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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Cross-Cultural Issues in

Alaskan Education Vol. I



Paul A. Goodwin
Geophysical Institute
University of Alaska, Fairbanks


James M. Orvik
Center for Northern Educational Research
University of Alaska, Fairbanks


Most students have been exposed to mathematics and some form of science education for each year of their first nine grades. Many have gone on to increase their skill in these subject areas while in high school. Nevertheless, the most commonly referred to nemesis of a given student’s college degree aspirations are the associated math and science requirements.

The low matriculation rate of minority students into the fields of mathematics, physical sciences, engineering and chemistry, herein referred to as the basic sciences, has become a major concern of the professional sciences. A large component of this concern originates with the economic pressure attendant to the recently enacted affirmative action statutes. More recently, however, the concern about minority representation in the basic sciences has been increasingly motivated by more humanistic and academic considerations. In the first place, an increased minority participation in the workings of basic science would add dimension to the field. In the second place, the question itself is interesting: “Why is there not more minority representation, at any educational level, in the fields of the basic sciences?”

Clearly the question has a partial answer by virtue of the fact that many potential minority students of the basic sciences are intimidated by a negative anticipation of the curriculum. However, this partial answer will logically lead one to ask why the minority student should be so decidedly affected in this way when compared to the typical student of the dominant culture and race. Such questions were raised during the recent development of courses designed specifically to meet the needs of Native Alaskan university students.

At the start of the fall semester, 1972, two special cross-cultural science courses were offered at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). These courses were developed in response to a growing awareness that many culturally different and rurally educated students did not go on to complete their college degree aspirations simply because of the difficulty they experienced while trying to satisfy course requirements that implied a working knowledge of math and the associated scientific method.

At the beginning of each course, questionnaires were passed out. The intent of the questionnaire was to determine the average working knowledge of the class in math and science. Once this norm was established, the courses would begin at that level of math and science and work upward; reaching, hopefully, a point at which each student could successfully compete in other scientifically oriented courses on their own. The results of the questionnaires were surprising. For instance; in the class offered during the fall semester of 1975 a questionnaire was passed out during the second meeting of the course-before instruction began in earnest in any course at UAF. The questionnaire contained problems of a mathematical and physical nature. The questionnaire was anonymous and there was no time limit. An example of the type of problem found on that questionnaire is “What does 7 - 8 equal?” Also: “What does 1/2 + 1/3 equal?” There was another problem of similar nature and also one word problem. The word problem was constructed so as to give its own answer. Out of 22 respondents, 13 students answered all the math problems incorrectly. Of the 22 students, 18 could not answer the word problem, even though it gave its own answer. Similar student performance has been noted within every class of every semester that the courses have been offered.

The question as to why there is not more minority representation in the basic sciences and the question concerning why the minority student should so negatively anticipate a scientific curriculum seems to have been largely answered by the results of these questionnaires. That is, typical rurally educated Alaskan students were being sent to college grossly under-prepared for the academic challenge that would face them. The next question that arises, then, is how the college level educator might successfully instruct this group of students in the sciences, their academic preparation notwithstanding. Indeed, given their preparation, why should this group of students even be required to take science?

In answer to the latter question, the value of scientific education can be seen to manifest itself in many ways; the most obvious of which is to allow the student a certain flexibility in a technologically bound society. By learning the vocabulary and method of science, a student opens up broad areas of experience that would normally be closed to him. But this is only a narrow pragmatic aspect of the value of a scientific education. If we consider what cognitive areas are represented in science, we see that education therein, if appropriately done, could facilitate cognitive mobility in exactly those areas. The obvious cognitive task involved in science is abstract thought. Thus, by constructing science or math courses that deal not only with the pragmatic aspects of science education but also with cognitive mobility in abstract thought, the student could benefit by being involved in a directed effort that explicitly addresses development in at least one of the major consequential cognitive areas of the formal education process itself.

To answer the former question, one must appeal to cultural and educational research. In concurrence, it is the purpose of this paper to present the results of educational research that was performed for the intent of improving the effectiveness of the afore-mentioned cross-cultural science courses. While the results of the research were addressed to the need of the particular group of students of the class being taught, it is thought that these same results could just as easily be applied to any group of culturally different students at any educational level. That is to say, the orientation of the educational research was broad in scope and it was concerned with the determination of which cognitive parameters were of primary importance in the education of the culturally different.

