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Native Pathways to Education
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Cross-Cultural Issues in

Alaskan Education Vol. I


In recent years the number of individuals and organizations in Alaska concerned with cultural considerations in education has grown substantially. Books, essays, manuals, and texts on cross-cultural education are now found in every region of the country. Indeed, “culture” or culture relevance as a consideration in the curriculum is often ranked as one of the top five issues confronting teachers everywhere. Thus, it is consistent with these developments that a volume on cross-cultural issues in Alaskan education has now emerged.

From the quantity of material on the subject of cross-cultural issues now appearing, it might be assumed that cross-culturalism will endure the test of time. More importantly, however, as an indicator as to whether we are experiencing only a passing fancy or something of permanence in the education systems of the United States is the question of quality. Quality of thought, of course, will determine the pervasiveness of cross-cultural concepts and their ultimate staying power. If the theoretical rationale behind cross-cultural considerations is sound enough, improved curriculum and teaching will not be far behind. Cross-culturalism in public education then may one day become the norm. For those of us who espouse this end, books, such as Cross-Cultural Issues in Alaskan Education, serve to move us in the right direction. Albeit, the articles in Cross-Cultural Issues in Alaskan Education are not final pronouncements - few in the material printed today are - they do invoke thought, criticism, and discussion and thereby can make a positive contribution.

One of the problems in examining cross-cultural issues anywhere is lack of consensus as to the meaning of the term “cross-cultural education.” In a field that has grown this fast several definitions come to mind. Thus, before a person embarks on some aspect of cross-cultural education, be it a scientific study of the subject or an emotional militant campaign (or, as is the case with most of us, somewhere in between), we must define the term. I find the definition for intercultural education set forth by John Walsh in his book, Intercultural Education and the Community of Man, meets this need. According to Walsh,

Intercultural1 education is the process by which one looks beyond his own culture and attempts to understand and appreciate how persons of other cultures interpret the life of man and the things of nature, and why they view them as they do.2

Application of this definition for cross-cultural education, it seems to me, requires inclusion of all individuals or groups of individuals in all geographic locations. In essence, what the definition requires is that no one in a cross-cultural situation be considered exempt from the conditions imposed by the concept. The very use of the prefixes “cross” or “inter-” or “trans-”requires that programs developed under their meaning must apply equally to the teacher as well as the pupil. In short, in any cross-cultural situation everyone involved is a teacher and everyone involved is a pupil regardless of the prescribed title or role assigned by the system. It is every bit as damaging to the learning situation for the teacher to fail to “look beyond his own culture” as it is for the pupil. When both teachers and pupils are able to interchange roles spontaneously in a cross-cultural situation, the stigma and consequent limitations of roles can be overcome. Classroom situations may thereby ultimately become truly cross-cultural situations in themselves. The resultant climate of mutual respect for each other and for learning could then mean far more than all of the cross-cultural materials and curricula presently being developed and debated.

Broad statements and altruistic concepts espoused in general introductions to books such as this one are a far cry from the real world of the everyday classroom. What transpires daily between “teacher” and “pupil” is far more complex than any definition for cross-cultural education; opportunities for situations culminating in frustrations seem ever to increase. Still, consideration of broad guidelines, such as the definition used here, may help others put their work into perspective, especially those working in the remote, small schools of rural Alaska. And these articles, with specific ideas and suggestions, may indeed help make the cross-cultural Alaskan classroom more productive and thus more satisfying for all concerned. It is to this end that Dr. Barnhardt has compiled and edited the following material; organized in such a way that articles pertaining to broad areas within cross-cultural education may be brought to bear on “understanding and appreciating how others interpret life.”

Frank Darnell
Professor of Education and
Director, Center for Northern Educational Research


The following collection of articles represents the “state of the art” with regard to understanding and attending to cross-cultural issues in Alaskan education. The views presented by the various authors indicate some of the approaches being taken to ameliorate what are probably the most vexing problems faced by educators anywhere in the country. The articles were selected to present a variety of views on a wide range of issues, all associated with the complex cross-cultural problems inherent in the delivery of educational services to Alaska’s multicultural population. The authors are all active participants in the processes and programs they describe, though the views presented are their own.

The original idea for this collection grew out of a symposium on “Native Education in Alaska” presented by staff and students of the Cross-Cultural Education Development Program (X-CED) at the Society for Applied Anthropology meeting in St. Louis, in March, 1976. The papers presented at the symposium served as a core around which the other articles were assembled. Some of the papers included here have been circulating for awhile amongst small groups of people, but only a few have been available to a broad public audience. The intent of this publication is to provide for this broader dissemination, and to encourage interaction and exchange of ideas on the issues.

The collection is dedicated to the late Bill Vaudrin, who, through his personal commitment and effort to improve educational opportunities in Alaska, was a primary force in bringing about the shift to local control of education currently taking place throughout the State. His legacy is best reflected in his writing, of which excerpts have been selected with the help of Conny Katasse, and are included here with the kind permission of Dave Osterback. The excerpts introducing each section are taken from the Inupiat University Catalog (1975-76), with the exception of the poem in Part Ill, which was selected from a collection of unpublished poetry, and the excerpt introducing Part IV, which was taken from an article titled “Native/Non-Native Communication: Creating a Two-way Flow.”

I wish to express my appreciation to the authors of the articles for permission to include their material, to Jim Stricks for designing the cover, to Mike Gaffney for his editorial assistance, to Jo Lu for typing the many versions of the papers, to Frank Darnell and the CNER staff for taking on the task of publishing the articles, and to the X-CED staff for their tolerance for ambiguity.

With that, I turn it over to you, the reader.

Ray Barnhardt, Editor


1. Walsh prefers the term intercultural but accepts cross-cultural as having the same meaning.
2. John E. Walsh, Intercultural Education and the Community of Man, The University Press of Hawaii, 1973, P. 13.



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Last modified October 3, 2008