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Native Americans and education

Native Americans and education

Native Americans and Education

In “National Geographic’s” May edition, the writer Suzette Brewer, member of the Cherokee Nation, wrote an article about “the some 500 federally funded boarding schools for Native children opened in the U.S and Canada in the 1800s.”

Catholic or Protestant missionaries, intent on converting the students to Christianity and to white men’s culture, oversaw many of these schools, all designed to indoctrinate the students in the missionaries’ specific theology.

Brewer calls these schools “places of horror and shame.”

The children were separated from their homes, brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. They were beat if they spoke their native languages. Their hair and braids were cut. They were told to dress in white people’s clothes.

They were forced to work for long hours for little, if any, pay, in local homes.

Many of the older ones gave up and ran away, but professional trackers tracked them down and brought them back. Thousands died at the schools over the decades due to disease, poor nutrition, suicide, or under mysterious circumstances.

Eugene Herrod attended Carter Seminary in Oklahoma, and says now that, “Corporal punishment was rampant, but the emotional isolation was the hardest.”

“The familial dysfunction that was occurring in our communities and in our families was a result of this government obliterating a well-conceived and well-built tribal society that had lasted and endured for centuries.”

The educational results out of these boarding schools “were abysmal.”

At Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Suzette Brewer declared, “Only a few hundred students of the many thousands who were enrolled during the school’s 39-year history received high school diplomas.”

Carlisle’s founder Richard Pratt stated his school’s mission: “Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” There is little evidence he achieved either goal for most of his students.

The most famous alumni out of Carlisle was Jim Thorpe, a gifted athlete with talents in football, baseball, and track and field. He attended Carlisle off and on from 1904 until 1913, but it is questionable if he received a diploma.

One Native American boy who avoided the boarding school route was Sherman Alexie, who was born on the Spokane Indian Reservation in 1966, just three years before Lyndon Johnson’s administration shut down the boarding school program.

Sherman was smart. He read books. In an essay entitled, “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” he says, “I learned to read with a Superman comic book. A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed.

“We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted them outside. They struggled with basic reading in school but could remember how to sing dozens of powwow songs.

“As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night.”

Sherman chose to attend high school off the reservation, and there he succeeded. He became a writer and a poet. Today, he speaks to students in classes on the reservations, and he challenges them to read and to write, to try to succeed with books.

He says that “some students look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder. Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me. The pages of their notebooks are empty. They carry neither pencil nor pen.”

The boarding school program joined government to church, with the loftiest and noblest of intentions, but the Indian boys and girls who were shoved through that program suffered incalculable damage: isolation, violence, and crushed spirits.




This past week I listened to Craig Wortmann’s book, “What’s Your Story: Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful.” Craig encourages readers to place their stories into a matrix of sixteen cells, four columns by four rows.

He identifies four columns, top to bottom: success, failure, fun, and legends. A success story is how a project succeeded. A failure story is how a project failed. A fun story is a joke. A legend story is a once-upon-a-time story, that of a hero.

The idea of a matrix appears too complicated, a spreadsheet to arrange jokes. Ronald Reagan kept it simpler. He wrote his stories on 3 x 5 cards and kept them in boxes. To write a speech, for example, to inspire, he withdrew cards from his stack.

Rodney Dangerfield did not have a matrix, because he told only one type of story, his repeated failures, for he played the role of a born loser. His was a continuous failure.

“When I was a kid, my dad took me hunting, and we shot a deer. He put the deer inside the jeep on the passenger side, and he hung me on the front bumper.”

“When I go out on a date, I invite two girls. That way when I fall asleep, the two girls can talk to each other.”

Rodney’s tale of woe, all fiction of course, was, for some, funny, not for others.

Abraham Lincoln carried in his mind a treasure chest of stories, jokes, and anecdotes to make a legal or political point. At times, he acted as a clown or a jester, to disarm an opponent, to avoid being challenged or bullied into a wrong choice or action.

For example, he told a story about how a dad advised his son to take a wife. “Ok, dad,” the son replied. “Whose wife shall I take?” An example of miscommunication.

Lincoln also told a story about a farmer who suffered from seven skunks, who lived near his chicken house. One night the farmer shot one skunk, but because it caused such a stink, he let the other six go.

By this story, Lincoln justified firing just one cabinet official, rather than all seven.

Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, grew exasperated by Lincoln’s repeated use of rural, countrified, low-base stories.

In Stephen Spielberg’s movie Lincoln, Stanton shouts at the President, “Oh, no, you’re going to tell another one of your stories! I can’t stand to hear another one.”

Craig Wortmann says that our lives today lack a balance of appropriate stories, a syndrome he calls SDD, Story Deficit Disorder. We need both failure and success stories.

Instead, we endure a blizzard of bullet points and bytes, a laundry list of dull and boring facts, that lay there on the page or the screen, lifeless and uninspiring.

Like small children, readers cry out, “Come on. Tell me a story!”

The rage today is to tell “a struggle turned to success” story: “low then high; first perseverance, then achievement; all struggle redeemed; the more struggle the more redemption.”

