Bad Seeds

“Look mommy, I drew an Indian,” Little Sister announced delightedly, thrusting a picture of a feather adorned girl in braids toward me.

“What makes that an Indian?” I asked, blood pressure rising.

A list of stereotypical characteristics ensued, all described in the past tense, clearly indicating that whatever her school prescribed vision of an “Indian” was, it was a thing of the past.

“You know Indians are people who live now,” I shared.

“Really!?” She responded eyes aglow as I’m sure images of Disney’s Pocahontas and war painted warriors began dancing in her head.

"You don't look like an Indian," 1995 John Branch

“You don’t look like an Indian,” 1995 John Branch. Used with permission.

This week preceding Thanksgiving at school has been full of the fantastic storybook renditions of a beautiful tale of peace and harmony complete with cartoonish depictions of groups of people. Little sister enthusiastically described the making of feathered headdresses for the Indians that I’m sure now decorate the school walls.

Big sister who has been raised on truth and tolerance and spared public school propaganda was privy to this conversation and quipped,

“Yeah, maybe you can draw Black People next.”

So I gathered my little people round and called up Google images of modern Native People.

The first was a young hip mom with a single pink strand in her dark hair and a nose piercing holding her baby.

The light left Little Sister’s eyes.

“That’s an Indian?” She asked through curled lips.

More images followed of a group of older women gathered round a table laughing, children playing in the park, father and son getting into a truck, and so on–you, know, people doing people stuff.

“They just look like normal people,” Little Sister said not disguising her disappointment.

Bingo.

I must admit, I’m pretty disgusted that nothing has changed in 40 years. I have memories of this very same feathered headdress project when I was their age. This project is a multi-layered tragedy that confuses children. It plants a pervasive image of a simple and single definition of “Indian” as lacking depth and life, disrespects the sacred significance, and for many Native People it’s simply inaccurate–not all Native People wore them.

The headdress project is just part of the greater myth presented as fact full of insulting stereotypes and flagrant omissions of brutal massacres that continues to predominate the classroom.

I won’t go off on all the inaccuracies because plenty of people far more knowledgeable than me have already done that, and this is what makes the continuance of this practice so inexcusable. A five second Internet search yields dozens of reputable sources for the true story, cultural sensitive lesson plans that include studying Native American history and culture beyond a single fantasized meal, and historical facts. It’s just lazy not to use them.

But this shouldn’t surprise me. Texas touts a “pro-american” history curriculum that brushes over the existence of any people on this continent prior to the European settlers and waters down or completely ignores the atrocities they committed after they got here.

With the goal of instilling patriotism, the state board of education recently voted to teach a state-defined curriculum for the Advanced Placement American History Exam rather than using the federally-defined curriculum on which the exam is based in order to avoid teaching the more negative aspects of American History.

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Circumventing federal standards is not a problem for me as I’m a big fan of independent thinking; the problem is that it also circumvents the truth. The end result, aside from the obvious perpetuation of lies, is that Texas kids will wind up in college classrooms looking like dumbasses. Yeah, that sounds like a great plan.

As I watched my children’s fantasies slip away, I tried to ascertain what exactly they had been told about Thanksgiving so I’d know where to begin the damage control. But after sharing confusing stories of videos of pilgrim girls with talking pet turkeys, adventures on the Mayflower, tepees and feathers, they shrugged their shoulders admitting that they had no idea.

For that I’m grateful. The seeds, though planted, have not taken root and it should be easy enough to unearth them. I’m not even going to talk about the colossal waste of resources that has only served to confuse my children…not now anyway. In the spirit of the holiday that for our family has always been about thankfulness and nothing to do with pilgrims and Indians, I’m going to incorporate gratitude for this reminder that I must never rely on the state to educate my children and get busy with some gardening of my own.

Back to School Blues

Mr. Elliot was wrong. August is the cruelest month. And this one’s been brutal. Dave’s mom died early in the month, we’ve had multiple incidents of dealing with the worst of human nature, and I’ve had to take a hard look at what the future may hold for my little guy whose angry outburst and oppositional behavior may possibly never go away. I’ve spent a long hot summer with two traumatized kids whose favorite activity is to annoy each other and me.  I’m suffering from compassion fatigue—that’s a fancy way of saying I’m burnt out.  And the thing that is going to give me relief also fills me with anxiety.

School is heavy on my mind right now. I know lots of parents count down the days until the kids go back to school. Not me. I hate it. I hate the preparation, I hate the paperwork, I hate the end of summer, I hate surrendering my children to the state, I hate watching them walk away.

My first kids were all home-schooled until at least 7th grade and Big Sister is my lone child who has never been to school and likely never will. If I were allowed one big do over, school would be it. I wouldn’t have let my boys go. All the reasons that made it make sense at the time are now outweighed by all the consequences of that decision.

This year I hate school starting for a whole new set of reasons. Boys one and two have graduated and not going back to school is a poignant reminder of a time that is gone and never coming back. In what we hoped would be a fantastic change, we moved number three son to a small charter high school with a focus on science and technology—areas in which he excels.  He started last week and the change is proving not so fantastic. School is school. All the things I hate about public education are alive and well in the charter system and I’m disappointed.

After wrestling with the idea all summer, I have decided to re-enroll  Little Sister. We withdrew her from school the day we finalized her adoption in hopes that being home would help with attachment and behavior modification. It was nothing short of disastrous. She spent five months with her heels dug firmly in the ground refusing to do anything remotely related to education, having daily screaming tantrums that could last hours, broke everything in her possession, and spit hatred at me and her sister at every opportunity.  I have no interest in going into that arena again even though I know putting her in school is going to at a minimum stall her progress and at worst set her back. This is about preserving my sanity.

She matter of factly informed her therapist last week that she won’t act like that at school it was just for Mom. Well, isn’t that lovely.

I have hopes that her teacher will read the long email that I will be writing as soon as I finish this blog, I hope she will click on the links explaining attachment disorder and developmental trauma and borrow some of my books, and I hope she will become an ally in the healing of my child. I’m hoping for the best, but expect it will go more like this:  

She will skim my email and upon meeting  my superficially charming child will decide that I am bat shit crazy, that she the teacher  is indeed a superior more compassionate human who understands my child better than I do, will ignore all my requests to employ therapeutic interventions, will buy into my child’s manipulations intensifying my child’s belief that all adults are untrustworthy idiots resulting in my child growing weary of putting on the charm and acting out in ways that disrupt class or are directly offensive to the teacher and the other kids at which point teacher will contact me asking if there is a problem at home because my little darling just hasn’t been herself lately.  Believe it, this isn’t my first rodeo.

Then there’s the little guy. It’s been a rough summer. He was kicked out of day camp and the gym childcare due to aggressive outbursts. He struggles with self regulation, sensory integration, slips into “looking for a fight” mode whenever things are not going his way, has poor boundaries, and talks incessantly. You see where this is going. At this point in the game, to school or not to school him is not my decision to make so at least I don’t have to wrestle with the guilt of the decision.

So here on the eve of my 46th birthday—you know the one that moves you closer to the 50 side of the 40-50 timeline—I am deeply anxious of what lies ahead.  I am consciously making a choice that I know may have grave consequences. I’m turning my traumatized child over to a system I don’t believe in and one that will likely undermine my efforts because I can’t do this alone anymore.