Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised

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nickmetcalf-web.jpgBack to School

It’s this time of year that those of

us with children are busy getting kids ready for school. We are

shopping for school clothes and gathering school supplies. We are

mentally preparing our kids for their return to a schedule. We are

considering how, or if, we are able to be involved with the many

school activities. Back to school: it’s an exciting time.

As an insecure, awkward, effeminate kid

who grew up isolated on a rural reservation in South Dakota, it was

school that would be my ticket to someplace. My parents encouraged my

pursuit of education. They celebrated my ability to learn. They

recognized my thirst for knowledge.

My earliest memories of learning was of

my mother. She enjoyed reading. As a young child, I laid next to her

while she read her “True Romance” magazine. I begged her to read

to me. Eventually, I got my own books to read aloud. She was so

patient with me. One night she challenged me to try to read without

making any sound or moving my lips. I protested, I couldn’t do it.

But she encouraged me, “Follow the words. You’ll hear it in your

head.” I tried and tried. I did it and I was beyond thrilled. The

voice in my head could follow the words and I understood it. We

laughed together.

My college years were the best time of

my life. Leaving the reservation for college was difficult, but I got

through it with the help of friends. I had to learn to survive off

the reservation because I was thrust into an environment where no one

looked like me, nor did I understand their worldview. It was my

education that helped me reconcile places that didn’t make sense

and I learned a new way of thinking. I learned to be a critical

thinker. I learned to be able to look at a variety of possibilities

then make my best judgment based on the facts.

When I graduated with my Master’s

degree in Social Work, my mother made the long, eight-hour trip from

the Rez to come to my graduation. She put on a dress and she looked

fancy. My mother was the lone scream I heard when my name was read to

walk across the stage to get my diploma. I knew at that moment, it

was her who got me this far. It was my mother who urged me. It was

she who encouraged me. When doubt came along and got a hold of me,

she’d chase it off. When I heard her scream across that large

auditorium, I knew, this moment was very much hers. I was her only

child to pursue this level of higher education. She screamed with

pride. It was her victory.

I know that school is not a place of

salvation for some people in our community. It is the place of

trauma. It left bad memories for some of our people because the

effects of the boarding school era are still felt in parts of our

community. We have elders in our community who dare not tell those

stories of what they experienced, yet they pass on that trauma.

Our educational system is failing

Native people. Graduation rates for Native kids in our local school

district are horrible. The testing scores for our Native students are

horrible. The dropout rates for Native kids are horrible.

I was amazed, then saddened, to learn

the level of poverty our kids experience. In addition, the homeless

rates that many of them are experiencing are horrible.

It’s frustrating when people in our

educational system make assumptions that Native parents don’t care

about our kids education because we don’t show up to meetings. Many

of the parents I know are working a few jobs to make ends meet. Some

parents are dealing with their own issues and are doing the best they

can for their kids, but because we don’t show up for an evening

meeting then we are considered negligent. As if being poor was a

moral failure.

Being poor is a societal problem.

I am encouraged by Native educators and

Native professionals who are creating a crossroad for our children to

fully integrate themselves in our educational institutions. They

bring Native teachings into the classroom and they bring Native

ideas. They fully appreciate our children for who they are and they

understand the history of schools for us is a difficult one. They

remind the educational system that our children are much more than a

test.

School has been my salvation. It is the

place that I am able to discover. It is the place that I reconcile

ideas. It is the place that I explore possibilities. What I’ve come

to know, my education is something that no one can ever take away

from me. Back to school: it’s an incredible time.