JULY Ė CONTENTS
1. The Bodhi Stand
INTRODUCING PHAIK HONG TAN (CHOON LAN)
2. The Bodhi Mirror
INTRODUCING Thićh Nuí~Nhuí Thanh
3. 1990 Conference:
Buddhism and the Modern World
BY JOHN W. JOHNSON, MATT GLAVACH, AND ERNIE WAUGH
The Bodhi Stand
INTRODUCING PHAIK HONG TAN (CHOON LAN)
Phaik Hong Tan, usually known as Choon Lan, is the youngest in a family of nine children. She displayed her independence and competence at the age of twenty by starting her own business, which she ran until she came to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas last year to join the Laity Training Program.
As a child in Malaysia, Choon Lan often went to temples to recite Gwan Yinís name. When she became an adult and ran her own beauty parlor, she set up her shop near a Gwan Yin temple, where she regularly bowed to the Bodhisattva.
Choon Lanís good friend, Joo Keow, joined the Nibong Tebal Buddhist Association a few years ago, and encouraged Choon Lan to also join. They worked together during the daytime, and in the evening, or whenever they had free time, they went to the Buddhist Association to cultivate or recite the Buddhaís name or join in the ceremonies. Not wishing to miss the ceremonies on Buddhist holidays, Choon Lan sometimes closed her shop to go to the temple and help with preparations.
One time at the Association, a visiting nun from Thailand explained that to be vegetarian is to be filial. Choon Lan immediately stopped eating meat and has been a complete vegetarian ever since.
On another occasion, Choon Lan and some friends were buying a Buddha image at a store when they saw a Buddhist monk they did not recognize. They put their palms together, and one of the young men in the group asked the monk what his name was and where he stayed. He explained that his name was Heng Su, he was a disciple of Master Hua, and he stayed in Penang.
Heng Su accepted their invitation for him to lecture on the Dharma at their temple, and his lectures were well-received. Heng Su saw that Choon Lan and her friend Joo Keow were vigorous and sincere in supporting the Buddha-Dharma, so he told them about the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas Laity Training Program and encouraged them to apply. They were accepted and joined the Laity Training Program in June 1990.
The Bodhi Mirror
INTRODUCING Thićh Nuí~Nhuí Thanh
At the age of ten, while visiting a Buddhist temple in Vietnam, her homeland, Thićh Nuí~Nhuí Thanh (ďThus PureĒ in English, ďRu ChingĒ in Chinese) announced that she did not want to return home, that she intended to spend the rest of her life at the temple cultivating as a Buddhist nun. The temple, however, required her parentsí permission before accepting her, and her father refused because she was needed to help care for her aging grandmother. It wasnít until she was thirty that she finally received her fatherís permission to leave the home-life.
Nonetheless, as a child she was so determined to be a nun that she lived a monastic life as closely as she possibly could, joining the nuns in their temple work, study, and cultivation. The temple became her second home; she would go directly to the temple after school and stay until she had to return home to sleep. Although as a layperson she was not qualified to be a member of the monastic training classes, she was sometimes permitted to attend, and outside of class the nuns were willing to explain the sutras to her and to answer her questions about the Dharma.
The area was rich with Buddhism: there were several monasteries nearby as well as a Buddhist training center and a large university (Van Hanh University) that was founded by a Buddhist monk and had a Buddhist studies department. Every temple offered Dharma lectures, and Nhuí~Thanh attended all of these, such as the lectures offered every evening at the monkís temple. Her own temple had more than one hundred left-home people, all nuns.
What inspired the young girl to be so dedicated in her pursuit of the Way? She explains:
Since I was young, I realized that life is impermanent, and I felt compassion for others. I saw many old people on the streets, begging. I sat and talked to them, asking questions such as, "Where are your children? Doesnít anyone take care of you?"
