rust in 11,000. And the glaciers were here 10,000 years ago we’d be sitting under a mile of ice now. We must take a long view.
One thing I can say to those who want to teach science is, learn it well first. Learn it as well as we can and realize again in our humility, our short-sightedness. The coyote, the trickster, the raven, Iktomi, the spider, in the African tradition Anansi, all of our cultural history has this ethic that says, “Don’t get too egocentric about how much you think you have figured out, because it will come back and bite you.” As chemists we’ve done that in making DDT. The eggshells got so thin, we thought we were killing off mosquitoes to make it safer for the soldiers in the trenches with yellow fever and malaria but we were killing eagles instead and all kinyan oyate kin, the flying nations.
So a molecule isn’t just some shape of atoms, colored little Styrofoam balls… or however we model connecting them together. When I teach kids that; [they] learn the ways that they’re holistically connected. It’s a grandfather. You drop a rock in the water, it makes ripples, and it just keeps rippling, the sound waves, the energy waves, so make sure it’s good washte energy [always moving Taku shkan shkan energy]…
My great grandpa, born 1879. I did get to know him on my mom’s side. He had one leg amputated from diabetes and was in bed when he said to me, “When I was your age it was my job to pick up what the buffalo left behind!” I laughed. I was probably six or seven years old. He said, “So why do you laugh?” I said, “Well grandpa, I know what cows leave behind.” I hadn’t been around a buffalo at that time but he had — on the prairies. He was alive when there were just a few hundred left. Literally maybe 300 from the 60 million.
I think he wanted to pass on that ethic to me in one story. Here’s what he said, “If I didn’t pick up those those chips (chesdi), what would happen?” I had to think. I was pretty young, around first or second grade. I said “I guess they go back into the prairie — the Earth.” “That’s good - washte. What’s next? You know… ake again..?” I said, “I guess it would grow prairie grass.” “Very good. But we’re not done yet. So then what?” … the third question… “I guess the buffalo would eat the grass.” “So then what?” Eventually I said, “the buffalo eats the grass because the chips fertilize the earth… Ah, we’re going to get more buffalo chips, more fertilizer!” It was a Circle in four questions. And he, as a young one, even though he couldn’t carry much wood and there wasn’t much wood to be carried out on the prairies, they burned the chips to keep warm, light the fire, and cooking in the stove. He would interact in that Circle. Literally, if he didn’t pick up that chip, the more grass would grow.
So even picking up something that the European world might look at as a dried “whatever — the lowest of forms,” it’s so valuable. Everything is sacred, is washte. I’m just so grateful for a simple story like that… and I remember asking my grandma if her father had shared that story with her and she said no. It was a story that had skipped two, three generations. His heart must have been breaking from the way they’d lived on the prairie to the sod houses and wood and brick houses in the city…
Diane: A story like that makes the circling atoms in the periodic table come alive…
Jim: The atoms are alive, they speak because we are speaking. The atoms and the molecules are us. Molecules are able to tell the story of the universe, that makes it sacred. That’s where the gift of language in our indigenous tradition comes in. We believe Creator gave us those words, inspired language, hopefully to say the most with the least [words]… unlike what I’m modeling here! I apologize for being so verbose. My grandpa wouldn’t have said much, he didn’t have to. We talk too much. That’s the thing about science and math. When I mention NUA techniques, it’s to keep the focus on the students, keep it on the manipulatives, let them interact in a group. That’s very Freireian… Freire’s critical pedagogy. Keep the emphasis on the students, not on the teacher talk. We’re all students of the universe.
In the storytelling that we would incorporate, the atoms and molecules come alive. We are those molecules. I believe we are more than just the molecules, but [referring to molecules] is the [safest] way for a secular setting… not necessarily with indigenous kids… I can say it in other ways [with my relatives], but it is “safest” [not to philosophize too much in a secular or non-indigenous setting].
As I read what Vine DeLoria wrote in all those different ways, he was very conversant with law, theology, philosophy, science (big bang and creationism), environmentalism/pollution. He said, “we’re not this [big bang],” and “we’re not that [creationism]”… we’re our own… we have our own view. He spent many books and a lifetime documenting that [our view is somewhere between or different from a strict western Big Bang view or the creationism view].
