Critical Place-Based Education Framework


A critical pedagogy of place presents an important step in understanding the stories and challenges of local communities through their shared history. In Indigenous communities’ perception, landscapes present an equally valuable source of knowledge about people as sciences and philosophy. Thus, critical pedagogy utilizes a unique approach to education in the decolonization of knowledge, contrary to the modern globalization trend where individual characteristics become erased due to the pressure of more powerful and widespread cultures. I deeply believe in the idea that globalization will bring more negative consequences for cultural diversity. Therefore, I think that the education system should actively participate in opposition to the destruction of cultural diversity by developing students’ knowledge of the community in which the school is located. Thus, I will base the critical place-based education framework on Cheyenne Elementary School, located at 11806 N 87th Ave, Peoria, AZ 85345.

School Context and Location

Cheyenne Elementary School was built in 1996 and currently operates in a large suburban setting. The school enrolls a population of 703 students from kindergarten to 8th grade (Cheyenne Elementary School, n.d.). The school plays an important role in providing education for minority populations (US News, n.d.). The enrollment rate of minority students is over 70%, with most of the students being Hispanic/Latino and Black (US News, n.d.). Two percent of the student population is represented by American Indians and Alaska Natives. Thus, White students present less than 30% of the students in Cheyenne Elementary School. Furthermore, considering the student-teacher ratio, the average number of students per teacher is 14, which is a good score compared with other schools in the district. The school offers different arts and athletics programs and carries a Title I program, which provides help for students with higher needs in literacy and math.

I decided to base the critical place-based education framework on Cheyenne Elementary School because of my personal connection to the school and the local community. I live in the area close to the school and have lived here for the last 19 years. Furthermore, for the previous six years until recently, I have been working in the Cheyenne Elementary School as a nurse assistant. Currently, I am working in the position of library paraprofessional and hope to acquire a teaching position someday. Thus, my competency in the knowledge of the area and school functioning can be rated as sufficient.

Definition of Place, Land Education, and Place-Based Education

Place-based education targets the immersion of students in local culture and heritage with the goal of constructing a foundation for the development of knowledge in other curriculum subjects. The term place in place-based education refers not only to the specific geographic location. The term also captures the place’s connection to overall human development. Thus, the place can be acknowledged as the foundation of human perception and its development through time. On the other hand, non-space refers to the lack of historical presence in abstract concepts. The concept of place opposes the abstracted nature of educational frameworks and measures, reinforcing the realistic approach to the learning process.

The need for place-based education is especially important in the conditions of the modern world. With the development of technologies that unite the world in the abstract online space, the connection between reality and place is under threat of attenuation (Anderson, 2018). Furthermore, the online space which erases the borders between places has significantly more influence on adolescents (Fischer-Grote et al., 2019). Therefore, place education focuses on reconnecting people with the environment to preserve cultural traditions and traditional knowledge. In Indigenous cultures, the earth and environment present an object of great physical and spiritual importance. The importance makes Indigenous people value natural resources to a greater extent while also emphasizing the need to take care of the redistribution of natural resources. The issue of the modern environmental crisis requires a solution that will help reinforce the connection between people and the land (Cherpako, 2019). Therefore, indigenous-led place education targets the development of a similar approach in students.

The principles of land education and place-based education are established on the foundation of five primary elements. According to Calderon (2014), the elements of land education should be integrated into place-based education to ensure that it reflects the importance of fulfilling the land’s needs. The first principle explains that land education should focus on defining the connection between the land and settler colonialism. The element emphasizes the deconstruction of settler colonialism and draws attention to the Indigenous perspective on the issue. Next, the principles require the integration of knowledge of naming politics in education. The principle is based on the idea that naming plays an important role in defining the connection between the political decision of renaming lands and the physical displacement of Indigenous people. Furthermore, education should promote a rehabilitation effect on the land. In other words, education should encourage adherence to sustainability policies in students and convey the importance of overcoming the consequences of colonizing.

Furthermore, the principles of land education and place-based education include considering the Indigenous perspective on reinhabitation and removal of settles. The idea supports the need to reestablish the spiritual connection between Indigenous people and their land. The spiritual connection presents a foundation of Indigenous perception, and even social reality is closely connected with Indigenous realization of the world. Thus, the complexity of Indigenous perception and understanding of the world requires a complex approach, and therefore land education should perceive reinhabitation as part of the Indigenous return to cultural roots. Lastly, land and place-based education should challenge dominant ideologies and question existing land ethics. Thus, unlike the place-based models, which do not address the question of redefining the ethics contributing to the local relationships with the land, land education uses destabilizing approach.

