Selective Memory: California Mission History and the Problem of Historical Violence in Elementary School Textbooks
by Harper Benjamin Keenan - 2019
Background/Context: Across the nation, people living in the United States are embroiled in conflict over the meaning of its past. Many of the most fervent conflicts relate to acts of historical violence: war, enslavement, conquest, and colonization among them. Elementary school students commonly study the early colonization of the land now known as the United States, the nation’s Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and other periods of history that historians describe as rife with violence. In the field of California colonial history, there is virtual consensus among historians that the Spanish mission system was a period of violence and devastation, most especially for California Indians, but school history curricula have been criticized for avoiding this history of violence. This raises questions about the role of intellectual honesty in teaching elementary-aged students about U.S. history. Though a small body of scholarship engages with questions of whether and how to talk with young children about human atrocity, few studies have empirically examined what state-recommended elementary school curriculum actually say about historical violence in the formation of the United States.
Research Questions/Focus of Study: This study examines the representation of violence in state-recommended elementary school history textbooks on the topic of the Spanish colonization of California. Specifically, the study responds to the following questions: How do the textbooks’ content address the topic of violence? Are California Indian and Spanish acts of violence represented differently? If so, how?
Research Design: Data were derived from a content analysis of fourth grade-level history textbooks recommended by the California State Department of Education in public use at the time of the study.
Data Collection and Analysis: Using qualitative coding software, chapters on California colonial mission history in each of the four state-recommended textbooks were coded and analyzed at the level of the sentence (n = 1,601). Coding and analysis took place in two stages. First, each sentence was coded for references to violence and ethnic group(s), which allowed for analysis of the number of references to acts of violence and ethnic groups throughout the entirety of the text. The second stage more closely examined the set of sentences that referred specifically to violence, allowing for comparison of the representation of violence according to the ethnic group with which it was associated.
Findings/Results: The study shows that violence is only minimally addressed in California fourth-grade history textbook content on the topic of Spanish colonization. Although generally underrepresented throughout the text, California Indian people are disproportionately overrepresented as perpetrators of violence in the early colonization of California, a framing that is drastically out of alignment with the historical record as it is agreed upon by historians.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study makes two key conclusions. First, the article argues that, in this case, elementary school history curriculum presents a distorted vision of violence in the colonial past. Second, the article complicates the issue of when young children are old enough to learn about violent histories in school by revealing that they are already learning about violence in the past, although such representation is both minimal and problematic. The article concludes by recommending the design of learning activities that engage in preparatory version of a more intellectually honest investigation of the historical record, as well as its relationship to the present.
In the winter of 2016, Californias San Jose Mercury News published an article celebrating a public-school teacher who led her fourth-grade students in a task drawn from curriculum published by a project-based learning company. The students combined geology, social studies, art, and technology in a lighthearted, design-focused activity. Children worked in groups to plan their own Spanish colonial mission to add on to the twenty-one missions in the coastal chain begun by Father Junípero Serra in 1769. In other words, the central premise of the project was for students to imagine how they might expand the mission system. To complete the project successfully, the students were required to study Native American1 peoples in various regions of California to see if they were friendly and hard-working, or if they would revolt against the imagined mission. The schools principal, dressed in full costume as a Spanish archbishop, judged the projects (Peterson, 2016). As they strategized about how to control or avoid Native American uprisings, the students were being trained in a form of colonial strategy. Projects like this one, which are popular within Californias elementary schools, have been a source of fierce criticism from California Indians and others who argue that violence against Indigenous peoples is often obscured in elementary level history curricula (Gutfreund, 2000; McTygue, 2012; Miranda, 2013).
Left unexamined in the article, or, one might infer, in the project the children enacted, is the question of why California Indians resisted the construction of the Spanish mission system. This reveals an important distinction between how historians think about history, and history as it taught in schools. To the historian, context is crucial. History education scholars Sam Wineburg and Abby Reisman (2008) argue that the skill of contextualization is best developed through authentic historical inquiry that explores an event within the web of personalities, circumstances, and occurrences that surrounds it (p. 202). Without analysis of the catastrophic conditions for California Indians under the mission system, children may develop a distorted understanding of California Indian uprisings.
This sanitized version of the colonial past is not limited to school projects. In the broader public representation of Spanish missions, California has cultivated a romantic story for its colonial heritage. Spanish missions and presidios draw tourists from all over the state and around the world. It was not until after the end of the Spanish-American War that the states missions became a major tourist destination and subject of public interest. During this period known as the Spanish Revival in California, mission history became a way for California to celebrate itself on its own terms, as a unique state apart from the east coast (Beebe & Senkewicz, 2015; Kropp, 2006). Since then, mission-era iconography has proliferated throughout California. One cannot drive along the coast of the state without crossing a street named for a Franciscan padre or Spanish soldier, passing buildings admired for their mission-style architecture, or spotting a statue of Father Serra himself. This is especially true in Southern California. Even San Diegos major league baseball team is named The Padres, with the Swinging Friar, a smiling cartoon of a Franciscan priest, as its mascot.
Here, the treatment of violence appears to be a key point of divergence between public memory and history as an academic discipline. Given this separation, I am interested in the role of early schooling in shaping public understandings of history, and its relationship to the present. More specifically, how might elementary school history curriculum guide children to make sense of the meaning and impacts of colonization? I come to this question from the position of a descendant of early European settlers to the American West, and as an educator of young children. My own great-great-grandfather chased his fantasy of adventure, land, and wealth all the way from Norway to the United States. In 1879, he built himself a mud hut on the ancestral homeland of the Nimiipuu/Nez Perce in Eastern Washington, just a few years after the Nez Perce War. He lived alone there for nearly a decade. Today, I can only begin to trace the effects of how those experiences might shape a person and their descendants. What I do know is that my great-great-grandfather developed a story to justify his actions, which was passed down through my family for generations. My grandfather, raised on the ranch that was eventually built on the same plain where his grandfather first settled, proudly taught his version to me.
