Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Open Letter to VoWac Publishing Company

December 10, 2014

VoWac Publishing Company
P.O. Box 75
Faulkton, SD 57438-0075

Dear VoWac,

From your website, I see that you've been developing and providing curriculum materials for schools for 32 years. I read that you take pride in providing teachers with effective teaching tools.

Katelyn Martens, a Literacy Media Specialist, shared a page from one of your workbooks that I'd like you to reconsider. Martens received her Masters of Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin. She was part of the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums Project there, where she, along with a great many people, received training in the accurate depiction of Native peoples. Such programs are vitally important because they prepare young people to work with an increasingly diverse US population. This is the page she shared with me:

The bottom half of that worksheet (and the first line, too, "The Indian___...") reflect a monolithic view of Native peoples. By that, I mean that children who use this page come away associating "Indian" with a feathered headdress, a tipi, a drum, moccasins, and a peace pipe. In fact, there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations in the US, and there is tremendous variety in language, stories, and material culture. The headdress you use, for example, is crudely rendered but similar to what Plains Indians wear, but nothing like the headdresses worn by other men of Native Nations in other parts of the country.

The other problem is that Plains men who wear such headdresses are esteemed amongst their people for their diplomatic and spiritual leadership, and peace pipes are items of diplomacy. The way that you've shown this "Indian" not only misinforms the children completing the worksheet, it demeans Native people overall by showing that Indian in this maze activity. It may be helpful to think of other esteemed leaders in a similar maze activity. Like, perhaps, the Catholic Pope, looking for his sceptre.

With this in mind, I encourage you to remove that page and look throughout your materials for ones similar to it. These are the sorts of things that a Native child may have trouble with because it throws that child into cognitive dissonance. That dissonance may cause the child to perform poorly on that page--not because he doesn't know the rule being taught--but because Native heritage is being misrepresented and demeaned. Because there is such a high drop out rate amongst Native children, I'm sure you want to do everything you can to help, rather than hinder, their success in school.

With this worksheet, you are not providing teachers with an effective teaching tool.

Debbie Reese
American Indians in Children's Literature
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