Stephen Marche, A New York Times Book Review writer, stated his opinion.

“I hate those stories. Don’t tell me about how it’s all going to work out. Don’t show me J. K. Rowling scribbling her first Harry Potter book in cafes, a jobless single parent dependent on welfare.” Most storytellers never experience a single moment of success.

I say that the best stories of all are factual stories from the past, in a word “history.”

The historian does her best to get it straight, true, with little opinion tossed in. Her written account reads like a gossip who repeats details drawn from a family’s closet.

Some do not like to read history for that reason. It reveals events too personal and painful. One person said this about the past, “Listen, we know it happened, but why say so? Why tell it? It is unnecessary. So it happened! Fine!”

Every storyteller should know his or her audience and respect their feelings.

Today, tell someone a story: a funny story, or a story that delights, or one that makes a point. It is natural for human beings to want to hear a good story.

Roger Williams and William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born close to April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-the-Avon, in England, 100 miles northwest of London. Roger Williams was born either as early as December of 1603, or as late as April 5, 1604, in Smithfield, a section of London.

Shakespeare’s father, John, was a glover in Stratford-on-the-Avon, in that he stitched gloves out of animal skins. Williams’s father, James, bought, sold, and traded textiles.

Shakespeare became a famous playwright in London at the Globe Theater, but Williams sailed to Massachusetts in 1631, and later founded Providence, Rhode Island.

Shakespeare died close to his 52nd birthday, on April 23, 1616, in Stratford-on-the Avon. Roger Williams died in early March of 1683, near his 79th birthday, in Providence.

Shakespeare was forty years old when Williams was born, and Williams was twelve when Shakespeare died. Thus, their lives overlapped by twelve years, although Williams enjoyed seventeen more years of life than did Shakespeare.

Shakespeare knew nothing of the lad Roger Williams, but Roger might have heard talk about Shakespeare. By the time of his passing, Shakespeare was famous across most of England, and was considered one of the country’s premiere playwrights.

In 1623, when Roger was near his thirtieth birthday, John Heminges and Henry Condell published Shakespeare’s First Folio, a collection of thirty-six of his plays. It sold well. The publisher’s printing run was an estimated 750 copies. People knew his name.

The distance from Roger Williams’s home in Smithfield to the Globe is a little over a mile. Smithfield lies in the northwest corner of London, north of the Thames River, and the Globe is along the south banks of the Thames.

On occasion, the two men’s works approximated each other.

Shakespeare included fairies in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed. Williams included two winged beings named Truth and Peace, who converse in his most famous work, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution.

Three of Williams’s comments: “I humbly desire to say, if I perish, I perish. It is but a shadow vanished, a bubble broke, a dream finished. Eternity will pay for all.”

“We remember we are but strangers in an inn, but passengers in a ship, and though we dream of long summer days, yet our very life and being is but a swift short passage from the bank of time to the other side, or [to a] bank of a doleful eternity.”

“This life is a brief minute, eternity follows.”

Three of Shakespeare’s passages: In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck says, “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear.”

In The Tempest, Prospero says, “Our revels now are ended. These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air. . . . We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Also, in The Tempest, Prospero says, “Now I want spirits to enforce, art to enchant, and my ending is despair, unless I be relieved by prayer. . . . As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.”

Most likely Roger Williams never attended one of Shakespeare’s plays. When young he studied for the ministry, and when older he lived in Providence.

Although Roger sailed back to London twice when an adult, he most likely did not attend a play at the Globe Theater, entertainment that clergymen frowned upon.

Yet what an opportunity! What if he had sat on a bench in the Globe theater in the mid-seventeenth century and watched King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet performed? For Parson Roger Williams, it would have appeared magical, amazing!

Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

Roger Williams vs. the Puritans

Last time in these pages, I mentioned Jonathan Winthrop’s “city on a hill” sermon, “that all the eyes of all people are upon us.” Winthrop considered himself a type of Moses who was leading his people, like Israel, to a new land, to build a new Jerusalem.

This is spelled out in John Barry’s 2012 book, “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.”

Winthrop and his fellow Puritans believed the city on a hill should have a church and a state, and that the two should work together, like left and right hands. In essence, Winthrop wanted to build a theocracy, in New England, in 1630.

The Puritans expected the magistrates to support the church by compelling people to attend worship, to recite oaths, to pray prescribed prayers, and to tithe.

Those who refused to obey their laws paid fines, were jailed, were locked into stocks, suffered the loss of their ears, were banished back to England, or were hung.

In turn, the clergymen were expected to support the magistrates by providing Biblical justification for dispensing punishment, and by confirming the magistrates’ edicts.

John Barry pointed out that one early Puritan to Boston disagreed with this well-oiled theocratic machine, and that was Roger Williams, an Anglican clergyman, who argued for a freer, more liberated, society.

Roger insisted that a wall should separate church from state, creating two spheres of authority, and that one sphere should not overlap or support the other.

Roger’s view was unique in Massachusetts, in England, in the entire world.

