July 2011 Archives

Pure Evil

It has been over 27 years since I had my last drink of alcohol. (I was thirty-one years old.) Because that was such a long time ago and since I am not an Addiction Counselor I am not prone to go around preaching against the evils of alcohol.  But that doesn't mean I have forgotten the harm it (alcoholism) has caused my family and relatives.


Every now and then an alcohol-related incident will occur that will remind me of the pure evil of alcoholism. Such an incident occurred last night, which in turn prompted this blog:


A woman gets into an argument with her 18-year-old daughter and ordered her (daughter) out of the house. In spite of the fact, her daughter had two young babies both less than two years old. Later that same day, as it was getting dark the mother/grandmother throws all her daughters clothes and other belongings out onto the lawn. The daughter implores her to think about her granddaughters but to no avail. 


Now alcoholism may not be as prevalent on the reservation as it was back in my heyday.  This may be because other drugs have taken their place. I know pills are a huge problem. They appear to be at least as bad as alcohol if not worse.


Anyway, if you noticed I characterized alcoholism as "pure evil". As a recovering alcoholic who drank alcoholically for 15 years, I view alcoholism as a tangible evil force.  This force is smarter, more cunning, more persistent, and more ruthless -- it never tires, it never takes a day off -- it is virtually unconquerable. Why? Because of the number of pure lies intertwined into the life of an alcoholic.


Charles Eastman (Dakota 1858 - 1939 said this "A person who was capable of lying was believed to be capable of committing other cowardly crimes against the tribe and was put to death to prevent the evil from doing more harm."


When a person becomes addicted to alcohol when they cross that imaginary line that defined them as an alcoholic as opposed to a social drinker he or she begins to live a life of a lie. Their first lie is that they are not alcoholic. Then they begin to lie about the problems it causes them; late or missing work, DUI's, bills not be paid, family members going without new clothes and other necessities, arguments with family, relatives, and acquaintances... the list goes on and on. 


The alcoholic will ignore all warning signs (lying to one's self) that their life is in trouble. Why? I don't know why I don't think anyone does.  That is the big mystery of addiction.  


More times than I care to remember I have woken up feeling absolutely horrible. First, from the amount of alcohol I drank the night, days or even the weeks before. And then from the despicable acts, I committed while under the influence.  I would vow never to drink again. A few days later my feelings of self-loathing would magically disappear and I would start the whole cycle all over again.


As powerful as alcoholism is it does have its Achilles heel.  It has no defense against (SELF) HONESTY.


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has it right when the came up with this first step to sobriety: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable - I call this is total honesty.  However, the amount of self-honesty a person needed to make this admission is enormous. Most people are not capable of this level of self-honesty, which is why the recovery rate of alcoholics are very low - around 30% I think.


I was one of the lucky few. The values my mom instilled me, one which was honesty, enabled me to admit that that alcohol had ruined my life.  Even so, it still took three stints in the Veteran Hospital's treatment center before I quit drinking for good.


Getting back to my opening scenario, I realize there are two sides to every argument.  However, regardless of the circumstances surrounding an argument, a parent has to be pretty ruthless to kick a child and grandchildren out in the manner that I described. This example of alcoholic behavior is why I classify alcoholism as "pure evil".

My good friend AnnMarie wrote in her blog I "...hypothesized that schools that had more cultural activities would have lower academic achievement." 

Over the years I have always been involved in promoting our culture in the classroom, as a Tribal College academic dean and president and later as a high school board member.  Because numerous studies have shown the more an Indian child knows about his or her culture the higher their test scores will be. Why? Because when ndn students understand and are proud of who they are and where they come from they naturally do better in school.  

Therefore, I could never understand why college instructors and high school administrators would not put a serious effort into promoting culture in the classroom. Other board members who also wanted to see more culture in the classrooms shared my frustration.

This past year I had the opportunity to teach "The History and Culture of the Spirit Lake Oyate" to the fifth and sixth graders at Tate Topa Middle School. The experience was rewarding. I had always said I wanted to end my career in Indian Education back in the classroom. Preferable back to teaching third grade.

