While Paul Berg’s call for change is poetic and full of other cultural examples, he falls short on offering a concrete plan of action that can transition the “white-based” education system to a more place-based cultural system. It is easy to decry the current system, but much more difficult to develop and implement a systematic change that will revolutionize Alaska Native education and halt the development of “acultural” men and women.
Berg asserts that the non-native community needs to relinquish the reigns and allow the Native community to assume control over their own existence and educational destiny. However, this must occur simultaneously with the Native community “stepping up” and filling those roles. Although each village is different, I have not observed a high level of Elder or Native involvement in the school or community. Many of the Native children do not speak Athabascan, and several were interested in taking the fur sewing class I am offering this winter (because they have never sewn fur before). Cultural pride and preservation begins within the home, spreads to the extended family, and then the community. If Alaskans want to begin the process of integrating Native culture into the classroom, it should begin with actively cultivating culture in the community.
One first point might be holding a community potluck at the school. This can create a positive association for many elders (who may remember being plucked from their villages to be sent to a boarding school). At the potluck, teachers might extend an open invitation to have Elders or Native leaders be a part of the classroom by speaking, sharing, or demonstrating cultural skills.
Another idea might be to develop Teacher Aide programs in village schools, so that Native high school students who are interested in becoming teachers have a clear path for achieving that goal. Maybe students use one class period to study pedagogy, classroom management, and observe other classrooms. Students could form cohorts that transition from high school to college together, thus increasing the amount of support available and the retention rate.
While Paul does make some good points, I finished the article thinking “A little less conversation, a little more action please!”