Education's Histories

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May 15th, 2014 by Adrea Lawrence

Our Trickster, the School {part 3}

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series "Our Trickster, The School" by Adrea Lawrence| May 2014


The following excerpt is Part 2 of a four-part essay “Our Trickster, The School,” published throughout May 2014. If this is your first time visiting our site, we encourage you to begin with Part I and Part II and continue on to Part IV. Subscribers to our site will also receive a complete version of “Our Trickster, The School” when the entire serial has been published.


“Stop!  Stop!  If I laugh any harder, I’m going to cry,” exclaimed the education historian to her source.

“He caught one by the tail and I clambered on its back and rode it about the pen.  It was great fun.  I felt better when I got off, and thought to myself that if my homesickness returned I would ride a pig again,” remarked Don Talayesva, a student at the Keams Canyon school in Arizona.

“You and your friends rode pigs!”

“What else could we do?” Talayesva responded (in the education historian’s mind).

The School Chuckles

The school might well stimulate learning, but that learning does not always follow the content and form of the formalized curriculum.  For example, the school taught Talayesva that he was out of his home community and that in order to make it through his time at school and return home, he needed to remedy his homesickness.  His method was perhaps unconventional, but that is what the school provoked.  The comedic tonic of Talayesva’s episode is characteristic of the trickster.  Anthropologist Paul Radin writes of the Winnebago trickster, “[l]aughter, humour [sic] and irony permeate everything Trickster does.”  These qualities are necessary as trickster is the fool and the wayfinder.

To be both the fool and the wayfinder, trickster has a plasticity that confounds and illuminates, sometimes simultaneously.  Hyde argues, “[h]aving no way, trickster can have many ways.”  Trickster is a sort of blank slate and mirror.  Radin adds to this notion, writing that Trickster “wills nothing consciously.  At all times he is constrained to behave as he does from impulses over which he has no control.  He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both.  He possesses no values, moral or social, is at the mercy of his passions and appetites, yet through his actions all values come into being.”  Having “no way” and “no control” suggests that trickster is a conduit of sorts.  Trickster responds to externally set conditions and sanctions.  And because it does not know self-restraint, trickster is frequently overcome by its impulse to exaggerate and overreach.  It is at this moment when trickster reveals its “creative fabulation, feigning, and fibbing”; it is also at this moment that trickster reveals the absurdity of the situation.

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Araphaho or Shoshone Boy, Wind River, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming, October 11, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-5516.

Araphaho or Shoshone Boy, Wind River, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming, October 11, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-5516.

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“It was soon reported to the superintendent that a new pupil had come. When the afternoon session opened and the pupils were seated, Little Tail was given a seat at one of the desks, but to our delight he slid down and sat on the floor. The teacher rapped the top of the desk with a ruler and cried, ‘Silence!’ and order was restored.”

“‘What is the name of the new boy?’ he asked.”

“‘Thin´-je-zhin-ga,’ answered one of the boys.”

“Gray-beard tried to repeat the name, but only set the whole school laughing. While this was going on, Little Tail reached down to his belt and drew out a roll of milkweed fibre. It was his ammunition. He tore off enough to make a bullet, chewed it, and, bringing the breach of the pop-gun to his mouth, inserted the ball, twisting the gun with his hands while he pressed the was in with his teeth, making many motions with his head. By pounding the butt of the rammer on the floor, he drove the ball to the firing point; then raising the gun he began forcing the ball with vigorous thrusts, aiming it at a mischievous boy who sat opposite making faces at him. Bang! Went the weapon; the bullet, instead of hitting the object aimed at, struck Gray-beard in the face, and made him throw his head back. We covered our faces to suppress the giggles that bubbled up at this mishap. The wounded man looked sharply at the young artillerist, who, seeing the mischief he had done, very slyly thrust his gun in his robe, and, keeping and eye on his victim, sat perfectly still.”

“The teacher looked serious, then we became scared. After a moment his face relaxed, and he said in a pleasant tone, ‘We must have the name of the new boy on the Register, but we cannot have any name that is unpronounceable. We shall have to give him an English name. Will you suggest one?’”

