I am writing to let you know about the ways that American Indians are presented in Appendix B of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.
There are 54 items listed on Appendix B. Some of them are terrific. I vividly remember, for example, my daughter giggling when we read "Strange Bumps" in Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home.
Though the Common Core booklets say that the items on the list are only meant to serve as "useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range" for your own classroom, I know many of you will use the items on the lists. With the Common Core bearing down on you like a freight train, some of you will find it easier to teach the items on the list. Some of you are very busy, working far harder than most Americans realize. As a former elementary school teacher, I know how hard teaching can be.
I'm writing to ask that---if you choose to teach the items on the list---that you not read Little House in the Big Woods. It is listed on the "Read-Aloud Stories" section of Appendix B. Here's an excerpt that I find troubling. It is on page 53 of Little House in the Big Woods. The first two paragraphs are context. It is the third paragraph that I want you to pay attention to:
When I was a little boy, not much bigger than Mary, I had to go every afternoon to find the cows in the woods and drive them home. My father told me never to play by the way, but to hurry and bring the cows home before dark, because there were bears and wolves and panthers in the woods.
One day I started earlier than usual, so I thought I did not need to hurry. There were so many things to see in the woods that I forgot that dark was coming. There were red squirrels in the trees, chipmunks scurrying through the leaves, and little rabbits playing games together in the open places. Little rabbits, you know, always have games together before they go to bed.
I began to play I was a mighty hunter, stalking the wild animals and the Indians. I played I was fighting the Indians, until all woods seemed full of wild men, and then all at once I heard the birds twittering 'good night.'
Now, I want you to imagine reading that passage aloud (remember---this is a book the Common Core folks want you to read aloud) to children in your K-1 classroom, and, imagine that one or more of those children are Native children for whom their identity as Native is a day-to-day lived experience (as opposed to a family story of an ancestor, or, someone who is enrolled at their nation but not growing up in a way with that nation's ways of being Native).
Seems a bit cruel, doesn't it? To imagine what that Native child might feel like hearing that dear old Pa was stalking Indians or, as he says "wild men"? How can we possibly describe Little House in the Big Woods as an exemplary text?!
As far as I can tell, other than the Indians/wild men that Pa stalks/fights, there aren't any other Native people in the other 52 books on the Common Core lists for K-1. So, if you were only going to use that set of items, Native children in your classroom would not see themselves reflected in the materials you're using.
I'm pretty sure, though, that most of you will use other items. I hope that some of them are children's books that portray American Indians in tribally specific ways (naming a specific tribal nation, and, providing accurate information about that tribe). I can recommend some wonderful books. They may be in your school library, or the local public library.
The ones that I want you to use are books written by Native authors. Each of them feature Native girls. I'm sharing those three today for a specific reason. Most people, when they think of American Indians, think of "chiefs" or "braves" or "warriors" --- males, in other words. This is, I think, in large part due to history books and historical fiction that focuses on wars, and "hostile Indians" who attack those poor innocent settlers. What gets lost in that narrow depiction is that those men (not "chiefs" or "braves" etc.) have mothers and sisters. They may have daughters, too! And as for "hostile" ---- they were fighting, not because they were "bloodthirsty savages" but because they were protecting their homelands! And, they were protecting their grandparents, mothers, wives, children...
Here's the three books I recommend you read aloud.
their website and learn all you can about them, and share it with your students. In my visit to their site today, I learned that as of May 2012, they have 72,740 enrolled citizens. What a cool bit of info to share! Smith and Harjo are two of 72,740 citizens. That could even be a math problem. (Subtract two from 72,740, and what do you get?)
For the record, I think the Common Core is a bad idea.