Response to Effective Teachers of Eskimo and Indian Students
By Roger Mikkelsen
My responses are related to the selected quotes below from the article.
“There is a prominent villain in Indian education-the ethnocentric
teacher who strives to destroy his students’ cultural
identity in order to propel them into the American mainstream.
Confronted with silent, resistive Indian students, he
then quotes chapter and verse of cultural deprivation texts to
rationalize his own teaching failure’
This introduction is about as bad and insulting as it can get. Although there is always a minority of people who can’t see beyond their own perspective, most people understand that there are different cultures. More people who travel to other countries try to learn a few phrases and gestures to be polite (and what is considered insulting). People who become teachers usually are empathetic and enjoy working with children. Eskimo and Indian children are “children’ they are not another race or kind, they are human kind, part of the human race. There are different cultures and we all recognize that. If you are going to teach in an Alaskan native village, of course you need to be sensitive to the culture of the village. It is an insult to my intelligence to insinuate that I an “ethnocentric’ because I am white and my students are “native’.
“The actual prejudice of a number of white students creates
difficult problems for village students and increases their sense
of estrangement in the school:’
In living in an Alaskan native village in Southwest Alaska for a year, I found the opposite to be true. I worked for the “city’ serving the “native’ population. Yet when my family attended social events, my children (who are Scandinavian white) where “shunned’ and made to feel very unwelcome. My experience in the village is that the discrimination is toward Caucasians.
I will note that the writer does state that some of the prejudice that the students felt may have been cultural misinterpretations.
“As one boy put it:
Last year when I was in the 8th grade, I was making fairly good
grades, and this year when I was admitted to high school I started
to make low grades like D’s, because I cannot work with white
people, watching, sitting, and talking all around me, and it is very
hard for me to study around those people I don’t know.’
It seems to me that many students from many cultures have trouble concentrating in a room with other students. I understand the distraction of being in a new environment, but it is something that we all must do regardless of our culture.
“Two central characteristics seem to distinguish effective
teachers from ineffective teachers. The first and most important
characteristic is the effective teacher’s ability to create a
climate of emotional warmth that dissipates students’ fears in
the classroom and fulfills their expectations of highly personalized
I agree with this statement (regardless of your culture).
“The second characteristic is the
teacher’s ability to resolve his own ambivalent feelings about the
legitimacy of his educational goals and express his concern for
the village students, not by passive sympathy, but by demanding
a high quality of academic work.”
Once again, this applies to any culture.
“Smiling also appears to be a universal expression of
friendliness. Indeed, Darwin, attempting to explain this crosscultural
similarity, suggests the ingenious, although probably
inaccurate explanation, that the universal act of suckling at the
mother’s breast produces the facial configuration of the smile
that then becomes associated with other pleasurable
This is what I believe is root of racism, that is the fundamental belief that we evolved or are in different levels of evolution (ie races). If we are all creatures of evolution (as Darwin proposed) then it would stand to reason that some races would be superior to others (have evolved further).
I believe that we are all created equal and are all part of the same race, the human race. I believe that we are to treat others as we want to be treated, as equals, with respect for all.
“My own experience in these cross-cultural teacher-training
programs suggests that such instruction is of some help, but its
effects are limited. A fundamental interpersonal orientation,
such as degree of warmth, is rooted in early family and peergrouped
I agree with this conclusion. I will also add that if you are going to teach in the “bush’ you had better be prepared to deal with angry, depressed, and apathetic children and parents. You need to be prepared for neglected, abused, and fetal alcohol-syndrome. You need to be able to repair your own housing, make sure you have food, water, fuel, and propane. Be prepared for isolation, frozen pipes, generator breakdowns, etc….Teaching in the bush makes you tough.