Curriculum: Social Studies

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This the social studies curriculum from Center School, Minneapolis.


At Center School the study of history is a critical piece of our academic program. History is a living connection to the words, deeds and lives of our ancestors. The study of history not only provides us with knowledge of what our predecessors went through, but why, and how they lived with it. It is important not just to know what has happened, but also to learn the lessons that past events can teach us about life. We can learn of past mistakes and successes, people’s values and motivations and see powerful examples of the best and worst of humankind.

History, as we see it then, is an opportunity to really examine the world of people and to learn who we are and how we came to be here.

We ask that our teachers deliver history curriculum that is interdisciplinary and multi-faceted. It should incorporate written and spoken language, scientific investigation, spatially-oriented mathematics such as geometry and a spatial non-linear view of time so that students know the power of place. It should also be presented in a variety of ways (such as storytelling, talking circle, adventure learning, map making and visits to historic sites, interviewing as well as reading) so as to make it relevant to the lives of students and to honor the many different types of intelligence and ways of learning and reflect the diversity of humankind.

Center School’s history curriculum is about helping students to learn from history and not as much about memorizing it. We are quite certain that nothing is truer than the saying that “A people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it,” so we are committed to the idea that our students must learn from history.

They must learn to think critically, to challenge ideas or statements that they find questionable using research, insight, analysis, and the rubric of culture (native), and to evaluate events and decisions in terms of not only what can be learned from them but how we can best respond to them cognitively, emotionally and spiritually.


  1. Students will understand the relative values of oral and written traditions and histories.
  2. Students will know and honor the protocols of Indigenous oral traditions.
  3. Students will be able to critically analyze historical accounts.
  4. Students will investigate the motivations of historical individuals and groups, including movements, communities and nations.
  5. Students will appreciate the value of knowing about past events and people.
  6. Students will study history with a focus on gaining insight and wisdom.
  7. Students will learn and be able to perform at least two stories using an experimental-based pedagogy.
  8. Students will understand that truth, while not absolute, is an important component of history.
  9. Students will be able to perform historical research and share what they have learned.
  10. Students will understand and be able to utilize the concept of historical perspective in interpreting the history of North America.
  11. Students will understand that human beings and human relationships are a resource of immeasurable value.
  12. Students will be able to compare and evaluate the linear view of time in contrast to the spatial view of time.
  13. Students will understand that acquisition of knowledge and/or skills is an endeavor that Indigenous people undertake for the good of their community, nation and planet.
  14. Students will learn a minimum of four native songs, including the protocols of ownership and permission.
  15. Students will be able to express the concept of reciprocity through explanation, modeling and/or artistic expression.
  16. Students will become familiar with the history, terms and historical development of at least one Treaty.
  17. Students will understand that story is an essential component of our language, culture and history.