“A number of hands went up and as many historic names were offered and rejected. Finally it was determined to call him William T. Sherman and that name was entered upon the Register.”

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The naming of Thin’-je-zhin-ga (William T. Sherman) illustrates such “feigning,” “fibbing,” and absurdity.  As the school’s teacher and agent, Gray-beard demonstrates how the school as trickster was the fool and thief.  As Thin’-je-zhin-ga slid from his chair to the floor upon his introduction to the class and Gray-beard, playful disorder ensued, prompting Gray-beard to yell in order to effect silence.  Upon attempting to pronounce Thin’-je-zhin-ga’s name, Gray-beard stumbles and becomes the object of students’ laughter.  And, after Thin’-je-zhin-ga shot a spitwad that accidentally hit Gray-beard’s face, students again quietly, but gleefully, giggled.  Gray-beard, as the school’s agent, was the fool.  But he was also the thief.  Gray-beard took Thin’-je-zhin-ga’s pop-gun, and he took Thin’-je-zhin-ga’s name, insisting that students assign another name to their peer.  They chose William T. Sherman, the name of the Union general whose “scorched earth” policy against the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War made him famous and whom, ironically, was named after the famed Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.  Had the thief again become the fool?
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Flathead Schoolchildren at Flag Raising Ceremony, September 19, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-4421.

Flathead Schoolchildren at Flag Raising Ceremony, September 19, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-4421.

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Having no compass, the school, our trickster, and its agents react to external forces and conditions in ways that overstep and make little sense.  The school drew children in to its “uncanny territory,” and required its charges to act as colonialist operatives by renaming Thin’-je-zhin-ga.  But the attempt at hegemony disintegrated as students gave Thin’-je-zhin-ga a Euroamerican name and an Indian name.  Trickster’s trick boomeranged.  Scholar Philip J. Deloria writes of the Lakota trickster, Iktomi, “At the moment he is tricking you, his trick backfires or reverses and become a trick on himself.  Everything happens simultaneously.”  The school was duped as it attempted to dupe others.

In creating or acting in seemingly ludicrous situations, the school, in effect, creates or enacts contradictions; it lies.  Lies can damage, and they can also serve as portals through which we can glimpse other potentialities.  Hyde writes, “the problem is to make a ‘lie’ that cancels the opposition and so holds the possibility of new worlds.”  It is at this juncture—the lie or contradiction that illuminates the trickster’s simultaneously appearing pinnacle and nadir—that the so-called pore opens.  It is at this moment when the lie and the trickster become unhinged and when the novel learning can commence. The trickster shifts its shape and flashes alternate chances and choices.  They are fleeting, ethereal, and real.  What to do?  If we miss the pore, the damage would seem to loom.  But if we recognize that a pore has opened, do we look through the aperture and pounce on another potentiality?  Can we counter the damage?


Donald Warren of Indiana University and Christopher J. Frey of Bowling Green State University served as peer reviewers for this essay.  We are grateful for their careful attention to and thoughtful feedback on this meditation.





 

May 8th, 2014 by Adrea Lawrence

Our Trickster, the School {part 2}

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series "Our Trickster, The School" by Adrea Lawrence| May 2014


The following excerpt is Part 2 of a four-part essay, “Our Trickster, The School,” published throughout May 2014. If this is your first time visiting our site, we encourage you to begin with Part I and continue to Part III and Part IV. Subscribers to our site will also receive a complete version of “Our Trickster, The School” when the entire serial has been published.


The School Bites

 I worked two years in turning a washing machine in a Government school to reduce the running expenses of the institution. It did not take me long to learn how to run the machine and the rest of the two years I nursed a growing hatred for it. Such work is not educative. It begets a hatred for work, especially where there is no pay for such labor. The Indian will work under such conditions because he is under authority, but the moment he becomes free he is going to get as far as he can from it. — Henry Roe Cloud
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Dear Sir Capt. Pratt:
I write this letter with much sorrow to tell you that I have spoken one Indian word. I will tell you how it happened: yesterday evening in the dining-hall Alice Wynn talked to me in Sioux, and before I new what I was saying I found that I had spoken one word, and I felt so sorry that I could not eat my supper, and I could not forget that Indian word, and while I was sitting at the table the tears rolled down my cheeks. I tried very hard to speak only English.
— Nellie Robertson

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Thomas Indian School Children Listening to Dr. Dixon, November 28, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-4311.

