Back 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
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
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
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.