My close up, hands-on experience, of teaching culture revealed an equation that I wasn't aware of. What actually happens in a classroom and in the school on a daily basis?  Here are my observations:

Ø  Why don't administrators push for more culture classes? Because most administrators believe there is no real learning going on in culture classes.

Ø  Why? The majority of culture teachers don't have a teaching degree, which in the mind of administrator make them poor teachers.  It is one thing to know the culture and another to know how to teach it.

Ø  What happens then? The lack of teacher training by culture teachers gives a bad impression to students and other professionally trained teachers.

Ø  Why are they allowed in the classroom? Because who else will teach the culture? Indians with teaching degrees are needed and wanted in the regular classroom.

Ø  What is the result of this lack of professionalism?  The administration does not view culture classes as important as other disciplines. Their academic expectations are lower. As a result, the quality of instruction is not a good as the other disciplines.

Ø  What is the final outcome? Culture instruction can actually have an adverse impact on student learning. The student picks up bad habits in a culture class, no respect for the teacher, low motivation to learn, not finishing the assignment, etc., these bad habits spill into other classes.

(I would say the exceptions to my observations are the Language teachers. It is almost impossible to find college graduate who speaks the language)

Is there hard data to support my observations? Yes, there is. Let me refer you to my friend and colleague AnnMaria's blog title: More cultural relevance = lower academic achievement: WHY?  http://t.co/OzpevQ8

There is another reason why I think we are having a difficult time teaching culture.  As I stated earlier, I had the opportunity to teach culture to the 5th and 6th graders this past spring. Having been out of an elementary classroom for over twenty years it took me a while to get organized and adjusted to the classroom again.

Shortly after starting I begin to suspect the students had no idea what "Being Indian" meant.  One day I gave them a simple assignment. The students were to write down the answer to this question.  What does it mean to be Indian?  Most of them had no answers. Those students that did answer, their answers weren't satisfactory. I disregarded my lesson plans and set out to teach them what I thought "Being Indian" meant.

The first thing I did was explained to them that our culture could be divided into three parts: language, customs, and values. A person has to speak the language to teach it. Other than speaking a few words I didn't speak the language other than a few words. The custom, which I identified as the dances, homes, clothes, history, etc., can be taught in any social studies class. I told them would focus on the values: courage, honesty, generosity and perseverance I would try to incorporate the other two aspects into my instructions as well.

Why did I choose to focus on the values? Because it was the most effective method of getting them to understand what "Being Indian" meant.  For example, I pointed out many Indian wear clothes with "Native Pride" and "Proud to Indian" on them. What does Native Pride mean, I would ask them? It means a person who is courageous, who is honest, who is generous and who perseveres... just like our ancestors did, I pointed out.

And I would refer to our values when I had to discipline a student. For example, when a student was talking when he or she should have been working I would tell him to be quiet. "I wasn't talking", the student who most often say. I would then remind him or her that a Dakota was honest...

I had them watch a documentary on a High School Indian basketball team. The team was exceptional but they lost in the state finals. Why did they lose, I asked the students at the end of the documentary? Because they (players) smoked weed, most to them said. I explained to the class when a student signs up for basketball they give their word they will follow the rules. Did those players follow the rules, I asked them? No they didn't, was the reply.  What values does it relate do, I asked them. HONESTY! They yelled.

Was my method of teaching culture successful? In the last week of school I ask the same question, what does it mean to be Indian? Here are responses from three students:

"Dakota means to be honesty, respect(ful) and generosity. And if you lie all the time no one would ever believe you even if you're telling the truth. Back when Indians were roaming the lands if you lied you would die. The Dakota followed the seven values. We take care of our people. And we are always proud of who we are."

"I feel proud to be an Indian because we don't steal. We respect other people and we (are) honest. Indians show courage and wisdom. We fight in wars to protect our country and tribe. We show generosity by helping our relatives and elders."

"It means generosity which means sharing with people. It means respect which means respect your parents and teachers. It means persevere which means don't give up. It means courage which means stand up which you think is right."

I think I was on the right track.

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