He arrived in Boston in 1631, and right away he stirred up controversy. The Puritans heard him out, but they thought his idea dangerous, that their plantation would fail if they implemented his idea.

He told his fellow Puritans that their government has no authority over the first four Ten Commandments, what he called the First Tablet: no other gods, no graven images, no swearing of oaths, no compelling attendance at worship on a Sabbath.

Those four commandments were private, between God and a man or a woman.

Roger explained that he believed that the state did have authority over the last six, the Second Tablet, because those pertain to human beings’ relationships with others.

Winthrop, the magistrates, and the clergyman in Boston could make no sense of this. Why, they wondered, would he divide the Ten Commandments into two tablets, and expect obedience to the second, but not the first.

Roger urged Massachusetts toward religious freedom, to a free conscience, where all can believe what they want and speak what they believe, without state interference.

A twentieth-century colonial American historian Perry Miller said that Roger Williams is “always there to remind Americans [to] no other conclusion but absolute religious freedom was feasible in this society.”

Out of fear of a loss of their power, the magistrates disagreed, brought Roger to a trial in October of 1635, and voted to banish him from Massachusetts. He fled into the wilderness in January of 1636, and alongside the Narragansett Bay began a new colony.

Rhode Island’s government implemented Roger’s idea, wrote freedom of conscience into its charter. Members of other religious faiths heard the welcome news and poured into the colony: Catholics, atheists, Quakers, Jews, Baptists, and others.

Roger welcomed them all. He disagreed with their religious faith, especially the Quakers, but he permitted them to worship as they wanted in Rhode Island, with no harassment or persecution from Rhode Island’s state government.

John Barry wrote, that then Rhode Island was the freest society in the known world.

Jonathan Winthrop’s ‘A Model of Christian Charity’

Jonathan Winthrop’s ‘A Model of Christian Charity’

Jonathan Winthrop’s ‘A Model of Christian Charity’

In recent days, I have begun reading John Barry’s book, “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty.”

Although published in 2012, Barry tells the story of how the Puritans chose to leave old England to build a plantation on the rocky New England coast of Massachusetts.

In England, the Puritans wanted to purify and simplify their church. Hence, the title of Puritans. They wanted a rustic sanctuary, without stained glass windows and gaudy artwork. Also, they wanted the Anglican clerics to dress without cassock, cap, or gown.

King James I, his son Charles I, and Charles’s archbishop William Laud disagreed. Laud and his henchmen hunted the Puritans down, jailed them, and even tortured them. For these Puritans, exile to North American represented a better choice.

The Puritans formed a corporation, the Massachusetts Bay Company, for the purpose of planning for and constructing a plantation in New England.

On March 4, 1629, King Charles granted the company a royal charter. That same summer the company sent an advance party of five ships carrying 350 settlers to Salem.

In October of 1629, the Massachusetts Bay Company’s stockholders voted to elect Jonathan Winthrop as the corporation’s governor. He fixed a future date of March 1, 1630, for his and his one thousand fellow Puritans’ departure from England.

The planning was monumental. Barry wrote, “It was an immense task, suffocating in detail.” Winthrop hired a fleet of eleven ships, including his ship, the “Arabela.”

Winthrop ordered “14,700 brown biscuits, 5300 white biscuits, 30 hogsheads of beef, 6 hogsheads of pork, 200 tongues; a number of kettles, pans, ladles, ploughs, hoes, and seeds; plus cattle, horses, dogs, goats, pigs, sheep; muskets, pikes, drums, and colors.”

“Everything England society had, New England needed.”

About March 1, people began arriving in Southampton, a port city. Most planned to sail to America, but friends and family members showed up to bid them good-bye. They knew that once they boarded a ship, they may not return, and never see England again.

To this host of people, in mid-March, first the Reverend John Cotton preached on 2 Samuel 7:10, and then nearly the same day, Governor Jonathon Winthrop delivered a sermon that he entitled, “A Modell of Christian Charitie.”

Winthrop insisted that the Puritans love one another. To them, he said, “We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together.” He expected them to practice justice and mercy.

But Winthrop’s most often quoted phrase contained the words, “for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill; the eyes of all people are upon us.”

On January 9, 1961, President-elect John F. Kennedy said, “I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship ‘Arabela’ 351 years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.”

On November 3, 1980, before the election, Ronald Reagan said, “I have quoted John Winthrop’s words more than once on the campaign trail, for I believe that Americans in 1980 see that vision of a shining city on a hill, as did those long-ago settlers.”

In 2006, Barack Obama mentioned Winthrop’s speech in a commencement address.

In 1999, the “New York Times Magazine” asked Peter J. Gomes, a Harvard preacher, to select the best sermon of the previous millennium, and he chose Winthrop’s sermon.

Gomes called it “the most enduring metaphor of the American experience, that of the exemplary nation called to virtue and mutual support.”

Some would agree that America represents the best that the world offers, and that others watch us and follow our lead. Right or wrong, Winthrop’s sermon created an ideal that Americans ever since have tried to practice.

biweekly column

Readers, please look for my column that I completed today, some ideas on Jonathan Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity.” It should post in a few days.