In school but not of it : the making of Kuna-language education

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Price, Kayla Marie

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This research concerns a Kuna-Spanish bilingual elementary school in Panama City, founded for Kuna children by Kuna teachers. Based on ethnographic and linguistic fieldwork, this research investigates the socio-cultural context for the emergence of the school and the ways that students, teachers and parents, together with Kuna elders, navigate the path of indigenous schooling. The process of negotiating linguistic and cultural meanings in Kuna-language education includes both "traditionalized" Kuna forms of learning and informal education in and around the home. These various foundations of Kuna knowledge, from the use of Kuna oral history to eating Kuna food in the home, are incorporated into the curriculum in various ways, highlighting the potential of schooling as a place of knowledge production for indigenous peoples that is culturally inclusive. At the same time, the manner in which Kuna identity is indexed in the school is uneven. It is liberating in some moments while very restrictive in others, reflecting similar patterns, often in relation to state-sponsored notions of "multiculturalism" in the Kuna community and in the broader context of Panamanian society. In order to fully explore the complexities of the school and its workings, this research explores the Kuna experience in Panama City, where more than half of the Kuna population currently resides. This dissertation is a contribution to the fields of linguistic anthropology and the anthropology of education, analyzing the case of an urban Kuna school that employs both Western and indigenous pedagogy and content, with specific implications for studies of language socialization, bilingual education and educational politics for indigenous peoples.




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