Therefore, including the definitions of place, land education, place-based education, and their core principles in the framework allows the creation of an informative basis for future implementation. Adherence to the principles will ensure students’ comprehensive understanding of the issue and substantially increase their awareness of the Indigenous perspective and negative outcomes of colonialism. Furthermore, it is important that students learn to consider other points of view and challenge dominant ideologies in a positive way. Lastly, the land education principles emphasize acquiring the rehabilitation effect on the land. Utilizing an extensive and convincing informative principle-centered basis for the framework is more likely to impact the students.

Community and Community Resources

The local community of the City of Peoria, Arizona, has the ninth-largest population in the state. The early settlers of the City of Peoria working on the Arizona Canal were originally from Peoria, Illinois (City of Peoria, n.d.). Considering the naming aspect, the fact that the original Peoria in Illinois was named after Peoria Indians who inhabited that area before European settlers can be perceived as a unique feature of the local community. The City of Peoria in Arizona was the homeland of Akimel O’odham, O’odham Jeweḍ, and Hohokam groups of Native Americans. In the demographic aspect, the local community is mostly represented by the White (Non-Hispanic) population. However, the statistics also suggest a positive dynamic in the growing numbers of foreign-born Peoria citizens. Thus, applying a place-based education framework in the local community is more likely to have positive results.

Furthermore, considering the environmental situation, the City of Peoria is situated in a desert environment. The location emphasizes the importance of local community efforts in the sustainable use of water and energy resources. It is important that in meeting current needs, the population does not compromise the needs of further generations. Thus, commitment to sustainability policies presents one of the main missions of the local community and a top priority of local administration facilities. The Willow Bend Environmental Education Center presents a community resource that focuses on educating families and school students about sustainability and ethics of responsibility in the use of natural and cultural resources. Connection with the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center would be especially beneficial in the community of the City of Peoria because it would address the issue of raising the population’s awareness of sustainability policies. Moreover, it would emphasize the necessary theoretical basis for the ethic is the use of natural resources.

Indigenous Communities

It was mentioned earlier that the City of Peoria presents ancestral homelands of Akimel O’odham, O’odham Jeweḍ, and Hohokam Indigenous communities. While the Hohokam population abandoned their settlements between 1350 to 1450, it is believed that the current Tohono O’odham and Pima communities are their direct descendants. Both Indigenous communities are active and pursue economic development even though the Onk Akimel O’odham tribe now represents a part of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Next, considering the aspect of sacred sites to Indigenous communities in the local community, Akimel O’odham acknowledge the Gila and Salt rivers as holy sites. The Quitobaquito sacred spring presents another site that is important for O’odham. Furthermore, the Baboquivari mountain’s peak presents special significance for the Tohono O’odham culture because it is visible from most parts of the tribe’s territories (Mack, 2018). The traditional stories believe that the cave on the mountain is home to the O’odham Nation’s creator, the Elder Brother l’itoi. Furthermore, as Akimel O’odham shares the Tohono O’odham beliefs in l’itoi, Baboquivari Peak also presents an important site for the Akimel O’odham tribe. The spiritual connection may be founded based on the mountain’s cool environment with reliable water sources because water represents an important resource in the Akimel O’odham tribe culture. Thus, the reclaimed water on the sacred site presents the central issue to Indigenous communities in the City of Peoria.

What historical/cultural/environmental issues shape this particular community?

The history of the Peoria community can be traced back to the 1880s, but Indigenous communities lived there long before the arrival of settlers. The name of the Akimel O’odham tribe can be translated as the River people. Despite the large time difference in inhabitation periods, both Indigenous groups and settlers primarily valued the location for its agricultural wealth. Thus, agricultural potential presents the main factor that brought people to this community.

