Wednesday, March 04, 2009

This just in: LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE (in Arizona)

A colleague just sent me an article from an Arizona newspaper. (Thanks, Tricia!) The article is titled "Each day, Tempe teacher turns to 'Little House' books to calm kids."

The first paragraph reads:

"Every day after lunch for 32 years, second-grade teacher Becky Bernard has read a chapter aloud from the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, transporting her students to a simpler time."

The reading apparently gets them calmed down after playing outside at recess. She adopts different voices as she reads to the children, using a "snotty" voice for Nellie and a sweet one for Ma. I wonder how she reads "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" (the phrase appears in the book four times)?

I wonder how many Native kids she's read to in those 32 years? She is in Arizona...

How many kids, in these 32 years, heard her say "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."

I wonder how the Native kids felt hearing that, and, I wonder what effect it had on the non-Native kids?

She is quoted as saying that there are many wonderful books available now. For the well-being of all the children in her classes, she really should set aside LITTLE HOUSE and read them something else.


Debbie Reese said...

[Note: This comment is from Beverly Slapin.]

I really appreciate your posting the newspaper article about LITTLE
HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE and your comments. The article gave me a sick feeling, and it also strengthened my resolve to keep working to educate teachers and librarians (and journalists, too) who get all warm and fuzzy about books we know are racist and that damage Indian kids.

Anonymous said...

Just curious... do you feel that Huck Finn should be removed from the shelves? It's often been challenged/banned for the same reasons (racism).
How about teaching it in the context in which it was written? People spoke that way. Ignoring the books or refusing to read them doesn't change our history.
"Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it."
If we don't teach about racism, there is bound to come a day when it returns... if not about one race, then about another.

jpm said...

Anonymous raises a question we often hear about books that are problematic, and actually it's in line with what you have said, Debbie -- what about using books in which racist ideas are expressed to teach about racism? But having read the article you linked to about the teacher reading the Little House books aloud to her classes for 32 years or so: it's pretty clear that she is going for warm and fuzzy, not for teaching about racism. And there appears to be an assumption that all of the children will received the reading in a positive way, which suggests either an assumption that she has no Native kids in her classes ever, or that she isn't that concerned about their responses....

Beverly Slapin said...

A student teacher wrote us about a poem she saw posted on a teacher's wall. This is a poem the teacher said she has used for 30 years and has no intention of removing it. It's called "Indian Children" and it was written by Annette Wynne. Here it is:

Where we walk to school each day
Indian children used to play—
All about our native land,
Where the shops and houses stand.

And the trees were very tall,
And there were no streets at all,
Not a church and not a steeple—
Only woods and Indian people.

Only wigwams on the ground,
And at night bears prowling round—
What a different place today
Where we live and work and play!

If you google "," you'll find this poem. It's lesson #125, "Native American poem," and it's recommended as "Literature, level: Elementary." One more warm and fuzzy feel-good racist poem that disappears Indian peoples, even in front of Indian students. Just like the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE books.

Anonymous said...

Are we not supposed to discuss Indians in history at all? They are a part of the past (as well as our present) and it seems as if you wouldn't want us to discuss that at all.

Rob said...

Good catch, Debbie. I posted my thoughts on the article in Indoctrinating Kids with Little House.

As for teaching Little House or Huck Finn, I say go ahead if you're actually going to teach the books' content: the bad as well as the good. But if you're going to ignore the racism and stereotyping and teach only the warm, fuzzy feelings, forget it.

Debbie Reese said...


If you're following this thread...

What grade do you teach?

What is "best practice" for your grade level?

alto said...

First time on your blog and I have a wonderful read.

In response to the last comment posted by anonymous, I really don't think that is what this author is saying at all. The vibe I get from her piece is that this teacher was more than likely carrying on a tradition of cultural negation, silence and / or active misrepresentation using a central narrative steeped in current history.

The idea that the Indians were somehow our enemy and in the wrong. Any historical example has never moved beyond the polarity of cowboys and Indians, one good, one bad. In the history of white people coming to America and the reality that was battle with the Indians, I would certainly agree with a right and wrong side. I just disagree entirely with the current deceptive portrayal.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ms. Reese. I went back and reread the Little House books recently. Lauras mom is an asshole. The Scotts were stunning assholes. Pa seemed to have some progressive view points but not enough. As a white person, I am sickened and ashamed at the genocide (hello Cotton Mather, Kit Carson, Andrew Jackson) this country was founded on. I blame greed and Christianity. So much evil has been done in the name of their God.
Almazo Wilders farm is about 1 hour north of me. So is the Aswasacneii (sp?) nation on both the American and Canadian sides. I never hear anything positive about them, just a whole lot of racist bs.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your post on Little House on the Prairie. I am a canadian teacher and have a 6 year old daughter.

My daughter's aunt read her Little House and she is now obsessed with Pioneer Life. I have spoken openly and critically with my daughter about the portrayal of First Nations (and of women) in the Little House books. I am now seeking an alternative, something that will still capture her attention, but that portrays people in a more positive and balanced light. Are there any books that you can recommend? Perhaps there is something written about the same time period from a First Nations / American Indian perspective?

Thank you for your contributions to education

Debbie Reese said...


Louise Erdrich's book, BIRCHBARK HOUSE, is an excellent alternative.

michelle om said...

Thanks for the rec -- I'm excited to read "Birchbark House," as I read the Little House series and was always bothered by the atrocious attitudes towards Indians (thankfully my mother encouraged us to be critical).

Anonymous said...

The way women were treated in the Little House books? Why ? Because they stayed home and took care of their homes and children- news flash that is the way it was back then. Was it wrong? NO! AND here is another news flash it still isn't wrong.

As for the Indians I get so tired of everything that has to do with our history either being rewritten or ignored. Yes it was bad the way they were removed from their land but not all Indians were good and not all were bad. Not all whites were bad.

Those who are still boo hooing about it-do you think if white people hadn't come over all those years ago that the Indians would still be living here wild and free as they did then?

It is called progress- yes not all progress is good but it is the way it is.

Here is another news flash for you-some white people have also been treated badly. Read your history...oh wait-maybe someone has already rewritten it too.

Heather Munn said...

My anonymous friend,

I expect you'll never read this, but for your information, there is a reason history about Native Americans is being rewritten. The reason is that the history as it was originally written was riddled with omissions and lies.

The women who contribute to this blog are not interested in some kind of "radical" point of view. They're scholars. They're interested in detailed, accurate, verifiable historical truth. You try to sound like you're hard-headed--out-hard-head *that*.

The wars, encroachments, removals, broken treaties, and massacres waged against the Indian nations are just as much a part of this country's history as the Revolutionary War. If the one is "over" and thus not worth talking about, so is the other.