Multiple Delivery Systems

Sample Lessons

  1. Talking Circle (Rules) (Sample lesson provided) — Talking Circle is not a point/counterpoint or a debate sort of interaction. It is a sharing of points of view and/or wisdom.
  2. Storytelling is a semi-interactive performance. Stories are shared using multi-sensory information: words (including volume, inflection and other nuances that provide additional insight and meaning); music (traditional songs connected to the stories); smells (smudging and food); dances (parts of the story may be acted out accompanied by music); and tastes (food is shared at appropriate times).
  3. Opener/Ice Breaker (Get-acquainted exercises that emphasize the importance of relationships in learning).(Sample lesson provided)
  4. Experimental Learning/Sacred Geography of the Black Hills – An elder once asked, “How can we expect people, who for hundreds of thousands of years, spent nearly 100% of their time out-of-doors to learn by spending 100% of their time indoors?” The natural world has been the classroom of our children for countless generations, and they are well-attuned to that environment, with all of its cues and stimuli. The more opportunities we can provide for them to return to the natural environment the better they will (and are) become engaged and excited about learning. Examples of Black Hills Unit – attending workshops, conferences, ceremonies, fairs, cultural events such as pow-wows and dances, student-produced workshops. Class travels to the Black Hills, visiting sacred sites, learning of the importance and history of each while there through storytelling and exploration. Evenings include lessons centered around star knowledge related to the sacred sites. Days are spent exploring/experiencing sites first-hand.
  5. Historical analysis – groups of students are to research from a list of historical events and report back to the class. Students’ reports include basic facts surrounding events, names of local persons involved (who may be brought in to brief class on the events), legal, moral and social issues central to these events and spatial location where events took place. Students are encouraged to discuss motivations behind actions taken and subsequent value of same, using talking circle, at which time students are to also discuss what other steps could have been taken during and after the events in question.
  6. Memorials – class will attend ceremonies commemorating historical events or persons, paying close attention to both facts that may be illucidated and feelings or ambience of such ceremonies, which help to bring such events and people into perspective.
  7. Assigned Readings – students are assigned historical readings and asked to interpret them thru use of critical thinking. Facilitated discussion using a variation of talking circle are used to help students gather more meaning and increase comprehension. A major goal here is to help students perceive the value of reading and being able to express oneself in print.
  8. Test Prep – students will break down a typical test by looking for answers, developing strategies for different formats, questioning testing methodology (ex: is “either/or” appropriate here? would be a question perhaps asked about yes/no test items) Test Creation – Students are not always required to respond to a test, but, as an alternative, may be asked to evaluate a test or to create a test or some other form of assessment. The idea is to get them to think about what they have learned and how they can demonstrate such learning or even apply it in some practical fashion.
  9. Resource Development – students will research and identify the various sources that are available surrounding certain historical events such as: diaries; newspaper articles; oral traditions; audio recordings; audiovisual recordings; movies; internet websites; first hand accounts/eye witness and legal documents such as congressional acts, executive orders, court decisions and Treaties.
  10. Interactive/Proactive/Multi-sensory expression – We ask instructors to “spice up” lectures by providing opportunities for reflection, artistic self-expression, movement and spontaneity.
  11. Games – Treasure hunt-type games can be used to motivate students to search out information. Crossword puzzles and Scrabble type games are fun, active ways to build vocabulary and knowledge base. Role playing games can encourage students and teachers to be imaginative, making distant events more real.

Course Outline

Turtle Island
Topics and (“Sources for inquiry”, keywords)

  1. Geography (maps, landscapes) Where we are, then (tribes by region)
  2. Oral Traditions - Stories (mostly local) (Ojibwe, Dakota, Hochunk, Menominee) Place Names (Ojibwe and Dakota and Hochunk) Wisdom/concepts (Explained vs. Implied morals)
  3. Tenochtitlan (map) –“The Broken Spears”, maps, “Aztec 4” video. Teotihuacan (picture) –( Readings, pictures, descriptions,etc.)
  4. Cohokia (picture and map) (moundbuilders)
  5. Migration (“The Mishomis Book”,Benton-Benai)
  6. Economics (Native American culture groups by region)
  7. Language/Music (local and national)
  8. Technology/Art (see above) (“The Present Past”,)
  9. Indigenism/Native Culture – Native Paradigm (“God is Red”, Deloria ..”The Lakota Way”, Marshall)

Contact vs.Colonization

  1. Comparing Cultures ( Deloria,Lame Deer,etc.)
  2. Conquest beginning with Columbus (“Conquest of the Indies”, Bartolome De las Casas)
  3. Native culture impacts Europe (“Indian Givers’,Weatherford)
  4. Early colonies (Virginia, Plymouth, Greenland) (“The Name of War”,LeFore)
  5. Conflicts, War and Drawing the Color Line (“A People’s History of the United States”,Zinn)
  6. Treaties with European Nations.(“Federal Indian Treaties”)
  7. The History of Cultural Exchange (Democracy as concensus, runaways, etc.) (“In the Absence of the Sacred”,Manders)

Life in Occupied America

  1. Truedell (AIM, WK, Cointelpro) (“Trudell” DVD, Heather Rae)
  2. WK 1890,1973(Wounded Knee Massacre) (“Voices from Wounded Knee”, Akwesasne Notes)
  3. The Lakotas (“The Gift of the Horse” to Wounded Knee)
  4. The Dakotas (“Old Indian Days”, Eastman) (The 1862 Sioux Uprising)
  5. The Ojibwe ( Dennis Jones,U of MN))
  6. Federal Indian Law and Policy,from “Allies” to “Wards”( “The Long Death”, Andrist)
  7. The Shawnees (Tecumseh’s Vision) – oral traditions and novels about Tecumseh (Allen Eckert, Bil Gilbert )
  8. Natives and the Confederacy,Removal to Civil War (“Okla Hannali”, Lafferty “Shell Shaker”, Howe “American Indians and the Confederacy”,Abel)
  9. California (hunting for Indians) (“Ishi, Last of his Tribe”, Kroeber)
  10. Natives during the World Wars (Codetalkers , Warriors and Families, “Navajo weapon…”-McClain)

