Monday, September 10, 2007

Takaki Chapters 1-2

In the introduction to “A Different Mirror,” Takaki does a good job of explaining the expanding multiculturalism in the United States, our changing demographics, and the reaction by many Americans. The “this will ruin our moral fabric” argument that is now being made by people like E.D. Hirsch and Pat Buchanan is the same argument made by many, in times of great immigration in our history, that as we become more diverse, it will weaken our unity. Instead, the opposite has proven true. “E Pluribus Unum,” or “Out of many, one,” has accurately reflected how our nation has grown stronger through diversity and multiculturalism. Takaki also takes some time to compare various immigrant groups and how they have been dealt with as they have become part of the American fabric. He is wise to point out how we have often in the past pitted different ethnic and racial groups against each other, in order to, in effect, keep all of them down beneath the “ruling elite.” It is clear that history is written by the victors, but that we must take a look at other views of history, especially those of the victim, and minorities.

Chapter two of Takaki is a depressing but accurate view of how many of our founders viewed Native Americans, and how they dealt with trying to clear the way for the Europeans to set up their own communities, often in the same place that the Indians were living. It was common for the “settlers” to view the Indians as “savages,” and “barbarous.” They were viewed as animals, unable to control their savage instincts. Takaki, by exploring the views and writings of many people that Americans are taught to admire, exposes their hideous and hypocritical view concerning America and the rights of Native Americans.

Here is the way I would choose to teach this. I would start the class by putting some names on the board. Among them might be Thomas Jefferson, Sir Thomas Moore, John Winthrop, and Captain John Smith. I would then ask students to write down anything they already new about these 4 people. When they finished I would write down everything on the board. “President of the Untied States” and “founding father” for Jefferson, “City upon a hill” for Winthrop, etc, etc…. After this I would ask for students general views on these early Americans. Then I would write on the board next to these names 4 quotes. I would use Takaki’s material, like Jefferson’s quotes such as “nothing will reduce those wretches so soon as pushing the war into the heart of their country,” and John Winthrop’s quote about God “making room” for the colonists by wiping out the Indians with smallpox.

After giving them a chance to digest these quotes (without their authors), I would ask them who they thought would say things like this, and then match up the names on the other side of the board with these quotes. That would then lead me into a lesson on how the founders approached the “Native American problem.”

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