Cultural Disconnect

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The more time we spend at the local public K-8 school, the more we realize what a challenge these Navajo kids face when they reach adulthood. For so many, they have limited contact or knowledge of the world outside this remote corner of New Mexico.

Less than 20% of the students at this little school are “proficient” by state testing standards. There are zillions of reasons for this, not least a lack of stable, encouraging home environment. But there are cultural reasons as well. Let me give you an example from the younger grades:

youngs

lack of experience

One of the teachers was surprised that her young students incorrectly answered a question on the state test about boats. Just like planes are in the air and cars are on the roads, boats are in the water, right? Umm, no…her students had circled “roads” for where boats are found. Roads? Really??

So the teacher asked her students why so many of them circled that answer. With disdain, since the teacher should have known the obvious, her students pointed out to her that throughout the summer they see boats being towed by big pick-up trucks along the highway that cuts through this corner of Navajoland! Since most of them have never seen a lake and have rarely seen water flowing in the “washes” around here, I guess they can be forgiven for not knowing the proper location of boats!

Gradually, these students gain mainstream cultural knowledge, through books, curricula and television. Eventually, they will learn that boats indeed belong on the water. But a new problem comes up: they have little life experience to give them the discernment to properly sort out which stories they read are “true” and which are “fiction.”

middlers

lack of discernment

A few months ago, Randy was shocked when some of his math students started talking about the alien spaceport to be found in a mountain nearby. He started to laugh about the movie they must have seen…but the students were adamant it was true. They had seen (blurry) video of the spaceport on a cable-TV documentary, after all.

And why do only 15% (1 in 7) students from this school finish high school? Again, there are many reasons, including a lack of preparation and a lack of motivation. But there is also a lack of mentors and role models for these students from within their own families and their own culture. Unlike some areas of Navajoland, the majority of adults in this forgotten corner have never finished high school. Most of them hold no regular jobs, relying on outside aid and day labor to survive. It can be hard to convince middle school students that they should continue something that seems to have no relevance to their eventual adult lives!

olders

lack of role models

Like some other blog entries I have written, this is an area that has no clear-cut answers or solutions. We (and many other concerned individuals and groups) are wrestling with how to bridge the cultural and economic divide; sorting through possible solutions to this disconnect. All of us, including Navajo parents and grandparents, are concerned about the life-choices these students will eventually make. Unfortunately, there have been few success stories so far. All of us will keep searching for answers…

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Helping “victims”?

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A few days ago a woman knocked at our door. She needed to arrange for a cemetery plot for an uncle who had died. She already knew we charge a small fee but still wondered if they could get a discount. When I said no (especially since this mission has had no contact with this woman or any of her family in the past), she just nodded and commented that our price was the cheapest option anyway.cemetary plots

Next she wanted to use the ex-church building on this property for a funeral service. “I suppose you charge a fee for that also,” she grumbled. She was shocked when I told her that the building is not currently available for use. (The pews were falling apart which wasn’t safe, so they have been knocked apart completely. We will eventually figure out what other seating options might make more sense for a multi-purpose building.)

She got a bit angry with me, demanding to know what their family was supposed to do. I suggested the chapter houses (local Navajo government buildings). I suggested one of the 15 or so other churches in this area. She didn’t like any of those ideas. She stated loudly that she was shocked we were no longer available for funerals. She questioned if we had the “right” to deny her family the possibility of using this facility.

I placated her as best I could, internally seething that a stranger would be so demanding. I don’t believe our mission is to be sitting around here, waiting for the 3-4 times per year that someone might prefer to use this facility for some reason, rather than one of the many other options in the community…

Still grumpy at this woman’s entitlement mentality when I walked back inside, I just started laughing in recognition of the truth in this quote, which was in a new email from a friend:

In politics, few talents are as richly rewarded as the ability to convince parasites that they are victims. Welfare states on both sides of the Atlantic have discovered that largesse to losers does not reduce their hostility to society, but only increases it. Far from producing gratitude, generosity is seen as an admission of guilt, and the reparations as inadequate compensations for injustices — leading to worsening behavior by the recipients. – Thomas Sowell

We continue to wrestle with the question of how we can TRULY help the Navajo living in the Lybrook area. We continue to listen to some of our Navajo friends and community leaders who are becoming more and more outraged at the entitlement mentality of constituents who expect everyone else to do things for them. In the two years we have been here, we have learned that hand-outs are often toxic. And hand-ups are usually rejected, at least for now.

Why?…Why?…Why?…

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My mind has been spinning with unanswerable questions for the past few days. I can CHOOSE to have faith, to believe that God really does have a plan, and that He is not surprised or startled by what happens here. But even when I choose to believe those things, it doesn’t stop the questions…

Many of you already know the story of the fatal accidents that occurred near here on January 1st. (You can read a blog post reacting to the tragedy HERE. You can read an official report HERE.) You have heard about the trauma which rippled outward throughout the community because of these tragedies. You have been reminded that trauma, and tragedy, and death are constant companions of many of our Navajo friends in this area. We found out this morning that our friend who has been in a coma since the accident died yesterday which has reopened all the questions in my mind.deadly accident

Last weekend, on our way home from a board meeting in Kansas, the roads were snow-covered and slick. A mile from home, we slid left of center and ended up in the ditch, facing the opposite direction from where we had been travelling. Randy walked home, got another vehicle, picked up Anna and our things, and took us home to bed. In the morning, we easily pulled our truck out of the ditch. Other than being a little shook up, all ended well: no damage to truck or ourselves, no on-coming traffic to crash into, semis enough miles behind us that they didn’t crash into us, no collisions with metal posts, trees or fences.harmless accident

The stories are similar—losing control of the vehicle, crossing left of center, ending up in a ditch. The outcomes so radically different—2 mangled cars, 4 people dead, 3 grieving children, and community trauma vs. no injuries or damage to vehicle.

WHY? What was the difference? We know that God loves those Navajo families as much as He loves us. We know that our safety was more than mere “luck.” We know that somehow God can and will bring good, even out of tragedy. But, WHY? Why were we protected when the other families were devastated?

I can be faithful by remembering and honoring what God has done for us; by openly expressing my grief for what the other families are going through; by choosing over and over to have faith in God being loving. I can also sing the following song with Amy Grant:  (listen/see music video HERE)

            Somewhere down the road there are answers to the questions…

It has comforted me through dark times in the past, is a comfort to me now, and will comfort me through future challenges, I’m sure. Some days I long for everything being put right when we finally get to heaven…