Cognitive Ability: Genetics Vs. Environment

Cultural minority groups are often composed of people who may also be considered as racially minor. It is well known that I.Q. test data yields consistent associations between the type of cognitive response being assessed by the I.Q. test and the race of the testee. Alternatively, the same test data will show a strong association between culture and cognitive ability. Consequently, a large portion of the research associated with cross-cultural education concerns itself with the polemic issues surrounding the cognitive consequences of culture or environment versus race. This issue is germain to the endeavor of this paper, for if certain racial groups are cognitively incapable of academic success in the basic sciences, the question of minority participation in those sciences is largely answered. The same is true if certain cultural groups are cognitively incapable of academic success in the basic sciences. There is one important difference: If scientific cognitive capability is largely under racial genetic control, short of eugenics, little can be done to achieve a productive and viable racial balance within the basic sciences. If, on the other hand, scientific cognitive capability is under a dominant cultural control, much can be done to increase minority participation in the sciences by appropriate changes in curriculum materials, teaching styles, etc.

A good part of the problem of assessing the cognitive capability or intelligence of a particular cultural or racial unit is the lack of an acceptable definition for what is meant by cognition or intelligence. Many researchers simply define intelligence as that cognitive component that is measured by the I.Q. test. Jensen (1969), using such a definition of intelligence, showed that intelligence is functionally related to race. In a later and much broader analysis of the genetics-environment argument, Baker (1974) concluded much the same thing as Jensen. Baker’s main thesis was that given the easily assessed morphological differences between racial norms, it would be inconceivable to assume that the potential cognitive capability of one race was exactly the same as that of any other race.

Myriad papers have been written in rebuttal to, especially, Jensen’s argument that intelligence is genetically heritable. Essentially, these rebuttals filled in those areas that concerned the cultural and environmental influence on intelligence that were either neglected or superficially treated by both Jensen and Baker. Some papers took a general exception to the idea of relating phenotypical and genotypical traits among biological populations (see, for instance, Layzer, 1975). The rebuttal arguments were persuasive and when taken in conjunction with the genetic position showed the need for a continued effort into the question of the cognitive influences of culture and environment, as opposed to race.

It has become increasingly clear that there are many cognitive influences in our lives; two of the most important of which are the cognitive influences of language and formal education. It will be recognized that language is a function of culture, or in some cases, contact among cultures. Formal education is virtually always a cultural contact experience for the culturally different student. Whorf (1956), using a Hopi Indian example, established the hypothesis that differences between linguistic structures imply differences in cognitive processes. To exemplify this hypothesis, we need only consider the grammatical emphasis on time exhibited by the currently dominant Western culture and compare that with the lack of emphasis on time found in most American Indian cultures. As an example, in the Inupiaq (Eskimo) language to say “four seals” is perfectly feasible whereas to say “four hours” is not. In Inupiaq, there are event oriented time designations for morning (uvlaaq), afternoon (qitingnguq), and night (unnuk), (Wilson, 1975), but time durations, like the hour must be somehow specified according to the given time designations. For instance, “the man stayed four hours” might be translated in Inupiaq as “the man was here in the afternoon.” Whorf showed that the Hopi language is similarly event oriented with respect to time. It is Whorf’s contention that this grammatical difference is a manifestation of a different conception of reality. While Whorf’s thesis is not universally accepted, it does point to some difficulties of a grammatical nature that may be encountered in cross-cultural education. Shribner and Cole (1973) in their paper on cognitive consequences of formal education showed that classification, articulation and abstract thought are among the more easily defined cognitive consequences. Whorf’s point thus falls into perspective. If different linguistic schemes imply different cognitive topologies, then surely at least one of the consequences of formal education becomes involved: vis., articulation. Academic success at the college level depends heavily on the ability to articulate well in the accepted fashion of the given educational community. A cross-cultural student whose lexicon is different from the academic community in which he is a member will find articulation difficult. Consider then the problems that may be encountered if the student’s conception of reality is also different.

