Modernization and globalization have numerous advantages, but they have their drawbacks too. One of them includes the increased risk of losing the connection to past traditions, skills, and customs.
A high school teacher in Alaska was determined to make sure this won’t happen to his students.
Hunting and trapping have been an important part of North American culture for centuries. As these activities are nowadays judged by many groups and individuals, wildlife management administrators and policymakers are attempting to point out their value.
In Alaska, people still appreciate the traditional activity of hunting, and a high school teacher created a special class to teach his students the skill and value behind it.
Brain Mason hunted and killed a moose, and used the carcass to teach his students life skills, anatomy, and local cultural traditions. Within the alternative course, called the “World Discovery Seminar”, taught at Chugiak High School, about 30 students received four-inch boning knives to process a moose cow, which involved de-boning, separating, grinding and packaging the animal.
He also showed them the anatomy of a moose and taught them the ways the local indigenous people used hunting and trapping to survive.
“What I try to emphasize — and the World Discovery Seminar program as a whole — is to emphasize experiential learning. You can learn certainly about anatomy from diagrams and textbooks and videos but getting your hands on an animal is a big part of the science aspect of it.”
Subsistence hunting is a significant part of the local culture in Alaska, and it is hunting for food, practiced throughout the entire year. It is vital to the nutrition of residents, food security, and economic stability.
A 2011 study by the Division of Wildlife Conservation showed that 65 percent of Alaskan residents considered wildlife an “extremely important” or “very important” for their quality of life.
Four teachers are devoted to the WSD program, and around 125 students are taking part in it. This course uses the Paideia Methodology to teach students, a Socratic based learning/teaching technique that focuses on the importance of active learning, critical thinking, and communication skills, as a way to empower the body, mind, and spirit.
The website of the program explains:
“The goal of WDS is to assist young people to become avid, self-motivated learners. In the classroom, students will examine, define, draw conclusions, articulate, and debate about the significance of great historical, literary, mathematical, and scientific ideas.
Students work toward becoming multifaceted thinkers by examining and questioning real-world events: past, present, and future.”
This teacher acquired an Education Harvest Permit, which allows the hunt of game animals for the purpose of education. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issues up to 40 permits every year, mainly to villages and schools. Most of them are for moose, but some are for deer, black bears, mountain goats, and caribou as well.
Yet, the conditions for the permit were very strict, so the moose had to be antlerless, and couldn’t be a calf or a cow with a calf.
After killing him, Mason had to submit a report detailing the age, sex, and the specific harvest location. Thirty days later, he was required to report the details of the educational activities that took place.
Tim Spivey, who works with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, explains that this program is a great way for students to learn the cultural traditions and practices related to hunting and gathering in the state.
The students processed around two hundred pounds of moose meat, some of which was planned to be cooked, but the rest to be donated to charity.
Mason was proud of the success of the project, as it was an experience “you can’t really learn from a textbook.” He admitted being worried about the reactions of his students at first, but he was impressed when the cutting started, as “ the class became silent, focused and extremely occupied with the task at hand.”