Thomas Indian School Children Listening to Dr. Dixon, November 28, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-4311.

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Thomas Indian School Children at Flag Raising Ceremony, November 28, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-4312.

Thomas Indian School Children at Flag Raising Ceremony, November 28, 1913. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-4312.

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“Hey!  What did you do that for?” the education historian hollered as the sources tattled on the school.

“I cannot lie,” the source remarked (in the education historian’s mind).

The source continued, “That school ran me down and stripped me bare.  It bit my heart.  It made me a shadow of a human being.”

“I don’t know what to say.  I want to cry,” said the education historian in response.

Spades

In the amplified U.S. appetite for land and natural resources after the Civil War, the school was to serve as the “civilizer” of children.  It was also an unmistakable marker of colonization.  For non-Natives, a school signified arrival; for American Indians, the school signified departure and even entrenchment.  The Indian school and its curriculum, which followed a model of industrial training that was part academic and mostly vocational, ostensibly prepared Native students for life outside their home communities.  American Indian students learned English, and with it, reading, writing, and ciphering; they also were supposed to learn individualism, materialism, love of country, Euroamerican gender roles, and functional trades.

One such presumed manifestation of this learning is captured in Joseph Dixon’s images of flag raising ceremonies at different missionary and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools for Native children.  As students were expected to develop a sense of individualism and love of country through their manual and academic studies, they were also to demonstrate these qualities during Arbor Day, Columbus Day, and U.S. Independence Day celebrations as well as through staged flag raising ceremonies.  In both of Dixon’s flag raising pictures featured here, children are dressed up, wearing ties and woolen hats and sweaters, and they are lined up, with the smallest in front and the tallest in back.  In the first image, Joseph Dixon stands in the foreground holding the U.S. flag as children of the Thomas Indian School in upstate New York look on, many with their hands in their pockets.  In the second image, students’ facial expressions are clearly visible.  They are not smiling, and they do not seem to be looking at the flag or its raising; rather, they appear to be looking at the camera, which was offset from the flag.  Does this image demonstrate how the school had “civilized” Native children?  Or might it demonstrate the motions that American Indian children went through in school because it was simply part of the educational procedure?

John Dewey warns that we should not mistake the educational for the educative.  He writes, “It may be fairly said . . . that any social arrangement that remains vitally social, or vitally shared, is educative to those who participate in it.  Only when it becomes cast in an mold and runs in a routine way does it lose its educative power.”  In other words, when the motions of learning are motions, the growth and the curiosity that beget self-sustaining learning are no longer in play.

Was the school “vitally shared,” or was it “cast in a mold” and thus drained of its educative potential?  Operating a washing machine, as Henry Roe Cloud did, demonstrates that the industrial school operated on a shoestring budget; it also demonstrates that schooling American Indian children may have been as much about control as teaching reading, writing, and ciphering.  The school could be brittle.  It could also induce students to cultivate a strong sense of shame and self-hatred, as Nellie Robertson expressed after she “had spoken one word” of Sioux at Carlisle, one of the most well known industrial Indian schools in the U.S.  As the industrial curriculum modeled at Carlisle rolled out across the country in Indian schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, it and its attendant school policies, such as hair cutting, military time, and renaming, ignored and shunned cultural categories of meaning and language that were resonant with Native students.

In fulfilling its promise for some, the school destroyed the promise for others.  In fact, it actively worked to annihilate the languages, cultures, and values of American Indian children and communities.  In this way, the school violated the conditions set upon it while simultaneously and seemingly fulfilling those same conditions:  teaching children how to read, write, and cipher and be members of U.S. society.  In demanding that Native children go all in for complete cultural conversion, only adhering to the curriculum being carried out in schools, the school violated that which was of paramount value—the students.  Historian David Wallace Adams has called this process “education for extinction.”

