Education Corner 9 - the C-word

By Richard Womack, Ed.D - 31 DEC 2015

Last edition I wrote about the R-word- Respect. I wondered out loud about the difference between having respect (in one’s heart) and showing respect (by one’s actions). I was speaking about what we in the U S might call manners or social etiquette. By the end of the EC column I noted I was happy a Pohnpei Studies Program was being introduced next year and I am sure our Pohnpeian experts in Pohnpeian Culture will handle the R-word just fine. It is the C-word-Culture that is a good topic for the year’s final EC. It’s good because it comes with two other C-words- Confusion and Change. These are very good C-words as well. Culture is social studies with standards and benchmarks to be learned by students. And it is confusing as it is taught in an environment of cultural change. No one can stop change we can only make decisions how we will manage or cope with the change. We have already mentioned language. Language is a group’s primary cultural marker—the language in the FSM is English this shows you the first major change. A look at Trust Territory education gives us three other drivers of change.
American Schools—Trust Territory Times (1945-1986, taken from Micronesian Seminar) and directly from An Introduction to Professional Teaching and Student Learning
The educational thrust of the American administration for 40-plus years is difficult to summarize in a few sentences. Early policies, established under the Navy and the first decade of the Civil Administration in the Trust Territory, were later reversed during the 1960s, as hundreds of classrooms were built, expatriate teachers hired on, and English made the official medium of instruction in the schools. Additional educational programs for those outside of schools were implemented, largely through U.S. federal programs. The handicapped, the aged, unemployed, school dropouts, teachers with previous classroom experience, and others have been the target of these programs.
It is not easy to find a clear statement of the educational goals of the American administration, particularly one that is adequate to encompass the various kinds of educational activities that the U.S. has undertaken. There were, however, certain implicit goals that seem to underlie the direction (that education in Micronesia has) taken during the past ten years. In the first place, education was aimed at preparing young and old to participate in a democratic society, one in which their own choices are of great consequence. Hence, the school system aimed at providing the kind of information and mental enlightenment that would enable future voters to understand a democratic government and to make wise and constructive choices in the future. It should be noted that this is the same basic aim that education experts have ascribed to the public school system in the United States. Understandably enough, American education has been charged with the task of preparing the young for insertion into a democracy; and when American education travels abroad, it is likely to retain the same fundamental goal—even in those overseas possessions without a democratic cultural tradition.
Second, education in the Trust Territory seemed to be about directing Micronesians towards the larger world beyond their islands. In principle, at least, education was to prepare Micronesians to adapt to the inevitable changes that will be brought here in the future, as well as to adjust to new surroundings elsewhere if they choose to leave the islands. This goal was reflected in the orientation our college age students to the curriculum of the “great world beyond”. This resulted in the push to send as many young people as possible to colleges outside of Micronesia. The very decision to use English as the medium of instruction in the schools was partially based on the reasoning that it would provide an effective communication link with the outside world.
Third, education was geared to encourage people to fully enter the money economy. The young Micronesian, it was expected, would move directly from school into wage employment. One of the major concerns of education in recent years, in fact, has been furnishing suitable enough skill training in school so that the student will be able to find a job after his/her graduation (if he/she is not lucky enough to be able to attend still another school). At times, it began to appear as if the real purpose of school was to equip the young for future employment.
There are, no doubt, a number of other important characteristics of present-day education in Micronesia that could be added. These three, however, are enough to illustrate the fact that the major goals of education—and of political and economic development as well—have a distinctively American (U S) flavor to them. Democratic participation in society, an openness to the world-at-large, and entrance into the dollar economy imply certain values that are fundamental to a people. And it is these values—especially the one of freedom of choice—that underpins American education. These are new values and when adopted by education force us into an environment of cultural change. Just look around—change is all around us.
Finally, what do you think is the purpose of education in Micronesia today? Is it for employment or for skills to emigrate if there are no jobs? Perhaps it is. But to many educators the task of education is to help society cope with change. We cannot stop change but perhaps it can be managed a bit. As a student once told the author many years ago—“I am here at CCM to learn the new ways and my brother was left home to learn the old ways. I know that a lot of what I will learn about the new ways may not be good and that I will have to give up some of the old ways. The whole thing frightens me.” This gentleman is soon to retire with 30 years in the U S military and still greets Micronesians in Hawaii reminding them of their pride and the changes they are about to find. The brother who stayed home to learn the old ways learned of navigation from his uncle Pius "Mau" Piailug. Teaching and learning culture is not as easy as we might wish it were as these two brothers from Satawal taught me.