Cultural Revitalization

  1. Children left behind , Federal boarding schools (“Kill The Indian , Save the Man”, Churchill “Children Left Behind”, Giago “Our Spirits Don’t Speak English”,DVD)
    # What is Genocide? (Hitler learned from U.S.) (“A Little Matter of Genocide”, Churchill)
  2. Survival Schools (Red School House, HOTESS, CSI) (AIM survival Schools)
  3. Alcatraz, WK, Oglala, etc.(“Like a Hurricane”,Smith and Warrior) (American Indian Movement)
  4. Language Revitalization ,languages reclaimed/the Program (Native Language Revitalization) (“Living Waters”, Lafortune)
  5. Self-Determination (IRA vs. Traditional vs. BIA) (see Wilkins, Johnson, Deloria)
  6. Music and the Arts (local and other sources) (Native American Art )
  7. Environmental Activism, Internal colonies, storehouses of The corporate elite) (“Struggles for the Land”, Churchill “All Our Relations”, LaDuke)
  8. Getting off the Horse (allowing Indians to be contemporary) (See Deloria, Means)

Sample Lessons A: Activity: Person Scavenger Hunt

Objective: Students get to know more about each other and build  relationships

Key: Teacher has to focus on the students responses and figure out what common ground they share with that student. This can be used as a relation building tool.

Directions: Allow plenty of time for students to mix, but consider setting a time limit for the activity so that there is time for the group to reflect on the experience and possibly share their thoughts .

Supplies: Pens/Pencils, Handout


  1. Find someone whose first name starts with the same letter as your first name.
  2. Find someone who was born in the same month you were born.
  3. Find someone who was born on the same day you were born (but not necessarily the same month).
  4. Find someone who was born in a different state or country than you were born in.
  5. Find someone who has the same number of brothers that you have.
  6. Find someone who has the same number of sisters that you have.
  7. Find someone whose favorite food is the same as yours.
  8. Find someone whose favorite academic subject is the same as yours (or similar).
  9. Find someone whose favorite sport or game is the same as yours.
  10. Find someone whose favorite animal is the same as yours.
  11. Find someone whose favorite TV show is the same as yours, or a close.
  12. Find someone from your same reservation.
  13. Find someone who likes the same kind of music that you like.
  14. Find someone who is bilingual.
  15. Find someone who can say hello in 7 different languages. Note: Write these down
  16. Find someone who is going to Leech Lake powwow this weekend.
  17. Find a fluent speaker of a Native American language.
  18. Find someone who has been to over 30 states.
  19. Find someone who has been outside of North America.
  20. Find someone who has an Indian name

Lesson B: Talking Circles

Objective: Students will be immersed in an (cultural) indigenous way of “discussing” or sharing information.

  1. Students will learn indigenous ways of discussing important issues appropriately.
  2. Students will learn about the importance of smudging.

What is a talking circle? (Explain) It is a structured way of sharing points of view and encouraging people to reflect on each other’s opinions or feelings.

Why circles? There is no “First” or single most important speaker, all are equal, honors our connection to nature and the flow of life.

What are the rules of talking circle and/or discussion? (Only the persom holding the talking feather speaks.All others listen respectively, reflecting on what is being said.There are no “right” or “wrong” statements.This is sharing, not competition or debate. Conversation only moves clockwise around the circle no crosstalk.)


As students enter, they are greeted appropriately (welcomed with “polite”* handshake – explain/teach for non-native people). (* Rather than a “firm” or “manly” handshake, we suggest lightly touching each others hands with a non-intrusive handshake.This is to reflect respect for each other’s spirit and at the same time acknowledge their existence, period.)

Students are asked to set chairs in a circle.