Working as a vortex, the school sucked in American Indian children, attempting to recast them as Americans who would shun the historical and intergenerational influence of their families and communities.  In so doing, the school and its muscle (Indian Office agents) pulled Native children into its “own uncanny territory” and “provoke[d] doubt.” Trickster changes us, and trickster just changes. It is a plastic shape shifter after all. As the school damaged children, it also created pores of absurdity and humor, thus opening up possibilities for new ways of making meaning.


Donald Warren of Indiana University and Christopher J. Frey of Bowling Green State University served as peer reviewers for this essay.  We are grateful for their careful attention to and thoughtful feedback on this meditation.





 

May 1st, 2014 by Adrea Lawrence

Our Trickster, the School {part 1}

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series "Our Trickster, The School" by Adrea Lawrence| May 2014


“How was school today?” the education historian asked herself.

“I don’t know,” she replied.  “My sources didn’t tell me anything about it.”

“Well, what did you learn?”

“I learned that in spite of Horace Mann’s promises, school stages absurd scenarios, it bites people, and it benefits people.  It’s a trickster.  I’ve been duped.  I’ve been saved.”

Tricksters

We might not like to think of the school as a figure or institution that dupes us; it is supposed to affirm our studied efforts and sensibilities.  But the school, as an institution, does not always do this.  Even as it offers an opening into another world with myriad possibilities, it often serves as a foil to the educative.  And as it can squelch the educative, it can open a “pore” and offer a workaround out of a riddled situation.  It is a trickster.

As linguistic anthropologist Myrdene Anderson writes, “trickstering presents the truth such that no one can believe it—nor can they afford not to.”  Might the school be a trickster?  As a trickster, the school can serve as a methodological and axiomatic guidepost for historians of education.  It can reveal explicit matters of curriculum, social endeavors, and educational intent.  It can also cloak, concealing learning outside of school, broader matters of social formation, and cultural amnesia.  The school as trickster likewise can manifest as a humorous tonic as it operates as “a pore-seeker,” as Lewis Hyde puts it, looking for gaps and ways through a seemingly impossible situation that were previously invisible.  The trickster is the spotlight and smoke; it is the fool and role model; it is a prismatically muddled and transparent wayfinder; it shows us how we should and should not live in this world.

The Promise

An Indian Boy in the Trail, Crow Reservation, Montana, 1909.  Photograph by Joseph Dixon.  Courtesy of the Mathers Museum, Wanamaker Collection,  Bloomington, I.N., W-2394.

An Indian Boy in the Trail, Crow Reservation, Montana, 1909. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-2394.

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Without undervaluing any other human agency it may be safely affirmed that the Common School improved and energized, as it can easily be, may become the most effective and benignant of all the forces of civilization.  Two reasons sustain this position.  In the first place, there is a universality in its operation which can be affirmed of no other institution whatever.  If administered in the spirit of justice and conciliation, all the rising generation may be brought within the circle of its reformatory and elevating influences.  And, in the second place, the materials upon which it operates are so pliant and ductile as to be susceptible of assuming a greater variety of forms than any other earthly work of the Creator. — Horace Mann
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U.S. Indian School, Carlisle, Penna., 1909. Photograph by Haines Photo Co. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., LC-USZ62-25358.

U.S. Indian School, Carlisle, Penna., 1909. Photograph by Haines Photo Co. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., LC-USZ62-25358.

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Lodge Grass Mission School Pupils Mounted, Lodge Grass, Crow Reservation, Montana, 1908. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-0947.

Lodge Grass Mission School Pupils Mounted, Lodge Grass, Crow Reservation, Montana, 1908. Photograph by Joseph Dixon. Courtesy of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Wanamaker Collection, Indiana University, Bloomington, I.N., W-0947.

 

The School Reveals and Cloaks

Education historians study the school because it is important.  It is an aperture of sorts through which we can see the world and one that sharpens our vision of our society’s aspirations.  For Horace Mann, the school had the potential to be the most beneficent and influential cultural creator the United States had ever seen.  Nevermind that the nation, in 1848, did not quite cohere; the school had the potential to resolve the nation’s growing pains.  So, too, could it remedy cultural conflict by streamlining and smoothing out the school curriculum through standardization.  The school could inculcate moral instruction, rearing children by the norms and measures set by the state.