I saw that life was suffering, and I wanted to benefit others. I also saw that life is impermanent, that all the things people are greedy for and desire are just an illusion. And so I wanted to leave home and cultivate in order to help people realize what I saw.
Nhuí~Thanhís faith in Buddhism has also been strongly influenced by her family. When she was a child, she often followed her vegetarian grandmother to visit temples. Her father intently studied the Sutras; her grandmother regularly recited Sutras; and to this day, her mother is rarely seen without her recitation beads. Her parents and her brother are, like her, strict vegetarians.
When she graduated from school, she worked as a financial clerk and lived with her grandmother, but continued to go straight to the monastery after work and return home only to sleep or care for her grandmother.
During the war in Vietnam, her temple was far from the fighting, and was relatively unaffected. However, after the Communist takeover in 1975, monastic were not allowed to stay in monasteries, to have followers, or to propagate the Dharma. In 1976, her grandmother died, and she finally obtained her fatherís permission to leave home, but she had to ask three teachers before finding one who would accept her as a left-home disciple.
Because she had studied the Buddhist texts in a monastery when she was young, she wanted to cultivate alone when she was older. From 1982 to 1990, she stayed by herself and cultivated in a small hut, and the Communist government left her alone. She emphasized the study of "everything is made from the mind alone," and constantly looking within to develop wisdom. She says, "The mind is a big mess. Because our eight consciousness records everything, we must be constantly alert and guard our minds as we would an ox or a cow."
In 1990, her brother sponsored her parents, siblings, and her to come to the United States. For the last year, she has been looking for a monastery in which to live. She had read the English translations of some of the Buddhist Text Translation Society publications, but did not know of the existence of the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association Way places.
One time she attended a lecture by an American Buddhist monk, and the Vietnamese translator told her about the Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and Dharma Realm Buddhist University. The description of a large monastery of well educated people and lectures every evening, sounded to her much like her former situation in Vietnam, and she immediately wanted to visit the city. That same day, she overhead some people planning a trip to the Sagely City, she asked for a ride, and they went the next day for a brief visit. She is now planning for a more extended stay at the City.
Nhuí~Thanhís main goal in the Untied States is to learn English well enough to explain Buddhist principles to Westerners.
Buddhism and the Modern World
BY JOHN W. JOHNSON, MATT GLAVACH, AND ERNIE WAUGH
John W. Johnson, PICES Education Administration/Coordinator
Good afternoon. My name is John W. Johnson, Iím a Wiyot Indian. I was born on the Hoopa Reservation which is in Humboldt County and grew up on the Table Bluff Rancheria Reservation that was reinstated.
Indian reservations were created by the Federal Government. Once the land was taken by the Federal Government, plots of land were either allocated or purchased for Indian tribes to become the site where the tribes would be located. I think the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas can be compared to a reservation, which is self-contained, is controlled by Indian people, and there is a tribal council that deals with health, housing and other social service needs of Indian people. There are eight federally recognized reservations in Mendocino County alone. The second larges in the state is the Round Valley Reservation which is in Covelo about fifty miles from here.
The first few years on the reservation and prior to my attending the public school system, my mother, who was probably the strongest influence on my life, placed a lot of emphasis on education. She assigned my sister to carry that out. My sister tutored me for at leas a year before I entered the public school system. So, I could count to a hundred, write my name and recite the alphabet even before I got into the public school system.
Regardless of the cultural aspect of it, the value that my mother placed on education and the emphasis that was placed on succeeding in education helped me through those first years and gave me a good, sound, basic education that I think helped me all through my life. It also instilled in me an interest in reading that I still have today.
There are some positives and some negatives to the reservation system. Some positives are the reservation system being there offering a home, a place to carry on the culture and traditions, health services, and a number of things that people require for survival, regardless of who they are. This I think prevents a lot of Indian people from winding up on the streets or as homeless citizens. So in that sense I think it is good.
