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For Your Consideration 4.2

References about the Full Spectrum of American History

While the English immigrants and their descendants require and deserve attention, for they possessed inordinate power to define American culture and make public policy, learning about a range of other cultures can fill out understandings and help to explain general patterns and characteristics in our society. Try reading such texts as:

Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

Albert Camarillo’s Chicanos in a Changing Society

Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America

Yuji Ichioka’s The Issei: The World of the First Generation Japanese Immigrants

Lawrence Levine’s Black Culture and Black Consciousness

Kerby Miller’s Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America.

Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America

Time to Change

Are we getting too sensitive about what we say and how we say it? No! Do words really make a difference? Yes, they do! Language reflects and shapes attitudes. Consider what these two items, from the 1930 edition of Compton ‘s Pictured Encyclopedia, communicated to children of that time.

Eskimo tribes are referred to as “the inferior people living in Alaska.” On a map of the African continent, those geographic areas where whites settled are captioned, ” where the light shines in darkest Africa.”

Museums Showcase Multicultural Resources

An increasing number of museums and historic organizations are creating and sharing educational materials that highlight minority and multicultural societies. Among the resources available are:

African Diversity: The Art Institute of Chicago [(312) 443-3575] offers The Arts of Africa, a teaching unit that uses art as “a vehicle for showing students the intricate tapestry of diverse peoples, languages, and cultures that is Africa.”

Chicano Culture: The Wight Art Gallery in Los Angeles, CA, [(310) 825-1461] developed educational materials examining civil rights and the Chicano culture from an interdisciplinary perspective. Holocaust Lessons: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [(202) 653-9220] in Washington, DC, offers curricula, lesson plans, and videotapes that introduce young people to the Holocaust and to its remembrance.

African-American Experiences: The National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC [(202) 357- 3095] offers a videotape on “The Life and Art of William H. Johnson,” along with eight portfolio-sized reproductions that examine the work of this internationally-known artist, as well as his experiences with discrimination.

The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA, [(804) 649-1861] has developed an exemplary teaching unit entitled Before Freedom Came: African-American Fife in the Antebellum South. The unit uses primary documents, narratives, songs, and folktales to discuss slavery, traditions, celebrations, everyday life, resistance, and the Civil War.

Native American Topics: The Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ, [(602) 252-8840] specializes in Native American art and artifacts. They offer five multimedia instructional packets that use specific Native American tribes to convey a social studies topic.

Asian Cultures: The Asia Resource Center in Washington, DC, [(202) 547-1 1 14] rents exhibits and materials that feature Asian cultures, including Vietnamese Folk Art: The Block Prints of Dong Ho and Hang Trong, which present various aspects of Vietnamese life including family and educational issues. These resources might be as valuable a complement to docent training, and as useful a method for engendering cross cultural awareness and sensitivity among volunteer and staff educators, as they are vehicles for institutional outreach and school programming.

Did You Know…?

The first Africans arrived in Jamestown a full year before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.

An African-American surgeon performed the first successful heart operation on a human being.

Asian-Americans began arriving in the U.S. over one hundred and fifty years ago, before many European immigrant groups. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law prohibiting entry of immigrants on the basis of nationality.

Many Chicanos are not illegal aliens, but were already living in lands that the United States incorporated during wars with Mexico.

Even before American Indians, the Irish were the first ethnic group the English termed “savage.” The Irish were also the first people to “pioneer” the American urban ghetto.

Children’s Stories

Unlike the debate over school curricula, the revolution in children’s books reflecting multicultural diversity has been a peaceful one. Long gone are the books that introduced children to the quaint customs of our little friends from foreign lands. Instead, there is The Last Princess (Four Winds Press), by Fay Stanley and Diane Stanley, a biography of Princess Ka’iulani, who tried in vain to prevent American businessmen from taking over Hawai’i in the late 19th century. Or the books of Harriet Rohmer, founder of Children’s Book Press in San Francisco. Ms. Rohmer publishes books that are told by an author who shares the story’s culture. Blia Xiong is from Laos, and her story Nine-in-One Grr! Grr! is about the Hmong tribe. Carmen Lomas Garza’s Family Pictures depicts the author’s own Mexican-American childhood in south Texas. And, Tar Beach, by artist Faith Ringgold, tells the story of an African- American childhood in the inner city.


“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 4.2 (Winter 1994/95): 10-11.

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