Sunday, February 27, 2011

Night at the Museum

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Last weekend I put on a well-worn (hypothetical) hat and returned to the classroom as a student. I found out a year ago when I started to research moving my teaching license across the country that the move would necessitate such a return, and here I was, eleven months later, putting in my time so that the state of Alaska would allow me to continue hanging out with adolescents on a daily basis.

In addition to the obligatory 45 hours of class time, which for the sake of the professionals taking the class is packed into two weekends rather than over fifteen weeks, the students are required to go on a couple field trips on our own time. The first? A trip to our local museum.

I can only remember one trip to the museum in all the time I lived here growing up, but this happened to be my second time in two months. Last month when I made the outing I went with a couple friends from work to see a special exhibit. This time I went to see the general collection--and I wasn't disappointed.

The state requires all licensed teachers to take at least one class about Alaskan culture and history, which seems appropriate given the unique nature of both the people and places up here. While there were sections of the museum dedicated to both Alaskan artists, and those that have captured Alaska with their artwork, there were also sections dedicated to the relics and culture of the original Native Alaskan tribes who have walked a delicate line between preservation and assimilation in the past 250 years.

Glass case after glass case showcased clothing, tools, and artifacts from a lifestyle that seems like it existed ages ago rather than while my great grandparents were alive. Videos showcased native speakers sharing the challenges of trying to maintain a language and traditions even as the world they live in changes so quickly. It was obvious that the temperature, humidity and lighting in the room was intentionally controlled--yet one more way the breakdown of these symbols of communities is desperately trying to be fought.

As I continued to circulate the cases and exhibits, mostly alone in my evening perusal, I couldn't help but wonder what will represent this time in which we currently life. What artifacts will be valued and preserved? What traditions and values will be lost--for better or for worse? Try as we might to preserve pieces of our past, we are constantly moving forward and changing. Eventually this "modern-day-era" will be left behind for something else, and remnants of this age will be gathered as mementos of a time left behind.

There is something sobering about recognizing that I am one small piece of a story that is so much bigger and longer than I can often comprehend. This world has existed long before now, and will continue to turn long after I am gone. Perhaps this is why the museum is so enchanting, because it reminds me--if few ways that our current culture does--that I am not the center of the universe and that the true value in life lies in truth that transcends time or individuals.

And I guess that's one of many reasons that I am glad I'm returning to my status as a student for the next couple weeks. It may eat up a bit of my free time, but it also reminds me to think beyond grading papers and making dinner and all the other every-day-life necessities that quickly consume my thinking if I allow it.

Next up on the list of field trips? An outdoor adventure. I'll keep you posted, but suffice it to say I'm glad it does not involve snow caves.

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