This year my daughter started Ambleside Online’s Year 3 curriculum. We are learning so much history! Komroff’s Marco Polo (the children’s version) has been a very interesting read. My daughter has really enjoyed the emphasis on Queen Elizabeth in Our Island Story, and we read both Michelangelo by Diane Stanley and the first part of Leonardo DaVinci by Emily Hahn.
American history, however, is where we began to have some…troubles. The history spine that is scheduled by Ambleside Online is This Country of Ours y H.E. Marshall, the same author as Our Island Story. We have grown to love OIS, so I didn’t really pre-read TCOO, assuming that it would be fine.
The way that Marshall narrates the meeting of the Native Americans and the colonists in America just doesn’t settle well with me. While Marshall does a good job of telling the overarching narrative, the language used is not language that I want my kids picking up and using. The cultural and political scene in America is so…dang…sensitive right now when it comes to racism!
I respect the AO advisory, and on the forums it has been repeatedly stated that we do well by not only reading books from our own era. Understanding the events from a different point of view is valuable, however…
While I understand that the vocabulary that Marshall uses to describe Native Americans was typical of her era, what bothers me most is the way that the Native Americans’ motives are interpreted. Their actions are portrayed alternately as child-like and “fiendish” (just one adjective used). This makes sense with the ideas floating around during that era around the “noble primitive” versus the “savage.” Their actions never make much sense. They’re either fighting for no good reason, just to “crush [their] enemies”, or they’re acting like innocent children, “taking [the captain] by the hand” and “making offerings to the pillar which [the captain] had set up.” So, Marshall doesn’t know the reason for the Native Americans’ behaviors, and she adds her own interpretations which further these two opposing stereotypes. Certainly, I don’t blame her for writing this way. It was just a part of her era’s way of thinking, and I don’t expect her to think like we do in modern times.
Unfortunately, TCOO isn’t the only Ambleside Online book that portrays Native Americans this way. I have posted previously about substitutions and/or additions that I’ve made over the past couple of years to address this same issue.
For a history spine, I have added Joy Hakim’s series A History of US. The first two volumes cover the Year 3 history topics: The First Americans and Making Thirteen Colonies. Hakim isn’t as skilled at storytelling as Marshall, so I couldn’t do a straight-across substitution. Like Marshall, her own interpretations show the strong influence of her era (the modern left). Since almost every book in the Ambleside Online curriculum is a classic (and therefore tends to lean toward today’s political right), I don’t mind this little injection of ideas so that my kids get exposed to both. Other families might feel differently.
Basically, TCOO chapters that don’t include Native Americans are fine and we read them as scheduled. I have replaced all of the chapters that include Native Americans. I have also added separate readings about Africans and the impact of the slave trade because that is mentioned only in one brief sentence in TCOO. The best book that I found about the slave trade told from an African point-of-view is Never Forgotten by Patricia McKissack. A-MAZ-ING book!
I have typed up my substitutions in a handy table of reference so other families can take a look and see if it works for them. Click the link to download the PDF version: Substitutions for TCOO AO Y3
I always try to keep as much of the originally scheduled content as I can when making substitutions, so I hope that this helps for those families who feel the need for a change like I did!