But on the other hand, this lifestyle where the federal government provides these services, creates a situation where there is not a lot of motivation for some people. For some it simply represents a place that they can always go back to when they are out of a job or when they donít have any way to make a living. People go back and forth from the reservation to the city, find work, when the work runs out, they go back to the reservation.
So in that sense, there are the positives and negatives that create some real problems when we try to work with young Indian people. We have all the problems on the reservation that the cities do Ė drugs, alcohol, abuse, battering Ė those kinds of things that are just now beginning to come out that make it difficult in the education process for a lot of Indian students.
We are just now reaching the point where weíre beginning to look at the total student and not just look at him or her academically in terms of seeing how well he or she is doing in school, what the attendance is. We have to consider what the environment is that student is coming from: Is he or she coming from an abusive home? Are students coming from a home that has a substance abuse problem? Or are there other issues Ė has the child had a meal that day? All of those kinds of things come into play in terms of how well or how poorly that student is going to do in the education process.
I witnessed a lot of that as a youngster growing up on the reservation myself. There were the students who showed up in September, when school started, in new clothes that were well kept. And there were the kids who showed up in raggedy clothes, who looked like they hadnít been fed and hadnít had their hair washed. So there was definitely a problem in terms of how well those students would do in school, depending on the environment that they came from. There is no doubt that that had an impact on the education process.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones because my mother, I think, equipped me well to survive in society with her emphasis on education, but also with a good, strong work ethic. My father died the same year that I was born and my mother wound up raising eight children. And she did this with a lot of hard work, in many cases holding down two jobs.
She always said to us, "No matter what you do Ė digging a ditch, building a fence, working in the woods or working in a saw mill Ė you need to do the very best you can." I donít think that message would have had as much impact had it not been for the fact that I saw her working hard, sometimes working double shifts day in and day out. Therefore, the work ethic was one of the things she gave to me. It isnít necessarily cultural, but itís one of the things that she gave me that has allowed me to survive fairly well in this system.
But at the same time there are some things that I think Iíve missed, and one of those is the opportunity to learn the language. My mother was a fluent Wiyot language speaker. Many of the older people on the reservation would come to her and ask her how to translate words and what a certain word meant. But she made it clear very early on that we didnít need to learn the language. We needed to learn English; we needed to learn to add and subtract, we needed to learn to read and write. So, in one sense she provided me with a lot of tools to be able to survive in todayís society; but as an Indian person one of the things that I regret is that I donít know my own language. And there are no more fluent speakers left from whom Iíd be able to learn that language.
One of the things Iíve probably spent more time working on than anything else in trying to communicate and present an accurate picture about Indian people and the Indian way of life in the twentieth century is trying to deal with stereotypes, or the romantic view that people have of Indians: on the one hand the image of the lazy Indian, the drunken Indian, totally dependent on the Federal Government; to the other extreme of the noble savage, that is, the first ecologist who cares about the land. There are all these romantic images of Indian people in head dresses riding off in the sunset.
Well, somewhere in between is where we are, and Indian people, having to function in this society, have many of the same dreams, the same desires, the same wants and needs as anyone else does. We want a nice place to live, we want to be able to drive a decent car, we want to be able to have decent meals, we want to be able to have decent clothing. And I think if you talked to most Indian people, whether they live on a reservation or whether they live in a city or small town like Ukiah, they want many of those same kinds of things for their children. And in order for them to acquire those things, they need a basic education. Matt and I, in talking recently, have decided that yes, the culture is important, the traditions are valuable, but the basic thing that those parents want is for their children to know their "ABCs"; how to add, subtract and multiply Ė in to her words how to prepare them to deal with the larger society. And thatís part of the reason why we are here today and I want to share some of this information.
Dr. Matt Glavach, Curriculum Specialist, Mendocino County Office of Education:
During my discussion there are certain concepts I want to define as I go along, but I just want to highlight some of those now: mainstream society, dominant culture, discrimination and stereotype, institutional lifestyles, preferred learning stylesÖ..
