Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Group Seeks Alaska Course in Schools


 by ROSEMARY SHINOHARA Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A coalition of Anchorage groups, spurred by the January paint ball attack on Alaska Natives, proposed that the Anchorage School District add a required high school course to teach students about Alaska cultures and history.

The attack this winter, by two white male teenagers and a young white man, shocked the town. The three recorded their activities on videotape.

They showed that "some people don't care much about other people," said Ira Perman, executive director of the Alaska Humanities Forum. "The way you develop caring is to develop understanding."

The Humanities Forum, the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Bridge Builders multicultural group organized a task force and on Monday presented their proposal to the School Board. The board took no immediate action.

Board members said in interviews Monday that they like the idea of requiring Alaska studies but are concerned about how to fit the course into students' schedules and don't want to further restrict choices for electives.

"We've already been hearing from students in fine arts and music, and students who want to take four years of foreign language, that they're having a hard time finding any time for electives," board member Debbie Ossiander said.

Superintendent Carol Comeau said she'll talk to teachers, parents, students and principals and then recommend that the subject be taught either as a stand-alone course or as part of other required courses.

Lack of knowledge about Alaska's people and history has contributed to "so much misunderstanding," Comeau said. Many Alaskans don't know how the Alaska Permanent Fund came to be, why subsistence is an issue and how the Native land claims were settled, she said.

"If we had a course of study, it would go a long way toward improving cooperation statewide," Comeau said.

The Legislature is considering a similar requirement for all Alaska students. The plan, which won widespread endorsement in the House this year, would be flexible, said Rep. Mary Kapsner, D-Bethel, the main sponsor. It would require that Alaska studies either be taught in a separate course or integrated into other courses. The bill secured 29 co-sponsors. It did not make it through the Legislature this year but will be up again next January.

The state would lay out the topics districts should cover and create lesson plans that teachers could use, Kapsner said.

That might work in villages, but in a large district like Anchorage, there would be no way to track whether each student had learned the material, said Pat Partnow, vice president of the Alaska Native Heritage Center. "In my personal experience with the Anchorage School District, unless you have an actual class, it doesn't get done," she said. Partnow formerly wrote curriculum for the district.

The course should be taught in high school and not earlier because the goal is to create an informed citizenry, Partnow said.

"We expect kids to come away with a respect for other cultures. For children of color, we expect a more welcoming, positive atmosphere," she said.

Elsa Sargento, who came to Alaska with her husband from the Philippines, said of recent immigrants, "We are invisible in the history books, and that makes us invisible as citizens." She urged the board to adopt an Alaska history course.

In high school, students can read original documents like the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. They can understand the complexities of the subsistence issue and learn how the Permanent Fund works, Partnow said.

Anchorage students cover some Alaska studies in lower grades. In second grade, teachers focus on Anchorage, and in third grade, the social studies theme is Alaska. Anchorage seventh-graders study Alaska literature and also learn Alaska social studies for nine weeks.

High schoolers are not required to take any Alaska courses. For high school social studies, the district requires two years of integrated world and U.S. history, a semester each of economics and government and two other elective social studies classes. One elective must be tied to geography and the other to history or other social sciences. For the geography requirement, students may now take Alaska studies or may choose from about 18 other geography courses.

The community groups proposed that one of the two social studies electives be the required Alaska studies class.

Alaska Native Knowledge Network




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