More than a hundred years of tangled history after 1879, I became a teacher in Brooklyn, where I was tasked with teaching fourth graders about the colonization of the Eastern United States. I was handed a textbook and some curriculum from the previous teacher. While there was plenty of information about daily life in early colonial settlementsthings like breeches and spinning hoopsthere was little mention of the impact of colonization on Indigenous peoples. If I wanted to teach about that, I was going to have to figure out how to do it myself, which seemed simultaneously inappropriate and necessary. Although I had taken college classes in colonial history and had a basic understanding of its many atrocities, I had no idea how to discuss it with nine year olds. The textbook was little help.
In choosing my profession, I had opted into a flawed but highly functional system. Elementary school teachers, more so than their secondary colleagues, are ill-supported in the practice of teaching history. In the age of standardized tests that sort children and schools by their performance in math and reading, social studies and history have been placed nearly at the end of the list of curricular priorities in U.S. elementary schools (Fitchett & Heafner, 2010). Typically trained as generalists, elementary teachers receive little support in navigating the specific pedagogical dilemmas posed by teaching young children about the past.
This study examines how colonial violence is represented in elementary school history textbooks through the case of the treatment of the Spanish mission system in California. The content of these textbooks matter, as Dr. Anthony Brown and Dr. Keffrelyn Brown (2010) suggest in their own study of contemporary textbook representations of racist violence, because official school history textbooks play an important role in how teachers teach and how students come to understand history and use it to interpret the present. Official school history is a government-sanctioned method of sharing stories of the past between generations.
As a teacher, I owed my students some honest explanation of how the world came to be divided through a process of colonization (Willinsky, 1998). As a researcher, I wanted to study the explanations that teachers are offered by state-recommended curricula, and examine at a basic level how those explanations compare to academic historiography. It is from that problem space that I designed this study. Building upon Brown and Browns (2010) research, the conceptual frames of curriculum studies and critical Indigenous theory, the literature on teaching about atrocity with young children, and informed by a careful study of the historical record, I sought to examine if and how state-recommended elementary school history textbooks discussed violence in the history of colonization.
VIOLENCE IN CALIFORNIA MISSION HISTORIOGRAPHY
For a contemporary historian to write a general history of the California mission system without thoroughly addressing violence would reasonably be considered a glaring omission. Relationships between Spanish colonists and California Indians have long been a focus of California mission historiography2 (Bancroft, 1888; Cook, 1976; Haas, 2014; Hackel, 1997; Hackel, 2005; Hackel, 2013; Heizer, 1978; Heizer & Almquist, 1971; Jackson & Castillo, 1996; Lightfoot, 2005; Madley, 2016; McWilliams, 1946; Milliken, 1995; Rawls, 1984; Sandos, 1988; Sandos, 2004; Silliman, 2001; Starr, 2005; Street, 2004; Voss, 2008). Most modern-day mission historians address why and how the Spanish colonized California and how colonization shaped California Indians and their ancestral homeland. Although violence is not the sole focus of this field of historyattention is often paid to religious conversion, labor, disease, and environmental degradation, for exampleit is difficult to fully understand any of these outside their relationship to violence.
In analyzing violence within the Spanish colonial era, historians are deeply concerned with questions of context. How could this happen? To get at that question, historians study how violence became justified in the minds of its perpetrators. They consider the relationship between individual actions and social, economic, environmental, and other factors. Expert historians explain that, at a time when the Spanish Empire otherwise became increasingly secular, the California missions aimed to convert California Indians to Catholicism and subjugate them to Spanish rule, eventually transforming them into full citizens of Spain. By doing so, the Spanish crown sought to cultivate their colonial economy, protect Mexicos silver mines, and preempt colonization by other Europeans. Spanish missionaries viewed Indigenous peoples as childlike gente sin razón (people without reason) who could be saved from eternal damnation if they abandoned their Indigenous ways of life. This system was brutally enforced by the Spanish, using a racialized system of corporal punishment and violence almost exclusively upon the Indigenous population (Hackel, 2005, p. 363). Recently, award-winning UCLA historian Benjamin Madley (2019) argued in Pacific Historical Review that the Spanish missions were Californias first mass incarceration system, contending that the roots of Californias modern carceral system extend further into the past than is popularly understood. Many California Indians resisted the Spanish, seeing them as oppressive invaders intent on destruction; others came to accept mission existence (Haas, 2014; Hackel, 2005; Jackson & Castillo, 1996; Lightfoot, 2005; Sandos, 2004).
While a fully comprehensive review of violence in mission historiography is not possible here, it may be useful to highlight a few basic points of general agreement. Virtually every widely-credible written history of the time period published in the last 50 years indicates that the early colonization of California was violent and that it was catastrophic for California Indians. Considerable scholarly attention has been devoted to the widespread Spanish use of force, corporal punishment, and torture within and around the mission system; sexual violence against California Indian women by Spanish soldiers; and the cramped, unsanitary living conditions for California Indians in the missions that contributed to the spread of disease. Historians and anthropologists have analyzed how the Spanish enrolled California Indians into a system of manual labor that scholars of California history describe in various terms as forced (Cook, 1976), slavery-like (Castillo, 1989), and semicaptive (Hackel, 2005). Scholars have illustrated how environmental degradation caused by Spanish livestock and pathogens diminished traditional food sources of California Indians, leading many people to enter the missions as a matter of survival. They have also detailed ongoing California Indian resistance and occasional violent uprisings throughout the duration of the mission period (Castillo, 1989; Cook, 1976; Haas, 2014; Hackel, 1997; Hackel, 2005; Jackson & Castillo, 1996; Lightfoot, 2005; Milliken, 1995; Sandos, 1988; Sandos, 2004; Starr, 2005; Street, 2004; Voss, 2000; Voss, 2008).