Teacher explains talking circle for benefit of first time participants (see handout).

Teacher talks about sage, the importance of smudging, and student responses are encouraged.

Teacher or student lights sage and it begins its way around the circle.

Teacher explains about the talking feather, demonstrates, and the feather begins its way around the circle.(Only the person holding the talking feather may talk .All others are expected to listen respectfully, holding their thoughts and reflecting on what is shared until the feather reaches them.)

First a general topic is introduced, then teacher- generated topics, and finally student- generated topics.This order is not of paramount importance.

When allotted time for class ends, the teacher-moderator should wrap-up by thanking everyone for what they have shared in terms of thoughts, feelings, respect, and by offering a prayer for the safety of all on the day’s journey.


Students will often request this activity if they enjoy it and the teacher can assess how well they learned it by the quality and/or appropriateness of their contribution.

Students can review “smudging” and talking circle handouts and make suggestions as to how to do it differently for the future.

Key Points of Talking Circle:

  • All responses are listened to respectfully and are expected to be contributed in a respectful manner.
  • The safer students feel about speaking, the more they are likely to speak.


Reading List — Primary Resources for Content Development:

  • “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by Loewen
  • “ A Peoples’History of the United States” by Zinn
  • “The Power of Place” by Deloria
  • “A Decolonization Handbook” by Wilson

Sources for Lessons:

  • “Through Dakota Eyes…”-Anderson
  • “The Mishomis Book” - Benai
  • “A Little Matter of Genocide”-Churchill
  • “Kill The Indian, Save the Man”- Churchill
  • “Struggles for the Land” - Churchill
  • “God Is Red”- Deloria
  • “The Power of Place”-Deloria
  • “The Conquest of Mexico” - Diaz
  • “Old Indian Days” Eastman
  • “Indian Boyhood”-Eastman
  • “The Frontiersman” – Eckert
  • “A Sorrow in Our Hearts”-Eckert
  • “Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions”- Erdoes, Lame Deer
  • “ Children Left Behind” - Giago
  • “God Gave Us this Country”- Gilbert
  • “Shell Shaker”- Howe
  • “Contemporary American Indian Political Issues”-Johnson
  • “All Our Relations”-LaDuke
  • “Okla Hannali”- Lafferty
  • “The Name of War” - Lefore
  • “The Broken Spears” – Leon- Portilla
  • “Lies My Teacher Told Me” - Loewen
  • “In The Absence of the Sacred”- Manders
  • “Crossfire, Plot that Killed Kennedy” – Marrs
  • “The Dance House”- Marshall
  • “The Journey of Crazy Horse”- Marshall
  • “The Lakota Way”-Marshall
  • “Where White Men Fear to Tread”- Means
  • “Genocide of the Mind”—Moore
  • “Ishmael” – Quinn
  • “ Crazy Horse”- Sandoz
  • “Like A Hurricane”-Smith and Warrior
  • “Indian Givers” – Weatherford
  • “Native Roots”-Weatherford
  • “American Indian Politics and the American Political System”-Wilkins
  • “Spirit Car: Journey to A Dakota Past”-Wilson
  • “A People’s History of The United States” – Zinn

More info on these titles can be found at “ under Respect”

Media (DVDs)

  • Dream Keepers
  • Spirit of Crazy Horse
  • Four Sheets to the Wind
  • Our Spirits Don’t Speak English
  • Incident at Oglala
  • Truedell
  • We Will Remember
  • Lakota Solaris
  • Fahrenheit 911
  • An Inconvenient Truth
  • Be More Cynical
  • The Outlaw Josie Wolves
  • The Mission
  • Little Big Man
  • Life is Worth Losing
  • Skins
  • Smoke Signals.


Evaluation should be done creatively and with an emphasis on reinforcing student strengths and encouraging them to share what they know.

Allow students to choose a form of self-expression when evaluating what they have learned. Many students feel that objective tests are very stifling, intrusive and boring, so allow them to be creative. Relationship is the most crucial component of classroom management here and they need to know that you are more interested in who they are than what might be in their brains in terms of facts or skills. Pictures, maps, songs, poems, charts, games, videos, posters, clothing, presentation boards, workshops and meals are a few ways students may share what knowledge they will .