Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ancient Perceptions


An educational research colleague of mine once referred to "ancient perceptions of the self." It's a particularly apt description of how learners in a classroom deal with all the emotional baggage of who to be as a student. I recall students asking me not to put them in a group with___ because "back in 2nd grade something happened..." We sometimes cling to outdated beliefs and unconsciously confirm their power and accuracy. Educators see this all the time. I saw it last week in a classroom when a student could not see a link between creativity and the study of anthropology. He truly believed that an anthropological perspective, the subject of the lesson, could only be expressed one way. This kind of resistance often takes root in an early experience that sustains the perception, "I am not creative."
That theme seemed to predominate a number of events this past week. Those images of how things are seem to peek over the edges of our thinking from time to time.
Case in point: A TV station in Portland ran a story juxtaposing two high schools and their opening weeks for the new school year. One, a predominately African-American school (The only one in the state) was mentioned because of shootings in the community and the resultant safety issues for the campus. The other school, mostly white and arguably the "best school in the district" was mentioned because of recent cuts affecting the academic program. I'm sure the former, named for Thomas Jefferson, has many fine academic programs worthy of mention that are also impacted by budget cuts. At the same time, the later, named for Abraham Lincoln, has security issues on it's downtown campus too. Perceptions get fed. Interesting too that the school named for Jefferson is perceived as black (Jefferson was a slave holder) and Lincoln ...well you know the rest.
Last night I finished a most remarkable book, Empire of the Summer Moon, the Pulitzer Prize nominated account of the rise and fall of the Comanches, by S.C. Gywne. The book also details the like of Quanah Parker, the last great chief who was half white. His mother was kidnapped during a raid and remained with the Comanches much of her adult life. When she was finally reunited with her family, after having children and living with the tribe for about 40 years, she regretted her decision to re-enter "civilization." There is a most remarkable scene near the end of the book where Quanah, forced to live on a reservation, but realizing it is that or death, is allowed to leave for a short time to go on a buffalo hunt. Trouble is, after a few days and traveling more miles that originally allowed to, there are no buffalo left. They end up shooting some cattle with bows/arrows, but it's hardly the same. Books like this detail the reality of Native American life and history. Talk about ancient perceptions. Much of what we see is what Indian historian Gerry Vizner from U C Berkeley calls "simulations." You know the feathers, drums, kind of imagery. The Comanche were and wore many things. They were as violent, peace-loving, skilled, spiritual as any culture. That old demon, the concept of owning land, along with disease, alcoholic beverages, and greed, did them in, just like all the rest.

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