There are some debates within California mission history, and these are especially polarized around relationships between the Franciscan missionaries and California Indians. Historian James Sandos (2004) once characterized the relatively small field of California mission historians as divided between three camps: those who are pro-Franciscan, those who are anti-Franciscan, and those who avoid the treatment of religion (p. xiii). The most fervent controversies surround Junípero Serra. As the Vatican considered Serras appointment to sainthood in the 1980s, there was debate among Catholic ecclesiastics, secular historians, and California Indian activists and scholars as to how the Franciscans understood their corporal punishment of California Indians (Costo & Costo, 1987; Guest, 1983; Guest, 1985; Sandos, 1988). The pontiff rejected Serras sainthood at the time, but controversy resurged upon the 2015 announcement that Serra would become the first saint canonized on U.S. soil (Holson, 2015; Perez, 2015; Pogash, 2015; Williams & Hamilton, 2015; Yuhas, 2015). Representations of Serra range from vilification to valorization, and both extremes have been criticized as overly simplistic, partly because such characterizations fail to see Serra within a much larger religious and military effort organized by the Spanish imperial government (Beebe & Senkewicz, 2015; Hackel, 2013; Sandos, 1988; Sahagun, 2015). Most recently, the public commemoration of the mission system has been conflicted (Lee, 2016; McGreevey, 2015; Powell, 2017) against a larger backdrop of national attention to public history (Greenberg et al., 2017).
TEACHING THE TERRIBLE: INTELLECTUAL HONESTY IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
In 1960, Jerome Bruner famously argued that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development (p. 33, emphasis mine). Yet, there is little theory or research as to what precisely constitutes intellectual honesty in engaging with history in teaching young children, especially when the topic is human atrocity. Based on the contemporary knowledge produced by a wide range of historians, Indigenous scholarship, and centuries of social dialogue about the meaning of colonization, though, it seems that an intellectually honest study of U.S. colonial history would require some examination of violence, suffering, and attempted cultural erasure.
Elementary school textbooks in the United States do discuss violence in history. Brown and Browns (2010) study, published in Teachers College Record, analyzed representations of racial violence in textbooks recommended by the state of Texas, and found that the violence of U.S. chattel slavery and resistance to it was somewhat descriptively represented in fifth grade history textbooks, e.g., The survivors were marked with hot branding irons and loaded on slave ships for the voyage to America (p. 43). However, Brown and Brown show that these textbooks primarily frame these acts of racist violence as perpetrated by bad men doing bad things, (p. 60) rather than part of a broader ideological, legal, and economic system.
The few scholars whose work addresses teaching young children about historical atrocity in the United States seem to agree that students can begin to make sense of violent and ugly histories. Yet, there is no consensus among them as to guiding principles for related curricular design. In her highly nuanced study of third graders investigation of the Holocaust, Simone Schweber (2008) concluded that although some students can comprehend serious and complex histories at this age, the emotional toll of these topics seems to outweigh their academic benefit. At the same time, Schweber concedes that we dont ever expect students to fully understand any material the first time they encounter it, and that the students developing interpretation of the Holocaust could be seen as a pretty good basis from which deeper understandings can later evolve (p. 2106).
Other scholars have argued that elementary school history curriculum should be pushed toward deeper engagement with atrocity. In his book on early childhood education during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, Jonathan Silin (1995) questioned the value of protecting children from the ugliness of human society. Silin argued that children are surrounded by complex topics on a daily basis as they walk through a modern world of suffering, violence, and death. Though not weighing in on this specific debate over the treatment of violence, Bruce VanSledright (2002), a scholar in elementary school history education, suggested that educators have created a self-fulfilling prophecy with regard to our expectations of young children in making sense of the past: We believe that children are incapable of difficult acts of historical thinking and investigation so we prevent them from having opportunities to do so, which in turn reinforces our assumptions that they are incapable because we do not see them perform as such. He added, In many ways, this may be a more serious challenge for childrens learning how to think historically because it carries the weight of tradition and is codified in school curriculum and organizational practices (p. 9). VanSledrights comment illustrates the need for closer examination of school history curricula that aims toward its improvement.
COLONIZATION AND CURRICULUM
The modern United States school is itself a colonial import and has played an instrumental role in the colonial project. This began with missionary education in the early colonial era, used as a means to subordinate Indigenous knowledge and ways of life as colonists sought to expand their territory. In the late 19th century, these subordination efforts turned to government-funded residential schools for Indigenous children across the country, designed to kill the Indian and save the man (Pratt, 1892/1964). Children were often forcibly removed from their homes, taken far from their families, and subjected to military-style education in overcrowded living conditions that frequently led to widespread illness. These schools, which lasted well into the 20th century, generally imposed Christianity, forbade Indigenous languages in favor of English-only education, emphasized U.S. patriotism and Eurocentric history, and encouraged students to sever their family ties in favor of assimilation (Adams, 2015; Lomawaima & McCarty, 2006; Spring, 2016). In addition to the physical effects of abuse, the emotional impact of these schools on their survivors and their descendants has been compared to the long-term effects of the Nazi Holocaust (Brave Heart & DeBruyn, 1998; Evans-Campbell, 2008; Whitbeck, Adams, Hoyt, & Chen, 2004).
