Trivial Pursuit

by Mitakuye Oyasin

One of the real benefits of the present educational system has been felt in Williamsfield and Galesburg this spring. Basketball has done for these two communities something that could be described as miraculous. People walked a little taller, talked with pride of their towns and teams, and shared a common joy and fellowship with one another. Their boys and girls were doing well, and as a result, two communities are still feeling good about themselves.

This kind of community feeling doesn't happen very often. It's hard for kids to work up much excitement about an educational system that seems intent on smothering individual creativity while it pushes them into its cookie-cutter assembly line of computer technicians.

Knowledge is available as never before, and all one has to do is learn which keys to press to experience info-glut. If only it could be arranged so that the computers took the tests, then America would lead the international race for high achievement tests in education. Achievement tests are, after all, nothing more than the ultimate game of Trivial Pursuit.

But how to live? That is the question. Is life to be spent staring at a computer monitor?

Even before computers, Native Americans had trouble understanding the Europeans and the thing they called school. As Ohiyesa (Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman,) a Santee Sioux put it, "What child would not be an Indian for awhile when he thinks of the freest life in the world? We were close students of nature. We studied the habits of animals just as you study your books. We watched the adults of our people and acted like them in our play, then learned to emulate them in our lives."

As near as I can tell, Native children learned two things very well that don't appear in the curriculums of today's schools. They learned to appreciate beauty as only the Great Mystery can deliver it and they learned to respect all living things. It is from this curriculum that Native spirituality took its roots and its absence in modern, techno worshipping, Euro-American society spells the difference between living life and merely existing.

Chief Luther Standing Bear, a Teton Sioux, in recalling his own childhood, tells how an elder of the tribe would teach the children. He would place a hand on the ground and explain, "We sit in the lap of our Mother. From her, we and all other living things, come. We shall soon pass but the place where we now rest will last forever." Then he and the other children learned to sit or lie on the ground "and become conscious of life about us in its multitude of forms."

In being tuned in to the life around them, the children learned that "Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature ever learns and that was to feel beauty."

It is no wonder, then, that life for the Lakota, as he remembered it, was "vivid and pulsing; nothing was casual and commonplace. The Indian lived­­ lived in every sense of the word­­ from his first to his last breath."

How sad that life is not like that for the children of the '90s. Equally as sad is the endless talk of America's leaders­­ that more money, especially for more computers, will fix education.

This article posted to Zephyr online April 3, 1997
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