East and West: Worldviews apart.

Indigenous peoples (IP) hold worldviews that are radically different from Westerners, and these differences play themselves out in educational contexts.  IPs connect to the physical places where they live.  These places define them spiritual, culturally, and historical.   In their drawings depicting researchers, children from these cultures, for instance, will often depict researchers working in the rugged outdoors, while children from a Western culture invariably depict researchers donning white coats and working in a sterile lab (Semken, 2005).


Despite their connections to place, IP are not drawn to environmental and earth sciences degrees in college and universities because too often these courses focus on “global syntheses” (Semken, p. 149).  Course textbooks typically feature natural phenomenon from all over the world and other planets, embedding causal effects and explanations of these phenomenon in abstruse scientific theories.  And when the texts do discuss places that are familiar to IP through their traditions, the presentations are done in ways that are culturally unacceptable to IP.  The students experience cultural discontinuity that places a seeming barrier to what the Westerner’s curriculum tries to teach (Semken, p. 150).

The authors advocate a place-based approach to teaching geosciences at colleges and universities.  They define place-based learning as an approach to teaching and learning where the content of the subject focuses on physical attributes and meaning.  It focuses on the cultural, historic, and socio-economic underpinnings of a place.  In place-based learning, students typically work in the outdoors or in the community in place-based learning.  Place-based learning de-emphasizes “global  standardization, incessant testing, competitiveness, and career training.” (Semken, p. 151), characteristic of Western approaches to education.  It promotes sustainable lifestyles.

Place-based learning is similar to situated learning.  It is only the context that changes; the cognitive requirements remain the same.



Semken, P. (2005).  A sense of place and place-based introductory geosciences teaching for American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduates.  Journal of Geoscience Education, 25(2), 149-157.  Retrieved from



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