Iím not going to spend a lot of time defining these, hopefully theyíll be defined as we go. I did want to make one comment about preferred learning styles, and that is the idea that we each view the world very differently. We tend to think we are more alike than different, and we tend to think that we perceive the world the same way, but we donít. We view the world many times quite differently in terms of our perception of it. That is part of the basis of what we are dealing with.
Iíd like to go into just a little bit of my background. My parents are from Yugoslavia, and as a child here I didnít have the normal English language stimulation in my home, something we look at today as being very important. Consequently, when my parents entered me into kindergarten, I was sent home on the second day with a note posted to my shirt which said I should come back when I knew how to speak English.
Actually, during that year my parents had me spend some time with some other youngsters so I was able to acquire the language well enough to continue school and had a typically normal school life as far as elementary and secondary education is concerned.
I, too, like John Johnson was strongly influenced by my mother. She had a very strong influence on my life, particularly from the perspective of the fact that my mother obtained her high school diploma when she was fifty-five years old. And I recall that throughout my school life she was always involved in taking a class towards obtaining her high school diploma.
I recall how she would ask the children from time to time to quiz her on some grammar and things that she was studying. This was confusing to me at the time, because my thought about school was: why would you do it if you didnít have to?
As my career continued, I went on to college and got my teaching credentials. Most of my early teaching was in Chicago in urban Black centers, and I also taught in Los Angeles Ė mostly Hispanic youth at junior high and high school levels. Most of my work since I have been in Northern California has been with the Native American students.
One of the questions that I ask myself after twenty-three years of teaching and working with three distinct ethnic groups is "what attributes do the successful learners have that the less successful learners do not or did not have?" Because within each of those groups there have been successful learners. If we can identify these it would be possible for us to come up with a way to explore or teach these attributes. These factors are part of what one does in a curriculum.
One point that I feel is very important to make regards my background, for example, examining my background related to John Johnsonís background. Our backgrounds are very similar in many ways. However, as perceived by the dominant society, John had to face something that I didnít have to face and that would be called, in my terms, discrimination and stereotype.
I think I am careful to define that when I am discussing my background, it is in terms of a Euro-American background related to many cultures that exist in the society. I feel I was not discriminated against and there were really no stereotypes that I had to deal with which Native American and other cultures do have to deal with. And those are factors to be accounted for.
As an example of that, I am going to ask John to just discuss briefly a comment he made to me about five or six years ago. It had to do with the attitude of some Native American parents regarding a child going to school, and I think youíll see from the way it was termed, the attitude a child might develop from this. So, John, if you would just share that.
John Johnson: I believe what Matt is referring to is the Native American view of education. I think we have to back up a bit and look at the history that American Indian people have had with the education process. It has been a pretty negative one. It goes back to the BIA boarding schools, when Indian parents and grandparents were punished for speaking their language, their hair was cut, they were made to wear boarding school uniforms, they werenít allowed to wear anything that related to their culture or their tribe, and they were punished for anything that could be considered a display of their culture or their religion up to the time when Indian people were first allowed into the public education system.
And in Mendocino County, as a local example, Indian people werenít allowed into the public schools until 1939. So that means Indian people have approximately fifty years of background experience with the education process, and that is combined with the very negative experience that Indian people have had with bureaucracies, agencies, and organizations. In most cases any time they came in contact with any organization, they wound up losing land and any number of things. So there is a feeling of distrust when it comes to the education process, just based upon those experiences alone.
Again, related to my own experience with education, even with the emphasis that my family had placed upon education, I was the first one to graduate from high school, the first one to graduate from community college, the first one to go into a university system, but as I progressed within that system I found out the rewards in terms of my family werenít there.
For instance, when I graduated from high school, nobody showed up nobody came to my graduation. At a time when I thought the family would be supportive, nobody was there. When I got my AA degree from College of the Redwoods, nobody was there except my wife and son.
