Future of Alaskan Native Education

I found this article particular interesting as I might very well find myself teaching out in the bush next year. I have done as much research as possible and have learned that cultural differences and animosity can be a huge road block to success. I have talked to people who have had great experiences and those who have had horror stories. It seems that those who had poor experiences echo what this article discusses, they head out to rural Alaska in order to ‘save’ that natives. That is to say they want to do their part to educate them in terms of 21st century American culture and society. We seem to be at a bit of an impasse, we as a society have decided that all American deserve a certain standard of living and that includes education.. However on the other hand we feel that native peoples should have a right to retain their culture as they see fit. It seems difficult to make these two policies work together with the way we handle education today. As long as we have centralized national education standards there will always be some aspect of American culture forced upon native peoples. ┬áIt was interesting to read about the policies in Norway and New Zealand, while they would work in the United States it would take an overhaul of our education system. We might need to provide an exception to rural Alaska for state and national education standards to free up time for native based education.

 

I found the comments to be quite eye opening as well, the level of dissension was surprising. One commentator in particular raised some interesting points in his rebuttal. He charged that the article suggested that there was nothing worthwhile in American culture for Alaskan native to learn, that anything based off of our culture was no more than assimilation. He asked if Yupik should be the only language taught in rural Alaskan schools. If found these points to be interesting because as a social studies teacher I want to teach my students about all the cultures of the world. Just like it would be harmful to only teach the American perspective in history it might be equally as harmful to only teach a native perspective. There are great things to be learned from both cultures so perhaps a fusion of the two is better than only having native based education in rural Alaska.

This discussion begs the question what is the purpose of education. Supporters of the current model in rural Alaska might say that it is to get rural Alaskan students ready for life in the modern world. However often that life involves leaving your ancestral homeland. I believe that we must find a delicate balance between the old and the new. We cannot expect native cultures to forget their heritage, but also we can not expect them to simply disregard human progress in general. The modern world requires state of the art skills regardless if you live in New York City or Koyuk.

 

 

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