Speaking of history, Rebecca Clarren, author of The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance, says we need to teach a fuller, richer history than the blinkered “Yay, colonialism!” pap of South Dakota’s new gubernatorially imposed social studies standards:
“Our failure to teach American history in its full and nuanced complexity leads to ignorance, which saps empathy and allows racism and hatred to flourish,” she wrote, “which keeps our caste system in place, which keeps marginalized people poor and disenfranchised, which allows the dominant class to maintain a historical narrative that is inaccurate in its simplicity” [Seth Tupper, “The Cost of Free Land and Either-Or History,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.11.20].
Every one of us should have an interest in amplifying Clarren’s history, our history of benefiting from imperialism, and talking about what we should do to remedy our unfair advantages:
Ultimately, I hope that readers of The Cost of Free Land will be inspired to find themselves in this American story of the dispossession of Indigenous lands. To help, I’ve collected the resources that were helpful to me when I set out to attempt to untangle this complicated history. Because no matter when your family arrived in this country, all of us who aren’t Indigenous benefit from the fact that our country was built on the unfair taking and sometimes outright theft of Native lands. Broken treaties cleared the way for the foundation of our highway systems, our cities and our industrial agriculture. The sale and leasing of former Native lands funded public universities that have offered low-cost tuition to millions of Americans. Many of us have access to cheap power from hydroelectric dams that flooded Indigenous lands. Throughout its history, up to this moment, the United States has made choices to benefit settlers and their descendants at the detriment of Native Americans. This is our inheritance. What we do about it now is the question [excerpt from Rebecca Clarren, The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance, in Politico, 2023.09.29].
Seth Tupper notes that talk like that will likely get Clarren’s book banned in South Dakota schools:
In the current political climate, I don’t know how many South Dakotans are open to Clarren’s message. Some will dismiss it as an example of “critical race theory,” the academic framework that’s become a code phrase for any history that makes white people uncomfortable.
As for this fifth-generation South Dakotan, I think the book aligns with the common sense we claim to have inherited from our pioneer forebears: When you’ve wronged someone, you should listen and apologize. And then you should try to make amends [Tupper, 2023.11.20].
Hey, history teachers: the Hillsdale standards the Governor imposed on you over your own colleagues’ better judgment include requirements that you teach students “westward expansion’s effects on relationships with Native Americans” (5.SS.6), the “land speculation and settlement” that arose from the Homestead Act (9-12.USH.13.G), and the impact of the Homestead Act on South Dakota history (9-12.USH.15.G). It’s not hard to make the case to your administration that Clarren’s book helps meet those standards. And even the most prominent intellectual on the committee that rubber-stamped the Hillsdale Standards will agree that we need to get back to having kids read books! Order Rebecca Clarren’s book today and put it on your students’ reading list!