Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Local Legends and Truths

In the past month I've done quite a bit of reading, which has been burdensome at times, but mostly a good excuse to curl up and enjoy quiet moments at home. The latest three books I've read are all about Alaska, but from very different angles.
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First I completed "Last Letters From Attu". I read this in Mexico and the contrast of reading about long rural Alaskan winters while camped out by the pool in a swimsuit was not lost on me. This book tells the story of Etta Jones, an Alaskan pioneer that traveled in from the Midwest with her sister when they were both single and around forty years old. She married a local; her sister had enough after nine months. Over the next twenty years she lived in several villages working first as a nurse and eventually as an educator. Her appreciation for local Native Alaskan culture and her effort to integrate that in educational systems as she established them was very different from many educational philosophies of the time. When World War II hit she was in Attu with her husband, one of the only places in the United States to be invaded. Her husband was killed and she was taken as a prisoner of war to Japan for three years. Her story of is cataloged by both personal diaries and her avid letter writing throughout her adventures. While I read this book for a project I needed to present in a grad school class, I enjoyed the story thoroughly.

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Second, I read the "text book" for that same class, "Conflicting Landscapes: American Schooling/Alaska Natives". It was co-written by the teacher of my class, who lived as an educator and Russian Orthodox priest in rural Alaska for over thirty years. His personal experience and knowledge of what federal mandates have done in shaping rural Alaskan schooling, and what is actually needed out there, is very interesting. I initially was frustrated with the required six credits that I had to take to get a permanent teaching license up here, but after taking this class I am convinced it is a valuable requirement. Whether I teach in rural Alaska or teach students from there, I will be a better teach if I understand the history and conflicts that these students are coming from.


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Last, and following in the same theme, I read a book about Alaska that is fiction. This was the latest read for the book club I have been (somewhat) participating in, and given the class I took and the direction my thoughts were going, it was fitting. The author for this book was local and actually came to our meeting to discuss the book this past week. I enjoyed this book for both the way that it wove simultaneous stories in present time and through flashback, the use of traditional Native Alaskan stories (the author grew up and went back to teach in the rural Alaskan area this book is about), and the fact that it is about the struggles of teaching in a culture that is different than the one "setting the standards" for education. A fairly quick and easy read, this was a perfect "weekend" book to dive into when the slush and snow make outdoor activity of any kind mostly miserable. I would definitely recommend it, and can't wait until Curtis has time to read it (you know, sometime this summer when he is stuck in his own rural village).

Up next? The same book that was up next last time...and that I have barely moved on since then.

(Sorry, Ali. I'll finish it some day!)

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