We once thought the universe revolved around us all-important humans on the Planet Earth. We eventually looked through a new perspective and found we are not the center, but actually part of a universe even more awesome than we previously imagined.
The world was also flat. But we did not fall off when we traveled to the perceived “edge”. Hence, the world became accepted as being round.
As you can see from the past, we need to look at several angles and expose ourselves to several viewpoints before we can get a true picture of something. If we don’t, our knowledge of that particular something is flat and/or lacking in truth.
For example, I can look up a location on Google Maps of let’s say, Huron Indian Cemetery (Now called the Wyandot National Burial Ground) in Kansas City, Kansas and get this:
It tells me the basics, but the map is pretty basic and simple. Not much information.
Let’s switch over to the satellite map image for another viewpoint.
Hey! That’s a lot better. There are trees and roads and cars and maybe even fire trucks and… Okay, okay, back on task.
Finally, let’s go down to our man on the street with Street View.
Wow! I feel like I’m right there standing at the entrance to Huron Indian Cemetery in downtown KCK.
Conclusion? Looking at things from several different viewpoints provides more information. More information provides a better understanding.
Besides being a professional scientist, I am also a proud lifetime member of the guild of sports fanatics and a history nut (especially the obscure snippets of history which often fail to make school books or PBS miniseries). In science, we must look at all angles of a problem to get the big picture to prove or disprove our hypothesis. Sports are a little more cut and dry in regard to discovering the truths. There are winners and there are losers. The details often fall into supporting evidence of why one competitor won and why one competitor lost.
In history, though, the cut and dry truths do not exist. The variables are too numerous, too varied, and often too buried to be added to the “truth”. History depends on multiple viewpoints to be taken into account. We often fall short in teaching history because we either fail to include multiple perspectives of an event or the information to expand the knowledge base in not available.
As a white kid growing up in a lower, middle-class area of KCK, our education was solid, but our history was often one-sided. We took our lessons from textbooks written from a narrow, white, European view of the past. And, being a Croatian, Irish, English, French (and probably a few others mixed into the genetic soup that’s me.) kid in the 1970’s attending a relatively poor Catholic school with older, slightly-used-by-perhaps-your-grandmother textbooks, we really got a shot of history told through the narrow lens. So, I set out in life fairly well-educated but with an extremely narrow view of the world-at-large.
A few years back, I became interested in the role of Native Americans in the American Civil War, especially in the Border War on the western front. I stumbled across the American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) blog run by Debbie Reese and began to follow it. I thought I knew a bit about Native Americans, seeing as I was a native Kansan. I grew up surrounded by places with names like Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo and in a city founded by the displaced Wyandot Tribe. I thought I was in the know but, in reality, I knew nothing about Native Americans.
I’ll admit I don’t always agree with AICL 100% of the time, but I know I learn something from the information provided on AICL 100% of the time I visit the site. The AICL has introduced me to a world of native authors whose work presents a new viewpoint (at least to me) of historical events I thought I knew.
Take the Trail of Tears. I only really knew— mostly from paintings and snippets of information in textbooks—that native people were displaced from their homelands to reservations in Oklahoma. Tim Tingle changed that with his excellent book, HOW I BECAME A GHOST and its sequel WHEN A GHOST TALKS, LISTEN. In these two books, I learned about President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, Choctaw culture and history, the cruel hardships suffered by those forced to walk the trail, and the contribution of Choctaws, like General Pushmataha, to our young nation. And I learned all this while being thoroughly entertained by the story.
In his book IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE, Joseph Marshall III provides a riveting account of the historical events leading up to the Battle of Little Bighorn which balances the single viewpoint narrative I had picked up over the years. In the book, the reader follows a contemporary Lakota grandfather as he travels with his mixed race Lakota grandson to trace the life of Crazy Horse from his youth through to the battles and all the way to his surrender at Fort Robinson. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE excels at both giving an insight to the Lakota way of life, both old and new, and the history as seen through the eyes of the Sioux tribes.
Anyone remember reading about Hiawatha in school? All I remember is the epic poem that turned into an epic nap for me. But have you heard the real story of Hiawatha? The story passed down through the oral tradition of the Iroquois Nation? This authentic version of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker is truly an epic and riveting tale. There are two versions in print that I highly recommend.
The first is a picture book by Robbie Robertson (Yes, THAT Robbie Robertson of The Band fame!) called HIAWATHA AND THE PEACEMAKER. The book tells the version of the Hiawatha story Mr. Robertson heard from his Mohawk and Cayuga relatives in the reservation longhouses when he was a kid.
The second version is from Joseph Bruchac’s contemporary middle-grade book, EAGLE SONG. The main character, Danny Bigtree, misses his life on the Mohawk reservation and is having a hard time adjusting to life in New York City. His father tells him the story of Aionwahta (Hiawatha) and the legendary Peacemaker to help him adjust to the difficulties and learn to cultivate peace in his new situation.
Readers and writers! Look at things and study them from several different points of view. Respect the cultures and the traditions you may encounter. Respect other cultures in your work and do the necessary research. Don’t cut corners because you may be cutting off the most beautiful part.
Branch out and you may find your life enriched.
We are all spinning together on this round planet in an elliptical orbit around the solar system so we might as well make the best of each other’s company.
Which “outside-of-your-comfy-box” books have enriched your life and expanded your knowledge base? Please share in the comments below.
“Yakoke!” (“Thank you” in Choctaw, learned via Tim Tingle in HOW I BECAME A GHOST.)
Thanks Mike for letting me know about the sequel to How I Became a Ghost. Yay!
Thanks for stopping by, Charlotte. You will definitely want to read When A Ghost Talks, Listen. It’s very good.
Thanks for introducing your followers to these books and AICL, too!
Once on the AICL site, hit the Best Books tab. And, check out the “Photos: Native Writers and Illustrators” tab. Get to now the names of Native writers and their nations.
Knowing good bks isn’t enough, though! Here’s an example: When I was teaching Social Studies Methods in Early Childhood Educ at the U of Illinois, I (and the student I was supervising) learned why we can’t just give the good and hope it displaces the bad. The student had developed and delivered a great unit on increasing knowledge of Native peoples of the present day. Kids seemed to get it. She was pleased. Then at recess, she was shocked to see them running around doing war whoops. She stopped them and asked them what they had just learned. They said, with all the earnest goodness that young children give to us: “We’re not being Native Americans! We’re being Indians.” See? The stereotype was intact. They’d added good content, but the bad was untouched. There’s a lot of that stereotypical content in their world. Toys, videos, games, and, children’s books like INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD.
Again–thanks for this post, Mike!
Debbie – THANK YOU for the work you do! Stereotypes are difficult to destroy. I wish there were more effective ways to fight them. It is frustrating and takes time. We need to keep working to bust holes into the negative stereotype with positive, realistic information until the negative loses power. This is one of the many reasons why the We Need Diverse Books movement is so important—to ensure positive, realistic information and representation is readily available.