All posts by lywood

Museum Education as the Future of Museums

When I was a kid, museum field trips were the highlight of my school year. I had the privilege to grow up in a city full of museums of all kinds and privileged enough to go to a school that could afford field trips. I know I was not alone in loving museum trip but I also was not the majority. My brother, in particular, hated museum field trips for him they were full of uncertainty and stress. For me, museum trips both in and out of field trips offered an alternative way of thinking about knowledge that excited me.  Museums let me think about knowing and facts through objects and video and display rather than textbooks and lectures. By presenting museums as exciting opportunities for knowledge and engagement to kids we are creating a future for museums that will continue field trips and rainy day excursions.

Kids on a trip to the Field Museum engaging with a teaching collection

And the way to engage these kids is with museum education that is relatable and interesting. When museum educators work with teachers to develop curriculum and programming that dovetails with classroom work it shows kids that their learning and knowledge can extend outside of the classroom walls into the world around them.

But it is important that our museum education programming doesn’t just replicate what is in the galleries. Programming should complicate and expand the exhibits and ask patrons to think beyond the objects on display. And sometimes this programming has to come from outside of the institutions themselves, often they are too entrenched in their own histories and paradigms to really critique themselves.

This is where organizations like Museum Hack come in. Museum Hack runs renegade museum tours in major museums like the Met but outside of the structure of the Met. They take you through the museum focusing on often lesser known exhibits and integrate information about the history of the museum alongside the objects themselves. These kind of tours as well as others led by un-affiliated academics open up new ways of reading museums that engage with different histories.

A tour by Shady Ladies focusing on women

Through creating museum education programming that engages a diverse audience we can build a future for museums that is more accessible and critical of the structures that have created them. We can interrogate the colonial histories of museums as collecting institutions and set our future apart from these practices but within that history. Museums will never be fully separate from this colonial past but by changing how we talk about museums with kids and how we introduce museums to kids we can create a culture of criticism around the museological legacy.


Further Reading:


Why Should Schools Visit Museums?

Museum Hack – Team Building Activities & Museum Tours


American Indian Religious Freedom Act

Passed in 1978 and amended in 1994 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, or AIRFA, re-emphasizes the First Amendment right to freedom of religion for the indigenous people of what is now the United States. The law aimed to rectify the centuries of religious oppression by the federal government which destroyed native sacred sites and forcibly removed people from their ancestral lands. The main aspect of the law had to do with public lands the secondary conflict focused on items traditionally used as ceremonial items that are illegal to possess such as eagle feathers or peyote, which is classified as a drug. The act also tells federal agencies to work directly with American Indian spiritual leaders to further protect their first amendment rights.

It is important to recognize that this act admitted fault in the actions of the federal government in its treatment of Native people, spaces, and rituals. But because of the lack of definition of terms the act was hard to enforce and use. It does not protect specific sacred sites such as the Black Hills or the sites associated with the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The 1994 amendment defined terms such as “Indian” and “Indian religion” but these terms themselves are not indigenous to the people and cultures the describe. Most native cultures in the Americas did not have clear definitions of religion or distinctions between religious practice and cultural practice in the way that Protestant Europeans understood them. For this reason, discerning exactly what pertains to “Indian religion” is next to impossible. Even the definition in the amendment is vague: “(3) the term ‘Indian religion’ means any religion – (A) which is practiced by Indians, and (B) the origin and interpretation of which is from within a traditional Indian culture or community.”

Eagle Feathers used alongside the American Flag

Recently the Act has been used by groups like the ACLU to help incarcerated native people get access to religious objects like eagle feathers. It would be interesting to see how this act could be applied to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, but it would be hard to argue the case. This is mainly because Native conceptions of sacred spaces are so different than Protestant and Eurocentric ideals. We think a site is only sacred if it has a temple or church or something like that. Native spirituality is inherently tied to the land and the history of the land, not the structures built on that land. In this way the land itself is sacred and therefore hard to protect in a capitalist society. An updated and stronger version of AIRFA would have to encompass this definition of sacred and worldview.

Sacred ideas invoked at Standing Rock



“ACLU To Fight For Religious Freedom Of American Indian Incarcerated In Wyoming.” American Civil Liberties Union. N.p., 9 July 2008. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <>.

Barkhausen, Matt. “Sacred Sites Destroyed: Dakota Access pipeline workers destroy Native American sacred site.” Blasting News., 08 Sept. 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Buhl, L. (2016, September 6). Destruction of Sacred Burial Grounds Prompts Federal Judge to Protect Some Tribal Sites from Dakota Access Pipeline. Retrieved February 14, 2017, from

Eagle feather law. (2016, December 23). Retrieved February 14, 2017, from
“Possession of Eagle Feathers and Parts by Native Americans.” Fish and Wildlife Service,  Web. 14 Feb. 2017.