Sandy Grande, Red Pedagogy: Native American Social and Political Thought. Regarding some recommended books, here is another one that I really like, this is a Quechua person (Peru, Bolivia) named Sandy Grande. It’s a thin book but very heavy! She’s a wonderful person. I would encourage people to chew on this. It’s very important for us to own our own processes, our pedagogy, how we learn, how we teach, how we pass it on. Her family came up from Peru to New York. She’s a scholar at a Connecticut college.
Donald Fixico, The American Indian Mind In a Linear World.
School For Squares. Here’s a long answer to your question about bridging. Art Clokey, the first scene of this cartoon is the door of an office and it’s the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he’s the head of the BIA. He has his Indian pony, Pokey, with the feather and headband… They get a message through the window, an arrow flies in and sticks on the wall of the BIA office. It’s a flaming arrow with a computer punch card. He calls in Pokey and says, what is this? What group would send us this message? We can’t read it. Maybe Pokey can read it. They put the punch card into a computer and they get a visual picture on the screen. It shows smoke signals on the screen. Pokey can read the smoke signals. It says “Help, S.O.S.” They want us to come out there. So they fly out to this reservation and they find out that their kids are being taken from them. It’s a helicopter with these two Blockheads. They were Gumby’s archenemies or nemeses. They’re like alphabet letter blocks… cube heads. They lower down a net and grab the Indian kids. All the Indian kids, everyone is clay in this movie, are cone shapes… tipi heads. The chief says to Gumby, “Help, our children are taken away and they come back as Indians no more.” When they come back the kids have corners – cubeheads - blockheads. If you look at a cone, a tipi, it’s many circles. Again, the alphabet and alphabetic literacy has in many ways taken the circularity out of us.
In the end, they catch the blockheads and they put them on a wheel until their corners spin off, it’s like a potter’s wheel. They get kind of cone-shaped now… and have to trade eyeballs with us. So the long answer to your question “How do we help bridge?”… I’m proud to be German and English and Norwegian too, but I recognize the more languages and ways I can honor my ancestors’ thinking, the better. It’s not just some haphazard, thrown together syncretism.
My son found this cartoon. I used to show it over at Fond du Lac when I did a Native Philosophy class. I said, can you put your philosophy on a bumper sticker or on a t-shirt or cartoon? What would you say? This is also offensive. It’s 40 or 50 years old and there are things about it that are anachronistic but it’s also telling a real story that our schools are still doing that to our kids. They did it to my dad. He’s a survivor. I’m a survivor, I’m proud that I’m still here, it didn’t weed me out.
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, Edward Abbott, written in 1884. A thin book. Flatlanders are points, lines, squares, triangles, whether they’re equilateral or isosceles. The triangles have square children, and when the squares have children, they have pentagons. When the pentagons have children, they have hexagons. But they’re always in two dimensions: north/south, east/west. But their angles decrease [with the number of corners]. The square has 90 degree angles. The pentagon has  and hexagon has . [The equilateral triangle has]120. But there are also circles [with no corners or infinitely many corners].
In this case, the circles are the priests who tell all the flatlanders how to follow all the rules and not to think beyond their two dimensions. It’s repression… “Don’t be curious.” In 2007, this was made into a video called Flatland: A Journey of Many Dimensions, with Martin Sheen and Michael York as the voices of these characters. What’s so great about it is that it literally helps kids think outside the box. They are not even in a box yet!
This guy was a mathematician, a theologian, a Shakespearean scholar. He wrote this when Einstein was five years old. During that next 10-15 years it was the turn of the 1900 [century but they were also thinking of the 2000] millennium change. They’re anticipating what this new millennium will bring. It brought in guys like Einstein who said that space comes with time attached and time comes with space attached, you can’t have one without the other. It’s just spacetime.
In this story, space has three dimensions. They take the square for a little ride and he learns about the other dimension. In fact, the square’s children, the pentagons, were taken… abducted away. So he’s raising his granddaughter, the hexagon, and he couldn’t bear to tell her what happened to her parents. When she gets old enough to ask questions, she gets curious about the possibility of three dimensions. Circles are repressing, saying you’re not supposed to go to that one place [area 33H… like 51!] where there’s proof in this world that there are three dimensions. And if there are three dimensions there could be four or five or six… It brings up the idea of higher dimensions of a spiritual concept that this may not be all there is. It’s just the possibility of it so it’s a safe idea.
