Home Education Magazine
May-June 2000 - Articles
Interview With Misty Dawn Thomas - Gina Rozon
Misty Dawn Thomas is Chairwoman of the Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation and founder of the Native American Home School Association (NAHSA). Her determination to make a difference in the lives of her children and her people runs like a vibrating length of steel beneath her pleasant southern manners and lilting accent.
Gina: What first led you to consider homeschooling?
Misty: Some of it was because of the things I went through (in school), the way I was discriminated against and put-down. People called me names. I thought that parents needed to start having a chance to give their kids a whole lot better than that.
Gina: How did you first find out that homeschooling was an option?
Misty: I met a lady who was homeschooling her four kids. They seemed to be so much more advanced than a whole lot of kids that I had seen. I talked to them and they were so self-assured. They were a Native American family. I decided that a lot of Native people needed to start homeschooling their children because of the aspects of religion and their differences as people.
Gina: Do you feel your people are not very self-assured because of the past?
Misty: Well, I think sometimes things can break people apart, and where we live it is still very disrespected to be a person of Native American descent. It takes a while sometimes for people to acknowledge all of that. It's been an uphill battle, but I think a lot of our people are now becoming more self-assured, and more determined to do things for themselves, instead of having somebody walking over them. It has taken years to accomplish that.
Gina: You wrote to me, "The things I learned about Indians in school were not the same things I had learned at home." Can you elaborate on that?
Misty: That we were always warlike, that we were mean people. In school I had a boy who tried to paint me white. My self-esteem was knocked down a whole lot because of the way they thought that Native people were below other people.
Gina: What did you learn at home?
Misty: That we should be proud of who we were, that it wasn't something that should always have to be hidden. That the birds in the trees, and the animals, and everything around us is something to be appreciated instead of knocked down. It's very confusing for children to have both those messages thrown at them at once, especially when the school system influences them so much.
Gina: What information and support does the NAHSA offer members?
Misty: We give them a package of information that includes web-sites, contacts, and our home address and phone number. We try to give them a Native aspect on things, on different books, different educational materials, and we give book reviews. If members need to find other Native people in the NAHSA and send letters, we try to circulate those around. We give out information from other First Nations that can be given out.
Mainly, if they want a Native American aspect, we give it from our viewpoint. Every different Nation has a little bit different here and there.
We also do reviews on films and different programs that offer the education that we think kids should have. It should include everything. Not only should it include the computer aspect, the aspects that they have to have in order to survive today, it should also include the cultural aspects and the language. A whole lot of the dances and the culture and all of that is rotated around the language.
I hope to eventually have a curriculum that people can go with and that other Native people can substitute their languages for. There will be that option out there to use the languages and to have the cultural aspects and all of that into it. To teach everything. To bring the Elders in and let them show the crafts, which is always part of culture.
We would eventually hope to have a school system where Native American homeschooling people could come if they had problems with certain aspects of their homeschooling. We would also have a system set up so that Native Americans could send their children to the school and encourage the Native aspect of their children.
Gina: If there were a First Nations controlled school available to you, would you make use of that instead of homeschooling?
Misty: I think I would be more inclined to homeschool because I'd know exactly what my children were being taught, than I would be to put them in another school system, unless the parents have more control of that school system.
The parents are the ones who should have more influence over schooling instead of just turning it over and saying, "Okay, I'm going to trust you to raise my kid and educate my kid and whatever you do is fine." My husband was a public school teacher for a number of years and that's what a whole lot of parents do. They are so busy trying to carve out a life for themselves and trying to get ahead, that the children are falling behind.
There should always be one parent that tries to work with the children. A lot of people have gotten to the point where they had children and they put them in daycare systems. All they see their children is in the evening, for a few hours before bedtime. People are always rush, rush, rush, rush, "Let's see if we can get this done and that done and this done and that done." They need to take more time for their children.
Gina: What kind of reaction has the NAHSA received from the Elders in your tribe?
