The Future of Alaska Native Education response

Hi everyone! Still pouring rain here in Nikiski, flood warnings are lasting through Tuesday night.  I hope that everyone is staying warm and dry where they are!

I read both the the Kleinfeld article and the article by Paul Berg before posting this blog. Each provide interesting incites to the Alaskan Native culture and education. The Kleinfeld article highlights important differences in how to engage and teach Native students. These students are more withdrawn, especially ones coming from a village life. This article is 40 years old but I think there are still aspects that hold true. I work with many native students that have not been raised in a village but their parents or grandparents have and still pass on some of the same characteristics. I have noticed some of these students being more comfortable with physical touching than non-native students. With this in mind, it makes sense that these students respond to the teacher that is actively demanding but warm. This provides necessary structure and gives them clear expectations but also conveys that their teacher is personally invested in them  as a student, learner, and person. So I found that despite the study being conducted in a very different environment from what I am in today much of the article is still applicable.

The Berg article and the following comments were very interesting. I found the comments by Jo MacNamara to be rather difficult to swallow. I feel there could be a happy medium between the two because while it is important to preserve the Alaskan Native culture it is also important to remain  realistic about the future of our world. Students of all  ethnicities  need to be prepared for a more  technologically  advanced future and math and science will be of tremendous  importance. MacNamara painted a very black and white picture, it was going to be one way or another. I think it would be wise to keep in mind the warnings from New Zealand and Norway, simply all turning into one culture will not work. Ultimately there are biological differences between races and those can drive how our culture operates. I speak about this from experience. I am a quarter Mexican and did not grow up in a Mexican culture in any way. However, it can be a sign of disrespect to look people directly in the eyes in some Mexican cultures. With that in mind, both my father and I struggle to hold eye contact with people while we are talking. To hold eye contact can actually makes me physically uncomfortable. I learned to adjust and adapt but when my dad and I discussed this part we both surprisingly said the same thing, that we always struggled with this. I hope that example makes sense to others, because it has been something that helped me remember that some things are genetically pre-determined and it doesn’t matter how you were raised. Ultimately it can be a nature vs. nurture argument.

I digress a bit. I believe there has to be a mix of introducing and teaching about all cultures and preparing students for the future. Math and science are clearly not able to be skipped but neither should important, place-based lessons. It was pointed out that if any native family wanted to continue their culture and teachings that they could homeschool. That is always a valid option, especially if the parents decide they want to offer much more than the public schools could. However, I think that homeschooling can’t be the solution for teaching about cultures. It is an important aspect of Alaskan history and deserves attention in our curriculum. I’m not sure anyone can really find fault with learning more about everything. Knowledge is power and you can’t ever have too much knowledge.

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