The Year of Miss Agnes

Local, intellectual inbreeding can constrain overall intelligence.

After decades of disinterest, backwoods Indian children in Alaska are amazed to find school learning offers real values, and even happiness, thanks to a teacher from England.

Full Review

Just as the native Athapaskan (Alaska) school year of 1948 began, yet another teacher had abandoned her assignment. Then Miss Agnes arrives.  She radically different in wardrobe -she wears pants- and in teaching approach.

Through the 10 year old native narrator, Frederika, we experience the curious anticipation of the children. Miss Agnes has brought different books, and even art supplies! No more See Spot Run, there were exciting stories, like Robin Hood.  She even knows the pencil crayons have funny names. “We all laughed because our skin and that “flesh” crayon weren’t anything like the same color. Even when we put it by Miss Agnes’s hand it wasn’t the same color. We didn’t know who would have skin that color.

The children loved maps. The boys ‘saw’ where they hunted, and how far it was to Fairbanks. “When I touched Africa, I could see that long, flat place where the elephants and the zebras were and feel the hot wind on me and smell dry grass. Now I wanted to go everywhere. And before, I never knew there was an everywhere.

Even the older children, who attend seasonal hunts with their families looked forward to school. Frederika’s shows us the native perspective and way of life, but more importantly we see how her mind is steadily broadened as she learns. After Miss Agnes left, and well into that summer, Fred thought, “Everything had something to do with what we learned from her, as if we just woke up to see the world around us, and way beyond us.

ValuedMinds expects the narration of a story to use correct grammar, but in this application it would be wrong. Having spent time as a child in a one room school by a reserve in Northern Ontario –stuck with the Indians in the rearmost desks– this reviewer (RnB) can assure readers that, if anything, Kirkpatrick Hill is simplifying the educational hurdles Northern Natives face. The Year of Miss Agnes is more profound than its simple language implies.