Meet ASU's other Michael Crow

ASU math instructor Michael Little Crow explains the origin of his name, education strategies and life philosophy

While most ASU community members are familiar with ASU President Michael Crow, far fewer have had the privilege to meet the other Michael Crow on campus — Michael Little Crow.

"People think 'Little' is my middle name," Little Crow said. "I don't have a middle name. Little Crow is my last name."

But that distinction does not save the people around Little Crow from frequent confusion, especially members of the ASU community.

"I had someone say 'Oh, I met your father!'" he said. "I said 'My father passed away,' he says, 'No, your father, he works at ASU!'"

Little Crow is a math instructor and current graduate student in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. He is projected to receive his doctorate in educational leadership and innovation by 2022.

His name predicament used to be much worse, causing difficulties in online communication. Little Crow said many of his students would accidentally send course-related questions to the president's email account.

"The technology systems cut off the 'Little' part because it's a space, so the technology thinks I'm Michael Crow," he said.

Little Crow said Crow's secretaries usually redirect the emails to his account, and the mistake now occurs only rarely.

However, Little Crow wasn't always Michael's name. His name change was part of a defining moment of self-discovery around two decades ago.

In the late '90s, Little Crow began participating in Native American sweat lodges after leaving a fundamentalist Christian church and a career in financial planning. He was going through a divorce at the time.

On the night of the winter solstice, as he was introducing himself to the others in the sweat lodge, he found his name.

"I had signed my divorce papers in the morning, so I was starting this new life," Little Crow said. "And for some reason, I introduced myself as Michael Little Crow. I don't know where that came from, but Spirit told me, when you introduce yourself, it's Michael Little Crow."

Little Crow said that the medicine man of the lodge explained to him that the winter solstice is "the evening of the raven," and that his spontaneously chosen name held symbolic significance.

"He said 'Spirit gave you that name.' So from that day I actually legally changed my name to Little Crow."

This would not be the last sign he received in this transformative period. Soon after, a friend from the sweat lodge said Little Crow would be "going on a journey" and gifted him an engraved medallion.

Only when Little Crow moved to Arizona did he understand the medallion's meaning.

"When I came here to do my interview, I drove into Scottsdale Community College and I saw the medallion was the national seal of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa people," Little Crow said. "And I said, 'I've got this job.' I had never felt that much confidence."

Little Crow did, in fact, get the job at SCC, but soon began teaching math courses at ASU a few years later, where he works today.

An Indigenous teacher with a global lifestyle

Little Crow's methodology of teaching was greatly influenced by a math teacher who shared one of his own unique traits — dyslexia. 

Though Little Crow had previously struggled with math, this teacher understood his challenges firsthand. The teacher's offbeat style allowed space for mistakes during lectures and informed Little Crow's teaching strategies today.

"Some of the students kind of booed him and stuff, because they said, 'You're the teacher, you don't know what you're doing,'" Little Crow said. "I said he knows what he's doing ... He's teaching us how to think."

Kimberly Flack, director of education and community impact at Arizona PBS, has worked extensively with Little Crow, including on a storytelling project with Arizona PBS KIDS that will be on its Facebook page in the coming weeks.

She said he has a teaching style that "immediately helps remove that anxiety people may have toward math."

"He helps people imagine problem solving in a totally different way than just black and white," Flack said.

Sun Kim, a communication major graduating in Spring 2022, said Little Crow helped her overcome a math hurdle she encountered after spending over a decade away from formal education.

"I think that this man has a really raw talent for being able to teach people," Kim said.

She described Little Crow's classroom demeanor as "very gentle, very calming and very patient, like the sweet grandpa that you always wanted."

Little Crow's teaching and work have taken him far beyond Maricopa County. Over the last two decades, Little Crow has worked on education projects in Kazakhstan, Thailand and Hawaii.

In Kazakhstan, Little Crow taught math and coding fundamentals for a year using LEGO Robotics. He was amazed by his student's excitement for mathematics when driven by constructive projects.

Little Crow also feels his global experiences have influenced his own understandings of indigeneity and cultural awareness.

In Hawaii, Little Crow learned to approach other cultures with respect, regardless of how similar they seem to his own.

"I thought, OK, I'm this Indigenous educator, they're Indigenous, I know what I'm doing," he said. "And I got to realize that I didn't know. I didn't know them. I didn't know their Indigenous culture."

Little Crow also discovered and embraced Buddhism through his current spouse. He found the religious practice a relief after negative experiences in American Christian churches.

"I saw Buddhism, at its core, was a religion about happiness and acceptance," he said. "And I said, I've had too much of a religion that says everybody has to be this way ... so happiness became my religion."

What is next for Little Crow? After he finishes his doctorate, he ponders potential educational projects in Africa with a South African colleague, or perhaps an extended trip to Thailand, where his wife currently lives.

But ultimately, Little Crow has learned to follow the unpredictable flow and challenges of life with gratitude and grace.

"The idea is to use this doctorate to create more and more opportunities for people," he said. "I'm not quite sure what it looks like. But Spirit always makes it known what should be done."

Editor's Note: The reporter previously took an online mathematics course taught by Michael Little Crow in the Fall 2020 semester.


Reach the reporter at ammoulto@asu.edu and follow @lexmoul on Twitter. 

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