Blog #3 – The Future of Alaska Native Education

If western societies count more and more on technology to process the huge amount of information available today, others like those of Alaska Natives maintain the importance of oral tradition. Just recently some of the Alaskan languages started to be translated into writing, most of them still remaining transmitted between different generations through the ways of oral tradition. In contrast to the more specialized approach taken by western societies, Alaska Natives still consider education as being responsible to teach individuals as a whole, considering their physical, mental, spiritual and emotional aspects in a tight correlation with the surrounding nature. They recognize that all these parts should work together in harmony and each of them influences the whole in a negative or a positive way.

The differences in education values historically caused differences in behavior between non-native and native people. Thus, if the western way of behaving is that students should be as visible as possible and often use trial and error methods until they get their results, the Native way is that students watch and carefully observe before they act.   For non-native Americans questioning is part of the educational process since for Alaska Natives, questioning is another thing to avoid for making them more visible.

Today, education should answer the question: what really works for students? Many Alaska Native people learn their way in life through stories related by the elders. Because of this, many teachers are experiencing frustration while working in Alaska villages and to avoid that they should first learn indigenous history and culture of local people. After falling victim to the assimilation process applied by white people as is described by Paul Berg in his article “The Future of Alaska Native Education”, Alaska Natives lost their identity and developed a Traumatic Stress Disorder. To break the vicious circle of assimilation and self-destruction, Alaska and United States Congress should become more effective in encouraging a new approach in education that would recognize and respect the values of indigenous Alaska cultures

Generally, I believe that since native students’ identity is tied so close to their family or clan members, it is crucial to gain native students’ family and clan support. Since Elders have such a big influence in the everyday life of their clan, a direct involvement of them into the educational process should be also encouraged.

Education, indigenous to place is a new approach in education where the emphasis is shifting from the western vision, to one that focuses on providing education “in the culture rather than about the culture”. Through it, educators aim to develop interconnection between multiple areas and to connect the specific reality of the place and local culture to the western terms. This new approach in education considers the cultural, historical and traditional context of the indigenous population and provides new teaching alternatives that better motivate indigenous students through their learning process by creating meaningful situations connected to their previous knowledge anchored in the local place and culture.

In a larger view, all people are students who educate themselves every day during their entire life, as a result of their personal daily experiences. Education takes place every minute in diverse places like at workplace in the most cosmopolite city or at home in the rural Alaska, and it is delivered through an enormous variety of sources from newspaper to internet, TV and Radio, and through a huge diversity of ways like oral delivery of stories in the villages of Alaska natives or visual presentations during a CEO meeting. None of these were ever possible without coming together as an evolved species and learning from each other experiences. Now it is the time to look around us and help each other to become better educated human beings by praising the diversity between our cultures and looking forward toward building a better future for all of us.

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