But it’s that Gumby idea, that there’s a sphere and a sphere is many circles, so is the cone, conic sections, the ellipse, the parabola… how a basketball goes in an arc. There are all those math equations that explain the physics of it that Newton loved. This is post-Newton. He’s saying, there’s got to be something else. It’s almost a pre-cursor to spacetime coming along with Einstein saying: whenever there are chunks of stuff, gravity is the shape of spacetime around these chunks of stuff. I’ll say that again. Gravity is the curvature of spacetime. Spacetime is curved. It has a shape around matter… matter-energy… stars.
More massive items have more curvature so when Kepler figured out the time it takes planets to circle around, he wanted them to go in perfect circles. But the truth, the Natural Literacy spoke and Kepler was true to listening. Mars doesn’t go in a perfect circle, it’s very close in its data, it’s only seconds of arc different, but he had to honor that truth. So there is something else. What would that be? And he comes up with the ellipse and Newton bases his work on Kepler and Galileo. And Einstein comes along and Hawking and others. But of course, in this hemisphere, we have always had our own “Galileo, Copernicus, Einsteins…” They’re right here in our classrooms. It’s just that our histories were written in paper; Spain came and burned them. The Maya carved in stone, the Incas have the knotted string and again Spain came and burned those strings.
So when I learned this system, or as much as I could learn from llama herders in the Andes and what I could find in the museum drawers, and then what I tried myself as a scientist, I hypothesized. I didn’t know if I had it right but I also went to the world scholars on those strings, Ascher and Ascher, a husband and wife professors in their seventies in upstate New York, and I showed them what I used on the reservation and in our summer program. I valued their opinions about my/our work. As indigenous people if we see something good we’ll modify it but we’ll keep it true to its tradition also.
Indian School: Teaching The White Man’s Way, Michael Cooper. This book is for educators who are working with our population to be aware of what this boarding school process is and how western education is still very much a part of that, unfortunately. It’s still caught in alphabet literacy and boxes.
Habits of Mind: Activating and Engaging H of M, Art Costa and Bena Kallick. This is a relatively new work about activating and engaging habits of mind. There are about 16 habits of mind, things like persistence, managing impulsivity, listening with understanding and empathy. These are very much like our traditional values. Thinking flexibly, thinking about thinking (metacognition), striving for accuracy, questioning and posing problems, applying past knowledge to new situations, thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, gathering data through all the senses, creating, imaging, innovating, responding with wonderment and awe.
It’s okay to have emotion, something I didn’t specifically point out in our six or seven things about indigenous science. We’re looking at ourselves when we’re looking at [and “studying”] our relatives. We have emotion. Scientists who are objective and cold and detached, that false objectivity… of course we’re subjective. This is good. Taking responsible risks, finding humor, thinking interdependently, remaining open to continuous learning. This book shows how to combine Hyerle’s Thinking Maps with Costa’s Habits of Mind. These Habits of Mind are essentially literacy circle techniques that Freire used and we can indigenize them.
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the World. Daniel Pink. He has six principles in here that says that left-brain, linear, computer program, is not enough. The profit margin is not there because computers and others who will work for less can do that. What we need are the synthesists, those who can put it together in creative new ways and apply that knowledge, it’s pretty much the intelligent behaviors.
The Humanities and Human Nature, Steven Pinker. He’s a language person and looks at the mind and how it works. What he’s saying is that we’ve lost our humanity, our technology has lost its heart. That’s what I was saying about STEM: science, technology, engineering and math — but without the CLAH: culture, language, arts and humanities, you lose the indigenous heart and soul piece. Our national and state standards are all about STEM but without CLAH.
Metapatterns, Tyler Volk. Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind. Why we see these forms in nature. Plato would call them the ideal forms. Cassirer follows in the tradition of Kant, which as Vine DeLoria writes were some of the European philosophers who seemed to have a somewhat closer idea of who we are and the way we think… even though they weren’t writing about us.
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Ernst Cassirer. Mythical Thought, Epistemology, Language are three volumes. Here’s the one that just came out: The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms. Very much like what Vine DeLoria was writing about in his Metaphysics of Modern Existence.
