Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One family's experience with THE EDUCATION OF LITTLE TREE

A reader of "American Indians in Children's Literature" wrote to me, describing her daughter's experiences with The Education of Little Tree. I invited her to write it up so I could post it to the blog. Here it is (I welcome others to write to me with similar accounts. You can remain anonymous or disclose as much personal information as you are comfortable with.)


A Georgia family's experience with The Education of Little Tree:

As a family, our experience with The Education of Little Tree has been both frustrating and enlightening. My daughter, now in 9th grade, essentially has had three readings of ELT. In 7th and 8th grades, it was a required classroom text for her. Since I knew Asa Carter's background, I gave both teachers copies of articles that discussed the book's authorship. The 7th grade teacher took the position that the author's background didn't matter because the book was well-written and gave an "authentic" representation of Cherokee life. She told the students about Carter's racist history but said that he had a change of heart before writing ELT. The 8th grade teacher, on the other hand, knew of his past and used the book to spark an investigation of writing "fraud" and misrepresentation, getting into the question of who should tell a story and for what purpose. My daughter's understanding of the book became very complex given the juxtaposed treatment of the text by both teachers.

However, her readings of the book extended beyond the classroom. Since she has a reading disability, she and I initially read the book together and had many discussions about some of the more unsettling aspects of the book that we uncovered--issues of racism, classism, sexism and ableism. She ultimately decided to counter ELT with a homework project based on another writer's memoir of growing up in America--Zitkala-Sa's American Indian Stories. My hope is that through these multiple readings and multiple lenses she is developing not only a sophisticated understanding of ELT, its author, and the issues surrounding both but also a keen critical eye towards reading in general.

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