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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

On Punks and Culture

 

by Louise J. Britton
Lower Yukon School District

 

You may have the wrong idea already. The punks I'm thinking about have nothing to do with orange hair. The punks I'm talking about are the "arraqs" in our Yup'ik culture. I believe they are a fungus in English. These are growths appearing on the trunks of trees, especially birch trees. Ways of relating schooling and education with these "arraqs" is what I wish to show. 

Actually, the whole culture, and its values, seems to be slipping away, but the purpose is not to attempt in one short paper to show how the Yup'ik Eskimo culture can be saved. That would take the combined efforts of numerous people and many ideas. The punk gathering experience I will focus on here is but one small part of our tradition. Subsistence gathering is a primary aspect of the "Yup'ik" lifestyle. Whether it is picking berries, gathering eggs from wild nesting waterfowl, dry grass cutting in the fall, logging and wood-cutting, hunting birds and animals for food, clothing, and tools, or any of a hundred other examples, subsistence is what has always made our culture work. It could be like a big jigsaw puzzle, with the culture as the completed picture and punk gathering but one small part of the puzzle.

Knowledge that is important to our Elders and how they live is escaping our youth. It is unfortunate that these individually subtle activities that go into being Yup'ik are fading. However, an inherent desire for knowledge of who we are, as defined by these activities, is apparent in the students, and this is our "light at the end of the tunnel."

By expanding, exploring, and developing an interest in the single subsistence action of arraq harvesting, I hope to build up my students' feelings of group awareness, self-knowledge, and self-achievement. Before going further, it is necessary for the reader to understand that I am a secondary special education teacher, teaching in a village, so I am always looking for something that will be interesting and challenging for me and the students.

Implementation

Converting this idea into real and productive activity is the challenge. There are several approaches. The idea of arraq as a cash commodity is important as a tool for teaching math skills, i.e., counting and weight. Mainly it is beneficial to teach the Western idea of cash exchange. For example, a gunny sack of arraqs is sold for 25 dollars, or so much per pound, based on the market value. Lifetime success for Yup'ik youths lies in understanding Western values, as well as their own cultural values.

Another important aspect is the learning experience of arraq gathering and language arts. Language arts development here does not necessarily mean just Yup'ik or just English. Language use and knowledge development in both languages is essential to the future of the students individually and to the culture. As pointed out earlier, the effect of this lesson is to achieve cultural awareness and inner strength. One can use both the math and language art skill development to achieve this goal, by explaining and highlighting cultural values and appreciation.

With all that said, following is a lesson by lesson format for introducing arraq in the curriculum. Each lesson will probably require two or more class sessions.

Lesson One: The Arraq

For this lesson, visual methods are important. Arraqs will be shown to the students, along with a gunny sack and hatchet, gloves and other clothing used in gathering. Village elders will be invited to explain how and where these grow, and the uses of arraq will be discussed. Arraq can be used as an art object, subject to carving and painting, or as an additive in tobacco chewing that leaves the tobacco less sour (this goes back to when tobacco was introduced to our culture). Finally, the burning of arraq leaves a pleasant odor that serves as a mosquito repellent. The specifics of these three areas will be detailed for the students in the course of the lesson.

Lesson Two: Cash and Punks

The idea of punks sold for money will be developed here. Math skills will be used in a meaningful way (at least for the students) by showing how arcade games, pop, and other commodities will be achievable via the selling of punks. A scale will be used in class to show weight-to-money relationships. A western work ethic can be shown this way, and responsibility and self-achievement can be stimulated as well. Also, the barter method of exchange can be discussed, because before money, this was our form of trade, especially village to village. Since there were no punks down the coast, and no seals upriver, a barter situation developed. 

Lesson Three: Field Trip With Elder(s)

This is the fun part of the unit. Things learned in the first two lessons will become more meaningful in this hands-on learning experience. Punk harvesting is not done in winter or summer months. In the spring sometimes, but mostly fall is the season of this activity. This lesson develops communal efforts. Respect for your leader/elder will be instilled, and is long remembered. An outing like this is of spiritual value. One feels close to nature and to those who share the common experience.

On another plane, it is just good exercise. Many of my special education students are not as strong as their peers in regular classes, so they benefit from this kind of activity. Storage of goods will also be explained. Tightly sealed plastic bags are not used. The simple gunny sack is preferred because it allows air flow, which is needed for the arraq to dry out. In this and other lessons as well, specific and spontaneous thoughts by the students, teacher, and elders are encouraged, and will naturally occur.

Lesson Four: Language and Appreciation

Hopefully the preceding lessons will have done their purpose, so by now interest and excitement in the activity should be strong. I hope to encourage a lively discussion, or even an individual oral presentation by any student willing. A brief paper can be encouraged, but students will have a choice of which they prefer. Some historical knowledge should have been reclaimed along the way.

Traditional values, along with Western ideas and their mixing can easily be pursued.

As a teacher, I will critique the unit orally to my students, and parents and participating Elders will be invited to contribute. Any input by all of the people involved will be sought. Maybe this will be a good excuse for a little party too. This will create a social atmosphere, and it will get some or all of the parents to school. Who knows where we might progress from there.

 A Happy Fish Day

Foreword

Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn
 

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits

 

 

Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.

 


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Last modified August 18, 2006