The Kids from Nowhere: The Story Behind the Arctic Educational Miracle by George Guthridge (Alaska Northwest Books, 2006)
Jaime Escalante in Los Angeles, Marva Collins in Chicago, John Taylor Gatto in New York City, and George Guthridge in Gambell, Alaska, on the tip of Saint Lawrence Island, as remote as it gets: What do they have in common? A lot, it turns out. Each saw potential in children the educational system had given up on, each led those students to levels of academic excellence that would be envied anywhere, and each ran up against the most unbelievable opposition from other teachers, administrators, and the system itself. People who rock institutional boats are not generally well-liked, even if—maybe especially if—their results are outstanding.
In some ways George Guthridge reminds me of Bob Goff: a bit of a loose cannon, initial trouble finding his way in life, an unconventional thinker with an emphasis on action.
Guthridge, along with his wife and two school-aged daughters, moved to a small, isolated Alaskan Native village on an island near Siberia. The school in which they were to teach was troubled, threatened with closure, and expected almost nothing of its students. Teachers rarely lasted more than one year, sometimes less, and tended to give out good grades for any number of non-academic reasons: not wanting to damage the students' self-esteem, to avoid being beaten up, or simply out of laziness. The students were as unmotivated and disruptive as in any inner-city school written off by the educational system.
Out of this, despite very hostile colleagues and administrators determined to stop him, Guthridge created and coached teams for the Future Problem Solving competition, leading these children—to whom nearly nothing had been given academically and from whom even less had been expected—to two astonishing national championships.
More than just another testimony to the high capacity of children for excellence when they are respected and inspired, and to the criminality of a system that thwarts that excellence, The Kids from Nowhere is valuable for the thought processes by which Guthridge and the students learned to solve their problems.
Not until I was on sabbatical, working on a doctorate, did I start to understand what the kids and I had done ... the welding together of two ladders of learning. We married Western culture's syllogistic, abstract, linear thinking to the holistic, nonlinear, realistic reasoning of indigenous culture. The result is a communicator who addresses the world in a new way.
For that reason, and more, I highly recommend this book to any educators, but especially to homeschoolers, many of whom already have a desire to meld different ways of thinking and to look at the world in new ways.
This book was a Christmas gift back in 2013, and I picked it up recently primarily to make progress on 95 by 65 Goal #63 (Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves). I couldn't put it down. Part of my reasoning behind Goal #63 was to read books and then declutter them. But too often after I read them I don't want to get rid of them! This can't just go into the library book sale pile, though I'd be happy to pass it on to a good home—say to a homeschooling daughter?
Oddly enough, I have only three more quotes to add. I wasn't initially planning to review this book, just to read it and check it off of my list.... That's okay, though. You should read the whole story.
"[What can you do to] turn common ideas into original ones?" ... With a flourish I open the box and lift the funnel in triumph. ... "You funnel down the ideas," I say, holding the thing before them like a chalice. ... "Make them smaller. General ideas are almost never original ideas," I tell them. "That's because almost everyone knows general information. ... To have any hope of having original ideas, you have to be very precise. ... In writing, it's the little things that are important, not the general ideas. The same is true for Problem Solving. You funnel down the general to the specific."
So many faculty fear disappointing students that each kid ends up with several Certificates of Achievement. There seems to be little room for anything except success in contemporary education, as if no one fails in the real world. The trashcan outside the gym ends up with most of the certificates.
When Bruce and I review what are supposed to be rough drafts, I am stunned at how much the kids understand about genetic engineering.... The depth of their learning is almost comical, were it not so impressive. Because Bruce and I have made no distinction between the simple and the complex the kids don't either. They accept as second nature concepts that other kids might groan over. [emphasis mine]
At least at the time of publication, all the royalties from The Kids from Nowhere were being donated to build a school in the Himalayas.