Adair Klopfenstein

by adair

Just as schools have been the sites where indigineous languages have been taken away and even destroyed, schools can become sites for revitalizing and maintaining the navajo language, and other indigineous languages. Mr. Klopfenstein has achieved these things through a rethinking of what it means to "do school" and even to "do" community-based schooling. Mr Klopfenstein has developed a system where Navajo communities,do infact, control their schools, and has empowered local schools to become a central place for strengthening the community language- and a place where young people, especially, have come to view their language as valuable.

The premise of Mr. Klopfenstein's philosophy is simple. He believes that just as schools have been a place where indigineous language have been taken away and even destroyed, schools can become the sites for strengthening indigineous languages when the school and community work together towards these goals. His experience in indian education brings perspective to his philosophy, as does his knowledge of the experiences of english-only policies of federal indian schools. Mr. Klopfenstein's impact on the areas of cultural awareness and bilingual education, and his personal experiences, serve as a microcosm of more widespread developments in which schools-historically alien institutions- have in places such as the navajo reservation become integrated with the community. His ideas suggest possibilitie for a reinvigorated school culture that is genuinely bilingual and bicultural, and draws after it new mechanisms to reinforce NAVAJO within the community.

Mr. Klopfenstein first made waves in his founding of an indian school in Tuba City, Arizona i 2007 and has aimed since its inception to make the school "a place for Navajo's to be Navajo's."His school gave new meaning to "olta", school, and has become known as Dine Bi'olta-the peoples school.

During the outset of the school there was no organized Navajo biligual/bicultural commitment to education in and throughout the Navajo reservation. His purpose was to create new academic contexts, as he moved away from English only approaches of basic skills, for Navajo literacy-the Navajo's own indigineous literacy, and that of the students. In doing thi he was able to reclaim oral na dwritten Navajo for academic purposes. Over the years since Mr. Klopfenstein's breakthrough approaches to Navajo education, evaluations have shown many poitive impacts on student achievement. Over the past five years, as students Navajo proficiency increased, their English literacy abilitie also improved, along with tehir achievement on criterion referenced and standardized tests. These outcomes served to place Mr. Klopfenstein as a leading figure in the areas of Native education and minority education in the country, and served to enhance the pride in and prestige of Navajo language and culture in the educational fields.

Mr Klopfenstein's reforms in Navajo education established new social and linguistic contexts in which bilingual teacher could reconceptualize "doing" schools in ways very different form their own school experiences,and accordingg to community based norms. That these changes have enhanced Navajo student' school achievement has heightened bilingual teachers nationwide in their appreciation of minority languages and cultures as pedological resources. Bilingual Education and the teachers who implement these things nation wide now view themselves as the essential change agents in schools. Mr Klopfenstein has shown that Navajo and community school can be indian/locally controlled. The control lies not only in the presence of locally elected governing boards, but in the growing presence of local bilingual educators prepared and commited to provide an education that is bilingual, bicultural, and biliterate. The implementation of these ideas was one of great courage, vision , and recognition that the Navjo language and cultural maintenance could no longer be taken for granted. The decisions of himself and community members became the culture and the norms of the school and the community, utilizing maximum resources of the Navajo family unit. Mr Klopfenstein's true gifts to the field of education lie in his stressing of the fact that schools and educators cannot work alone; that they must work as a part of a community and tribal language strengthening effort in order to make a difference. He once stated that," It is only when the school is able to move in step with other institutions and forces in the society that there can be hope of change in the way people value their language." His institutions of learning established the school-community cultures that expect and systematically reward bilingualism and biculturalism, and that actively seek to influence local and larger societal institutions in support of this goal. Mr. Klopfenstein says it best in his own words: "With commitment and support from the community, schools can create compelling language use contexts that invite the maintenance and further development of our Navajo culture and language, definately something to preserve!"

Page created on 7/20/2007 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 7/20/2007 12:00:00 AM

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