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Wednesday, August 11, 2004
educational renewal in New Mexico
Our work frames some of the issues related to the complex cultural resistance facing educational reform.
There are several aspects of this resistance. Certainly each university community has a diversity of issues that shape educational reform. The small rural universities have specific issues. These issues differentiate the rural setting from the urban setting. New Mexico colleges and universities also have differences from the more general category of “American university”.
In spite of what might be thought in some circles, a high level of enlightenment exists in many rural communities. This is certainly true of many communities in New Mexico. Over the past decades, New Mexico culture has specific histories and has developed specific understanding about the Hispanic, Native American and Caucasian cultures. Our cultural understanding is to be celebrated, extended and deepened. When there are limitations and barriers, we should be able to do something about these impediments. However, what we often find is not an affinity for our viewpoints, but a hidden requirement that our cultural understanding be set aside. A much larger coherence is defined from the great books of Western Culture, and where there is a natural distinction expressed by native culture we find this expression limited and even inhibited.
Citizens of native communities should review the situation in our schools and in local rural universities. The review should be objective and transparent. As this review occurs, the fidelity of certain native viewpoints might be re-affirmed and extended. Reaffirmation of what one knows intuitively is vital to our developing a social appreciative field . All citizens should find that their viewpoints are considered and that their feelings are deemed important. But more importantly the root causes of cultural impediments have to be defined so that remediation of these causes of impediments can be considered.
In the most positive terms possible, how might we develop an objective dialog that leads to actions that the entire community of communities will find enlightened? This type of question is addressed in various process development methodologies, such as the one Professor Smith, at The George Washington University, has advanced.
Deep reforms are envisioned in recent statements by the new president of New Mexico Highland University:
Welcome to the website of New Mexico Highlands University. I hope you find enough on our site to pay us a visit and, better still, become a part of this university with a rich history and bright, exciting future. We are about to create one of our country's outstanding small universities and we'd like you to be a part of it.
Highlands University already leads the way in important academic areas that prepare students for some of the world's newest and most challenging jobs. We're going to build on that record, and we're going to build on our record of equal opportunity. We're also going to build on our reputation for being a small, friendly university where people all work together to help one another succeed.
Working with others is a critical element of success so we will reach out far and wide as an institution to develop partnerships that help us excel. We will strive for excellence as a university because we want each of our students to strive for excellence.
The NMHU Board of Regents is comprised of very distinguished and accomplished New Mexicans who have left their marks nationally and internationally. I am honored that they selected me in June 2004 to be the 16th President of Highlands University.
Together we are going to challenge this institution, and we will rise to the occasion. We're going to have fun but we're also going to be known for our hard work because I believe the best way to predict the future is to create it. People around the country will come to know that we are good at Highlands - good in academics, good in character, good in our resolve, good in our desire to contribute to our families and our communities.
We are looking for people who can help us make a difference in this exciting new era. I hope you're one of them.
A technology for aggregation of the concepts being expressed, in real time, by the voices of many communities, re-enforces a type of collaboration between virtual and geographically separated communities. Within this collaboration the various communities can come to understand why we are experiencing difficulty and where the path forward might lead us. My life’s work has advanced this technology.
We conjecture that the situation presents the following opportunities:
1) Following a decline in the recent decades rural universities are seeking a renewal in their mission and position within the university system
2) PhD programs can be reestablished and a leadership role established in further resolving long standing cultural conflict between native communities.
3) Political and financial stability is possible with an increased emphasis on the quality of the instruction in the freshman classes.
Each of these three opportunities is available to NMHU. However, the opportunities cannot be explored unless the diversity of viewpoint within the New Mexico communities is more fully honored. The key to educational renewal is in increased attention to the potential within the freshman class. This freshman class represents all of the New Mexico communities. Failure to retain a high percentage of freshmen students in mathematics and computer science classes is a deep and fatal error.
In rural communities, the local population is largely concerned about two things. To open access to the opportunities listed above, one must examine and remediate the causes of the profoundly poor student retention ratio currently being experienced by the Department of Computer Science and Mathematics at NMHU. There are two types of causes. First is cultural and the second is structural.
The rural cultures are concerned that "outsiders" not flood the geographic region and cause changes to the culture. The concern is that those good aspects, those that are understood and for which people are comfortable with, not change. The rural cultures are concerned that our children do not leave the region. One of the consequences of wanting our children not to leave is a social viewpoint that justifies and even supports poor K-12 education. There is a saying. “If kids do not have the skills to make it on the outside then perhaps they will stay on the farm or ranch.” This saying is not communicated out of meanness but out of not knowing what else to do. There are deeply held beliefs.
In the case our local populations in New Mexico, a teaching is often provided. This teaching is about the values and understanding of our culture. The culture that we have in New Mexico is unique to our area. This teaching recognizes the social values held within the Native and Hispanic community regarding the stewardship of the Earth’s resources and the nature of family. The teaching goes back into native oral traditions that are often hidden by the books of the Western Traditions. These cultural teachings are too often not positively reinforced in the school and college setting. Beyond simple positive reinforcement is an extension of cultural values that allows the individual to see how his or her cultural setting makes a positive contribution to the future of our overall American society.
Multi-culturalism is the key to allowing multiple viewpoints to be expressed fairly and with opportunity to actually look to nature as a means justifying a teaching. The Western Traditions do not support the level of multi-culturalism required to bring forward the natural teaching that the New Mexico communities have affinity for.
Educational renewal based on multi-culturalism provides a path forward for the university.
Great cultural pride can be enhanced. The university can instill a feeling that one’s native culture has something to add to the values expressed in our mainstream culture. In terms of education, mathematics and computer science curricular reform, this native content is important but entirely missing. Why? Is it because there is no insight into nature outside of the Western Traditions?
The positive cultural setting of New Mexico rural universities can both attract a diversity of students from outside the region and provide open access to higher education to the local population.