Colby (1975) suggests the term culture grammar to describe the operational function of culture. Colby quotes an unpublished description of his meaning, written by Schwartz as: “There are a number, probably not large, of basic and powerful heuristic modes of problem construal and approaches to solutions which are variably manifest and developed in different cultures. Where these heuristics are present they may be specific to certain tasks or they may be general-in other words, available for the solution of novel problems.” The heuristics described by Schwartz are synonymous with Colby’s culture grammar. If the culturally different student’s conception of reality is not exactly different, his culture grammar most assuredly is. Hence, this student’s form of expressing reality, or more particularly, his behavior will also be different. Given different modes of problem construal and approaches to solutions, the culturally minor student will exhibit a propensity toward failure when faced with the task of interpreting contingencies that are culturally specified in ways that are, by definition, outside his scope of experience.

It will be recalled that a high percentage of the students involved in the cross-cultural science courses could not answer the worded problem. This word problem and the average student’s inability to answer it points to a general non-interpretable contingency. That is to say, the student’s familiarity with scientific lexicon and syntax was minimal. Consequently, the student could not encode the information contained in the question. That the student could decode the question, if understood, is testified to by his ability to complete the rest of the questionnaire. That the student could cognitively process the question, once it was encoded, is apparent because of the relatively simple cognitive task built into the problem. It is not clear whether Whorf’s contention that a person of a different linguistic community possesses a different conception of reality was represented in the response that was recorded for this question. It is clear, however, that the difficulties encountered by the students in understanding such a question are easily overcome. This was demonstrated by asking similar questions at a later date and receiving a predominantly correct response on each occasion.

Cole and Scribner’s book, Culture and Thought (1974), suggests that abstract reasoning is not intrinsic to most traditional cultural units. While this suggestion is imminently reasonable, the concept of a relation between cultural traditionality and the possession of abstract thought is not simple. On one hand there is a temptation to equate articulated or nonarticulated abstract cognitive processes with “Western” modes of thought. However, if one traces the cognitive development of Western man, it is found that the abstract thought processes were not made explicit until rather late in history. The Greeks brought to explication abstract reasoning in the West when they further developed and articulated the various logical systems. Nevertheless Denny (1972) would argue that a substantial portion of any “Western” sample of people use thought processes that are distinctly nonabstract (so-called concrete thought). So, if the Greeks brought formal abstract processes to the West there are, evidently, still a great many Westerners who haven’t yet caught on.

On the other hand, one might take the position that while abstract thought may not be universal to Westerners, it is in the West that such modes of thinking reside, to the exclusion of other civilizations. However, a study of Pre-Columbian civilizations firmly establish that the American Indian practiced the scientific method (Brown, 1975) and, as a result, must have incorporated abstract thought processes into their culturally specified cognitive patterns. Indeed, Gallenkamp (1976) has pointed out that the Maya developed fully articulated versions of certain scientific concepts that even the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans did not possess. Other examples of this type of cognitive development within various ancient civilizations of man can be cited.

Where does this leave us? As stated before, there is no simple relation between traditionality and abstractness. This statement now becomes more persuasive in as much as we can establish the existence of concrete thought among some persons of Western culture and abstract thought within some “traditional” cultures. The position we consider the most useful for further conceptual development is to make the extent to which abstract cognition comprises high probability behavior in a particular culture part of the definition of its traditionality. Thus, rather than implicitly assuming a cause and effect relationship between traditionality and abstractness, they become associated by definition.

Academic Success

Academic success has been mentioned throughout the preceeding discussion concerning the periphery of a few important aspects of cognitive ability and intelligence. Cognitive ability and intelligence were dealt with primarily because they are at the core of questions that involve a student’s ability to complete successfully a scientific curriculum. In one sense, the assessment of cognitive ability and intelligence is a precedent of the academic endeavor, while academic success is a post-factual evaluative device. However we agree with Wallach’s (1976) persuasive presentation that test scores, college grades, et cetera, do not correlate very well with external achievements in the real world. Nevertheless, for minority students, performance in the present academic setting is itself a realistic “real life” situation in which to achieve: This in addition to the usual avenues of achievement within their culture of origin.

If we examine the cognitive attributes of a given student or group of students and then allow those attributes to infer something of the capability of that student or group of students, we are in somewhat of a conjectural milieu. This is because no precedent cognitive evaluation can portray the entire cognitive spectrum needed to construct a comprehensive prediction. Using academic success as the metric of cognitive ability or intelligence, on the other hand, requires no conclusions of a conjectural nature, other than those raised by Wallach (1976). From the realistic point of view, academic success is a more meaningful measure of cognitive ability than I.Q. tests, et cetera, simply because the academic success criterion is a means whereby one may quantify that which exists in fact. Inductive reasoning may then be invoked to attempt to explain the reason why behind the factual observation. For these reasons, the academic success criterion will be defined and thereafter used in conjunction with the point of this paper.