Spades“’It was ordained, just like the city on the hill,’” said the education historian. 

“Wasn’t it?” she questioned sardonically.

“Ha!”Spades

The seriousness that Mann and his likeminded contemporaries devoted to the school matched the gargantuan task of creating a common culture and a national ethos.  And this is how the school found itself a trickster:  parents, and eventually the state, gave it their children and set particular conditions on the school.  It was to teach reading, writing, ciphering, pan-Christian values, and the like; in doing so, it would be cultivating American citizens.  These were the conditions, and this was the revealed purpose of school.  Would it succeed?  Would it fail?

In the long game of social formation, the school was both a culture creator and an instrument of social control.  For some, social control was an explicit purpose.  Orville Taylor, an education writer and publisher of The Common School Assistant, wrote, “To govern men, there must be either Soldiers or Schoolmasters, Books or Bayonets, Camps and Campaigns, or Schools and Churches—the cartridge or the ballot box.”  The choice was either school or social and political chaos.  Historians Wayne Urban and Jennings Wagoner argue that the perceived threat of tumult was so dire in the increasingly urban, multi-ethnic, and mechanized Northeast that common school “crusades” were launched with the intention of pressing children into learning.  In urban areas, which had significant concentrations of newly arrived immigrant populations, reformers were intent on recruiting larger numbers of children to school; in rural areas, reformers were concerned with improving facilities, teacher quality, and lengthening the school day as attendance was already high.  In both the urban and rural contexts, the school served as a liaison for adaptation.  Communities in both the city and countryside experienced rapidly changing possibilities for work and thus social life.  Both types of communities needed reassurance that some recognizable form of life with interpretable categories for understanding the world would continue.  This, in part, became the job of the school.  Formalized learning, though, also carried with it the potential of arming groups that were supposed to remain disarmed.

The school straddled its revealed purposes:  before the Civil War it met the conditions placed upon it with free white children but withheld formalized learning from children who were slaves.  By law, learning how to read and write were subversive activities for slaves.  During the Civil War and immediately afterward, however, slaves and ex-slaves established schools for themselves and their children.  Historian James D. Anderson writes that Blacks in the South “viewed literacy and formal education as a means to liberation and freedom.”  Schools were so important, Anderson argues, that Black parents and communities did not trust outsiders to teach their children how to read, write, cipher, and learn the workings of the political and economic structures.  Black communities established their own schools.  For African Americans, historian Adah Ward Randolph writes, “The actual school itself was a manifestation of faith” in the revealed purposes and promise of formal education.  The ubiquity of private Black schools in the South marked a threat to the social and political order of the planter and poor white classes.  The school was simultaneously a savior and disrupter.

With such focus on the visible roles of school in society, the broader role of learning as educative social and individual phenomena became submerged.  In 1916, John Dewey wrote, “We have laid it down that the educative process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth.”  If Dewey is right, then the shine of the school has worked to conceal a multitude of other educational processes.

American Indian education is an illuminating case in point.  We know something about the formal schools that missionary societies and the U.S. government established to convert Native children to Euroamerican social, gender, economic, religious, and linguistic practices thanks to groundbreaking studies on boarding schools and children’s experiences in them.  But we have not necessarily looked at the larger educative processes in play, such as how did Native communities learn to navigate the colonization efforts of the U.S. government and non-Native populace?  How did Native communities create new categories of meaning to explain their places in the world?  How did Native communities learn to navigate the economic and political systems imposed upon them?  How have they learned to weather and even flourish in these systems?

The school was a plastic shape shifter that served multiple purposes to contradictory effect.  While it was the emblem of individual advancement and social uplift, it was also the tool that attempted to permanently strip cultures and languages from children.  The school helped create a national ethos that was muddled in a colonialist enterprise.


Donald Warren of Indiana University and Christopher J. Frey of Bowling Green State University served as peer reviewers for this essay.  We are grateful for their careful attention to and thoughtful feedback on this meditation.