And I began to notice a change in how I did or didnít communicate with the rest of the family. The education process seemed to be building a wall between me and my family, and itís still there today. In terms of working with Indian parents and students, one of the things I believe occurs in an Indian home, whether itís on the reservation or an urban setting or an area like Ukiah, is that education is not supported by the parents because of either their experience or the experience of their parents or grandparents with the education process. Itís viewed as a negative.
And if you look at my experience, itís almost as though the more education you become in the eyes of some, the less Indian you become. You lose your "Indianness" as you become educated. But in actuality, I think the opposite is true because as we go through the education process, we begin to appreciate who we are, what we are and what our history is, even more. And just about every "educated" Indian person who I know has gone through that. They have become closer, have moved back toward their culture even more.
Myself as an example, nothing gives me more pleasure than to be able to go back and be invited to sit down and drum or sing with my friends or the people from my tribe. Nothing makes me feel better, nothing makes me feel more accepted, no matter what it is. Indian music is very much a part of me. I can be riding down the road in a Thunderbird or my 280ZX, and I may have an Indian tape on, just playing traditional Indian music or contemporary Indian music. And foods - one of the reasons why I moved back here was because I couldnít get the cultural foods that I was raised on in areas like Sacramento. So I came back to Ukiah where I could get the foods that Indian people eat whenever I wanted. Those things are important to me. Itís very important to me, itís part of who I am and what I am. And itís part of what we need to teach young Indian people because they need to feel good about that.
Now I would like us to talk about some of the curriculum that Matt and I have worked on together, and let Matt discuss the curriculum part of it in terms of the Native American Curriculum Kits.
Matt Glavach: One way that we attempted to deal with a negative stereotype regarding the Native American in the schools was to develop what we call Native American Literature Kits. The rationale for this was that one way to deal with negative stereotypes was to increase the amount of knowledge that one has regarding that particular group, not only increasing the amount of knowledge, but with the Native Americans perhaps even more clearly stating their contributions and their place in history, which traditionally, in our school system has not been done. And, of course, television in the past has not been helpful in the way the Native American historical perspective was presented.
We have developed sixteen literature selections that were offered to the schools, then we made multiple sets of these. And we found that for the most part they have been very successful and have brought very positive feedback. The interesting part of it is, itís not just the Indian students who are involved; all the students are, so it becomes a sharing in a culture that perhaps hadnít been shared before.
The other significant factor related to this is that we find that even for those Native American students who didnít find difficulty with the language and with school, in approximately third or fourth grade they became, again, affected by this negative stereotype, which became a difficult emotional problem many times. So, we felt that having knowledge and literature available to share throughout the school system helped to deal with that negative stereotype.
John Johnson: I think itís important to point out that the Literature Kits are based upon the state social studies framework, and this was done with a good deal of study and research by Dr. Matt Glavach. Itís important also to note that these kits are self-contained, and they donít require a teacher to go out and do any additional research. They contain a study guide, and they are grade-specific. Every place where weíve exposed people to these or given teachers an opportunity to utilize them, theyíve become very very popular because they are self- contained and they are grade-specific.
In addition to that, the work that was done in conjunction with Native American Curriculum Kits was the development of a Resources Guide, which has a listing of local agencies, organizations that provide services to Native Americans; a listing of all the tribes and the tribal council chairman, address, and phone number of each of the eight tribes in Mendocino County; a listing of all the resource kits; and audio and visual listings. This in itself as a resource catalog is valuable and invaluable to teachers. Weíre getting requests form as far away as Humboldt State and as far away as Southern California from people wanting to know how this can be done or how we did it.
I think one of the things that is also notable is the fact that this work was done by Dr. Matt Galvach; myself; Ed Castillo, who is a Native American educator; and Edwin Lockhart, who is an employee of the Mendocino County Office of Education. So, it wasnít done with just a few people, but the kits were created from existing materials. We didnít go out and design, develop or spend a lot of time researching; these are texts and materials that were already on the market.