Highly Recommended Reading for Teachers
The Metaphysics of Modern Existence, Vine DeLoria, 1979.
The World We Used to Live In: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men, Vine DeLoria. This one is a huge challenge to scientists. These are firsthand family stories that he is authorized to tell and put in print. The laws of physics are not what even 1920s quantum revolution physics [sees as the “truth”]… Maybe that is what we’re seeing [in ceremony]. Electrons are these ghosty little things that aren’t things. It’s literally what light is… where it comes from. Light is when electrons move [and jump]. Einstein said if you travel at the speed of light [an “impossibility”], spacetime doesn’t mean anything, it “stops?” When you travel near the speed of light, time will slow for you [but you won’t know it until you get back]… and length contracts… weird things! What does that mean? Metaphysics is just your reality. So what’s the reality of how we’re trying to live in modern times? It’s heyoka, it’s backward, it’s upside down, inside out. It’s not sustainable. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi term for crazy life that is out of balance or life that isn’t a good way of living.
Recommended books that are more pure math:
Nature’s Numbers: Discovering Order and Pattern in the Universe, Ian Stewart.
Once we have what we think is numeracy… literacy and numeracy, here’s:
Beyond Numeracy: Ruminations of a Numbers Man, John Allen Paulos. Once you’ve recognized nature’s numbers, so what? Well, it changes your whole view on everything. I’m grateful that I’ve had all these years working with Ben Blackhawk, a great musician and wonderful brother. HoChunk language and Dakota language, when we sing together and we talk together, even though our languages separated five or six hundred years ago(?), it works… the numbers still fit together. We do counting songs, we’ve written our own music to help teach these forms.
We want kids to be able to read and write, but do we really? That alphabet, that left-brained alphabet, there’s another book that is probably the most important one right now of all of these, excluding DeLoria’s.
Art & Physics, Leonard Shlain. He’s a brain surgeon that loved art. He realized in his physics training the role of light, how we perceive it… that’s psychophysics. The term I used before “isomorphism,” brain patterns that light can stimulate, where the truth is. He said in his second book: The Alphabet Versus the Goddess in a historical approach to the world… 5,000 years of alphabetic literacy. He looked at Egypt, the hieroglyphs… China… the Maya… India. He said that wherever that alphabet went, wherever it colonized us, the visual piece was suppressed and not honored, and so was the feminine. The masculine, the alphabetic, the left-to-right [was elevated to dominance].
Now with computers, what he calls iconic, visual literacy, will help re-balance that again. We’re already seeing that in the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that bridges the two hemispheres, it’s a wider band of nerves in women perhaps. Do they have a greater fluency in allowing the masculine to have a feminine and the feminine to have a masculine?… the whole universe approach to these things… Jung, et. al. We [males?] seem to have a fear of the right brain, visual, iconic… so we live in fight or flight mode.
Anyway, going back to the beginning, I tried to explain this [whole universe] interest with a logo, something I can quickly explain to people. It’s a circle in four parts, the four directions symbol, but it looks like an “M” up and an “M” down… by flipping that “M” it might look like a “W” and they are north and south. And then there’s an “S” in the east and in the west. It can say something alphabetically but it’s also really visual, it uses both hemispheres. As I’ve come up with words to explain what this means to me:
I was born here at the chekpa, the navel. This is where the Misi Sibi (Wakpa tanka) and Mni Sota Wakpa Rivers [join]. It’s the Dakota Center of the Universe, our origin place at 45 degrees north, between the equator at zero and the north pole at 90 degrees. So we’re halfway between on this beautiful Maka Ina (Earth Mother).
The other way I like to interpret this M-W logo/diagram is: Makasitomniyan Wasdodyawachinpi or Universal Curiosity. Maka is Earth, Sitomniyan is all over. Wasdodyawachinpi is desire and knowledge. So I want to know. Our summer program at the U we called “Seek to Know.” That’s the Dakota way to say seek to know or curiosity.
But I think we all know that curiosity alone — which is why I leave this for last — curiosity that is untempered, that doesn’t have the context, the values, the generations, the long view, the holism, the spiritual, the interdisciplinary connectedness… well, that kind of [centerpoint — 7th directional] curiosity is dangerous. That’s what our trickster stories are about… analysis and ego without synthesis and ethics.
