Thursday, February 05, 2009


Over at School Library Journal's website, there's a column about self-censorship that is worth a look. It's provocative title is "A Dirty Little Secret."

The bulk of the column is about what does not get bought by librarians. The columnist, Whelen (a senior editor at SLJ), writes about their fears and anxieties. Fear of parents, school boards, community members, and students who will object to books with sexual content and gay themes. To avoid confrontation, they do not buy the books.

Rather than provide students with books that reflect reality, then, librarians play it safe. In effect, the librarians are choosing to let the gay students suffer. Is it really that simple? Preserve ones self and well-being, one's job? It's easy to rationalize the decision... "If I avoid that book, I avoid trouble and keep my job, and I can work subtly on this topic in other ways..."

The article also includes a brief mention of a writer who wrote a book about the Trail of Tears. Her publisher asked her to "...tone down her criticism of Andrew Jackson and his treatment of Native Americans..." I don't know the book at all, so can't comment on it one way or another. It is called The Trail of Tears: An American Tragedy, by Tracy Barrett. Rather than change what she wrote, Barrett went with another publisher.

Tone it down? Right! Let's not tell anyone, especially children, that our presidents did terrible things!

The SLJ column calls this decision not to buy a book "self-censorship." In education circles, this is akin to "the selective tradition" or "the hidden curriculum."

Whatever label we use, it is more than just fear and anxiety at work, it is the affirmation of the status quo, an unspoken, and generally unaware desire to perpetuate and preserve a certain image of America. A certain false image that hurts us all as individuals, as members of our communities, and as citizens of the United States.

How long will we deceive ourselves?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

3rd post: Capaldi bio on Montezuma

From the archives, I found a copy of the letter from Holmes to Montezuma. Dated August 31, 1905, it reads:

My Dear Sir:
I am very desirous of procuring a brief biographical sketch of yourself for incorporation in the “Handbook of the Indians” to be published by this Bureau, and shall be greatly obliged if you will furnish the necessary data for this purpose. As the first part of the work is now being put in type, I shall appreciate any effort you may make to furnish the sketch at your earliest opportunity.
Very truly yours,
H. W. Holmes

When Montezuma wrote back to Holmes on October 7th, 1905, this is how he started:

My dear Friend:-
I am sorry that I delayed your request of August 31st.

In her presentation of Montezuma's letter, dated October 7, 1905, Capaldi starts with this:

My dear friend,
I know that you are gathering information on me and what befell my people. I am, therefore, delighted to answer your questions. I hope that what I write will add knowledge, acceptance and understanding for all.

In comparing her presentation of the letter to the letters exchanged between Holmes and Montezuma, I don't like what she did. I wish Capaldi had not used this technique, pulling Montezuma's words from several documents that span many years, weaving them (she says "I interwove") into the original letter to, she says "more fully present" his life. She says "I have made every effort to be true to the original sources and have only added brief phrases to make the text flow smoothly."

I'm really uncomfortable with Capaldi putting words in Montezuma's mouth. She tells us in her notes that she has done this, but that doesn't work for me.

I wish Capaldi had written this book more like the books in the Diaries, Letters, and Memoirs series published by Capstone Press, where the primary material is clearly set apart from additional information that does what Capaldi wanted (more fully present the person's life).