One of the last things I wanted to share with you is the work that weíve done with the PICES program. PICES stands for Parents for the Improvement of Community and Educational Services. It is an Indian non-profit corporation that runs a program through the Mendocino County Office of Education. Basically what we do is we work with five school districts in Mendocino County, including Covelo, Laytonville, Willits, Point Arena, and naturally the Ukiah area. Weíre formed parent advisory committees in those areas so that we have input from the local community where local parents are able to participate and give us ideas about programs and any suggestions about how to improve those programs. But we also utilize aides in the classrooms in each one of those districts.
Mostly we work with secondary students, but in some specific school districts we also do some work in the elementary areas. The aides help out in the classroom just as any aide would, but they go a step further in that they serve as a communicator and a linkage between the school and the home. In addition we use the Native American Curriculum Kits as a resource for the teachers, but we also have other activities, cultural activities where we bring in dancers, singers. We have an Elders in the Classroom component that uses Indian people who read and act out plays involving young Indian students in the classroom. And we have local history projects. We feel weíve had very good success with this program. It is a pilot project and has just completed its first year. Weíve come a long way in terms of sharing information, sharing resources, and making teachers and educators aware of what some of those resources are and making them available to them. With that, Iíll turn the discussion over to Matt and Ernie.
Matt Glavach: To summarize my part for purposes of discussion, I would like to restate what our topic focus was slightly differently, and that is, "What effect does culture or lack of it have on success or the lack of success in schools?"
Ernie Waugh: For the past several years Iíve been trying to help people get back into the workplace, and among those people have been many groups of minorities. One of the most profound experiences was working right here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas trying to help southeast Asian refugees Ė Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese Ė get back into the workplace. This is where I first became aware of dominant cultural expectations as opposed to expectations that may arrive from other cultures.
To take one example that we dealt with all the time (and I think must exist in every handbook every state agency tried to print in dealing with southeast Asian refugees), when you go and try to get a job in the United States with an American employer, youíre supposed to sit there in your chair in your job interview and stare the employer right in the eye. This is a dominant cultural expectation.
For people from southeast Asia, particularly Cambodians, this is an insult. So the culture expects them to be acting in a way that their own culture has taught them is improper. The employer, from his part, sees a person sitting there glancing from side to side, and looking to him shifty and cagey, not polite, which is what the interviewee feels they are being by not returning that hard gaze.
This is just one instance when I began to be aware of this kind of dissonance between one cultural type and another and trying to harmonize and make society work. Later I worked for a non-profit agency in town that helped people get to work; now Iím working for the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation that does the same thing.
In the latter two jobs Iíve worked with many people, including Native Americans, which is the focus of our topic today, and I would like to just talk about one incident that occurred which taught me a little bit about the nature of the problem. It may have given me a wrong lesson, too, and Iíll leave that for John Johnson and Dr. Glavach to talk about and respond to if they wish.
While I was working for the Center for Education and Manpower, we conducted job clubs and what are called "Pre-employment Skills Workshops" for people on welfare that the Department of Social Services wanted somehow to get back into the work force. Many of these people also wanted very much to get back in the work force, which doesnít provide a lot of work these days. The Pre-employment Skills Workshop basically involved teaching people to interview: teaching them to approach employers, teaching people to present themselves well and try to get a job.
We had one Native American counselor who was working with us, and I remember we sat around discussing how we were going to deal with the Native Americans who were coming into the program. I announced very "sagely" that we would mainstream them with everybody else in the group, because that was absolutely necessary. The principle was that they had to go out into the work place and work with people from all cultures, and hence they had to be able to relate to people from all cultures in the process of getting ready to go to work, to which the Native American counselor said, "Oh." And I said, "Oh." That means, fine, and we forged ahead.
