Wednesday, 01 February 2023

BlueWolf: New ideals of education

My father was in education for 50 years as a teacher, counselor, psychologist and administrator. Today he is fond of saying that today's education systems are obsolete, irrelevant, impractical and socially dysfunctional.


Three of my children were labeled as having "disabilities" – all graduated with minimal reading, writing and math skills. This, despite the fact I read to them, gave them books and presented an example by reading constantly in their presence.


Still, they never developed a “love” for reading. The girls didn't suffer too much, but for my son, public education was devastating. The system was always demanding that he curtail his natural energy, always waiting for him to "change," for him to get "serious." By the time he reached that point, at 23, all the negatives of his educational years had left his esteem in shreds.


He eventually did get his diploma, but has read only one book, cover to cover, his entire life. And although his lack of reading skills have not curtailed his ability to make a living (he makes more money than I do an hour), in his daily life all those essential and mundane details that require reading comprehension are beyond him.


In Native families, we expect our kids to grow up fast. In Native society, a 9-year-old girl is perfectly able to feed and take care of her brothers and sisters responsibly. If you don't believe me, you need to take a few trips into the Third World, where real life still exists.


Americans want to keep their young people “children” far past the age necessary. Just look at the films of the '40s and '50s and you see college-age kids being treated the way we treat our early high schoolers today.


Native teens resent being looked down on by adults who actually believe the myth that what happens in a student's late teen years has some large effect on their progress toward adulthood. Native people know that what is important occurs much earlier in life – from 3 to 13.


Native people also treat our boys differently than our girls. Our system of education recognizes that boys must be allowed to be freely active much longer than girls. Aunties and grandmas are able to teach our daughters to handle complicated crafts and family responsibilities many years before the boys can be expected to follow their uncles and grandfathers.


It is in the temperament of most boys to need constant activity until the age of 11 or 12. My older sons never attended any educational facility until sixth grade, age twelve. By ninth grade they were "caught up"! By giving them those extra years of freedom, they progressed at an astonishing rate.


Putting boys and girls together in school is one of the worst things we do in today's social environment. Both sexes suffer terribly from this misguided "mixing." Many of the boys' ability to progress is virtually destroyed by the fifth grade, and the girls' progress is impeded by the distraction, time and effort each teacher must take to discipline and control the boys.


Just poll your fifth grade teachers in-county and ask them to discuss this issue those who are honest will report the truth. Many boys are left completely behind during this time, while the girls are ready to explode ahead.


We need to ask what the goal of education is. It can no longer be a simple acculturation or right of passage. Education must be more than a vehicle of academic achievement toward social or economic success.


We need to balance old-time survival skills with new-age information technology. We need students to learn where to search for and find needed information and how to process that information for their immediate benefit rather than focusing on retaining bundles of irrelevant facts.


Students need the tools to educate themselves, find tutors, and experience a real-time gathering and processing of information to function in today's society. We need honest assessments throughout their school years to identify their strengths and weakness, attitudes, interests and motivations. These assessments should drive their programs and this tracking should occur until they self-identify with a vocational or academic future. Some of our present facilities only focus their energies on those taking the academic track the others are left guidance-less.


American Indians have based our ideals of educational technique on oral language skills, visual learning, social motivation and acceptance of all levels of skill. It mirrors the values of our Peoples and supports the traditional social structures of the family and Tribe.


For our children to be successful we need new environments, fresh perspectives and revamped concepts of curriculum and educational organization to carry our children and grandchildren into a safe and secure future.


To do this we should be creative and fearless, examining any educational alternative; no matter how far from the mainstream it may seem.


James BlueWolf is a artist and author. He lives in Nice.


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