Alaskan Teacher Etta Schureman Jones: She Was a WWII Prisoner of War

Chap 7 Etta JonesThere are times when extraordinary circumstances of history present already gutsy teachers with unexpected challenges. This is certainly true of the intrepid Etta Schureman Jones, an elementary school teacher and trained nurse from originally from Vineland, New Jersey.

Etta Schureman was over forty years old when she and her sister, Marie, ventured into Alaska Territory to teach Native American Eskimos in primitive rural schools. After one year, Marie  returned to the Lower 48, but Etta, who had met the love of her life and married, settled permanently in Alaska. The picture here is the happy couple on their wedding day.

Eighteen years later, Etta and her beloved husband, C. Foster Jones, were working together  in the remote Aleutian island of Attu when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan on December, 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy.” The couple and their students were slated to be evacuated by the U.S. Navy when the island was invaded by Japanese troops. Although the couple were in their sixties, Japanese soldiers killed Foster and removed Etta to an internment camp in Japan, where she was incarcerated with a small group of Australian nurses who were also prisoners of war. The Attuan natives, about three dozen of them, were also taken to Japan, with the apparent intention of assimilating them into the Japanese population. Although Etta was rescued buy American troops after the war, and she and the surviving Attuans were eventually repatriated after the war, Etta never saw her students or their families again.

Etta’s intriguing tale of survival is told brilliantly by Mary Breu in her book Last Letters from Attu: The True Story of Etta Jones: Alaska Pioneer and Japanese POW. A fascinating read, to be sure. You can find this book at amazon at the following link: Last Letters from Attu. I have also included a chapter about this courageous teacher in my recently published book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teaches and their Deeds of Valor, also available at amazon at this link: Chalkboard Heroes.

Teacher and Suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt

CCCattMany times throughout history, talented teachers earn national recognition for achievements outside of the classroom. Such is certainly the case for Carrie Chapman Catt, a schoolteacher from Iowa who labored tirelessly to earn the vote for women.

She was born Carrie Clinton Lane in Ripon, Wisconsin, to parents Lucius and Maria Louisa Lane. Carrie was raised in Charles City, Iowa, where her family had moved when she was seven.

After high school, Carrie graduated from Iowa State Agricultural College, having worked her way through school as a teacher in the summer months. Her father, a subsistence farmer, contributed only $25 a year to her education, partly because he didn’t have a lot of financial resources, but mostly because he didn’t believe in advanced education for girls. But the young woman was determined to get a college degree. After her graduation, she continued to teach, earning a stellar reputation as an educator. In time, she was promoted to the position of  superintendent of schools.

Carrie could have remained in that comfortable job until retirement, but she was determined to improve the lives of the women of her day. The right to vote for women became her life’s passion. The intrepid teacher became one of the leading forces for the Suffragist movement, which lobbied state by state, and eventually descended upon Washington, DC, to pressure Congress into passing a constitutional amendment that would grant women the right to vote. Once that goal was accomplished, Carrie spent the rest of her life advocating for peace and human rights.

You can read about the life of this remarkable educator in my recently published book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teachers and Their Deeds of Valor, now available on amazon.

The President’s Sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng: Talented Teacher and Author

Maya Soetoro-NgMaya Soetoro-Ng is a former high school history teacher, current university professor, and expert in comparative international education. She also happens to be the half-sister of President Barack Obama. Born in 1970 in Jakarta, Indonesia, she is the daughter of Anne Durham, Barack Obama’s mother, and Anne’s second husband, Indonesian businessman Lolo Soetoro. An accomplished educator in her own right, Maya’s work as a promoter of international relations would be amazing, even if she did not enjoy her presidential connections.

Early in her career, Maya taught history at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls and at the Education Laboratory School, both located in Honolulu, Hawaii. She has also taught courses as an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii, College of Education, and between 1996 and 2000, she developed and taught curriculum at The Learning Project, an alternative public middle school located in New York City. She has also served as an Education Specialist at the East-West Center, an organization that promotes understanding between the United States, Asia, and the nations of the Pacific.

Maya published a children’s book entitled Ladder to the Moon in 2011. The book is a fantasy story about the president’s mother, cultural anthropologist Ann Dunham, and her adventures with Maya’s daughter, Suhaila. In the book, the pair help orphaned tsunami victims and, as the title suggests, climb a ladder to the moon. Maya said she first got the idea for the book when her daughter said she wanted to know about her grandmother–who she never had a chance to meet. Dunham passed away from ovarian cancer in 1995.

