Hiigginson Peter

A recent update from Peter since he has moved to Cambridge, MA:

I hit the big seven zero mark last August, a milestone I would be happy to forget. But I draw inspiration from a bumper sticker I saw the other day which read "Born just fine the first time". And in all candor, rocketing back and forth from extremes seems to suit me. Let me explain myself.


While I have a 45 year-old son who is a tenured professor at Bryn Mawr, I also have a 10 year-old half Samoan little bomber who rejoices in the name of Roxanna Ataata-o-Mauga (try saying that fast).  Through guile, stealth and cunning, she has managed to get me to sit down with her every night to do her homework, half of which is in French (she attends the Ecole Bilingue here in Cambridge). She fills me with great happiness so while there are moments when I am wondering what in hell I'm doing at my advanced age, the fact is that I am happy to do it. So that is one extreme.


The other is that I have been involved (under UNESCO auspices) in devising a support system for a Siberian Inuit nomadic schools project. The weather? Appalling. As I write these lines, the temp in Yakutsk (capital of the Sakha Republic - 3 times the size of California with a population of 1.5 million) is roughly -50 Celsius. And the logistical challenges? Equally so. Does anybody fancy a two-day drive on a snow mobile in -50 C.??


The Siberian Inuits that make up the so-called Five nations are reindeer herders. And I don't mean they look after Donner und Blitzen during the down months: a single family's herd can easily number 2,500 animals. Reindeer are migratory which means that if the family is to stay together, if the way of life, the culture, the languages are to be preserved...the school must follow. And the point is that they want no other life. When the weather warms up to a measly -30 C, they sweat. They LIKE their lives, they revere their culture and traditions and they emphatically do not want these things to be undermined by schooling. But providing education to them that is at all consistent with the national curriculum is off the charts in terms of per capita cost.


This is not the place to describe all this in any great detail but a few snippets might be of some interest. They want a curriculum that is part "core" and part "life skills" – fine but in what proportions? And by the way, once you get past the simple vocational aspects of life skills education (e.g. reindeer husbandry), you find yourselves butted up against pure fuzz stretching away in all directions: what does anyone mean by education to promote "life quality"?

There are quite a few areas where I felt I struck a responsive chord - e.g. training in classroom diagnostic testing methods, multi-class teaching, and the like - but the biggest hurdle by far was trying to find ways of reducing per capita costs. And while the answer is hardly rocket science, accomplishing it is another matter altogether. While teacher support was/is hardly adequate, there is some interaction between the teachers on the one hand and the inspectorate, curriculum advisors and district education officers on the other. The problem has been that the latter have always interpreted their role as essentially one of policing the putative undisciplined teacher.


The people are heart-breakingly welcoming and enthusiasm runs high. Will Moscow follow? Bof, qu'est-ce que j'en sais? Peter Higginson1But it is just possible that, if countries with significant Inuit and other Arctic populations of their own -i.e. the Canadians, the Danes (for Greenland) the Norwegians and Finns (for the Lapps) - could be persuaded to come to the party in support of a workable circum-polar educational network, this real, and I have to say extraordinary, if unlikely way of life can be preserved, with or without Moscow.   So that is it.

Sorry this is so long but as the French salon courtesan, Madame de Stael once famously wrote to a friend, "Je vous prie de bien vouloir me pardonner cette lettre trop longue mais je n'ai pas eu le temps de vous en ecrire une courte" (forgive this long letter but I didn't have the time to write a short one). Being succinct for me is chasing a receding horizon.  

Greetings and best wishes to those who remember me. [12-07]


Email: flhig@aol.com