Today, the treatment of Indigenous peoples and histories in modern public-school curriculum remains subject to fierce critique. Many scholars have argued that school curriculum has and continues to play a key role in an ongoing colonial process, including attempts at erasure of the vast array of Indigenous peoples, epistemologies, and histories in North America (Amin, 1989; Calderón, 2014a, 2014b; Carnoy, 1974; Chappell, 2010; Deloria & Wildcat, 2001; Donald, 2012; Gesener, 2011; Grande, 2004; Lomawaima & McCarty, 2006; Mason & Ernst-Slavit, 2010; McKnight, 2003; Sanchez, 2001; Shear, Knowles, Soden, & Castro, 2015; Smith, 2012; Tuck & Gaztambide-Fernández, 2013; Tuck & Yang, 2012; Willinsky, 1998). Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández (2013) contend that what they term the curriculum project of replacement of Indigenous peoples reflects the broader colonial desire to replace Indigenous peoples with colonists as rightful occupiers of the land, as well as to replace what is indigenous about Indigenous peoples with a Christian European version of those people. This replacement actively seeks a narrative to ensure the future of colonialism (p. 83). In other words, school curriculum typically serves to replenish the idea that colonizers and their descendants are entitled to land by controlling or erasing Indigenous knowledge.
Education scholar Dwayne Donald (Blackfoot) (2012) suggests that Indigenous knowledge is replaced with a colonial creation story for the nation-state. Donald writes that the nation-state that best exemplifies this theory is the United States, explaining that the U.S. creation story begins with freedom-seeking British settlers who sought independence in the New World and persevered despite the constant threat and fear of Indian attack. He argues that this framing of the development of the United States shapes a culture of people preoccupied with perceived threats to their freedom and way of life, and frequently motivated to act on their fear of the intentions of outsiders and enemies (p. 41). Simply put, the traditional origin story of the United States has played a key role in shaping national identity and culture, as well as colonial and racialized relationships to land.
This study examines how Californias current state-recommended fourth grade history textbooks address the topic of violence in the Spanish mission period3. I chose the Californian case for three reasons. First, given that California is the most populous state in the United States, its textbooks have a large sphere of influence. Second, teaching about colonialism in California is a complicated task: Like much of United States history, it is full of upsetting things that can be painful to talk about. Yet, the study of the mission system in fourth grade has become a celebratory rite of passage in becoming a Californian. An entire economy of supplies has developed to support this initiation process. Throughout the state, craft stores are stocked with mission model-making kits, libraries with childrens literature, fourth grade classrooms with social studies textbooks, and museums with exhibits and cartoon-illustrated activity booklets, all aimed at educating children about this era of California history. The study of the missions in California is a case of a social studies topic that appears to have had some widespread public impact (Kropp, 2001; La, 2014).
Third, the case of the California mission curriculum highlights a discord between history as it is generally agreed upon by historians and history as it is taught in schools. With regard to the content and skills offered in school histories, this circumstance is not unusual. As Sam Wineburg (2001) has demonstrated, there are major differences between how historians think about and represent history to adults and how history is taught to children. Less well studied, though, is how the most conflicted parts of the past are framed for the youngest students. Unlike the celebratory nature of many fourth-grade treatments of the California missions, the vast majority of contemporary historiography surrounding this era treats it with a somber tone. This historiography typically includes an in-depth examination of violence and suffering during this time period, as well as its causes and context (Haas, 2014; Hackel, 2005; Hackel, 2007; Jackson & Castillo, 1996; Lightfoot, 2005; Madley, 2016; Sandos, 2004; Starr, 2005) The elementary school version of mission history has been criticized by activists, historians, journalists, and even some educators as an overly sanitized version of the story with little historical rigor (Gutfreund, 2010; Mathews, 2014; McTygue, 2012; Miranda, 2013). Amidst this debate, there has not been any systematic empirical investigation into what the fourth-grade textbooks actually say about violence in the California mission period. This is the work I set out to do.
I examined the most recent edition of each of the California state-recommended fourth grade history textbooks: Reflections: California published by Harcourt (Porter, 2007), History-Social Science (Viola & Bednarz, 2007) published by Houghton Mifflin, California Vistas: Our Golden State (Banks, 2007) published by Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, and Our California (White, 2006) published by Pearson/Scott Foresman. I excerpted from the textbooks the content that focused on the history of the Spanish missions in California (typically one chapter) and focused my study only on those chapters. This study addresses the following questions:
How does the textbooks content address the topic of violence?
Is violence represented differently according to the ethnic groups with which it is associated? If so, how?
I analyzed the data in two stages. First, I coded each textbooks mission history chapter at the level of the sentence using a deductive coding scheme that analyzed the representation of violence according to ethnic group. I coded a total of 1,601 sentences, which I defined to include titles, section headings, and comprehension questions included in the chapter, in addition to the body of the text. I coded each one of the sentences for all of the ethnic groups referenced within it using the codes Spanish, non-Spanish Europeans, California Indian, or other (there were a few references to people of African descent and to Russians, for example). Some sentences referenced multiple groups (e.g., California Indian and Spanish), and so I applied multiple group codes to those sentences. I also coded sentences not referring to any ethnic group, which were typically directions or skill-based instructions, as None (e.g., Use concrete details from the lesson and from the maps and pictures). All codes were derived from and therefore restricted by the data. Here, I will note that California Indian was not a term that tribal groups like the Chumash or the Acjachemen would have applied to themselves in the 18th or 19th century, but the textbooks tended not to refer to tribes individually, instead referring generally to Indians, California Indians, or Native Americans. This is itself a reflection of authorial decision-making in history textbooks. Simultaneously, I coded each sentence that referred to some form of violence, which I defined as explicit reference to the violation or potential violation of the bodys personal will by force (e.g., attack, brutality, use of force, physical threat, corporal punishment, or violent uprising) or explicit reference to the deliberate destruction of land or property. Although this is certainly not a reflection of the full spectrum of human violence, I aimed to identify references to violence that would reasonably be interpreted as such by a nine-year-old student.