Academic success is presently defined as the achievement of a grade point average (GPA) equal to or greater than 3.00 (grade = B), while at the same time enrolled in courses that comprise at least 12 semester hours.

Relating the various cognitive components of academic success, as it has been defined, to the existing I.Q. tests and other precedent cognitive measures is outside the scope of this paper. It can be inferred, however, that the academic success criterion does contain many of the same parameters that characterize the I.Q. test, provided that the course structure implicit within the criterion is sufficiently broad in scope. In addition, the academic success criterion implicitly contains cognitive parameters that are not generally assessed by precedent evaluative tests. We thus assume the validity of the academic success criterion as a metric of total cognitive ability, with the proviso that care must be taken in examining the implicit course structure that affects the criterion. In so doing, it is felt that we are using a more unified cognitive assessment tool and one that is, in any case, post-factual.

Student Orientation Services

The Student Orientation Services (SOS) was begun at UAF in 1969 in response to the needs of students from rural areas of Alaska and students whose cultural background was different from the major culture of the campus. From the inception, the SOS student body has been composed primarily of students with a Native Alaskan racial and cultural heritage. Usually, a student served by SOS receives financial assistance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (B IA). Academic funding from BIA is contingent upon the race of the applicant. At least one-quarter Indian or Eskimo blood (Indianid) is mandatory by law for the applicant to qualify for financial assistance. Part of the BIA scholarship assistance applications contain certain questions that seek to establish each applicant’s racial background. SOS seeks to establish racial heritage for each student under their auspices since these statistics are a part of their operational objectives. Both BIA and SOS are aided in their endeavor by the recent enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. To receive benefits under the new Act, each registrant must have a verifiable Native Alaskan ancestry. Consequently, most students who are a part of the SOS student body have an accurately known racial heritage. In addition to this valuable racial profile for each student, the cultural heritage may be inferred from the student’s village or town of origin and the schools attended.

Hybridity among the Indianid population is common. Most hybrids, however, are at most third generation or less. As a result, the majority of SOS students are known to be 0/4, 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, or 4/4 Indianid-White hybrids. A few students fit the racial fractions 3/8, 5/8, 7/8, and 15/16. In actual fact, these racial fractions do not exactly fit many of the SOS population students. This is a consequence of a constant genetic input from European and Asian races for at least the last 150 years. However, this genetic input has been sporadic and generally far removed in terms of the generation of the current SOS population. By now, this genetic pool broadening influence must be random and slight. It can therefore be assumed that the racial fraction listed by each individual student applies accurately to the average of all students who list their race with the same fraction. Quite easily, then, those SOS students who can be described by the given racial fractions can be grouped into two populations defined as ≤ 2/4 Indianid and >2/4 Indianid. Moreover, the Indianid genetic influence within these two populations will be known to an unusual accuracy.

Cultural and societal isolation is a very tangible quality of Alaskan life. The immense area of Alaska combined with its sparse population renders most towns and villages easily accessible only by air. If it is known that a particular village or town is isolated, except by air, and that it is comprised primarily of Indianids, the cultural demeanor of the village may be inferred. In this example, it could be said that a member of the village under consideration has been exposed to a more traditional culture than some arbitrary member of another town or village that was neither so isolated nor populated so predominantly by Indianids. Thus, SOS students who have listed their village of origin can at least subjectively be placed into three categories that best describe the type of cultural influence they have had in their early life. The categories that will be used here will be defined as Native background (NB), rural background (RB), and urban background (UB). NB corresponds to the type of background described in the above example. The RB category corresponds to those students whose origin is listed as a rural town or village which is known to have a cultural demeanor that departs radically from the traditional culture of the Indianid members. Such a place would be Glennallen, Alaska, which has a significant Indianid population but which is accessible by road and which is culturally “western.” Another RB location would be a coastal village whose economic base has shifted to commercial fishing; an enterprise governed by western culture. The UB category is obvious. In this category were placed all students who were raised either outside Alaska or within one of Alaska’s urban centers. Foreign Indianids were excluded from consideration because their racial and cultural makeup could not be determined as accurately as U.S. Indianids.