As we set up the groups and people got ready to discuss getting back to work and their backgrounds and what to do, we discovered that the Native American participants would not participate at all. They would not say a word, they would not respond, and that began to make me a little bit more aware, I think, of the scope and scale of a social problem.
When we started to deal with these individuals on an individual basis, they were perfectly forth-right and eager and as committed to trying to help themselves, certainly, as any of the other people in our groups.
The nature of the groups that they were a part of initially was very informal; it was almost like people meeting together at a bus stop. So one might imagine that we as facilitators were doing something wrong in a pedagogic way.
But in actual fact we did very little. It was a group of people relating to itself in the initial stages, but not relating. And what this finally showed me is this a challenge that we all continue to face in a cultural model that depends somehow on making us all work together and live together.
I just want to close by saying that I think the work that these two educators are doing is very valuable and very important, and I, for one, have enjoyed listening to it a great deal. If either one of you would like to respond to my comments, you are welcome to do so.
John Johnson: Just a brief response to Ernieís last observation. I think there are a couple of things that come into play. Number one is the fact that the reservation system and Indian people do view themselves as separate and apart from the larger society. I think the larger society has made us feel that way. They put us on reservations, theyíve always tried to destroy and obliterate our culture, our language and our traditions. I think to a certain degree that when Indian people encounter these kinds of situations, itís not as though they pretend they are not there, they demonstrate their disapproval by lack of participation. I think thatís what you see on the reservation and in a lot of tribal elections. Indian people will simply not participate if they donít like what is happening. They just wonít be a part of it, they wonít become a part of a process that they donít believe in, or they wonít become part of a process that they didnít have a part in putting together.
I think the other thing that you have to keep in mind is that Indian people have a different perspective from other people in the United States. I just found out today that Dr. Glavach is an immigrant, but I think most people here and most people outside of Indians are immigrants from another land.
Indian people look what is happening, and I have to chuckle when I look at the local newspaper and I see someone who is being recognized because they have lived here for fifty years, sixty or seventy-five years Ė our people have been here for thousands of years, and I think thatís what enters into the picture, because weíre going to be here for a few thousand more years unless they contaminate the planet so badly that it becomes uninhabitable. But we look at this process, and we say, "Sure, you come in with your system and with your programs, but weíre going to be here after that program is gone." So I think probably that is what is taking place as well.
Rebecca Lee: Iím a teacher here at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas most of the time, and other times I teach American Indian children in Mississippi, my home state. I use the Native American Curriculum Kits that you talked about, and I think the booklet is wonderful; it has questions that are very stimulating for the students. Theyíve been very well selected. I found them very, very helpful.
I ran across non-participation constantly in the schools. It was very difficult to get the students to participate, because everybody was just copying, which was how they were taught to learn when the school first opened. Not that theyíd really rather copy, it was just their way of not wanting to do what Iíd asked them to do. As a teacher, I had to try every method I could.
One of the saddest things there is the situation with the home-life. The parents never came to school at all, just occasionally, but never to help. It seems like there was a wall; they just didnít seem to care about education. They wanted their kids to get educated to make money and to have respect from the White man, and that is about as far as it seemed to go most of the time.
But I went back this year and things have changed because before politicians were the principals in the school. Recently the Bureau of Indian Affairs has dropped out and the Indian tribe runs the schools. What they did, and I was very surprised, is they hired all White principals. And they are wonderful, their attitude is very different. They are very kind, very respectful and very patient with the children. The principal I worked with brought about a great change in that school.
The high school doesnít have the disciplinary problems that can occur in the lower grades. When I teach in the high school, no problems. The students are very respectful and actually very interested in going to school, and Iím really, really pleased at whatís happening there.
The one thing Iíd like to see happen in the Indian schools is that they have more Indian teachers, because right now, although there is an aide for each class (if they come and when they come), itís not always dependable. So I think having Indian teachers would help out quite a lot.