This coding scheme allowed me to identify the proportion of the text that referred to Spanish and California Indian peoples and compare the representation of violence across different groups. Because this stage was essential to the heart of the study, 86 percent (n = 1,373) of the sentences were also coded by a graduate research assistant, with my analysis and the research assistants achieving 87 percent independent interrater reliability using Cohens pooled kappa estimator. In the instances where we differed in our coding (most common for the ethnic group code of other), we conferred to achieve mutual agreement on appropriate coding of the text moving forward. We compared our application of codes regularly throughout the coding process in order to prevent drift.
In the second stage of analysis, I more closely examined the set of sentences that referred specifically to violence. I wanted to explore whether and how violence was represented differently according to the ethnic groups with which it was associated. I made comparisons based on the form of violence (e.g. corporal punishment or uprising) as well as the specific framing of the perpetrator/victim according to the ethnic group(s) identified in the sentence.
In this section, I first briefly outline the total proportion of text that explicitly refers to Spanish and California Indian peoples in the fourth grade textbooks4. Then, I identify the proportion of the text that explicitly referenced violence. I compare the number of references that identified the Spanish as perpetrators and victims to those that identified California Indian perpetrators and victims. I expand on these numeric comparisons to describe several of the most common representations of violence.
My intention in including numeric comparisons is not to make a case for a solution of somehow balancing the scales of representation as Indigenous studies scholar Glen Coulthard (Yellowknife) (2014) has warned against. Rather, I seek to provide some detailed documentation of the specific representation of colonization in school curriculum as a modest tool for analyzing how educational experiences might shape public understanding.
GENERAL REPRESENTATION OF CALIFORNIA INDIAN AND SPANISH PEOPLES IN THE CALIFORNIA MISSION SYSTEM
The textbooks story of Californias colonization is largely focused on the Spanish. While this may be unsurprising to some, it is worth noting that throughout the duration of Spanish rule, California Indians within the missions outnumbered the Spanish. Indeed, in Spanish-controlled territory in 1770, California Indians outnumbered Spaniards at a rate of 59,700 to 150. This reflects a difference in the colonial model used by the Spanish in California versus that which was employed in other European colonial settlementsas leading mission historian Steven Hackel (2005) writes, Spanish colonialism focused on Indians rather than soldiers and settlers (p. 51). In total, the Spanish royal government sent fewer than one thousand missionaries and soldiers to California (Hackel, 2005, p. 55), with the intention of converting California Indians to Spanish subjects through cultural erasure. Making this distinction clear is key to understanding the context of Californias colonization, and the Spanish colonists ideological orientation to Indigenous peoples.
Across the four textbooks, 61 percent of the total references to ethnic groups referred to the Spanish, whereas references to the hundreds of California Indian tribal groups in 18th century California made up less than half of that number: only 27 percent of ethnic group references. Disaggregating the data and looking at each textbook individually revealed that the percent of references to each broadly defined ethnic group followed a similar trend across textbooks. In each textbook, the authors referenced the Spanish two to three times more frequently than California Indian peoples (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Total references to California Indian and Spanish people in California fourth-grade text book chapters by sentence.
REFERENCES TO VIOLENCE IN THE CALIFORNIA MISSION SYSTEM: INDIAN REVOLT5, SPANISH FORCE
Across all four textbooks, references to violence were minimal, and made up only 1 percent to 6 percent of the total number of coded sentences in each textbook. The kind of violence most frequently referenced was associated with California Indian rebellion and revolt (n = 37). The two next most commonly referenced forms of violence were Spanish violence against California Indian peoples (n = 11), primarily regarding the capture of those who had attempted escape from the missions, and the threat of foreign attack by other European nations against Spanish-occupied territory (n = 7).
Despite their general underrepresentation in the texts, California Indian people were overrepresented as the perpetrators of violence. Of the 59 sentences that referenced violence, 58 percent (n = 34) described California Indian people as the perpetrator. Less than half of that number of sentences described a Spanish perpetrator, 25 percent (n = 15) of the total. Another 10 percent (n = 6) of sentences referred to other ethnic groups as the perpetrator, usually describing the threat of a Western European or Russian attack against the Spanish colonists. The remaining 7 percent (n = 4) of sentences do not clearly identify a perpetrator of violence (e.g. they warned of attacks).
Conversely, the Spanish were represented as the primary victims of violence in these texts. In 68 percent (n = 40) of references to violence, Spanish people are represented as the victim(s). California Indian people are described as victims in 22 percent (n = 13) of references to violence. Ten percent of sentences (n = 6) do not clearly identify a victim of violence (e.g. They used spears and swords).
Figure 2. Total references to California Indian and Spanish people as perpetrators of violence in California fourth grade textbooks by sentence.
California Indian Rebellion and Revolt Against the Spanish
Organized attacks and rebellions by California Indian peoples are referenced in each of the four textbooks. Across the four textbooks, organized attacks and uprisings by California Indians are explicitly mentioned a total of 38 times. Usually, these passages are relatively descriptive, using words like attack (n = 11), revolt (n = 9), and fought (n = 4). These words are likely to conjure images of bodily harm in the mind of a typical fourth grade student or their teachers. In three of the four textbooks (excluding Scott Foresman), the word revolt is defined (e.g. Groups of Native Americans organized revolts, or violent attacks, McGraw-Hill, p. 167).
Generally, the authors have provided little context for why California Indians attacked the Spanish. Though the textbook authors sometimes illustrate a broad range of forms of resistance, why California Indians resisted the missions is usually not explained, or is framed as simply an expression of discontent. For example:
Many Indians were unhappy with mission life and tried to resist, or act against, the missionaries. Some ran away. Others revolted, or fought against, the missionaries (Harcourt, p. 136).
Some Native Americans did not like life at the missions. They found ways to keep their traditional ways of life and to practice their own religion in private. They performed native songs and dances. Other Native Americans resisted learning the Spanish language or pretended not to know it. Still others broke tools or worked slowly on purpose. Native Americans resisted in other ways, too. Many of them ran away from the missions, while others stole horses and cattle from mission stockyards. Still others attacked the padres physically (McGraw-Hill, p. 166).
