Planning a fairer education

The new director of a center at WSU is dedicated to preparing to-be teachers with an education curriculum sensitive to Native teaching.

Francene Watson was recently named the new director for the Clearinghouse on Native Teaching & Learning at WSU.

The Clearinghouse is a professional development center that prepares and supports pre-service teachers, or teachers who haven’t yet undertaken any teaching, with curriculum on Native and indigenous education, Watson said. It is primarily angled toward teachers who will work with kindergarten through 12th-grade students, Watson said. It partners with the Plateau Center for Native American Programs and the Center for Mestizo and Indigenous Research and Engagement.

“I think there needs to be a rededication,” Watson said of the Clearinghouse. “I’m intensely committed to social justice education and I think the Clearinghouse is a critical space to ensure we are teaching teachers in a socially just way so they are going out into the field serving all kids.”

The Clearinghouse mission has been dormant and Watson is working to bring it back to life, said Brandon Chapman, director of marketing and communication in the College of Education

“Here at the university we stress that diversity is something that everyone benefits from,” Chapman said. “Francene is very gung ho about this … she’s very positive about the direction she wants it to go.”

House Bill 1495 mandates that all students K-12 are taught Native American history, but this education frequently gets overlooked, Watson said.

“What we’re committed to is making sure that everyone gets the education they deserve, which is grounded in the truth,” she said. “Sometimes history skips over things that are uncomfortable or complicated. We want to make sure that all kids are getting a deep and thoughtful and relevant education … there’s a lack of native representation that’s not as balanced in the schools as it could be.”

Dean of the College of Education, Mike Trevisan, asked Watson to be the director of the Clearinghouse because of her capacity to develop partnerships and her passion for education.

“It’s all under the guise of being culturally sensitive and honoring the wisdom, traditions and the ways of learning Native American people,” Trevisan said of the Clearinghouse. “All of that gets rather short shrift in the general curriculum.”

Watson said children and adults alike lack knowledge of tribal history and current events.

“We don’t see the full picture of where we are, and I’m hoping to strengthen those partnerships and open more dialogue,” Watson said. “Concretely I don’t think we’re doing enough to teach Native education.”

Watson said her mission as director for the Clearinghouse is to strengthen tribal partnerships to invite participation with the community, and to be of service and learn from the tribes. She also wants to partner with university and school communities to bolster native education and community engagement.

Before she was elected director for the Clearinghouse Watson said she worked as a liaison for the center. She said the Clearinghouse needed a strong leader to build on the foundation that was started by former faculty members.

It is particularly important for Washington state residents to learn about Native history and current events because there are 29 tribes in the state, and WSU is on Nez Perce land, she said.

“It’s critical as a land grant university that we have a dedicated space and center to serve tribal communities,” Watson said.