15
Oct
09

Ironic Elementary Jingoism

My son’s mostly-Caucasian-muttism puts him in the minority at his school. The demographics put nearly half of his classmates as Asian with Hispanic and African American comprising another 20%. There are over 70 countries represented and the annual multicultural night is not a fluff piece of “It’s a Small World After All”. Rather, parents and students proudly present music and dances from their home/ancestral countries. We love this about his school. We love that when he hears a story on the news that involves South Korea or the Philippines or any number of places, he will ask how it effects his friends’ families. In a world of such diversity, we also try to teach him to embrace his own little portion of Cherokee blood with a sense of pride.

All of this serves as a background to the assignment he brought home this week. They have been studying the explorers and colonization of the Americas – although I don’t think I have yet seen the word “colonize” on any of his homework sheets. In conjunction with this, the reading assignment he was given was about a day at the mission. It explained how the long-suffering padre did his best to teach the Native American’s the European way of planting, tanning leather, woodworking, sewing, dressing, and eating. The day started off with him trying to teach them his religion. At the end of the day, at the end of the story, he closed the gates to a mission and vowed to try again the next day. The implied superiority of European ways, the paternalistic tone, the implied notion that the Native American’s were unable to care for themselves – all of it was offensive to me – and to my son. I sent an email to the teacher pointing out the inherent misperception the story gave. I also pointed out the irony of presenting the story the week they are preparing for multi-cultural night and the double irony of the school being predominately NOT of European decent. In reply I have been assured that they will not be using this story in the future. Nevertheless, the episode speaks to how easily history can be stilted when we white-wash (pun intended) away all the ugly parts before we present it to kids. It is much more difficult to teach that the native populations of the America’s were decimated by disease and massacre on the arrival of the “white man”. It is easier to say that the Europeans civilized the tribes than to explain how they destroyed Indian’s social, political and religious structures. Kids are more able to understand these things than we give them credit for and we shouldn’t hide the ugly parts from them.

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