The Harcourt textbook offered students no explanation of why California Indians were so unhappy, and although the McGraw-Hill example recognized several of the wide variety of ways that California Indians engaged in preserving their ways of life, missing from both of these examples is any mention of the Spanish intention to replace California Indian ways of life with their own. This is to say nothing of the great harm that the Spanish did to the bodies and ancestral lands of California Indians through capture, forced labor, corporal punishment, sexual violence, and environmental destruction, which are also not mentioned in the context of why California Indians sought to fight against the colonial systems being imposed on them.
The ultimate aim of California Indian uprisings was generally described as getting rid of the colonizers in California, though the reasons for that aim were less clearly stated. Consider these two examples:
Some California Indians planned revolts. A revolt is an uprising against a ruler. The Tongva, Ohlone,6 and others attacked missions. They hoped to get rid of missionaries and soldiers (Houghton Mifflin, p. 102)
Not long after the Mission San Diego was founded in 1769, hundreds of Kumeyaay tried to drive out the missionaries. Six years later, a more organized attack resulted in the death of a padre. The biggest revolt came in 1781, when the Yuma people destroyed two missions on the Colorado River. Thirty soldiers and four missionaries died in the attack (McGraw-Hill, p. 167)
Without providing context as to why California Indians engaged in violent resistance against the Spanish, this representation risks recreating a destructive historical stereotype suggesting that California Indians were violent people in some inherent sense. California Indians had been interacting with a wide variety of ethnic groups who had a wide variety of cultural traditions for generations, both among the vast array of Indigenous groups that existed within pre-colonial North America, as well as non-Indigenous explorers who came to the land. All of this was largely without major incident, and it is well-documented that the increased violence in the colonial era was specifically in response to the effects of colonial settlement (Hackel, 2005; Jackson & Castillo, 1995; Madley, 2016).
California Indian resistance was frequently represented by the textbook authors as having been organized and planned in advance by groups. In addition to the ones already provided, an example from the Harcourt textbook:
As part of a revolt in the 1770s, Indians burned the missions at San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Then, in 1785, a neophyte named Nicolas José and a Gabrielino woman named Toypurina (toy-poo-REE-nuh) planned a revolt at Mission San Gabriel (Harcourt, p. 136).
These portrayals frame violent uprisings as orchestrated and planned by large groups of California Indians working together. Although these representations are accurate in and of themselves, the heavy emphasis upon them is misleading to a young reader. These were actually the least common form of resistance (Jackson & Castillo, 1995, p. 74). The contemporary historiography on the missions suggests that organized attacks were raremuch more common forms of resistance were attempted escapes, individual attacks, and smaller everyday acts such as refusal to obey commands, or engaging in traditional spiritual practices (Hackel, 2005; Jackson & Castillo, 1995; Sandos, 2004).
Spanish Violence Against California Indian Peoples
Across the four textbooks, there were a total of fifteen references to Spanish violence against California Indian people, amounting to less than half of the references to California Indian revolts. Violence by Spanish colonists was explicitly referenced most frequently as the capture of California Indian people. Three of the four textbooks (Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, and Harcourt) made such references. The terms used to describe violence by the Spanish were somewhat less explicit than those used to describe violence by Indigenous people: overwhelmingly, the term most frequently used was force (n = 9). The use of the term force in this context was not defined in any of the four textbooks. This is problematic for fourth grade readers who may be more likely to associate the idea of force with having to do homework or go to bed early than with acts of physical violence, and also presents a vague concept of Spanish violence for fourth grade teachers.
As with the representation of violence by California Indian people, little context was provided for Spanish violence. Similarly, although the intended outcome of the violence was typically made clear (e.g., to punish, to forcibly bring California Indians into or back to the mission), the broader reasons for it typically were not. Take the following example:
The missions took land that the California Indians had used for hunting and gathering. Without that land, some Indians had to go to the missions for food. Soldiers brought some as well. Some people came to missions by choice and others were brought by force. As time went on, fewer people came to missions by choice. However, the mission system kept growing (Houghton Mifflin, p. 99).
This passage explains that the Spanish used force to bring California Indian people to the missions, but leaves the reader wondering why. By saying that the mission system kept growing even though fewer people came to missions by choice, the textbook authors subtly imply that the Spanish use of force increased over time, occluding the reasons why this may have been the case.
Much less frequently referenced was the Spanish use of corporal punishment. Two of the four textbooks, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, mentioned it. Across those two textbooks, there were a total of four explicit references to the corporal punishment of California Indian people by the Spanish. Only one of those references was in the main body of the text:
Missionaries used different ways of making California Indians convert to Catholicism and act like Spanish people. Sometimes they used gifts and kindness. Other times, though, they used harsh treatment, including whipping and heavy chains. Soldiers were often cruel to California Indians. For those who suffered bad treatment, the missions were places of misery (Houghton Mifflin, p. 102).
Here, some brief context was provided as to how Spanish missionaries justified the practice of corporal punishment, explaining that these violent tactics were used to make California Indians convert to Catholicism and act like Spanish people. Once again, the authors provided little explanation as to the broader ideological, legal, and economic rationale for why the Spanish government wanted California Indians to convert to Catholicism and assimilate into Spanish culture. This characterization, focused on individual acts of cruelty rather than how those acts were systemically sanctioned, positions colonizers engaging simply as bad men doing bad things (Brown & Brown, 2010). Such framing does not clearly illustrate the widespread use of corporal punishment as a racialized system of hierarchical control and discipline reserved almost exclusively for California Indians in Spanish-occupied California (Hackel, 2005, p. 363).
