Censorship? Part Two

Through Indian Eyes is a book which attempts to stem the tide of racism against North American aboriginal peoples.  It contains books, poetry and book reviews on children’s literature.  As I read it, I am caught between my wish to build a collection which is supportive and positive about North American aboriginal peoples and my wish to maintain a varied wide-ranging collection.  These need not be mutually exclusive goals but they do run into each other.  I thought about this some yesterday.  I can’t seem to pull from the shelves the Little House books or Outsiders for that matter.  I wouldn’t recommend them as read alouds for any classroom – at least not as a whole.  I find the threshing pieces useful when studying settler life but I would not read the sections about Indian savages.  But should I read those parts and then talk about them.  How do I talk about them in a way which invites discussion and openness rather than fear, silliness, anger?  If I can’t think about ways to trouble the images, should I keep the book?  I’m not sure.  I find it easier to make the case with non-fiction.  If the material is wrong, racist, misleading, hateful, then it is removed in favour of material that is correct, accepting, accurate, peace-building.

Part of me wants to say but that’s the way it was, no one talks like that now, no ones believes that now.  But I know it’s not true.  Racism against aboriginal peoples in North America is alive and well.  I am thankful for the opportunity to read books which counter the stereotype.  I am happy to remove books like “White Feather” or “Danny and the Dinosaur” from the collection.

I wonder about removing books by Byrd Baylor despite the inaccuracies, I think the images and ideas are positive about the Hopi people.  Respectful even if they aren’t perfect.  Yes I want more books by aboriginal authors, respectfully drawn and accurate depictions of aboriginal peoples.  Yes I will look for them deliberately and share them with both white and aboriginal students.  But I don’t want to be building a bland collection or eliminating books which will make for thoughtful discussion.

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3 Comments

Filed under children's lit, curriculum, free speech, library, literacy

3 responses to “Censorship? Part Two

  1. I’m grateful for your interest in this subject, since a high percentage of my students are Alaksa Natives, mostly Athabascan. I do read the Little House book aloud to my studnents and discuss the assumptions behind the way the Ingalls talk about Indians. I also read Birchbark House aloud. I think it’s important for us all to read critically and learn to evaluate the effect that point of view has on a person’s bias and use of language.

  2. I’ll look into Birchbark House. I think you are right to engage in the discussion with your students. How do you handle your own race/gender in the equation? I feel my whiteness and it makes me cautious that I will reinforce exactly what I am trying to tear down.

  3. An interesting article which looks at this whole issue of race and reading is “When the Mockingbird Becomes and Albatross: Reading and Resistance int he Language Arts Classroom” by Carol Ricker-Wilson. It was published in the English Journal 1998. Carol Ricker-Wilson is an English teacher in Toronto who looks at her experience teaching in a diverse classroom “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Her reflections invite the reader to use tandem texts just as you have described doing in your classroom Doug. She is also aware of her place in the classroom as the privileged one and works hard to employ teaching strategies which value multiple interpretations of texts.

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