The majority of the members of the generation of students being discussed here received their primary education in their village of origin. This is not the case for their secondary education. Because most villages have too small a population to support a high school, the State of Alaska and the BIA deemed it appropriate to offer secondary education only at schools that were removed from the student’s home. Boarding home programs were established and students from the outlying villages populated the programs. When a boarding home student was sent to an educational institution that was meant primarily for native or BIA students, that student was categorized as receiving a native education (RE). Those students who were fortunate enough to have a boarding home school located in their village and, as a result, attended that school were also categorized as receiving a native education. Most boarding home schools were, for the generation of students under consideration, located in an area with a high Indianid population. If the school was, on the other hand, located in a rural or urban area and was not meant primarily for boarding home students, then the student was categorized as either receiving a rural education (RE) or an urban education (UE). Students who did not attend high school or who received a high school diploma by examination or correspondence school were categorized as GED.

In addition to tabulating students according to background and education, a table was constructed which delineated the number of students of each racial fraction according to their year in college, their sex, and whether or not they have declared a major. This later category was included because a declared major implies a more directed academic endeavor as well as implying more academic advisement from counseling sources outside of SOS.

Data Analysis

The data were arranged so as to form a table which gave the total number of SOS students by racial fraction, background and education category, NB, NE, et cetera. This was done for the group of students who attended college and took 12 units or more during the fall semester of 1974 and also for the spring semester of 1975. There was a total of 172 students counted during the fall semester of 1974 (F74) and 142 during the spring semester of 1975 (S75). Each student included in these numbers could be unambiguously placed into a racial, cultural and educational category; otherwise they were excluded from the count.

Once it was known how many of the total number of SOS students of each semester were represented in each compound racial, cultural, and educational category, it was then determined how many of these had achieved a semester GPA greater than or equal to 3.0. The two numbers were then compared. First, the number of students who, on the basis of chance alone, would be expected to fit a given compound category was compared with the number actually occurring in that category. This gave information as to whether the number of students appearing in a given category was above or below that number of students which could be expected to occur at random. Next, a statistic related to chi-square was applied to the numbers of each compound category so as to determine the significance between the’ relative magnitudes represented by the numbers, if any.

Table (1) shows the results of this procedure. The numbers appearing in each compound category are termed а-numbers. To clarify the meaning of the а-numbers, consider the table and the category of students who attended college during F74 and who were less than or equal to one-half Indianid. The а-number for the background section UB F74 ≤2/4 Indianid set is +89. This means that random fluctuations alone would produce the number of F74 ≤ 2/4 Indianid academically successful (AS) students appearing in that factor 89% of the time, given the background structure of the SOS population. The sign indicates directionality and shows that the AS factor number exceeded expectation (+) or that the AS factor number was below expectation (-). The same factor listed for the S75 > 2/4 Indianid set shows an а-number of +66. In the same manner, the +66 value indicates that the number of S75 > 2/4 Indianid AS students occurring in that factor would occur by chance alone 66% of the time, given the background structure of the SOS population. The other а-numbers imply the same interpretation.






NB -82 -93 +70 -87 +91 -82
RB -90 -- +88 -95 -- +90
UB +84 +66 +74 +95 -- +89
NE +85 +92 +63 +88 +89 +77
RE -91 -- +86 -96 -- +91
UE -90 +84 -76 -96 -- -93
GED -- -- -- -- -- --
YR1 100 +78 +73 -94 -96 +94
YR2 -- -- -- +96 +90 -80
YR3-4 -- -- -- +95 -85 +84
M -93 -91 -- -94 +94 -83
F +91 -92 +73 +87 -97 +87
MAJ -88 -85 -90 -88 -96 +95
RACE -- -88 +82 -- -90 +90
19 8 11 26 13 13

Given the meaning of the а-number, we see that those factors that have the lowest а-numbers are the most significant. That is to say, a factor with a low а-number simply says that the AS population number appearing in that factor would appear by chance alone less often than if it had a higher а-number. In that case, it is evident which factors are the more significant to which racial types.

From the table it can be seen that the most significant background features of academic success among the group of students of each semester who are ≤ 2/4 Indianid are, respectively, NB, UB, and RB. Among those students of each semester who were greater than 2/4 Indianid, the most significant background feature seems to be the UB category. The data are incomplete for this set but the а-number given for the S75 > 2/4 category suggests that it is highly significant whether or not the Native students involved were raised in an urban setting. It should be noted that the directionality for this category is positive. In other words, those students who fell into this category exceeded expectation. This result corroborates the idea that an urban background provides a person with a cultural grammar that possesses more cognitive components requisite to academic success than does the Native or rural background.