One more point I want to make is that all the children in Mississippi in this area speak Choctaw very well. But they have to translate in the class from their language into English. So it takes a very long time for them to answer.
But I also want to mention that in the schools they are all taught bead-work and basket-making. They bring the bark into the room, they strip it and soak and dye it and make the baskets right there in the school. And they also have a festival every year where the children, even the ones from Head Start that are about two or three years old, all dance traditional Indian dances, and they wear traditional dress. They do dances such as duck dance, the stealing partners, the war dance, the friendship dance, the snake dance. The dancing and chanting, I feel, are very important for the American Indians to do. In the classroom they try to get very casual, but when they dance, theyíre not casual, theyíre very serious. It brings out a lot of respect for them and itís a very high form of art for them to participate in. So I would really like to see all that continue in the schools.
John Johnson: Just a couple of quick observations. One of the difficulties that we have here in the state of California is that we have, as an example, ninety-four tribes in the state of California alone. There are some dances held here that are ceremonial dances. There arenít very many social kinds of dances. Most of the dances take place at a specific time during the years, like the World Renewal Ceremony or the Strawberry Festival, or the White Deer Skin Dance. They are based more on traditional culture, so there isnít a lot of exposure as far as the general public is concerned.
But the identity problem kind of relates to that. Because there are so many tribes, we donít have a readily identifiable leadership that can take the lead in terms of Indian culture in the state of California. I know this creates a problem in the public school system because Indian students, with the lack of any visible identity, donít have anything they can relate to. We may have, for instance at the local high school, groups that are recognized at the high school - the preppies; the jocks, who are the athletes; the goat-ropers, who are the cowboys; the stoners, who are the druggies. And then you also have groups like the Hispanics with a very distinctive language; even their cars and the way they dress identify them. You have the Black people who have specific ways of dressing, hairdos, music. They have something that is a part of their culture that they are related to. Indian students donít have that. So, it leaves a gap in terms of how do they really identify with each other? They donít, so that creates some unique problems in the public school setting.
Regarding the Indian parents, one of the things I did mention that we are working on is parent advisory committees, the local parent advisory committee in each one of the school districts we work in. We also do parent training kinds of things Ė partnerships in education. We bring in people from the State Department of Education that will do joint workshops with the school district. And we are seeing improvement in those areas. And I do agree with you, we are making progress, there is definite progress being made.
Heng Chíau: I just wanted to make one comment: how do we define success? What is your measuring stock for successful students? Is it the avenues to income, material things, prestige, status; or, is it to be measured in more intangible things like their character, their personality, their ability to make the world a better place, even if that "success" for the world entails taking a personal loss?
These are issues we face in schools every day. As a Buddhist school weíre very keen, you might say, on instilling certain values and virtues, many of which go against the values of the "dominant culture." For instance, we stress generosity as opposed to personal acquisition; cooperation instead of competition; unselfishness and being public-spirited instead of being out for self-benefit; honesty versus guile and deceit. And you could say that this makes children ill-adapted to the dominant culture Ė a culture that tends to instill the opposite.
So, perhaps all of us, because we are in institutional roles, get locked in to trying to produce successful people according to the values of the dominant culture, but in a way end up creating personal failures or people who are messed up and causing the problems facing mankind, instead of contributing to their solutions. This is my question.
It seems to me that all of us in our positions have to somehow or other take stock of this issue and ask ourselves whether or not some conflict is inevitable; that there has to be some point of tension in teaching for what should or could be against what is. A point we reach when we say, "Well, these are not necessarily values we want to instill in our children." That some of the values which are part of our cultural heritage Ė whether itís Chinese, Indian, European, Christian, Buddhist or whatever Ė are worth preserving if we hope to make the world a better place and rescue mankind from the plight that so much of the dominant culture seems to be plummeting us toward.
So my basic question is: what is success, and how do we measure it? And is it the dominant culture that we should be adapting to, or perhaps adapting the dominant culture to something else, something better?