Julie LaMay, Ph.D. - Education Pioneer


Julie LaMay, Ph.D. - Education Pioneer

With a Ph.D. in both English composition and American Indian literatures, Julie LaMay is introducing new teaching techniques in southern California schools from grade 3 classrooms to college post graduate studies. Her Four Directions Theory is rapidly proving itself as a panacea for a wide range of teaching applications.

Dr. LaMay, received her A.A. degree from Victor Valley College before attending California State University, San Bernardino earned a B.A. and M.A. in English. She then attended The Union Institute of Cincinnati, Ohio earning her Ph.D. in English composition and American Indian literatures. Her Ph.D. in American Indian literatures is the only one in existence.

Her doctoral dissertation was the product of classroom based research on a new pedagogy, or teaching theory and technique. She conducted her research in classes in Native American literatures that she taught at Victor Valley College, Cal State, San Bernardino, Park College in Barstow, and Mount St. Mary’s College in Brentwood. The results were remarkable with test group students earning a grade point average of more than one point over control group students.

Dr. LaMay’s classes are fully immersed. She likes to point out a classic "how not to" case regarding a respected California university professor. The syllabus for his Native American literatures class advertises that he has spent the last 20 years visiting Indian reservations and that he will spend the entire period of the class telling the students about it. Dr. LaMay’s students find out for themselves. There is little time for lecture in her classes. Individual Indians and writers of the literatures are brought to the classes to be interviewed by the students. Students are required to visit pow wows and other Native American cultural events, not to buy handicrafts, but to interview, participate, and learn about the cultures.

The basis of Dr. LaMay’s pedagogy are four directions ... foundation, conception, immersion, and invention. Foundation is a basic knowledge of the history and culture. Conception is an understanding of oral literary concepts and their application to written literatures, and an understanding of the Native American place in society. Immersion is the technique employed by Dr. LaMay to provide a foundation and conception ... that of experience in lieu of lecture. And when students have satisfied the first three directions, they are capable of creating literature or art in Native American form, a result heretofore not possible.

These techniques eliminate stereotyping, ethnocentrism, and ignorance regarding Native American culture, something that is impossible to learn from a book or lecture.

The natural next step for Dr. LaMay’s pedagogy is to apply it to other classes. Now a full time professor at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, she is developing those techniques for teaching English, including grammar, composition, literature, and rhetoric and she is teaching a folklore class to which these techniques were readily adaptable.

Recognizing the applicability of Dr. LaMay’s pedagogy, the San Bernardino County, Riverside County, and Los Angeles Unified School districts are pursuing utilization of these techniques in grades as low as third. As one of the founders of the Four Directions Institute, a graduate school of Native American studies, Dr. LaMay is developing techniques for applying her theories to history, art, and anthropology.

Is it really possible for students to enjoy school and yet learn even more? Dr. LaMay says it is.

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