It has now been 5 year since I left my home to Tuluksak in order to seek greener pastures in Anchorage. Unfortunately, the pastures of Anchorage are not as green or fulfilling I hopes. I often find myself thinking back to my time in the village and the wonderful time I had working through the educational challenges with the young people of Tuluksak.
We did not always achieve our goals each year, but that was not the most important thing. Those goals were set by the federal and state government who had no real idea of what it means to be successful in bush Alaska. The students were successful when they had a smile on their face, when they were ready to learn, and when they had hope for the future.
They were successful when they had time to dream and believed that they could work to make their dreams come true. Now, I am pleased to say that I still have a dream for the young people of Tuluksak and that dream will become manifest in the heart and minds of the beautiful Yup’ik people and will no depend on oblivious and failed leadership in Akiachak and Juneau.
I dream that the young people of Tuluksak have dreams; that they are willing to turn those dreams into goals, and are willing to work hard to accomplish those goals.
I dream that someday the people of Tuluksak will have educational and cultural self-determination, and they create a system of education that has meaning and relevance to their lives.
I dream that someday AYP will be met in Tuluksak; that students will one day be graduating from high school, and maybe one day there will be sense among young people that education and learning new things can be a tool for social and economic empowerment.
I dream that the young people of Tuluksak learn how to learn. I dream that once they have that skill and they will start to “choose” to learn things that will empower their lives. In short, I dream that the young people of Tuluksak are able, and willing, to take responsibility for their future.
I dream that the students in Tuluksak are able to make informed, positive and healthy choices about their lives. To do this they must have the ability to listen, to learn, to compare, to discern, and to consider thinking critically about their choices.
I dream of the day when new teachers come to Tuluksak take the time to learn about the culture, history, geography, and values of the community they are joining. (And not be in such a hurry to import stuff from other places).
I dream of the day when new teachers are able to get to know their students as people and then make an effort to “get into the worlds” of their students, and are able to teach through culture rather than just about culture.
I dream of a day when teaching (teachers) and learning (students) in Tuluksak is free from the bureaucratic “mumbo jumbo” that comes from above and beyond.
I dream of the day when students do not pass or fail their classes based solely on attendance, but instead on whether they actually learned something in a given class.
I dream of the day when teaching and learning are not mere numbers and more people recognize that we are teaching unique human beings and as such realize that one size does not fit all in rural Alaska or anywhere else.
I dream of the day when the people of Tuluksak use academic skills as a means to an end. That is, through application and adaptation of these skills, the community would work towards incremental empowerment, sovereignty and mobility.
I dream of the day when more of the teachers in Tuluksak are from the community and those teachers teach what is important to the community. This would be a huge step towards self-determination and it must happen.
I dream of the day when the Clememte and Yaaves classes are a part of the community education program and are integral to the social growth and healing that need to take place.
I dream of the day when the people of Tuluksak regain what has been lost, when they reconnect to the values that once made them a proud and resilient people.
I dream of the day when fully funded and comprehensive adult education classes are offered, including parenting classes, that would allow young adults and young parents to have access to the skills and information they need.
I dream of the day when the families see literacy, study, reading and education as a means to an end, and more people use these things to move towards economic independence and educational self-determination.
I dream of the day when a solid pre-K program is fully funded and staffed and more of the little tykes of Tuluksak begin school at the starting line, rather than a few steps behind.
I dream of the day when the community of Tuluksak recognizes the “fierce urgency of now” and puts education on the top of their list of priorities.
I dream of the day when reading and study is valued as much as basketball is.
I dream of the day when students are up late doing homework instead of being up late shooting hoops on the play deck.
I dream of the day when discipline starts at home and when parents work with the school on a discipline plan that is fair, firm, consistent, and enforced.
I dream of the day when young people are as interested in getting as education as they currently are in being entertained.
I dream of the day when more of the young people get a chance to travel outside of the Village and outside of Alaska. This experiential learning will do as much to further their education as any of the latest reading programs ever can.
I dream of the day that the curriculum is aligned with the needs of students, rather than with the needs of NCLB and corporate America;
And finally, I dream of the day when students have the courage to follow their dreams wherever they may lead. I wish for every student an opportunity to fulfill their natural potential. I dream of the day when they break the cycle of apathy and despair and go out into the world and try to achieve their goals.
Mark Biberg taught in Tuluksak from 2004-2009 and believes in place-based education. His son, Rafael returned to Tuluksak when he was 3 days old and was given the Yup’ik name Villi, which was a great honor for the family. Mark hopes to return to Tuluksak one day to see old friends old students. He remembers the kind hospitality of the Yup’ik people and will always remember spending 5 wonderful years in the village.