An “outsider’s” perspective…

It’s always hard for me to comment on such sensitive topics that are related to the ideas and values of another culture.   On one hand, I feel it is really none of my business what they want to do because I am not in their shoes.   I am not native Alaskan, I don’t know what it feels like to have someone try to take my culture away from me (if that is truly the case), and, therefore, don’t feel like I can empathize with them, nor do I want to offend anyone if I say something a “fixer” might say.   On the other hand, I get a little defensive when there are statements being made like, “The education industry is dominated by outsiders. Typically, the non-Native teachers have the highest paid jobs and the best housing in the community. In far too many situations, the Native people clean the rooms, empty the trash, and do minor paperwork in the offices. They are disempowered in their own land. This lesson is not lost on the young people.” I don’t understand statements like this.   How are they “dis-empowered?” I think the sole purpose of any educator is to educate, not to dis-empower.   I also feel that the “outsiders’ are getting paid by American tax-payer dollars to educate American children who happen to be of Native Alaskan descent (which should be respected), those “outsiders’ most likely paid a hefty price in money and time to educate themselves in order to get a good paying job, so where is the issue here? Of course, I could be wrong, but this is how I thought American teachers everywhere get paid.

I think the author goes a little too far in some of his accusations.   I can understand the want and need to preserve a culture, and I would never question that, but I think it is unfair to make accusations to those wanting to help (which I know falls under the authors other accusation that the “western mind’ has a hard time “backing off from the traditional roles of “expert’ and “fixer.’).

Some of the comments went a little too far, as well, when defending some of the opposing views of the author.   For example, Jo MacNamara writes, “More division. Same old same old. Culture based on race, blah blah. Non-Natives are bad people and need to feel guilty blah blah.’   To dismiss someone’s views by saying, “blah, blah, blah’ is a bit childish, not too intelligent, and quite insensitive, in my opinion.   He does, however, redeem himself in another comment by saying, “I agree that culture is important, and that schools should teach about the cultures AROUND THEM, especially cultures that are misunderstood.   But, it should not be a main focus that takes years. As you said, culture should be taught in the home. Academics are more important.   And I think this author totally misses that point and puts culture ahead of everything else. And I think that would do Alaska’s kids a huge disservice.’   I agree.   Culture is important, but not the main goal in the classroom; basic academics are important in preparing young students for the WORLD around them.   If the problem is that the younger Natives are not being taught enough about their culture, then by all means find ways to rectify this, but do not put all the other important aspects of education on the back burner, or berate those wanting to help.

In the end, my feelings are that ALL cultures are important and preserving them should be respected by everyone in that community, but don’t dismiss the efforts of those who want to help by calling them “outsiders’ wanting to acculturate everyone around them.   I don’t believe those are the intentions.


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