In support of this interpretation, consider the union set for each semester. We see that, on the average, a person raised in the traditional culture falls below expectation while those raised in settings indicative of a dominant cultural influence usually exceeded expectation. Those raised in a wholly urban setting always exceeded expectation.
The education section of Table (1) shows that the GED factor was in all cases not amenable to the type of statistics used in the analysis. No attempt was made to develop means whereby this factor could become statistically analysed.

From the education section some very interesting observations immediately emerge. It is noticed from the data that the NE directionality remained positive across the semester for the ≤ 2/4 sets. For this same set, the UE factor remained negative. This is in contrast to what would be expected. A rural native education should equip a student academically less well than the urban education. The reverse seems to be the case. Here we see that those students with a rural native education exceed expectation while those students characterized as receiving an urban education achieve at a rate that is less than expected. Judging from the magnitude of the significance, we cannot assume that the unexpected behavior of one or two students have caused this curious situation to have occurred. The > 2/4 set indicates that the magnitude of the significance of this category changed little from F74 to S75 but the directionality was negative. However, the significance levels are so slight here that little meaning can be attached to the directionality.

Recalling the criteria used to categorize a student as either NE or UE we see possibly important differences that may affect the student’s later academic potential. An obvious consideration is whether or not the student was removed from his traditional background to attend a school that reflected a different cultural milieu. In analysing the data it was found that during F74, 20 > 2/4 students were categorized as NB. For this same group of students, it was found that only 10 were categorized as NE. Similarly, RB = 30 and UB = 18 while RE = 27 and UE = 28. Obviously, there is a divergence of students from the rural and native background setting into the urban education setting. The students so displaced may have reacted to their environment to result in a population of students who received the “benefits” of an urban education but whose psychological and cultural impact problems overlaid those educational aspects assumed to be beneficial. This conclusion has been reached independently by Kleinfeld (1974).

Considerations other than prior background or education enter the equation for academic success. For this reason other categories that suitably describe each student have been included in the data. The YR. STANDING section has been included both because the information is easily obtainable and because the data can serve as a check to see if the SOS student body. and their academically successful students follow the same yearly trend as the general UAF student body. At UAF and most other universities, the year standing of the student has much to say about their chance of becoming academically successful. A higher percentage of upper division students attain the 3.00 GPA than lower division students. In other words, the year standing becomes a more and more significant aspect of academic success. Most of the S75 data is not usable to determine whether or not this is the case with the SOS student body. The F74 data shows, however, that the tendency for SOS students to academically succeed, the longer they remain in college, matches the general tendency of the UAF student body. That this is so adds credibility to the tacit assumption that a given SOS student is representative.

The MAJ factor was included for reasons previously stated. We notice from Table (1) that the significance is slight but it is noticed that, except for the union set, the significance increases from one semester to the other. The greatest change and greatest absolute significance is recorded for the > 2/4 Indianid group of students. Moreover, the directionality shows that this group of students fell short of expectation. Declaring a major implies an increased level of academic advisement from counselors outside of SOS. For the > 2/4 Indianid student, who would exhibit more of the difficulties associated with a student of a rural native background and education, this advisement may be detrimental. In keeping with this interpretation, we notice that within the ≤ 2/4 Indianid group of students, the MAJ category is less important than it is for the > 2/4 Indianid set. The ≤ 2/4 Indianid student body contains fewer students with a rural native background or education. Hence, unenlightened academic advisement would be expected to affect them less.

Turning now to the implications attendent to the racial factors, we notice only a marginal significance. It is interesting to note that the ≤ 2/4 Indianid students exceeded expectation during both semesters while the > 2/4 Indianid group fell below expectation. However, as can be noticed, the significance in the racial factors changes from one semester to the next. This would suggest that the racial factors are confounded with other factors. The directionality notwithstanding, the significance levels for this factor when compared with the significance levels of other factors indicate that while race may enter into the equation for academic success, other factors are potentially much more important.