In Bloom’s taxonomy you’ve got knowledge and comprehension, the low level, fact stuff that we test on our standardized tests, “Do you fit Gumby’s School for Squares?” Then we have application. So now we’re making it useful but are we really looking at whether we need all these machines? The analysis is where you break it down.
Then synthesis… put it together with the evaluation piece. So curiosity without evaluation, without those intelligent behaviors, without the higher order skills… leads to trouble… [be humble or stumble]. So then I change Makasitomniyan to ma*n*kasitomniyan! Manka is skunk… or “I am”… So it’s almost like curiosity all over the skunk or about self, instead of knowing our place with all our relatives within the Earth-Sky relationship. You want to be curious about the skunk, but you don’t want to be overly curious and cause him to blow that stink all over the earth. It’s interesting that Manka (skunk) and Maka (earth) are both black and white, day and night.
It’s also our stars and star animals up there that remind us of their seasons and their times. That’s what you really have here [on the logo], the solstices and equinoxes, and watching how the sun rise and set, and recognizing that’s the template and the model for [life]… how the light affects the parts of our brain, all the life forms, our relatives, those light cycles affect the plants, the leaves come and go, and the hormones that cycle in us. We know the spring time, the coming together, the mating time, all the rules, the social rules for all the oyate kin (animal and plant, etc. nations) they’re telling us by the phenology that these signs are out of whack, out of balance. The astronomical spring and the meteorological spring are off by a couple, three weeks.
All of what our stories told us, say we need that ethical piece to look at these systems that interact here where the rivers join, the river here and the sky river mirror each other… We need that that cosmic perspective. As we said… that universal makasitomniyan that means all over the earth… universal curiosity and awe and respect and balance.
Do we have respect for [all our relatives… even] E.T.? For example, when Spain came here and they did not have respect for the [Incan] knotted strings [which they saw as alien] or the Mayan chronometers and calendar that could measure to within 20 seconds the synodic lunar cycle: full moon to new moon to full moon. NASA didn’t get that good until they put a mirror on the moon in the ‘70s and bounced a laser off of it. I can show you the algebra from the so-called Dresden codex, the 3 Maya books that are still existing in Europe [after the 1562 book burnings] that show that lunar cycle to within 20 seconds of NASA’s measurement. We know these cycles. We’ve been living it [the Circle] for thousands of years. And the 13th Mayan baktun is less than four years away [12-21-2012 = 126.96.36.199.0] after 5,125 years of measuring these cycles… one fifth of the 26,000 year “wobble” cycle — the precession of the equinoxes.
I’ve been very blessed to spend time in Central and South America and to learn and share about the stars from our relatives… like the condor and the eagle coming together. I’m very grateful that I’ve had this opportunity and this responsibility, that’s why I became an educator… to try to share it.
So how do I give this back in some way that’s useful for these trying times? It doesn’t mean that the circle ends at the 13th baktun. But we’re seeing a change in everything the western world was telling us was sustainable and is not. And it also has to do with the slow rotation — 26,000 years — that the north pole points to a different star in the sky. And half a cycle ago, that star called Vega, instead of the one now, Polaris, was the center. Five thousand years ago when the Egyptians were building the pyramids, it was pointing to the star between the big and little dippers called Thuban in Draco or the Thunderbird as we see it.
(Joe: A Lakota storyteller told me a story about how there used to be eight stars in the Big Dipper, including one in the middle of the dipper section.The interesting thing is that modern scientists have been able to detect a Black Hole in the exact location of the missing star that died according to the story. They have estimated that this Black Hole came into its present state about 1.5 million years ago .This means that there were Indigenous people watching that star as long as 1.5 million years ago.)
That’s a long view. The Maya calendar also uses those zeroes and counts in terms of billions of years. Modern science has only now caught up to the view that the universe is billions of years old. The other culture that had zero and counted by billions of years was the Vedic culture and wisdom from India. Respecting our elders all over this planet that recognized these patterns… we’re going to need their wisdom.
[Story of a circle in a circle in a circle to keep respect for the Great Mystery that none of us understands… when we think we might know something!]
Thank you for allowing me to share these ideas with you and all my relatives!