Next, as was mentioned earlier, the first settlers in the City of Peoria were from Peoria, Illinois; the land was acquired by Joseph B. Greenhut and Deloss S. Brown through the Desert Lands Act. Thus, Greenhut and Deloss promised the government that the earth would be irrigated in the next three years and started the construction of the Arizona Canal. Considering the nature of Peoria’s land, the community was highly dependent on water sources and their availability. After the railroad construction, the agricultural activity in Peoria increased even more with the arrival of more farmers. Thus, the communities that settled in the area included farmers, worker, and their families. After establishing water resources and constructing transportation lines for agricultural products, the settlers made this community home.

Furthermore, the concept of water colonialism refers to the impact of settler colonialism on the dispossession of water sources from Indigenous people. Settler colonialism normalized the occupation of Indigenous nations’ lands and the exploitation of water resources. For example, the sacred pond of Quitobaquito was used by residents to water crops through an irrigation system (National Park Service, 2018). Thus, while water resources present an especially important object for the local Indigenous population, the settlers dispossessed Indigenous water sources and exploited them for private purposes.

Now, the local community of Peoria faces the environmental issue of strict water management to ensure that the community is prepared for the risk of drought. While the current drought management plan suggests that the city is drought ready and more than 60% of water supply is stored underground, the population is encouraged to reduce water use by at least 5% (City of Peoria, 2022). Thus, even though there are currently no active mandatory water use restrictions, the population should acknowledge its role in ensuring the local community’s safety in case of droughts and implement sustainable water use policies.

How does the school address place, place-based education, and land education (if at all)?

While it is unknown how the Cheyenne elementary School addresses place-based education, the school celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day every year, and parents are offered an opportunity to register students for break camps. The break camp activities include education stations and group projects. However, the school primarily focuses on activities that directly improve students’ academic progress. Thus, it is important that the school will acknowledge the benefits of place-based education for students’ academic development and implement land education principles.

Lesson/Unit Plan

Grade Level: Grade 5School Location: 11806 N 87th Ave, Peoria, AZ 85345
AZ State Standards Addressed: 5.SP2.1Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives
Teacher Prior Knowledge: Indigenous people life prior to European exploration and settlement
Outcome: What do you want students to know and
be able to do as a result of this unit? Obtain knowledge of local community’s history and Indigenous perspective; understand the negative outcomes of colonialism.
Possible Readings: (Please provide short summaries of any books, Podcasts, Videos, etc.) Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids written by Cynthia Leitch Smith features stories about children in Indigenous communities and their experiences with culture and traditions.
Ways to Prepare Students For These Readings: provide students with the opportunity to tell stories from their experiences in living in Peoria community.
Possible Activities: Create infographics on water usePossible Essential Questions:
1. Why settler colonialism was bad?
2. Why sustainable water use is important?
Possible Assessments: Create shared document of students’ opinion on settler colonialism
Modalities of Delivery: (small group, whole group,
virtual, peer-groups, etc.) and why: whole group or peer group because it allows discussion of the central issue.
Differentiation: How will you ensure all learners needs are being met?
1. English Learner: provide vocabulary for the unit
2. Special Education: provide different levels of materials
3. Gifted: encourage additional questions
Social Justice Standards Addressed: DI.3-5.6, DI.3-5.8, DI.3-5.10Community-connection/Involvement: Willow Bend Environmental Education Center
Possible Misconceptions:
1. Differences betweenAkimel O’odham, O’odham Jeweḍ, and Hohokam tribes
2. Drought risk estimates
Teacher Resources:Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to Manifest Destinies: a land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 1, 24-36.


Anderson, S. (2018). Place-based education: Think globally, teach locally. Education Week. Web.

Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to Manifest Destinies: a land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 1, 24-36. Web.

Cherpako, D. (2019). Making Indigenous-led education a public policy priority: The benefits oof land-based education and programming. Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness.

Cheyenne Elementary School. (n.d.) About us. Web.

City of Peoria. (n.d.) Timeline (1880s to 1899). Web.

City of Peoria. (2022). Peoria’s drought management plan. Web.

Fischer-Grote, L., Kothgassner, O.D. & Felnhofer, A. (2019). Risk factors for problematic smartphone use in children and adolescents: a review of existing literature. Neuropsychiatr, 33, 179–190. Web.

Mack, S. (2018). We the O’odham: The Himdag Ki and the Tohono O’odham Community. Himdag Ki. Web.

National Park Service. (2018). Quitobaquito Springs. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. "Critical Place-Based Education Framework." October 24, 2023.