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Living Wisdom of the Far North Tales and Legends from Chukotka and Alaska

As a result, the sale of alcohol is prohibited in Barrow; in the other villages, merely being in possession of it is a crime. A teacher friend of mine told me that he often sees visitors Instagramming the outrageous price tags, and I myself was tempted.

Living off the Land in an Alaskan Iñupiaq Community - INDIE ALASKA

Nonfrozen food, and sometimes frozen food, too, is nearly twice the price in Barrow as compared to Anchorage, and even more in the seven smaller North Slope villages. Back in town, Hopson-Suvlu and I make two more stops. Outside the local fur shop which doubles as a craft and convenience store , he points to a row of sandbags positioned along the shoreline. They stretch to the polar horizon as far as my eye can see. In the North Slope, you can spend a long time counting all the things that are vanishing or gone for good. And there are the old dances and shamanic customs, which only a few people remember.

Everyone here has heard of Kivalina, a peninsular village in western Alaska that is so close to sinking into the rising sea that it will soon relocate entirely. The North Slope, along with the rest of Earth, is changing. I was snapping pictures of the endless, forlorn cemetery, and it felt good to warm hands that felt dead from exposure. It can perpetuate inequality while intending, or pretending, to do away with it. Of course, teaching to relevancy carries risks.

If we teach children from agricultural communities only about farming, indigenous Alaskans only about whaling and hunting, and urban youths only about the ways of the city, then the system will be inequitably confining. They wanted their schools to pair the so-called relevant with the universal—so that students can thrive at home but also be equipped if they choose to strike out into the great wide open. I know how important this balance can be. Our students come to the United States with knowledge and expertise that, on a daily basis, puts mine to shame. They know how to grow food; speak multiple languages; travel alone by foot and train and wits; name plants in Thai forests along with their uses; care for babies and children and elders; work hard in school while fasting for Ramadan or working nights at a full-time job; resolve conflicts and start fires and navigate a new app on a cell-phone screen in the blink of an eye.

The disassociation between what students have learned in their communities and what is expected of them in school widens the achievement gap between and among people of different ethnicities and classes. And the stakes are high. If trends continue, one in three black men born today, according to the NAACP, can expect to spend time in prison, and yet each and every one of them will go to school. Twelve percent of Latino students drop out of high school, as opposed to 5 percent of students who are white.

And only 67 percent of native students graduate, the lowest national graduation rate of any ethnic group in the United States. Our education system is perpetuating systems of inferiority—like it did during the boarding school era in Alaska. It troubles Jana Harcharek, as it should us all, that we assume that children come to school as empty vessels whose brains need to be filled by state-certified teachers.


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One day, when I visit her in her office in Barrow, she points outside to where the late-morning sun gleams off the snow, the temperature up to a balmy ten degrees. In a rush to leave work, I grabbed a stack of scrap paper from the copy room and printed the article on the blank side.


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Once in Barrow, I noticed what was on the back: instructions for how to handcuff a student. There was an image of a boy standing with legs spread and arms behind his back as a school security officer approaches him. Today they start a unit about careers, and Ms. Meghan encourages them to write in their journals about what they might want to do when they grow up. A few minutes later, during circle time, the class takes turns naming all the jobs they can think of: Pilot. Someone who works at the AC Value Center.

Firefighter, of course. The morning announcements come on over the loudspeaker.

Living Wisdom of the Far North: Tales and Legends From Chukotka and Alaska

She shows me the half-heart pendant her Aaka—her grandmother—had given her for Christmas. Her Aaka wears the other half. A few weeks ago, Ms. Megan organized a round of show-and-tell. She had instructed her father where to set traps, and went out with him on a snow machine a few days later to check them. This article was made possible through the support of the Fund for Environmental Journalism. Quyanaq, Lauren, for coming to see first-hand the efforts of our people and using the power of narrative to share what is and what can be.

What an interesting article.

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Well written with some very big ideas in there. Excellent article, worth to be presented on television as documentary film Matjaz from Slovenia. This is exactly how education should be designed, approached, and executed. Real life, culturally relevant skills. Many of the things our children need to learn are not measurable on an exam. Excellent work. I have imagined stories like this in teaching handcrafts to native girls in the northern Great Lakes for many years.

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In return we could both learn the language. For example, crocheting a flower. Instead of counting stitches in crocheting, you recite whatever number of names for flowers in a sing songy rhyme. Everyone learns language and visual math. Neither am I a certified teacher, but I would love to do something like this in handwork.

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I have been doing handcrafts for 50 years plus. I teach GED classes in Arizona. We occasionally have a student from one of the native communities in our program, but that student always returns home without graduating. My most recent student was Yavapai. He has passed two out of the four tests he needs to take, and he was on the verge of passing the Social Studies test.

Then he disappeared. I have wondered what I can do to make students like that feel invested in my classroom, so I can keep them until they meet the end goal. I do try. This article was fabulous — a dream, in fact. If the curriculum is alienating, and there are no jobs at the end of the road, why bother? This is fantastic. I have been thinking about our education system quite a bit lately. I have a daughter and am days away from welcoming my son into this world…There are some well thought out ideas here that I could use in this thought process.

Perhaps I might turn my ideas into a future blog post…. Powerful read!

One of the most insightful and luminous articles I have read about education in years. This really goes to the heart of what growing up and learning to become decent successful adults in this interconnected world of diverse peoples, should be about. Buy only this item Close this window -.

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