Transforming the Culture of Schools: Yup'Ik Eskimo Examples

Transforming the Culture of Schools: Yup'Ik Eskimo Examples

Transforming the Culture of Schools: Yup'Ik Eskimo Examples

Transforming the Culture of Schools: Yup'Ik Eskimo Examples

Synopsis

This book speaks directly to issues of equity and school transformation, and shows how one indigenous minority teachers' group engaged in a process of transforming schooling in their community. Documented in one small locale far-removed from mainstream America, the personal narratives by Yupík Eskimo teachers address the very heart of school reform. The teachers' struggles portray the first in a series of steps through which a group of Yupík teachers and university colleagues began a slow process of reconciling cultural differences and conflict between the culture of the school and the culture of the community.

The story told in this book goes well beyond documenting individual narratives, by providing examples and insights for others who are involved in creating culturally responsive education that fundamentally changes the role and relationship of teachers and community to schooling.

Excerpt

This is the most interesting and instructive book I have read in a long time. It is interesting, indeed fascinating, because of the gripping way it reveals a culture derogated, dominated, and insensitively controlled by the larger society unaware that "Americanizing" that culture involves a process that not only cannot succeed, but will make matters worse for everyone. History, Voltaire said, is written by the victors. However, there comes a time when that history is exposed for what it is: a kind of double-entry bookkeeping of which the reader is told next to nothing. More correctly, the reader is told only what the prejudiced historian -- who, of course, saw him or herself as unprejudiced, objective, and on the side of unassailable virtue -- regarded as "real." There are many examples of this attitude in our national history, for example, toward slavery, native Americans, and scores of immigrant groups. This book, however, is not about the long past, but about present day Eskimo cultures struggling to maintain their identities and traditions and to adapt to changing circumstances in ways that will allow them to keep their self-respect. They are not asking the larger society to go away or to forget them, but rather to allow them to adapt in ways congenial to their outlooks and traditions. There is, after all, a difference between being forced to adapt and being willing to adapt. The Yup'ik Eskimos are willing to adapt but not at the price or in the ways asked of them. The fact is that they were not asked to adapt, they were told.

What is so instructive and inspiring about this book is the story of what happened when an unusual group of Eskimos and Whites from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, spearheaded an effort to transform Yup'ik Eskimo schools from contexts of unproductive to contexts of productive learning. The model American classroom has features: It is organized and informed by a predetermined curriculum; learning does not start with, or take into account, the interests, curiosities, or questions of students; and parents and the larger community, for all practical purposes, play no role in school learning. Those features were true in spades in the Eskimo schools.

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