August 22, 2010

Indians evolve in textbooks

A new book shows the changing depiction of Indians in textbooks:

"Not Written in Stone: Learning and Unlearning American History Through 200 Years of Textbooks"

By Eleanor J. Bader"Not Written in Stone" opens with a chapter called "Images of Native Americans." He begins with a selection from a book penned by Noah Webster in 1831: "In general, a savage is governed by his passions ... He is remarkably hospitable to strangers, offering them the best accommodation he has and always serving them first ... Their religion was idolatry, for they worshipped the sun, the moon, the earth, fire, images and the like."

William Backus Guitteau's 1930 text, "Our United States," moved the focus from cultural exoticism to present Native Americans as brutal antagonists. "Their warfare was cruel almost beyond belief," he wrote. "The warrior scalped his dead foe and wore the scalp as a trophy and proof of his prowess. Captives were tortured with every cruelty that human ingenuity could devise."

By 1991, however, Clarence L. Ver Steeg's and Carol Ann Skinner's "Exploring America's Heritage" downplayed violence and instead focused on communal living and nurturance. "In almost every group," they wrote, "children learned without school buildings, books, or hired teacher. Parents, grandparents and elders were the teachers. The world was the classroom."
Comment:  Funny that these books are describing the same peoples and cultures but using radically different terms. This demonstrates how biased a supposedly objective and factual source can be.

It's why I question our default beliefs and cultural mindset here in Newspaper Rock. Even if you don't agree with my conclusions, you have to think critically to address them. Once you start thinking critically, it's hard to stop. ;-)

For more on the subject, see Indians in Christian Textbooks and "A Savage People" in 1996 Encyclopedia.

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