Using Information Literacy to Promote Critical Thinking

Article excerpt

OFTEN EDUCATORS AND TEACHER-LIBRARIANS ARE admonished to avoid resources that are stereotypical and to acquire materials reflective of cultural diversity.

However, stereotypes of Native Americans are deeply ingrained in American and Canadian culture and thought, due to a complex mixture of history, government policy, social attitudes, and the need for national identity. Promoting information literacy is a pedagogical approach that can effectively combat the entrenchment of stereotypes of Native Peoples, by assisting students in developing critical thinking skills, and thus enabling them to do problem-solving, decision-making, and creative thinking.

In preparing students to live as citizens in a global multicultural world, it is necessary for classroom instruction and the school library media program to move beyond a curriculum that "is typically full of tipis (usually spelled teepees), Indian princesses, war bonnets, rain dances, kachinas (made from ice cream containers), tomahawks, but not significant content" (Harvey, 1995, p. 14). It is imperative the teacher librarian actively promote critical thinking about popular representations of Native People and about information resources that purport to depict Native peoples and issues. The necessity for using information literacy to separate multicultural "fact from fiction" is well illustrated with examples from literature and media. Recognize this quotation?

   [Tom Sawyer]
   "Say, Huck, I know another
   o' them voices; it's Injun Jo."
   [Huck Finn]
   "That's so - that murderin'
   half-breed! I'd druther they
   was devils a dern sight.
   What kin they be up to?"
   (Twain, 1922, p.75)

   Or this one?

   ... one of the Indians had
   found an opportunity to
   strike a straggling fawn with
   an arrow... Without any aid
   from the science of cookery,
   he was immediately
   employed, in common with
   his fellows, in gorging himself
   with this digestable
   sustenance...

   When Magua reached the
   cluster of lolling savages,
   who, gorged with their disgusting
   meal, lay stretched
   on the earth, in brutal indulgence,
   he commenced
   speaking...

   (Cooper, 1983, p. 105)

These two citations are taken from old classic fiction; one would assume that with the passage of time that sensibilities have progressed. However, consider this orientation from a 1996 syndicated newspaper columnist: `The Indians lost the long war because their overall culture and Stone Age tribal organization were inferior and could not prevail." (Hart, 1996, p. 4) Are students prepared to critically analyze such simplistic pronouncements about cultural encounters?

Or, consider the September 1997 issue of the children's publication, Disney Adventures (Walt Disney), which advertised a new animated children's television series, "The Legend of Calamity Jane," whose "cool cowgirl" heroine was: "Also Known As: `Little Fire Rock,' a Comanche name given to her for her spirit and stubbornness ... Her Posse: Quannah Parker, a wise Comanche chief and warrior who acts as Jane's big brother." How readily can students identify the old, pervasive images of Native Americans in this series?

If students see the 1998 American movie, Stepmom (Finerman), will they know that casting one of its young characters in a school Thanksgiving pageant replete with costumed "Pilgrims" and "Indians" singing "This Land is Your Land" is just reinforcing a ubiquitous stereotype? Will they understand that while "playing Indian is a persistent tradition in American culture," (Deloria, 1998) football "Redskins" and Thanksgiving "Indian friends" have nothing to do with "honoring" Native Americans?

The reality is that librarians are unlikely to pull classics from their shelves because of the inclusion of racial/ethnic stereotypes, and intellectual freedom stances cannot be disregarded. However, another reality is that classics are born every day, and are not necessarily an improvement over older works. …