Education Corner 21 - JULY 2016

“Before there were school buildings and certified teachers-education was the job of the family and particularly the elders. It worked for several thousand years-it must be made to work once again.” Education Corner 7/6/16
In our last EC we discussed the newly adopted Pohnpei Studies Standards and a rededication to teaching and learning correct and proper Pohnpeian language. We said to the Community: This is set up for you by the Pohnpei Department of Education (PDOE) at the request of the Community but the Community must assume the responsibility for the success of lack of success. We said too that Community likely expected more than young Pohnpeians just learning about Pohnpeian customs, values and attitudes. We thought the Community would like to see young Pohnpeians practicing Pohnpeian customs, values, and attitudes in everyday life. As much as possible the Community wants them to be Pohnpeian and therefore act as Pohnpeians should. For part of this the PDOE can provide books and lesson plans and some classroom guidance. But all the lessons call for students to participate and practice in the Community. This is where all knowledgeable elders are the teachers.

However, difficulties are bound to arise as traditional economics clashes with today’s money economy. Before money, traditional economics was simple. What was taken to a funeral? Pohnpeians brought pigs, yams, Sakau, fish and other products-all from the land and the sea. What do we bring today? We know that answer. While pigs, yams, Sakau and fish still arrive-it’s now cases of chicken; bags of rice; fishing with money at the fish market; baskets of store bought goods, etc. And today these are expected and monitored by the Community. After all, Pohnpeians must fulfill their cultural obligations. But when family income is limited, internal conflict occurs as the new clashes with the old. Many of our Traditional Leaders have already recognized this burden on the people as well as the health benefits of local food and have encouraged a return to “from the land and the sea” tradition. Nevertheless, we will all have to figure out how traditional customs, attitudes and beliefs fit better in a society that values dollars so highly. Pohnpeians and all Micronesians have struggled with this since Trust Territory times but particularly with the Compacts of Free Associations. The money economy has placed Pohnpei’s most sacred cultural marker in the midst of commercialization. Folks that work for salaries pick up and pay for a bottle or two on the way home; or go to the market after supper and pay some money; and we all know a farmer can get a premium price per pound in Guam. We can wonder together if this generation will value Sakau en Pohnpei in the way the elders value Sakau.
“Children should be seen and not heard” This proverb was originally an opinion recorded in the 15th century collections of homilies written by an Augustinian clergyman called [John] Mirk's Festial, circa 1450
When old folks like me were children in the U S it was not uncommon to hear this little phrase from adults. It was heard when children interrupted adults by being noisy or asking questions when the adults were talking together. In my home this did not mean I should not ask questions of adults-just do not interrupt adults speaking about adult matters. It was O.K. to ask questions and this gave rise to another phases we learned- “You cannot learn anything If you don’t ask questions”. Professionally most educators believe this and encourage questions from students. We do not dismiss or make fun of students’ questions. We are the teachers and we know the students are in school to learn things they do not know. We are taught never to shame or embarrass students because we want them to ask questions and certainly not be afraid of embarrassment, or laughter because of not knowing something. Here is a little account of an event in March of 1999 called “Culture Quest”
For the School Year 1998-1999 seven Pohnpeian elementary school principals attended the COM-FSM Principals Academy. The all took courses in leadership, curriculum, and finance etc., bookwork stuff. But for the year’s hands on project/ demonstration the principals decided to march around the island with college students from the various States. During culture week principals wanted show the various communities some elements of Chuukese, Kosraean and Yapese cultures. Of course the Yapese did their “Stick Dance” and Chuukese and Kosraeans sang traditional songs. The group in turn asked the Pohnpeians to present to the group some dances, songs or legends. The march took five days with overnights in each municipality. Everyone involved loved it and the Traditional Leaders even asked COM-FSM if such a Culture Quest could be an annual event. So while the event as a whole was tremendously successful something very unusual and very revealing occurred.
Each night the group would present a Sakau en Pohnpei to the Nahnmwarki and then observe and partake in the Sakau Ceremony. It was set up so students from their own municipality would be the main presenters. For Non-Pohnpeians this mean taking the Sakau into the Nahs, cutting some branches just the right way and doing certain steps in a certain order. But night after night the local young people would disappear. Every evening it would end up being one of the principals, a few Yapese and Chuukese boys and me. When tracked down each night the Pohnpeian fugitives gave the same answer for their flight. I DID NOT WANT TO MAKE A MISTAKE AND BE EMBARRASSED. Did we outsiders make mistakes—we must have? But were we embarrassed-No. Why? We knew the Community understood we were learning. The Pohnpeians did not feel that way. They felt they were expected to know yet they really had never been taught. Many Pohnpeian students said they usually stay away from the Nahs as much as possible. They certainly did not understand their culture at least enough to overcome their fears of their elders criticisms. Those that actually did—were afraid to make even the slightest error especially in front of the Nahnmwarki and their families and friends so they too “ran away”.
So dear Community: We have Pohnpei Studies because the Community wants it and feels we need it. The Community wants and needs it because Pohnpeians fear losing their cultural identity. As the elders resume their roles as the teachers please keep in mind young people do not learn well if they are fearful. The new teachers will be able to see evidence of learning as they did 2000 years ago. But in the teaching process understanding this fear factor could be very helpful to the Community teachers. And lastly today, do not assume your student know something because they did not ask questions. They are afraid to do that as well. When it comes to learning the Pohnpei Culture Studies-Silence is never good evidence of learning and can often mean the opposite.
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