Feb 192009
 
 
An excerpt from the required textbook:
 
“People of all sections, from every walk of life, looked on [George] Washington as the embodiment of American virtues:  a man of deeds rather than words; a man of substance accustomed to luxury yet capable of enduring great hardships stoically and as much at home in the wilderness as an Indian; a bold Patriot, quick to take arms against British tyranny, yet eminently respectable.  The Revolution might have been won without Washington, but it is unlikely that the free United States would have become so easily a true nation had he not been at its call.”
 
What?  If it wasn’t for Washington, we would be a fake nation?  We were once the enslaved United States?  Patriot is capitalized in the middle of the sentence when not a proper noun?  Being like an Indian is something to be proud of in American culture?  Washington alone could’ve made the difference in winning the Revolution but everyone else was replaceable?  Really?
 
Wow, take that Hancock, et al. — you wannabe second-rate founders.  We don’t need your stinking written espousals of the ideals that define our country or your crap-ass Constitution.  If you wanted to be President, Franklin, you should’ve gotten all Indian in the wilderness.  Hey, A-hole Hamilton, more bold Patriot and less respectability.   Freaking John “Mirth” Adams and his wilted stoicism!  Thanks for the memories, Greene, but The George is available.  You should’ve taken the Secretary of War gig when you had the chance.
 
Oh, and you nameless faceless little people — especially you irrelevant people of color who lack the most important American virtue:  whiteness — work on cultivating the embodiment of our virtues because your efforts at *being* Americans is totally not going to cut it.  Those of you lacking the virtuous penis and, therefore, incapable of being a man of deeds, there’s no place for you in this historiography — except for Betsy Ross, because we need a mother figure to go with the ironically impotent Father of Our Country.  Ooops.  Scratch that.  Wait.  Virility is definitely an American virtue — I’m pretty sure.  Did I say that out loud?  Screw you, Jefferson — and your slave children.  Gentleman George is all we need.  He’s the man, and you other lame-o founders should’ve ponied up.
 
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 Posted by at 9:03 pm
Feb 122009
 
 
It was a small moment — tiny, really.  It seemed unimportant, and for everyone else, it probably just slipped by unnoticed.  But, for me, it was fantastically great in its smallness.  Before class, in the midst of rustling papers and fumbling with book bags and small talk, one of my students said thoughtfully:  I think you’re right about how the book talks about Indians.
 
YES!!!!!  They are listening.  I am not just talking to myself here.  I presented my best argument:  the book only gives the Native American nations a few pages — which mostly focus on mound-building — and, in doing so, suggests that they had no real culture, political or governmental traditions, or development.  According to the text, they were backward and easily overcome by white men with gunpowder.  Thus, the important historical events begin with the coming of the European explorers and the introduction of advanced, superior white culture (which is why the book doesn’t bother much with pre-Columbian history).  I pointed out the condescension and racism inherent in this treatment, hoping to convince them of my point.  Fantastically, it worked — at least with one of them.
 
I’m not trying to force my opinions on them — at least, I try not to do that.  My goal is to convince them with arguments so they will have the courage of their own convictions.  I aim to persuade rather than control.  I chafed at my professors’ efforts to tell me what to think, and I don’t want to pass it on.  I want them to learn to consider the argument — no matter the source — and decide for themselves.  In this case, my student was thinking.  Clearly, she had gone home and mulled it over.  She looked at the book critically and drew her own conclusion.  I am not naïve enough to think that my statements did not have particular sway because of my position as the teacher;  however, she clearly determined to make up her own mind on it.  She embraced the position because she felt it was credible, not because it was mine.  And, so, there is thinking occurring in my class.
 
The routine and nonchalant way that the comment was made — like it was no big deal, like it was just something she had on her mind at the moment — is part of the victory too.  The heavens didn’t part and angels sing.  There was just this moment where the light bulb came on and analytical thinking occurred.  It was such a small moment but so significant.  There, in the midst of whining about homework and inquiries about what material will be on the test and other pettiness, the whole point of the university system was realized.  The lack of fanfare and normalcy of the exchange gives hope that this may set a pattern for continued casual contemplation, which would mean habitual analytical thinking — and a victory for education.
 
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 Posted by at 11:28 pm