Maya is currently working on a book about peaceful conflict resolution aimed at high school students. She also oversaw the 2009 publication of her mother’s dissertation, entitled Surviving Against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia, authoring the foreword to the book and presenting it at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

Harlan Kredit: Award-Winning Biology Teacher and Conservation Ecologist

thVery often remarkable educators extend their talents well beyond the classroom. Such is the case with Harlan Kredit, an award-winning high school biology teacher from the state of Washington.

Harlan was born and raised near Fishtrap Creek in Lynden, Washington. Following his high school graduation, he attended Calvin College, a liberal arts college located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he graduated in 1961. Later, Harlan earned his master’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Harlan taught science in Hudsonville, Michigan from 1962 to 1972. In 1973, he returned to Whatcom County in Washington and accepted a position as a biology teacher at Lynden Christian High School in Bellingham. In the classroom, Harlan fosters an investigative approach to curriculum, and emphasizes leadership and fish and wildlife conservation. “My goal each year is to challenge every class with a special project, which, due to their effort, becomes something they own—that is the ‘hook’ I use to engage them. It also becomes a means of giving something back to the community, both now and in the future,” Harlan once expounded. “Using the outdoors as a major part of my teaching focus blends with the interests of the students, is real science, and the excitement of the students has validated that approach.” Harlan has organized his students in a salmon restoration project, a tree planting project, and a litter disposal campaign in his home town.

In addition to teaching, Harlan spends his summers as a ranger naturalist and wildfire fighter at Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, and he has also served the National Park Service as a photographer. Furthermore, Harlan educates fellow teachers at the American Wilderness Leadership School in Jackson, Wyoming.

Harlan has been recognized with over twenty-five awards and honors for his work as an educator and as a  in conservation ecologist, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the National Conservation Teacher of the Year in 2004. In 2005, he received a Walt Disney Company Teacher Award. Additionally, Harlan has been inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Zitkala Sa: Music Teacher and Native American Rights Activist

portrait[1]One of the most amazing chalkboard champions and political activists in American history is Native American Zitkala Sa, whose Indian name translated means Red Bird.

This remarkable educator was born on February 22, 1876, on the Yankton Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her father, an American of European descent, abandoned his family, leaving his young daughter to be raised alone by her Native American mother. Despite her father’s absence, Zitkala Sa described her childhood on the reservation as a time of freedom and joy spent in the loving care of her tribe.

In 1884, when she was just eight years old, missionaries visited the reservation and removed several of the Native American children, including Zitkala Sa, to Wabash, Indiana. There she was enrolled in White’s Manual Labor Institute, a school founded by Quaker Josiah White for the purpose of educating “poor children, white, colored, and Indian.” She attended the school for three years until 1887, later describing her life there in detail in her autobiography The School Days of an Indian Girl. In the book she described her despair over having been separated from her family, and having her heritage stripped from her as she was forced to give up her native language, clothing, and religious practices, and to cut her long hair, a symbolic act of shame among Native Americans. Her deep emotional pain, however, was somewhat brightened by the joy and exhilaration she felt in learning to read, write, and play the violin. Zitkala Sa became an accomplished musician.

After completing her secondary education in 1895, the young graduate enrolled at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, on a scholarship. The move was an unusual one, because at that time higher education for women was not common. In 1899, Zitkala Sa accepted a position as a music teacher at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Here she became an important role model for Native American children who, like herself, had been separated from their families and relocated far from their home reservations to attend an Indian boarding school. In 1900, the young teacher escorted some of her students to the Paris Exposition in France, where she played her violin in public performances by the school band. After she returned to the Carlisle School, Zitkala Sa became embroiled in a conflict with the Carlisle’s founder, Colonel Richard Henry Pratt, when she expressed resentment over the rigid program of assimilation into the dominant white culture that Pratt advocated, and the fact that the school’s curriculum did not encourage Native American children to aspire to anything beyond lives spent as manual laborers.

As a political activist, Zitkala Sa devoted her energy and talent towards the improvement of the lives of her fellow Native Americans. She founded the National Council of American Indians in 1926 and served as its president until her death in 1938. She traveled around the country delivering speeches on controversial issues such as Native American enfranchisement, their full citizenship, Indian military service in World War I, corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the apportionment of tribal lands. In 1997 she was selected as a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project.

Zitkala Sa: a national treasure and a genuine chalkboard champion.

You can read more about the Carlisle Indian School in my book, Chalkboard Champions, available from amazon.