Emerging PhDs in Classical Western Philosophy, including:
Anne Waters, PhD
Viola F Cordova


Native American Philosophies
(blended; strong constructivist themes, but aspects of all three)


ancient and continuing
PhDs are appearing in the 2000's
(Dr Waters has been publishing in the 2000's; Dr Cordova's book was published in 2007)


There is a lot of published material covering “achievement gaps” and how to assimilate native learners into the “traditional” education system. Much less material investigating what can be learned from Native American world views and their traditional ways of learning.
Often thought of as “primitive” systems, especially in academic circles, and that any actions and beliefs that come close to complex are attributed unintentional. Thought of as less-evolved versions of what western thought is.
Not true at all! Complex, organized, refined written languages and arts. Simply fundamentally different. Hard to comprehensively teach about it in academia when it is a) somewhat insular in its nature, and b) being taught by traditional western thinkers not “of” it.
As part of its essence tends not to be as individualistic as western philosophies, so it is difficult to hold one individual above the rest as an example of a “philosopher”. However, a growing number of Native Americans hold PhDs in classical western philosophy (most are women, ironically):
Dr Anne Waters (link to vita posted below; picture above)
V.F. Cordova, wrote contents of “How it is”, compiled in 2007 by her students after her death. It was her hope to define a Native American philosophy so it can enter the academic philosophy realm.
Historically, early missionaries and educators used to take children (picture above) away from their families to boarding schools. This was for full immersion in western culture without support for hanging on to “old” culture at home; for assimilation into western culture, not to learn anything from their own culture. However, it is also important to clarify, Native Americans are a fully functioning and living part of the modern world! Not just ancient tribes preserved from the past. They are dynamic, living communities participating in the modern technological world, with deep roots in ancient traditions and wisdom! The fact that their cultures have managed to survive and not simply be assimilated indicates that they have valuable wisdom on how to survive in a fast changing world!
In general, Native ways of knowing tend to be very non-compartmentalized compared to western views. Communities relate to each other in complex and highly organized ways, often along kinship and clan lines; spirituality is part of the every day and connections to their surroundings and environment are present in even commonplace activities.
These complex relationships can impact learning, both positively and negatively, effecting how the student relates to the teacher, their learning environment, and the knowledge to be received. Teacher-student connections can be intimately individual, reflecting something like a deep constructivist school of thought (echoing – or preceding – Montessori’s ideas). But can also get bogged down in traditions and relation to authority.
Very immersive, experiential, continuous. Education is every day, part of the whole life process, formal and informal (again, rather constructivist). Life and earth/environment are teachers in and of themselves.
Why is this important to education (specifically environmental education)? Different ways of learning about and knowing our world are clearly needed! This is something intrinsic to the Native American way of knowing. There is also something that allows for survival in difficult environmental AND cultural circumstances – or they would not still exist today!
Perhaps the very act of getting western-centric philosophy to acknowledge the validity of such fundamentally different world views is what is needed to make real progress? Maybe true for education in general (think Dewey, Palmer, etc?)!!

Major Works:

"How It Is", V.F. Cordova; 2007
Relevant links:

Application to Learning Transfer:

As previously describes, Native American philosophies do not neatly fit into western ways of diagramming and describing – although they still have much to offer. There are certain aspects of Native philosophies acting at both point A and B.
At point A: Strong community and collaborative aspects of Native ways of learning feed back into the learning process, similar to that encouraged by Montessori and other constructivists emphasizing collaboration. Elders and the experienced teach younger and less knowledgeable individuals, creating a learning community. Native philosophies are also very aware of and responsive to real world situations, adapting the application of knowledge to changing environments and conditions, also providing feedback to the learning process.
At point B: Native philosophies are woven into the every day, rather than compartmentalized, so as knowledge is received and synthesized it is very quickly applied to the individual’s real life experiences, rather than staying abstract or academic, lending itself to deeper synthesis in the end.