Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ride the Horse!

I should tell you I have been busy this last month. When I first stepped into the office, I was given a task of coordinating this new tutoring program. I was told that I had about "now" to get it ready.
It had all kinds of pitfalls, as any pilot project would. And it actually came together in the last five minutes before the reporters arrived. We couldn't get the hardware to work with the software. There were some compatibility issues, which gave me some issues. I was racing back from Spokane the very afternoon of the proposed press release with our new hardware. I got back with 61 minutes until we were supposed to release the program onto the world. I told the techie we had one hour to be up and running. (that would give us the requisite one minute to stop sweating and breathe normal, right?) Anyway, at 40 minutes we had six stations up and the software working very nicely. Not even five minutes later, the photographer arrived, which is nice...
I can't help but wonder at what the elders to the students in this program are thinking. Some of these kids are only two generations away from traditional native culture (language, subsistence, relationships, and home), and here they are talking away on their mini cams with teachers a world away. (48 miles away in Pullman, but still a world away as far as they are concerned) We have come from subsistence living (which is really not a bad thing, it's the natural way of living) to the world of technology and communication via computer work stations in a Tribal Technology center open to tribal and non-tribal alike.
No more tribal runners. No more trips to neighboring villages across the open fields on horseback. Now we make our way across the open fields on a specific bandwidth.
Technology is our new horse; it's infinite utility and innovation are what will carry our children into the future now. Wow, what a rush! I had such a small part in this whole evolution, but I'm proud to have done my little part.

Seattle Times

Ride the horse baby, RIDE THE HORSE!!!!!!!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pencils down please...or When in Rome...

for those three or four of you who stumble onto this blog (more than once every year) you will be glad to know I am employed-for the moment. It' s kind of strange (eerie even) that the day my unemployment ran out, I got picked up for a job that I hadn't even interviewed for. It's temporary, but that doesn't matter. It's providing some pay and it's actually for a field that I believe in. You know, before I moved here to Worley, I had a job in a Head Start organization as a coordinator and now once again I find myself in the education field. I will be doing some coordinating for an Adult Basic Education program. Part of my job will be coordinating another program as well as mine until they can get a leader for that program. In the course of discussing the programs, it was revealed that a community educational needs assessment was done and, surprise, the Natives here were discovered to be lacking in a couple of areas! I was fortunate to meet someone while I was at College, and she was involved with a Native population in a very large metro area. They conducted a survey in that area, and it was also shown that the Native students were falling behind in that metro area too.
I got to thinking you know what, why are we measuring the after effects of a phenomena? Instead of measuring "what happened," why aren't we measuring "how" it happened? The Native population far and wide, share a common trait of spatial learning. This is something I first learned in University when some math methods taught by non Native instructors just didn't cut the cake when it came to all Native classrooms. I further experienced that when I became a tutor to those same students I had gone to class with.
Now, I got to thinking in this recent local survey. We looked at what the Native students had done, or rather had come up short in. (I know preposition at the end of a sentence, I was also an English tutor!) I started thinking (yes, I'm okay from having done it too!) maybe the testing should go the other way! (lets sneak some tests for spatial capabilities on the local teachers...tee hee!) hmm.... As a general rule, many Native Americans learn better spatially. Ok. We know that the graduation rate plummets in Native Populations. We know that culture is established very early and stays with you for life in most instances. Where are the local teachers at? Where are they at when it comes to addressing the cultural issues? I don't mean menial things like, who are the historical local tribal leaders, what language is spoken, or what treaty governs the local people.
What I want to know, is how equipped are the local teachers to teach in a spatial environment? Do they fully grasp the different methods involved.
Do the local non-Native majority of teachers know THEIR CULTURE? This is a loaded question. Do you know what the greatest definition of CULTURE is for me? Martin Broken Leg once told me that the definition of culture is:
"...everything that you do, that only others notice about you."
Others will notice things about things you do because it is different from how they do it. It's harmless in most situations. Some people pray with hands folded, and eyes closed, and they do all the talking. Some people pray with open hands and eyes opened with the same sense of humility that they person with closed eyes hopes to achieve.
You shake with right hands and maybe grasp the arm with your left hand. Others would never touch you with their left hands. We make the "ok" symbol here in america by joining our first finger and thumb together. Other countries count it as the symbol of an "evil eye," or the symbol for "asshole."
The key difference is that there is no expectation for each different culture's difference. There is no test at the end of the semester that will determine what kind of job you will eventually get. There is, for the most part, no stigma attached with not knowing another person's culture, especially in these states that united to become "America."
If you speak four languages, you're a polyglot
If you speak three languages you're from Germany
If you speak two languages you're from Spain.
If you speak one language, you're an AMERICAN!
Now joking about it is one thing. But when you think about it, I've seen it many times overseas, when American's never fail to get the local language and get frustrated...expecting others to be able to speak English, on Korean soil, Iraqi soil, Japanese soil, Mexico.
Now, move all this to a classroom. What kind of sense does it make to teach linear methods to a spatial class population? So, lets untie the knot here (denoumet) why are we expecting Native students to learn an entirely different method, an entirely different culture (remember its a way of doing things) without equipping them for it? Why aren't we in the local Native populations expecting local teachers to speak our language-our SPATIAL language?
You wouldn't expect an English speaking teacher to go to a remote, rural, Uru Eau El Wau Wau village in a South American country and get any kind of results teaching math without knowing the local culture (language, etiquette, customs, relationships) would you?
Well, then why would you expect Non-Native Teachers to go to a Tribal community (and remember over 500 different, diverse, separate nations exist here on the soil that the states united on), teach a non Native way, and get any better results?
Either you equip the Native students for linear thought patterns,
you teach in the local culture.

We all know what happens when you "equip Native students for linear thought patterns."
-Kill the Indian, save the person
-Government pamphlets (on file at Haskell Indian Nations University's Cultural Center) that tell, "How to properly whip an Indian child"
-Boarding Schools (that were created by stealing children from families to make up class rosters, both here on the soil where the states united, and in Australia)
-"Normal" schools

I am not saying that is happening locally. Let me make it clear. I am not saying that is happening locally. What I am pointing out, is that the Federal and State governments still have some ground to cover when it comes to meeting the needs of Native American students.
Why are we testing the local Native Students? We know how they supposedly failed [to graduate].
Why aren't we testing the local Teachers for the ability to teach culturally significant methodologies to equip Native students for productive careers, lives, self esteem. We will end up at the same place if taught in a way we will understand.
How can I make these bold statements? I am Native born, and adopted by a Non-Native family that I call my own. I was culturally imprinted before I was adopted.

Now, if none of this makes sense to you, you might be an American. Why else would Americans come up with a quote to remind themselves to be sensitive to foreign culture?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.