JF Ptak Science Books Post 1417
This small pamphlet, Easy Reading Lessons for Indian Schools, was published for the Department of Indian Affairs (as a section of the Interior Department, classifying the Indian along the lines of cattle and agriculture) by the federal government, printed by the indomitable Government Printing Office in Washington DC in 1875. (The original is available at our blog bookstore.)
It is an unintentionally quiet indicator of the general American policy towards the Native American in the last quarter of the 19th century. The work is indifferent to any particular need of the student. It is intended for the person who could not read, and nowhere in this work is there a listing of the alphabet. It is ignominiously but softly complex, and looks to me to be a total disaster as a text. (This is true when comparing the work to nothing at all; but when you stand it next to, say, McGuffey’s reader or the Eclectic or any of the other classic how-to-read books of the 19th century, the weaknesses of the Indian book become instantly clear.
How in the name of great bog could anyone have thought it just and fair and equitable to teach English-illiterate “Indians” to read with such an instructional? It isn’t even close to being a book, and it comes no where near to being able to transcend its own terminal obliqueness. It introduces simple words and phrases in a tongue-twisting ways, and then complicates the situation by quickly adding more structured words in a more confusing environment. The thing is terrifying. I actually had a hard time reading it out loud.
Here on page 17 (already!) is a tremulous example:
“See the lad. Is it Mat? It is Mat; and Fan is by him on the sod. He has his hat. But it is not on. Has Fan a hat? Mat has a bat. Dan cut it by the bog. Mat had his bat, and ran at my dog Boz., and sat on a log, and hit him. He did it in fun. And Boz had his fun. He got the bat and ran it way and hid it in a box. Dan got it but bid Mat not hit the dog.”
For crying out loud! (The bat by the way is, yes, a baseball bat. Pretty early stuff in 1875.) Why would someone use this series of images to teach someone how to read? The pamphlet continues to exhaustion, taking only 80 pages to do so. For me it is a perfect symbol of the way in which the government—in general—dealt with the “Indian Problem”. Confusing children and making life more needlessly complex, making it harder for them to succeed, making it more difficult for them to rise above the difficult situation that they have unexpectedly been born into, is a superior sign of inferiority of the dominant power.
Wait a minute. Am I writing about the Indian in 1875 or the poor kids in SE DC in 2009? I can’t tell. The corruption of the social model for caring for people who need federal attention more than anyone else—the underprivileged child—is antiquarian and entrenched and as strong as ever. At least there’s a moral foundation for the care of kids whose parents cannot afford health insurance. Um, oh, wait another minute….