The Pit Boss: A New Native American Stereotype?

Article excerpt

The current media coverage of the institution of gambling, namely casino gambling, has been occurring since the mid-1980s and, depending upon your geographic region, certain Indian tribes have been linked with its monetary success. Educational materials, namely textbooks, and social studies classrooms have finally caught up with this current trend, and with it possibly a new stereotype has been realized.

Throughout my life I have observed, learned, and have been told that there are three kinds of people in this world. People who see half a glass of water as being half full are usually referred to as being optimistic. People who see that same glass of water as half-empty are usually referred to as being pessimistic. Finally, people who see that same glass of water as a prison holding the water captive and needing to break free are usually referred to as being social reformers. These various views of people are also prevalent in how education is viewed as well.

Many teachers and researchers in education recognize that the United States has accepted more immigrants, of more varied ethnicity, than any other nation in the world, and continues to do so. The United States has been a beacon for immigrants, often despite their knowledge of the prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes and the official discrimination they would find here. The history of the United States presents to the world what is probably the most successful example of a complex, modern, multi-ethnic society that creates a partnership of varied peoples all guaranteed a range of rights and offered full participation in the common life ofthe nation (Glazer & Ueda, 1983). These educational observers would typically have an optimistic view of the world.

To other teachers and researchers in education, the idea that textbooks might be biased toward minorities would seem outlandish. Is it not true that textbooks have conveyed that Americans imported and enslaved Africans, subjected them even after slavery to segregation and discrimination, treated Native Americans cruelly, passed laws penalizing Chinese and Japanese, subjected the Jewish to antiSemitism, and the like? Have not textbooks accurately presented this history of the United States (Glazer & Ueda, 1983)? These educational observers would typically have a pessimistic view of the world.

Finally, to yet other teachers and researchers in education, the idea that textbooks are non-biased toward minorities would seem outlandish. Is it not true that some textbooks still convey that slaves from Africa had no history or culture before coming to America, Native Americans are still thought of as "noble savages" of the past, Muslims are radical terrorists who live and die for oil, plus other negative images? Do not textbooks still present this history of the United States? These educational observers would typically have a social reconstructionist view of the world.

Several analyses of racial bias in textbooks have been conducted since the 1980s, (Axtell, 1987; Davis, 1986; FitzGerald, 1980; Gagnon, 1989; Glazer & Ueda, 1983; Horne, 1988; Sewall, 1987; Tyson-Bernstein, 1988). However, the knowledge of racial bias in today's textbooks is sketchy and it may be tempting to assume that the problem has been "taken care of by publishers. Anyone thumbing through a textbook during the last ten years can see many different people of color and cultures throughout. Visibility for all ethnic groups has increased (Loewen, 1995; Fixico, 1997). However, accurate portrayals of specific racial groups, especially Native Americans, are still few and far between (Loewen, 1995; Fixico, 1997).

Typically, in the past, when teaching about Native Americans, teachers used to favor two approaches in developing their lessons from their textbooks. The first is the "dead and buried" culture approach, which portrays Native Americans in the past tense or extinct. Second is the "tourist" approach that allows students to visit a "different" culture that usually only includes the unusual or exotic components of Native American culture (Dorris, 1992). …