2.23.2009

Answering Holder, Part 1

One of the representative texts that appears in the current Norton Anthology for Ben Franklin is called, "Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America." I love the essay, and I teach it every semester. It begins:
Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs.
Invited by Eric Holder, I thought I'd do my part in overcoming our collective cowardice when it comes to "Race" by updating and renewing the context of Franklin's piece -- instead of Native Americans, I'm talking about African Americans. The Diane Rehm show today was about our (lack of?) national dialogue on "Race," and everybody -- John Payton included -- agreed that improving public education in inner cities was a good place to start. So let's start there.

Listen to Franklin:
Our laborious manner of life, compared with theirs, they esteem slavish and base; and the learning, on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous and useless. An instance of this occurred at the Treaty of Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, anno 1744, between the government of Virginia and the Six Nations. After the principal business was settled, the commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a speech, that there was at Williamsburg a college, with a fund for educating Indian youth; and that, if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young lads to that college, the government would take care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the learning of the white people. It is one of the Indian rules of politeness not to answer a public proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it respect by taking time to consider it, as of a matter important. They therefore deferred their answer till the day following; when their speaker began, by expressing their deep sense of the kindness of the Virginia government, in making them that offer; "for we know," says he, "that you highly esteem the kind of learning taught in those Colleges, and that the maintenance of our young men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced, therefore, that you mean to do us good by your proposal; and we thank you heartily. But you, who are wise, must know that different nations have different conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our ideas of this kind of education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some experience of it; several of our young people were formerly brought up at the colleges of the northern provinces; they were instructed in all your sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad runners, ignorant of every means of living in the woods, unable to bear either cold or hunger, knew neither how to build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy, spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for hunters, warriors, nor counselors; they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less obliged by your kind offer, though we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful sense of it, if the gentlemen of Virginia will send us a dozen of their sons, we will take great care of their education, instruct them in all we know, and make men of them. "
So, here's my polling question, which will enable me to write part 2 of this post: are African Americans in 2009 like the Native Americans depicted in Franklin's essay? That is, do African Americans have fundamentally different values than "America" as a whole? Please don't try to deconstruct this question: public education is a monolith, and does reflect an overarching, single, set of values (if you have any doubts, lurk around on NCATE's webpage for a while)--one must either submit to the values of public education, or, as the Native Americans do in Franklin's piece, renounce them explicitly.

1 comment:

Casey said...

Dear Casey: you're trying to trap me, aren't you? So I'm not going to answer.