Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Integrating Culture into Education: Self-Concept Formation in Alaska Native Youth

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Integrating Culture into Education: Self-Concept Formation in Alaska Native Youth

Article excerpt


Very few studies have specifically addressed the formation of self-concept in the Alaska Native, or how the relationship between culture and education ultimately impacts its development. Most often, this phenomenon is mentioned in passing and is contained within the context of a larger study (e.g., an ethnography). While the discussion of the ideas that follows is framed primarily within an Alaskan context, it is proposed that the ideas are representative of issues present in the education of all minority and indigenous youth.

Culture and Education

Mental health professionals, educators, and politicians all speak of the necessity of developing a positive self-concept for healthy psychological functioning in today's society. "Promotion of environmental and socialization practices that presumably produce a feeling of self-worth in children is...a basic preventive strategy" (Lefley, 1982, p. 65). The development of a positive self-concept facilitates a person's interaction with the environment and also underpins healthy psychological functioning; therefore, an understanding of that process (i.e., self-concept formation) becomes necessary when creating programs to meet the educational needs of children living in our pluralistic society. In this paradigm the purpose of education then is not only to teach children about their world, but also to nurture the development of a positive sense of self. Failure to achieve this goal may result in students not succeeding academically; it may also undercut the very democratic principles of the American society and "the purpose of schooling itself"(Jones, 2004, p. 13).

   Learning ... is an essential tool for violence prevention. Children
   who achieve in school and develop important reading, critical
   thinking, problem solving, and communication skills are better able
   to cope with stressful and perhaps dangerous situations. Also,
   academic achievement enhances the development of a positive
   self-esteem and selfefficacy, both of which are necessary for
   children to experience emotional well-being and to achieve success.
   (Clarke, 2002, p. 5)

Every society educates its children in the needed skills, practices, and beliefs necessary to ensure the continuing existence of that society. The child's first exposure to this process occurs in her family of origin where "social learning takes place through observation and imitating other people's behaviors" (Reimer, 1999, p. 37). As children grow and mature, they are introduced to a more formal type of education, whether through the extended family, the tribe, or the community. In American society this education most often occurs through the formal school experience. Inherent in this process, be it within or outside the home environment, is the transmission of culture and values. "Schools are agents of the dominant society and as such, they reflect the underlying cultural patterns of that society" (Barnhardt, 1981, p.2). Children entering the school system, as we know it in America, are already steeped in the nuances of language and tradition that reflect the experiences of their families.

These experiences are shaped by the worldviews of the family members and when taken as a whole are the foundational elements out of which the self emerges. D.W. Sue and D. Sue (2003) state that a worldview is "how a person perceives his or her relationship to the world" (p. 267). They note that a worldview is "highly correlated with a person's cultural upbringing and life experiences" (p. 267). In other words, it is the phenomenological lens through which the person constructs his or her world based on the individual's ability to create a continuity of sameness between what the self perceives and what the society reflects back. An individual's culture and worldview each strive to create an anxiety free environment in which the person can act in a secure and meaningful way. …

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