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Educating the Educators: 4 Choice Books to Fill Juneau’s Curriculum Gap

Four books that could easily replace the ones pulled from the fourth-grade curriculum in Juneau schools.
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A handful of books pulled from the fourth-grade curriculum in the Juneau school district in December were riddled with historic inaccuracies, among other problems, their critics allege.

What was so wrongly depicted? They were to be part of a weeklong lesson plan given to fourth graders as part of the language arts curriculum. But many concerns were raised about the reinforcement of stereotypes, along with misrepresented facts, and a district committee voted to shelve the books and find alternatives.

RELATED: Juneau Schools Swap Out Controversial History Books for Natives Who Actually Lived It

Debbie Reese, enrolled Nambe Pueblo and author of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, took issue with some of the wording. The books, she said in a post on her website, are problematic, portraying Indian history much more benignly than it happened. Worse, she said, the phrasing and semantics reinforce the stereotypes of Natives as somehow primitive.

Girls learned how to cook, sew, and do laundry,” she said, quoting a line from The Visit, by Terry Miller Shannon. “Are McGraw-Hill and Ms. Shannon telling us that Native girls didn't know how cook, sew, and do laundry?! Think about that for a moment... Does it fit with your ideas that Indians were primitive people who lived primitive lifestyles? If so, it isn't true! You were miseducated, and kids who are reading this text are learning the same thing you did.”

In addition, Reese said, the books did not deal with present circumstances. Luckily she has some recommendations for titles that could be swapped in.

“A glaring problem with the four books that have been set aside is that they are all set in the past,” she said. “Where are the stories about Native peoples of the present day? With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions, all of which are appropriate for children in fourth grade.”

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Julie Garreau and Tammy Joy Eagle Hunter join in the mural painting at the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park.

Instead of The Visit, read Cynthia Leitich Smith's Indian Shoes.

It is a collection of short stories about a Native family living in Chicago. They are there because of the government's relocation policies of the 1950s. (HarperCollins, 2002)

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Julie Garreau and Tammy Joy Eagle Hunter join in the mural painting at the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park.

Instead of Continuing On, read Tim Tingle's How I Became A Ghost.

Tingle is Choctaw. Because his ancestors were on the Trail of Tears, his story of the Trail of Tears rings with authenticity and details that are not found in Continuing On. (The RoadRunner Press, 2013)

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Julie Garreau and Tammy Joy Eagle Hunter join in the mural painting at the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park.

Instead of Our Teacher the Hero, read Native Writers: Voices of Power, edited by Kim Sagafus and Lyle Ernest.

It features Native writers, many of whom are also activists. Louise Erdrich and Tim Tingle, for example, have weighed in on mascots. (Native Trailblazers, 2012)

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Julie Garreau and Tammy Joy Eagle Hunter join in the mural painting at the Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park.

Instead of History Detectives, read one—or all—of the volumes in the series, American Indian Contributions to the World, edited by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield.

(Checkmark Books/Facts on File, 2001)

RELATED: 4 Mistakes Made in Children’s Literature About Natives, and Books That Fix Them

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