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Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.1 (2004) 81-84

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Ruth Spack. America's Second Tongue: American Indian Education and the Ownership of English, 1860 - 1900. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. 231 pp.

America's Second Tongue is a study of the teaching of English as a second language to American Indian students in the last half of the nineteenth century. Spack establishes in the first chapter the ideological and pedagogical contexts that informed what occurred in English language classrooms in both reservation day schools and off-reservation boarding schools. Prevailing assumptions of those who developed and implemented English language pedagogy included, for example, that English was superior to Native languages in terms of allowing for intellectual inquiry, that language differences caused much of the conflict between Natives and non-Natives, that the English language promoted virtues and Native languages promoted vices, and that English was a vehicle both of Christian salvation and European American values, such as individualism and private property. Many non-Natives mistakenly expected, Spack explains, that English-speaking American Indians would automatically be one of the most clear signs of European cultural domination and the "advance of civilization." Instead, as she documents in later chapters, many students reinvented the enemy's language, to reference Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird, in order to use English to defend themselves and their communities. The focus on the debate between the merits of bilingual or monolingual education is particularly revealing for what non-Natives believed was at stake in language instruction classrooms. By presenting the detailed circumstances that led to the coercive and often punitive insistence on English-only education, Spack demonstrates the way that a colonial practice develops to confirm the assumption of European American cultural and racial superiority.

The second and third chapters focus on non-Native and Native teachers of English, respectively. Spack devotes the second to a consideration of diverse pedagogical contexts: missionaries at the Dakota Mission, a Quaker teacher at the Wichita Agency, civilian women under the guidance of Pratt at Fort Marion, and the relatively more progressive [End Page 81] teachers at Hampton, for example. The primary focus is on Hampton, which had been established for freed slaves. The discussion suggests that even at its most progressive, English-only instruction was so fraught with difficulties that one wonders that students actually learned English and that teachers could persist in such an ill-conceived enterprise. The curriculum included teaching the students that they were inferior "savages," and students appear to have been able to demonstrate their "progress" as much by critiquing their home cultures as by writing in standard American English. Though the teachers used innovative teaching strategies and had "good intentions," the look Spack provides into the classrooms at Hampton reveals that in the colonial context of the Americas, domination and prejudice can come in many guises. Spack explains that at a school like Hampton, "all the teachers understood that their mandate was to displace Native languages and cultures" (75). Perhaps only a little more creative and a little less destructive than physical violence, teaching English to American Indian students at Hampton was primarily a successful exercise in disrupting Native communities. In what ways that disruption led to students having access to power within the colonial system, however compromised that power was, is the focus of the following chapters.

Spack shifts to a study of Native teachers of English in the third chapter. She notes that "the documents I examined portray these teachers as faithfully promoting the civilizing project," but adds they "shared a commitment to use English to help their own communities" and "did not necessarily reject or subvert all the goals of the civilizing project" (80-82). The group of teachers Spack discusses includes Lilah Denton Lindsey (Muskogee), Thomas Wildcat Alford (Absentee Shawnee), Sarah Winnemucca (Northern Paiute), and Luther Standing Bear (Oglala Lakota). Alford's story suggests the range of experiences a Native teacher of English might have. Alford was raised hearing stories about colonial incursions into Native America. Tribal leaders believed...


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pp. 81-84
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