Discussion and Conclusion

To summarize the results that have been obtained by analyzing the SOS student body data, it has been found that various factors enter the equation for academic success. The most significant of these factors was found to be related to whether or not the student had been displaced from his traditional cultural environment to receive his secondary education. It was found that if a student was so displaced, the supposed beneficient aspects of the displacement were in fact translated into a propensity for failure, insofar as achieving a high grade point average in college was concerned. On the other hand, if the student remained within his own cultural unit to receive his secondary education, this was translated into a propensity toward success. This, in spite of the fact that the urban integrated school is considered the superior educational environment when compared to the rural, often, nonintegrated school.

The next important term that entered the equation for academic success at the college level was found to be related to the students’ early cultural environment. In particular, those raised in an urban setting were found always to exceed expectation whereas those raised in rural or traditional cultural environments, on the average, fell below expectation.

In the data analysis it was also found that the race of the student was of less importance than the student’s cultural and educational background. For instance, correlations between the race of the student and whether or not that student became academically successful was found to be of marginal significance. On the other hand, if the student were raised in an urban setting, expectation was exceeded regardless of the racial type considered.

But, how might one translate this information into a meaningful educational process specified for the Alaskan minority student?

In the first place, it should be apparent that the delivery system for secondary education in rural Alaska needs to be overhauled. If the results of the data analysis reported herein are correct, it is obvious that the present delivery is detrimental to the average student. That is, the data suggests that it is better for a student to receive his education within the cultural unit in which he was raised. This is evidently true even though the rural secondary programs are not in general able to meet the same academic standards as the urban secondary programs. Hence, the delivery system should be changed so as to allow more students to receive their education, in total, within the cultural unit in which they are raised.

However, this is a long range goal and does nothing for those students who have been displaced and who are now displaced in deference to their secondary education. To develop viable educational programs for this group of students, one must consider what the net educational effect must have been in the displacement of these students.

From a simplistic point of view, we may say that students displaced from their traditional culture to receive their secondary education simply did not “learn” at the rate expected. More precisely, we may say that such a student did not incorporate the consequential cognitive tools, usually provided by the formal education process, into a modified culture grammar that would allow them to compete successfully in an urban professional or collegiate setting.

Moreover, those students who were raised and also educated within their traditional native environment may be considered in somewhat the same manner. Albeit to a far lower degree, these students also have not incorporated the necessary cognitive components within their operational culture grammar that will allow them to compete successfully in an urban academic or professional environment.

Any educational process specified with respect to these students should, therefore, contain the specific objective of reinforcing those cognitive areas that have here been postulated as weak. In other words, the educational process should, among other things, stress the development of the cognitive tools that are known to be important in the academic endeavor. For instance, English courses could, among other things, stress encoding and decoding so as to increase general articulation skills.

Perhaps one of the more valuable courses that may be offered the group of students under consideration here is a course concerned with the conceptual development of the scientific method. The reason for a science course being singularly important is because basic introductory science deals with very narrowly defined conceptual processes. There is very little subjective area for a student to deal with in solving a problem in the basic sciences.

Since science and math is nothing more than highly specialized logic, and hence, abstract thought, the narrow conceptual format may be utilized in a very advantageous way. As an example, a student could be asked to delineate verbally what one is actually doing when one solves a simple math problem. The narrow conceptual format of the problem does not allow the student to stray very far from the cognitive process being described. Moreover, in asking the student such a question, one would be giving the student valuable practice in how to articulate her/his own thoughts. This ability has obvious value regardless of whether the student continues on in college or not.

Again using the narrow conceptual format of science to advantage, practice in encoding complicated verbal information is also easily given the student of a science course. For instance, the teacher can give the student an equation to solve, write down the solution verbally and then ask the student to solve the equation. The syntax and lexicon of the verbal solution could be varied, thus giving the student practice in encoding broad areas of articulated information.

Science has been a widely neglected area of education in most rural school systems of Alaska. This is evident when one considers the remarkably poor performance recorded for the afore mentioned questionnaires which were passed out to some 200 SOS students over a period of seven semesters. This apparent neglect of science education is indeed unfortunate for it has been shown that science can be an extremely valuable tool in facilitating cognitive mobility in exactly those areas that are known to be consequential to the formal education process itself. Further, sending students into a technological society, many times to participate in a collegiate or professional enterprise, only increases the probability that those students will fail in their particular endeavor.

In view of this, the authors of this paper strongly advise the development of rural educational programs that include science education as an important component. It is felt that in so doing the future practical, professional, and educational viability of the rurally educated person will be considerably enhanced.


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Last modified October 7, 2008