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Education for What Kind of Society?

Published: September 6, 2007, Author: MHirch

“Get a good education!” urges every parent of their children. In the spirit of this command mothers and fathers in Fourth World families all over the Americas have been in the forefront of community efforts to establish “the best schools” for their children.  Unhappily, Indian peoples from the Inuit of northern Canada to the Mapuche in Chile have not benefited from the best schools. Residential schools established by churches and state governments, private schools under church control, and public schools state government administration have consistently demonstrated their failure to provide the best education for native peoples.  Why is this so when large numbers of non-native learners seem to achieve well and go on to productive lives? Is there something inherently lacking in Fourth World youngsters?

Of course not.

The problem seems to be that externally created education systems–those created by state governments and churches–organize schools and define education to meet the present and future needs of the type of society they represent.  When a school is created, the question underlying virtually all planning and organizational efforts to establish a curriculum and organize the school is: What kind of society do we want children to join and contribute to? This question dictates whether the school uses bells to organize changes in classes, formation of queues to eat lunch or attend a school assembly, training in English, writing and arithmetic and courteous respect for authority.  All of these skills and behaviors are essential for an industrially organized society. Schools in the Americas have been generally organized to meet the needs of 20th century industrialized societies. That type of society is now being only slightly modified from one where “workers” mass produce objects to a society where most of the population is engaged in “services.” In most American societies the mass production of objects and performance of services run side-by-side.

What kind of society do Fourth World nations in the Americas have and expect to have in the future?  To define and organize the best schools to educate Fourth World populations knowing the answer to that question is essential.  That question is not asked when we here “Get a good education.”  Educational institutions must be intimately connected to the society they support.  Well, unless we know what kind of society Fourth World nations aspire to achieve, it is not possible to know in what kind of schools native children will do best.

Educational institutions are relatively new social organisms that supplement and in many instances replace the community and the family as the mechanisms through which the transfer of culture is accomplished. Education not only promotes critical thinking and problem solving, but it shapes behavior, defines expectations, and promotes peaceful living in society. When Fourth World youngsters and their older brothers and sisters pass through educational institutions designed for a different society from which they come there is a disconnect.  That disconnect often results in confusion, struggle and failure to negotiate success in the institution.  If there is no place for you in society, then what is the point of an education?

Dr. Ku Kahakalau understands the importance of connecting education with one’s society, its culture and the aspirations of its leaders. A woman of immense energy and intellect who likes spending her free time caring for the land in her beloved Hawaii, passing on traditional Hawaiian beliefs and practices and writing Hawaiian poetry and songs Dr. Kahakalau had a dream more than twenty years ago. She wanted to create a school that provides Native Hawaiians with “womb-to-tomb” education “that combines community, culture and family” from bilingual preschool to adult and higher education. From her dream she has planned, organized and established the first charter school in Waimea, Kanu o ka ‘Aina in Hawaii.

After generations of “Hawaiian educational failure” in public schools, Dr. Kahakalau’s schools have provided a venue for success. Kahakalau’s achievement reflects the creative connection of educational institution with Hawaiian social, cultural and societal aspiration.  She is educating Hawaiians to become full and complete Hawaiians. What a good idea! What a successful idea that springs from common sense: Hawaiians living in Hawaiian society.

Until Fourth World societies throughout the Americas begin to affirm their present and future society they will depend on externally created educational institutions created for a different society.  Their children will generally continue to struggle until they are educated for a present and future society that is organize around their culture, their aspirations and their future.

When Fourth World societies are allowed or chose once again to freely choose their social, economic, political and cultural future without external interference, they will organize and establish educational institutions that allow native youngsters to exhibit their intellectual, social and spiritual excellence.  Then will the Fourth World in the Americas “Get a good education.”

(c) 2007 Center for World Indigenous Studies

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