Blog #3: A response to ‘The future of Alaska Native education’

The author points out that government boycott of various indigenous cultures around the world, including the Sami in Norway and the Maori people in New Zealand, has been harmful to them and draws upon these groups’ histories to make a parallel to the status quo of  Alaskan Natives. These are important comparisons to be aware of. Cultural history is important, absolutely, and it is something which should be encouraged. However, I think the author overlooks some important things and has some incorrect assumptions.

In the first case there’s a reason why non-natives make up the majority of educators and service providers to these communities, and that is simply because there are not enough natives in these areas of work to meet  community demand. Also, what is implicitly implied in the article is  that Anglo-Saxons are some kind of cultural elite or majority. This is both empirically and numerically incorrect. The single largest  group in the United States are Hispanics, with Americans of German descent being second. Furthermore, other ethnic/cultural groups, such as Jewish and Japanese Americans, out perform Anglo-Saxons both in terms of income and per-capita college attendance.

The absolute principle way to achieve prosperity is to equip oneself with marketable  skills and  provide a product or service for which people are willing to pay you. Both of these require training and education, and teachers play no small part in this. This is not merely some ‘western’ cultural construct but is and always has been the way of the world. Education is, or at least is supposed to be, a  place  where students prepare themselves for independence by acquiring knowledge and developing vital skills. This is a message which needs to be firmly understood both by teachers and communities.

Now, that being said teachers must find effective ways to teach to their respective classrooms, and every one them is different. There needs to be an effort by outside teachers to find a way to connect with their class and provide vital material to them in a way the students perceive as relevant. Respect of culture also needs to take place. Condescension is not conducive to a good learning environment and is often met with hostility. The histories and languages of the various Alaskan Native tribes are important to them and should be made a part of their curriculum, absolutely. The capacity to propel oneself to new heights lies within the individual, and not becoming part of some dependent class. But, without an effective education, or training, or marketable skill the individual has little  chance of success, be they Alaskan Native or any other group.

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