Challenging mindsets
Author: Eric Gold; Photo by Kelly James
Posted: February 1, 2010

Cornel PewewardySOMETIMES the students in Cornel Pewewardy's classes respond to a question with silence. "That's when I'm going to point somebody out," he says with a smile. "They know it's coming. They're thinking, 'oh, no—don't pick me.' But I do."

For Pewewardy, director of PSU's Native American Studies program, encouragement is the key to a productive learning environment that leads to student success.

The National Indian Education Association recognized his dedication when it honored Pewewardy with its Teacher of the Year award at the association's 40th annual convention in October.

Pewewardy, who is Comanche and Kiowa, says he had very few outstanding teachers when he was growing up. "I learned from bad teachers how not to be," he says. After graduate studies in elementary education at University of Kansas, Pewewardy honed his teaching skills at the Comanche Nation College in Lawton, Oklahoma, and at University of Kansas.

Pewewardy tries to challenge his students to de-colonize their mindsets and introduces them to indigenous ways of knowing as he teaches courses that cover the history of Indian education, Federal Indian law, and issues of sovereignty, identity, and stereotypes. "Columbus didn't discover me," he may tell them, or he may recast Thanksgiving as "Thanks-taking." It's all done with the aim of encouraging critical thinking and student engagement.