Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard B, part 3. states that there is an “in-depth study of unique elements of contemporary life in Native communities in Alaska, such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, subsistence, sovereignty and self-determination.” That resonates with me, as my grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as many older relatives and family friends that I knew growing up in Ketchikan were active in the ANB and ANS. That, however, speaks to a problem in Alaska Native communities of Southeast. ANB/ANS members were largely of a generation born in the 1920s and 1930s. Their children were less active, and my generation hardly at all.
It was my grandparents’ generation, and their parents, who were the at the forefront of Alaska Native civil rights, statehood, Prudhoe Bay, subsistence rights, and ANCSA. We are the beneficiaries of their generation, who demonstrated much resiliency against adversity. They attended boarding schools, where our language was nearly lost. Unfortunately, organizations like the ANB and ANS, which the older generations sustained, didn’t resonate with younger Alaska Natives.
Perhaps the mission has changed, but there are still many challenges facing young Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. If not ANB/ANS, then the schools are a great place for young Natives to reconnect with what their forebears have accomplished. The culture has changed, particularly in regards to technology, which presents a danger of fragmentation with the past. But technology could also be a means of connection, bringing old and new together. Currently, there are a number of Elders who could speak to Alaska Native values of old, but their numbers only dwindle with time. Language revitalization is perhaps the most crucial component of keeping the culture alive, something that was nearly lost in the 20th century. Southeast Alaska Native people have demonstrated resiliency for untold generations. The young of today have been given the opportunity to redefine what it means to be Alaska Native in the 21st century. They are the cultural bearers of tomorrow. Those who carried the fight in the 20th century would be proud at what they have already accomplished.
During our class discussion on the Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Curriculum, my group looked at Cultural Standard C, which states that “a culturally responsive curriculum uses the local language and cultural knowledge as a foundation for the rest of the curriculum.” Some important aspects of this cultural standard are as follows: 1) utilizing local language as a basis for deeper learning, 2) utilizing the study of place, 3) incorporating language and cultural immersion, 4) including all community members as potential teachers, 5) utilizing local cultural knowledge as a way to teach conventional curriculum content, 6) utilizing modern technology to preserve and document traditional cultural knowledge, and 7) treating traditional cultural protocol with sensitivity.
A music lesson I would design based on Cultural Standard C is something I would describe as a “Community Musical Exploration”. For this lesson, I would provide my students with field recorders and then send them out into the community to explore and document the local musical traditions. Each student would complete a self-guided project exploring and making connections with the great variety of musical traditions and performers in their community. For this project, I would have students ask a community member, Elder, Culture Bearer, or relative of their choice to teach them a local traditional song from any background (i.e. a Tlingit song, an old time fiddle song, a blues song, etc.). I would encourage the students to ask their new teacher for permission to record the lesson and song in order to document the learning and performing process. If permission is not granted or the community member does not feel comfortable being recorded, I would have that student write about the lesson and the song they learned instead of making audio documentation. After learning a new song from their community teachers, I would have each student write a reflection about their experiences and what they learned. After going out into the community and learning from community members, Elders, Culture Bearers, and relatives, I would have my students come back to the classroom and present what they learned to their classmates. This would help the students to expose their peers to the rich diversity of local music making that is occurring in their community. Imagine 30 students sharing 30 different songs from 30 different teachers of diverse backgrounds. The potential for explorative learning and community building is huge! For the presentation of this project, I would have students share their songs, lesson experiences, recordings, and reflections with their classmates. Students could even invite their community teacher to see the class presentations.
Here are some ways that this lesson incorporates Cultural Standard C. It brings in community members as teachers, incorporates language and cultural immersion with the community teacher on the song they choose to teach (i.e. a Tlingit Elder might teacher might choose to teach a song in Tlingit, immersing the student in the language), incorporates local cultural knowledge into the music learning experience, and it connects students to place and local cultural traditions.
Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard D:
A culturally-responsive curriculum fosters a complementary relationship across knowledge derived from diverse knowledge systems.
A curriculum that meets this cultural standard:
1. draws parallels between knowledge derived from oral tradition and that derived from books;
2. engages students in the construction of new knowledge and understandings that contribute to an ever-expanding view of the world.
Our group reviewed and assessed Cultural Curriculum Standard D (as seen above). The importance of this standard is incredible. Our group talked about the importance of inviting elders into the classroom. We talked about the variety of knowledge that we can learn from their oral traditions. It was brought up by one of the members of the group that until recently (in the span of human occupation in Alaska), all of the history and traditions were passed down orally.
