J-Term: “Putting a new memory in the minds of children…”

Harvard Graduate School of Education, in collaboration with the other Harvard graduate schools, offers January term (J-term) courses. After I submitted my last final in mid-December, I turned off my laptop for a much needed rest–both for me, and my Mac–and I contemplated whether or not I wanted to extend my break as long as possible. I debated whether I should come back to campus a week earlier to participate in J-term. Thankfully, I did. I enrolled in Professor Joseph Kalt‘s PED 501M: Native Americans in the 21st Century: Nation Building I.

I sat in the same room for four consecutive six and a half-hour days with thirty minute breaks for lunch, and I wasn’t bored for a minute. We unpacked the history and contemporary truths of the myriad sovereign Native nations. Stories after stories: this course unearthed the marginalization, resilience, and preservation of Indian country, which was never shared at any checkpoint of my k-12 or college education. PED 501M made me stop and think: how is it that none of my history courses ever talked about the sovereignty of the indigenous with reverence? This reminded me of the theory I learned in Professor Karen Mapp‘s course, Leadership in Social Change Organization, ‘asset’ versus ‘deficit’ models of thinking. I was socialized to see the deficit of Natives in my educational upbringing, never their cultural capital, which is not only in absolute abundance but in incredible nuance distinguished by tribes. Meanwhile, Professor Kalt shared a quote from an elder Native about the self-determination towards “putting a new memory in the minds of children.”

I ended up jotting down a series of quotes that will be prompts on my future journals:

  • “Even wolves have a constitution” (partially in reference to the projection of Native ‘savagery’) .
  • “I believe that friend, family, and foe should be treated equally.”
  • “Self-esteem is the ability to stop the endless loop of checking if your reasoning is true–not just reasoning, but your reasoning about your reasoning.”
  • “Education is your greatest weapon. With education, you are the white man’s equal, without education you are his victim and so shall remain all of your lives. Study, learn, help one another always. Remember there is only poverty and misery in idleness and dreams – but in work there is self-respect and independence.” -Chief Plenty Coups
  • “A sense of entitlement is one of the most dangerous things of all.”
  • “We don’t ‘eat the seed corn'” – Tribal Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett
  • “Growing up, I had about 70 first cousins–that’s a lot. Now, I have about less than 30 still alive.”

J-term revived my spirits and prepared my mind to dive back into next semester with hype. If in 11 months, you’re debating whether you should register for J-term as you’re binging Game of Thrones for the third time because you’re thoroughly convinced you learn more about EVERY character–I say commit. Plan to return in early January with your heavy coat, and be prepared to install a major intellectual update.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

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