Harcourts Reflections textbook included three sentences that referred to corporal punishment in a primary sources text feature following the end of the main body of the chapter on the mission system. Julio César, a Luiseño/Payómkawichum man described by the textbook only as a mission Indian is quoted as saying They did not pay us anything but merely gave us our food and a & blanket & besides flogging [whipping] for any fault, however slight. Lorenzo Asisaras testimony was also quoted in this textbook:
The Indians at the missions were very severely treated . . . any disobedience of infraction [breaking] of the rules, and then came the lash [whip] without mercy, the women the same as the men. . . . We were always trembling with fear of the lash (p. 141).
Notably, there are key details (italicized here) that have been removed from the Asisara quotation in its adaptation from the original historical record, which stated that the Indians at the mission were very severely treated by the padres, often punished by fifty lashes on the bare back (in Harrison, 1892, pp. 4647). Here, the textbook authors quite literally stopped short of naming the padres as the perpetrators of extreme physical violence. While primary source adaptation is a recommended practice in school-based history education (Wineburg & Martin, 2009), it is typically done to make difficult texts more accessible to young readers. This particular change does little to lower the lexile level of the textbook. Although it is impossible to know what led to this adaptation, the change actively distorts the meaning of the historical record. In effect, this distortion preserves the dominant reputation of the padres as kindly friars, avoids their responsibility for violence against California Indian peoples, and ultimately calls the credibility of the textbook as a source of historical information further into question.
The authors of these two textbooks have taken a small but crucial first step toward intellectual honesty by explicitly referencing the violence that took place within the mission system and beginning to describe its consequences, but there is far more work to be done. In three of the four textbooks, the Spanish padres and soldiers were not explicitly named as having been the perpetrators of violence. Further, the textbooks typically did not examine the ideological, legal, or economic systems that led to the justification of this violence, even at the most basic level. Ultimately, this violence is usually described in limited detail and without context. Without such context, nine-year-old students are left without any explanation of the conditions that allowed for legally sanctioned violence and attempted cultural erasure.
DISCUSSION & IMPLICATIONS
This study shows that, while the majority of the content of the California fourth grade history textbooks on the Spanish mission period largely sidesteps the topic of violence altogether, descriptions of violence in this time period are presented in the text. When violence is discussed, it is largely in the context of California Indian resistance and revolt. There is only very limited coverage of the many forms of Spanish violence perpetrated against California Indian peoples and their ancestral land. This illustrates two key findings: first, children are being taught, albeit minimally, about violence in Californias Spanish mission period. Second, the representation of that violence disproportionately presents California Indians as perpetrators and the Spanish as victims, a framing incongruous with the historical record.
The evidence presented in this study complicates the question of when children are old enough to learn about violent histories in school. These data, as well as Brown and Browns (2010) earlier study, reveal that in the two most populous states in the United States, the official elementary school curriculum already engages with the topic of historical violence. However, the data from this study reveal the drastic overrepresentation of violence against Spanish colonists, rather than California Indian peoples, in the history of Spanish California. Why might this be, and what are we to do about it?
As to the question of why, though the infinite factors involved in the production of textbooks are beyond the focus of this study, the data provide further empirical evidence of the components of the United States creation story (Donald, 2012) central to Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernándezs (2013) theory of the curriculum project of replacement. These data suggest that regardless of which United States colonial ancestor is being discussed (e.g., Spanish or British), the treatment of violence follows a similar pattern, foregrounding the portrayal of colonists as victims and Indigenous people as aggressors, despite that colonists aggressively invaded and dispossessed Indigenous people. These textbooks present official history that re-naturalizes colonization as an unquestionably rational way of reorganizing the world, and positions Indigenous peoples as engaging in irrational violence, rather than acting in response to that which they understood as a threat to their livelihood. The narratives the textbooks present obscure extraordinary devastation and destruction for California Indians and their ancestral land, and do not provide adequate context for the causes of either Spanish- or California Indian-enacted violence.
Recently, California began the lengthy process of adopting new textbooks. Although the official new textbooks have not been distributed to schools as of press time, and I have not analyzed them to the same degree as those that are current, a preliminary analysis of the publicly available sample textbooks suggests that they repeat many of patterns named in this article. By obscuring the questions that lie at the heart of colonial history and the information necessary to its open inquiry, the authors of these textbooks have failed to meet the criteria for history education in a democratic society according to Californias own State Department of Education. The 2005 California State History/Social Science Framework that was in use at the time these textbooks were approved explained that all students ought to come to recognize history as common memory, with political implications, which the document explained as the following:
Throughout recorded time, societies have used their history as a vehicle for maintaining their identity as a people and a nation. The study of history allows people to explain and transmit their ideas and traditions to the younger generation. In tightly controlled societies the historical record may be altered to redefine public consciousness of the past and to regulate the publics loyalties; in democratic societies the historical record is open to debate, revision, conflicting interpretations, and acknowledgment of past mistakes (California State Department of Education, 2005, p. 13).
Although the state recognizes the political role of history, when it comes to Californias colonial history, the state has approved the kind of narrative that it associates with tightly controlled societies rather than democratic ones. As the California Framework itself emphasized, the study of history indeed has political implications: the regulation of the publics loyalties in teaching about colonization robs students of the experience of wrestling with the questions embedded in the conflicting interpretations of the past and considering how they have shaped our contemporary realities. Perhaps this is because there is some tension between the maintenance of U.S. identity and the engagement with the historical record that a democratic society requires. If the dominant U.S. national identity relies upon a creation story that positions colonists only as persevering through ongoing threat and attack to their freedom without calling that into question, rigorous and meaningful historical investigation becomes nearly impossible. Here, I echo Brown and Browns (2010) suggestion that social studies knowledge must reexamine the nexus between racial violence and democracy (p.60).