Misty: Most of them seem very supportive because so much has been taken away. I know a lot of Native people don't even know that they can homeschool your children. They don't have the knowledge and the background to know. It's a real shock to their systems and it takes them a while to get used to the idea. My family and my people have seemed very supportive of all of it because of all the things that happened to the people.
Gina: How do you feel homeschooling can support self-determination for Native people?
Misty: Homeschooling would support the things children have been taught up until the point where they have to go into public schools. It will support the songs and the languages and the way that they feel in their hearts. Sometimes in public schools that's not supported very much at all.
Gina: Do you think there's some point when children should go to public school?
Misty: I don't believe there's any point where children should have to go to public school. But there are children who cannot get into football and basketball and other sports that they want to do. There are some things like peewee leagues and little leagues for younger homeschoolers, but when it comes to the high school level, there isn't anything. In the state of Virginia, they have to go into public school in order to be able to do some of those things. A lot of parents give their children the choice after a certain point about whether or not they want to go to public school and a lot of kids are going into the public school because of that (sports). If they give them the choice, they have to stick with what the kids want.
Gina: What are the homeschooling regulations in Virginia? What do you have to do to satisfy the state?
Misty: Every year they (the children) have to take tests to see if they are meeting the state criteria. Usually, parents have to have permission from their superintendent to homeschool. I don't think that a superintendent has any knowledge whatsoever about homeschooling children. I just don't think they have the knowledgeable background in order to be able to say, "Okay, you can homeschool, but you can't." I don't think they should have that power.
For the state testing, I think it is probably necessary. Some people will try to homeschool who cannot teach their children and there probably needs to be a little monitoring on it. It's a belief that I have that it can happen.
I have known of one person who had trouble with homeschooling and couldn't say, "I've failed." Instead, the person took it out on the child and the child was the one who fell back from what he/she should have been able to do. Some people are not capable of it, they really aren't, I believe. They cannot teach what they don't know. If they don't find the resources that they need in order to teach, they can't teach it.
Gina: You feel that if more resources were available for homeschoolers, in a form they could use, more parents would be able to homeschool?
Misty: Yes ma'am, I think so, if they had more resources and more support. The support is very necessary, because you can get discouraged real quick.
There's a homeschooling group not very far from here that will get together and switch off. One parent won't know math as well as another parent and some of them will just say, "Okay, you take this part of it and here's my children and I'll take this part of it with your children." Everybody can't know everything.
Gina: What do you do with your own children?
Misty: They are being taught four different languages: Tlawilano (the language of the Ani-Stohini/Unami), English, Spanish, and Lakota. I started reading to my children long before they were ever born. I sing songs to my children. We have been trying to teach them the Native dances because they' re really able to get around now. My children mainly love to read; they love books. My three year old will sit down with a book and just sit there like he's reading it.
My two year old has had a few setbacks but that's considered normal for his problems; he is a cancer patient. Emotionally and everything, it's been a trial. But that's another thing that put me into homeschooling a whole lot more. A lot of kids that have had his condition, when they go to public schools, they get so run down because of all the things they can pick up.
Gina: I interviewed a Cherokee woman who homeschooled her children for ten years. She said, "Almost everything we have ever had has been taken away. This (homeschooling) is our chance to take back our future and to give our children theirs."
Misty: I think there's a whole lot in that. For so long, a lot of children were taken away from their parents at a certain age, and taken away from a lot of reservations. They were put into these schools that cut their hair and powdered them down and... a lot was taken away from the children that way. They were pulled from their culture, pulled away from their beliefs, and they had conflicts. If you look at a lot of kids who have been treated that way, they turned to alcohol and drugs.
I think homeschooling can make a lot of difference for children who would otherwise be degraded and made to feel like they are nothing.
It's very important that the language and the culture stay alive for Native people. A lot of it has been knocked down and it's time for people to start taking a chance and getting it back.
The web-site for the Native American Home School Association can be found at: http://www.expage.com/page/nahomeschool Further information about the Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation and related sites may be found at their tribal links page: http://www.expage.com/page/intelligence
© 2000, Gina Rozon
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