Assignment asks students to write from the perspective of an American settler.
On Jan 19, 2022, Jennifer C. Martin, a senior contributor to Olney Magazine, shared a photograph on Twitter that displayed a question posed to fourth grade social studies students. Martin said the image is of an assignment given to a friend’s child.
The assignment was titled: Writing Prompt, The Trail of Tears and proposed the following:
Write a letter to President Andrew Jackson from the perspective of an American settler. Explain why you think removing the Cherokee will help the United States grow and prosper.
After seeing the assignment, Martin tweeted, “(M)y friend’s kid’s school in Georgia sent homework with this question.”
After posting the image, Martin saw her post go viral. At the time of this writing, three days after the initial tweet, the post has over 4,100 retweets, 2,435 quote tweets and over 29,000 likes.
Martin says she posted the tweet in hopes of bringing awareness to the homework assignment meant for fourth graders. She also said her friend was shocked at the assignment.
“I think my friend shared it in our moms’ group because she was so shocked that she didn’t know how to answer and wanted advice as to what to do,” Martin wrote in the email.
“I shared it publicly because I wanted people to know this is going on in state-funded schools, and how dangerous the anti-CRT (critical race theory) rhetoric and laws are, and what kind of lies it leads to when discussing history. I’m also a parent, and I would be horrified to learn my kids were getting assignments like that.”
President Andrew Jackson’s legacy
President Andrew Jackson, a United States leader that owned approximately 150 slaves at the time of his death, was a key figure in the creation of the Indian Removal Act. In 1829, Jackson was inaugurated as the seventh president.
Within just a few weeks, Jackson set into motion the policies that saw the removal of Native people from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi and included tribes such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Chickasaw and Creek.
In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the federal government power to begin the forcible relocation of thousands of Native people westward.
Jackon’s massive removal policies resulted in what Native people call the Trail of Tears. More than 15,000 Cherokees were forced to travel to present day Oklahoma on foot. Over 4,000 died on the journey.
The farms owned by Cherokee people — that were left behind — were taken by white settlers without compensation to the Cherokee.
Responses to the assignment on social media
Martin’s post on Twitter has received hundreds of responses to her post. Some responses are critical of the assignment, while others cite students are simply being asked to consider a settler’s point of view.
Dr. Twyla Baker, Mandan-Hidatsa who goes by @Indigenia on Twitter, was one of the first to call out the school’s posed assignment in a series of tweets.
Baker wrote, “What if the child being asked is Native? Being able to remove oneself from the harms that this question revisits on children/families; being able to view it just as a historical event and not something that happened to the very people one is descended from, is privilege.”
One user, who identifies herself as an educator on Twitter, wrote, “This is the same type of question a child may be asked about the American Revolution. Asking why some colonists were loyal to the crown. Or asking why plantation owners thought slavery was OK. It’s not asking them to take that side, but to speak from the populace who were on it.”
One user responded to the educator with “it literally is asking them to take the American settlers side and come up with a rationalization for genocide.”
Baker told Native Viewpoint that there are ways to teach empathy, but this way was not the best approach.
“I think I can point to the entire tribal college movement as proof that there are myriad ways to teach history that doesn’t ask marginalized groups of students to “play Devil’s Advocate” or justify genocide on behalf of oppressors,” said Baker.
“There are better ways to teach history that respect the voices and perspectives of everyone involved, and include multiple narratives, because history belongs to all of us. We need to actively dismantle the idea that only one narrative exists. Many, many scholars are doing it in classrooms across the country; to do otherwise is intellectually lazy, and disrespects our children, no matter their background.”
Native Viewpoint has reached out to the school in hopes to learn further details such as the other questions on the homework assignment and context as to how the questions were asked. Updates and comments will be posted if and when they are received.
Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the founder and editor of Native Viewpoint. With over 16 years of experience as a Native journalist and former member of the White House Press Pool. Follow Vincent on Twitter at @VinceSchilling or on any other of his social media accounts by clicking on any of the icons below.
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