This problem was not created by textbooks, and it cannot be solved by textbooks alone. However, the data make clear that changing the current status quo will require focused attention. I do not wish to call for quick-fix solutions, such as replacing one monolithic and oversimplified narrative with another, which Sam Wineburg (2013) has rightly argued atrophies our tolerance for complexity (p. 34). Instead, I propose that we, as educators, invite children into practicing the work of rigorous, active, and authentic historical inquirywhat happened, and why? How might we find out? What does this mean for us today? As a former elementary school teacher, my own experience has indicated that young children are interested in these questions and are capable of exploring them at a preparatory level. Of course, this kind of work is more nuanced than just increasing the curricular representation of violence against Indigenous peoples. In writing this article, my greatest concern is that some readers might swing too far toward overexposing violence against Indigenous peoples. As Tuck (2009) has cautioned, framing Indigenous communities only as damaged has too often led to the framing of Indigenous and other oppressed peoples as somehow irreparably broken. Rather, I wish to point out, through the Californian case, that children in the United States may be led to rationalize colonial violence against Indigenous peoples, without ever clearly inquiring into what that violence was, who did it, how their rationale was constructed, or how colonial violence shaped the formation of the United States. This kind of curricular avoidance risks foreclosing opportunities to engage with authentic historical inquiry, as well as pressing questions about the continued structures of colonialism today. Responsibly undertaking these types of inquiry requires far more than equalizing representation in textbooks. The problem of the curricular project of replacement is itself intertwined with a broader process of colonization, and therefore cannot be fully solved through tinkering with existing curricular structures. As Tuck and Yang (2012) argue, decolonization is not a metaphorfull decolonization requires Indigenous sovereignty through the repatriation of Indigenous land and life, something that neither curriculum nor, as Coulthard (2014) further contends, a liberal politics of recognition and representation can accomplish alone.
Yet, every day, thousands of United States teachers return to face their students. Every day, those students journey to school on land still sacred to hundreds of Indigenous nations, and which European colonists and their descendants also saw as crucial to their livelihoods. Those students are owed some opportunity to examine the conflicts embedded in the early roots of the United States and the broader division of the world (Willinsky, 1998). After all, it is conflicted stories like these that lie at the core of generations of violence, enslavement, and environmental destruction done in the name of colonial advancement, and which frame the material inequalities and injustices that persist in our modern context. This study illuminates a need for a drastic shift in how teachers are guided to teach these histories. Rather than approaching the teaching of history with the skewed narrative the textbooks demonstrate, educators must be better equipped to carefully examine the historical record with their students through an intellectually honest study of the violence of the early colonial era, the beliefs that rationalized that violence in the minds of its perpetrators, and the well-documented devastating and lasting harm done to Indigenous communities and their ancestral lands and waters. Educators must be prepared to explore with their students the continued survival of Indigenous communities in the face of systemic violence and engage the meaning of Indigenous sovereignty on colonized land. In this regard, some of Canadas recent curricular reforms in response to their national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Stueck & Alphonso, 2017), may provide some useful preliminary models for attempts at national-level curricular change, and the work of Indigenous educators to teach colonial counterstories presents crucial potential models of alternative pedagogical approaches (Keenan, 2019). And, while I believe that educators must reckon with the undeniable violence of the colonial era and consider how to address that with their students, there are also larger policy questions here: Why do schools use textbooks to teach history, especially ones that are typically approved for public use through a process of corporate competition for profit opportunity? Why is colonial history so commonly taught in the fourth grade?
To frame colonial logic as self-evident and nearly eclipse the violence perpetrated in its name is nothing short of irresponsible. Perhaps it is there, too, that some part of the why lies. Perhaps this curricular avoidance of the atrocities done in the name of colonization merely reflects a dominant societal avoidance of our collective histories on colonized land. I think of my own settler great-great-grandfather and the thousands of others like him, who developed a story to justify his actions, to keep him goinga story to tell his children and their children about who we are and our relationship to the land. In the version of his story I was always told, my great-great-grandfather was a hero, and the violence and suffering that took place on the land our family occupied was never mentioned. Perhaps this represents, as Jonathan Silin (1995) writes, some flight into irresponsibility that belies our need to care for and about the existence into which we are thrust at birth (p. 135). Teaching children about the violent history of the United States is anything but easy, and that is certainly some part of why so many adults are not doing it very well. Still, we cannot change the past. It is always with us, erupting into continued violence and conflict that is shaped by how we make sense of the origins and meaning of the United States. It is time that we more deeply examine how our understandings of history are formed, and how we might go about bringing greater intellectual honesty and care to the work of teaching children.
1. Throughout this article, I use the term California Indian to refer specifically to the Indigenous people of the land now known as California, and the term Indigenous to refer broadly to Indigenous peoples writ large. In the methods and findings sections, I use the term California Indian to refer to instances across the textbooks where people were described as Indians, California Indians, or Native Americans. When discussing a specific occurrence or passage from the textbook, I use the term as it appeared in its original context.
2. In referring to California mission historiography, I include the work of some anthropologists in addition to historians, as these scholars make major contributions to the writing of the past, and anthropology is typically considered among the social studies disciplines that children study in school.
3. Importantly, after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the missions were under Mexican rule from 18211846. Although most of the fourth-grade textbooks very briefly address the missions in Mexican California, the vast majority of content on the mission system is presented in the chapters on Spanish California. While the presentation of the mission system in Mexican California and its marginalization in the textbooks is itself worthy of investigation, the Mexican period is not the primary focus of this study.
4 .Throughout the findings section of the article, I refer to specific textbooks parenthetically by their publisher.
5. Here, I use the language of the textbook itself (e.g., Indian, rebellion, and revolt).
6. This example and the one below it both represent the relatively uncommon explicit naming of California Indian peoples tribal affiliation. While I did not systematically examine the occasions when tribal affiliation was and was not named, it is worth noting here that both of these instances of specific naming of affiliation, in two different textbooks, are connected to acts of violence.
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