We discussed a few possibilities to interpret this standard. The photo that you see here was the final outcome. The person is listening to a traditional story about how Athabascan people got to use the birch tree as a resource. He interprets that with traditional styles of canoe building. Mixing traditional oratory with the book knowledge of how to build a canoe, he mixes the two forms of knowledge to come up with a final product or idea.
“A culturally-responsive curriculum reinforces the integrity of the cultural knowledge that students bring with them”
Creating our poster for this exercise was almost effortless. One we picked a letter theme, R, the rest just fell into place. Constantly the theme of nourishment comes up when we discuss Culturally Relevant Education. This is because as educators, facilitating education doesn’t just mean feeding the mind, it means acceptance of individuals, meeting people as whole individuals where they are at, and creating a space of relevancy for their identities. When we looked at cultural standard a, there are multiple strategies that came up that could support that standard as a value. It is important that we recognize that our students have roots and cultures that deserve respect.
We can check in our curriculum standards with these R words…
Responds and Reflects
For this assignment, our group was given the curriculum standard D, which is: a culturally responsive curriculum fosters a complementary relationship across knowledge derived from diverse knowledge systems. Our group discussed for several minutes on how we can relate something from a textbook into the Native culture. Our group decided to choose “Romeo and Juliet” to draw a parallel and we chose to make our poster about it by using salmon, raven, and peter pan as characters.
This standard is useful for educators who would like to teach students about another culture by finding ways to relate it to the students’ own culture. It’s difficult to see the parallel often, so this standard requires an individual to be inventive. It took our group several minutes to come up with the ideas Romeo and Juliet, salmon, raven, and peter pan.
Cultural Standard D is among my favorite of the cultural standards. Basically, it encourages teachers to try to synthesize knowledge that is being passed down orally in a culture with book knowledge that comes from “experts” of one sort or another.
To apply this standard to my own home region and the discipline of Social Studies, I might begin a lesson on the Pennsylvania Lumber Boom and the lumber barons by asking kids how old the trees in our region are. Maybe they know that, maybe they don’t. But then I could proceed to ask them, “were most of the trees around here standing in 1776?” Well, maybe they don’t know that. So I might ask them, “is our forest here considered old growth or new growth?” By this point, I am quite sure I’d be jogging some memories and answers like “new growth” would be coming out.
From there, I would ask, “why is it called ‘new growth?'” And I am quite sure that some of the students would know that it is because it was all cut down at some point.
I would then shift gears and ask the students, “why are the city’s high school sports teams called ‘the Millionaires?'” I think some would be able to connect this to the lumber barons, because having their team called the Millionaires keeps that particular element of local history somewhat alive.
I would then ask them if they knew what old section of town was called “Millionaires Row” and if they knew why it had this name. (It’s now kind of slummy, but the construction of the houses there is fantastic. It has the name because it’s where all the lumber barons lived. They were incredibly wealthy, “millionaires” in the late 1800s.)
Having gone this route and (I believe) piqued their interest, I would bring out an article on the lumber boom and its effects. Beginning from what they already know could make the lesson actually relevant to the students, and could attach the book knowledge to mental pegs that already exist in their heads.
Any good knowledge is that of which is continually changing and adapting. The Inupiat people have this as a part of their culture’s wisdom as do the Japanese and many other cultures on our pale blue dot. However, building on ground without a foundation is futile.
This poster represents the multi-cultural knowledge of our past that we embrace in the present, build on it and you can bet your sweet bottom dolla it’s gonna be carried into the future. Take numbers for instance. Genius. Instead of carrying little pebbles in my pocket I could just write a symbol down. As far as the evolutionary evolution of the “el numero” goes you got the caveman’s chicken scratches, and then the Romans counting with letters because they drank so much wine, then finally the Arabs are like “let us not stand in the face of adversity by misrepresenting math with literature. Let us create the number!” and so it became its own universal language, “e pluribus nerdum”. The next portion of our work displays the arrogant “smart man”, fully equipped with his horse blinders, claims he came up with the modern day revolutionary idea of sustainability while half of the world’s cultures have been practicing that since the dawn of time, otherwise known as the ice age, which, isn’t the ice age anymore because it took too long to come up with the dang idea. Next, we have a beautiful rendition of early astronomy from two separate cultures, roughly at the same time, 12,000 miles away from each other. One could land a whole colony of people on an atom across 7000 miles of ocean by using the stars, whilst the other named almost every star in the modern sky. The final section in our work of art has to do with letters and stuff but I am a math/science guy.