book review–Cherokee Women: Gender & Cultural Change, 1700-1835

While I am a teacher, I am also a graduate student in the top-rated History department at CSU Fullerton.  I am privileged to read some outstanding monographs, some of which have been very useful and relevant to my teaching.  I’ll do the heavy lifting of reading 500 pages a week, and I’ll share the best of what I find with you here.  If you teach 8th grade US History, this book provides some great background knowledge for your chapter on Jackson’s presidency.

 

Theda Perdue. Cherokee Women: Gender and Cultural Change, 1700-1835. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

CW

 

In traditional Cherokee culture, the sun represents woman and the moon represents man. The two serve separate purposes, yet they balance each other and are both necessary for survival. In Cherokee Women: Gender and Cultural Change, 1700-1835, Theda Perdue highlights this separate, but equally essential, aspect of women’s status within the Cherokee community. She traces the persistence and adaptations of Cherokee women as their tribe became increasingly intertwined with Americans. Perdue argues that Cherokee women had always maintained a significant and distinct position of power within Cherokee culture, and while contact with Americans threatened women’s status more directly than it threatened men’s, Cherokee women were agents of cultural conservatism, persistence and adaptation.

Perdue is dissatisfied with the historiography of Native Americans, and Native American women in particular, as they are often hidden in the shadows. She intends for this book to influence gender history, and ethnohistory as well. Perdue applies the strategy of upstreaming in order to follow cultural patterns from the present to illuminate this shadowy history of Cherokee women.

From oral histories and Cherokee legends (to which Perdue assigns equal credence as explorer diaries, missionary school records, and trade correspondence), it is clear that Cherokee women operated and controlled the agricultural realm fairly independently. Lineage was traced through mothers, and women had complete control over households. Men would move in with their wife’s family, and were often away from home, hunting. The Cherokee placed great emphasis on balance between the genders, and there was no hierarchical structure of men over women.

The Cherokee’s first significant interaction with European settlers was through the rapidly growing deerskin trade. Perdue asserts that in order to fulfill the challenges of this new contact, men entered a modern sphere of commercialism and a market economy, while women, who still maintained the farms, were the conservators of traditional values. Soon, however, women adapted to using European iron farm tools, and for the first time they became dependent on men to hunt successfully (for deerskins or slaves) and trade for those items. In this new trading structure, Cherokee women maintained their traditional duties yet modified some of their practices.

Perdue shows how elements of Henry Knox’s plan to “civilize” Native Americans through land ownership and farming also forced Cherokee women to simultaneously preserve traditions, adapt to new realities, and give up political influence. Because all aspects of agriculture were the women’s domain, they became responsible for animal husbandry, while the men continued to participate in wars and trade. Cherokee women incorporated their new task into their culture, but simultaneously began to lose their governing power as male warriors rose in political status. Again, Perdue underscores the agency that women demonstrated in fighting to maintain essential gender balance, while also adapting external changes.

#summarize

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This is my first year teaching English, and I have found that one really difficult skill to teach is summarizing.  My students nod and say that they understand, but when it comes down to it, they struggle (and come up with some crazy ideas, way out of left field!).

Well, Facebook recently implemented hashtags into its format (oh man, that is going to date this post for all eternity, isn’t it?).  I’m not much of a “hashtagger” myself, but one day I was trying to think of hashtags to tack on to a status update, and it was really hard!  As I came up with a few really lame words and phrases, however, I had an epiphany: I was really just identifying key words and summarizing my post.  I thought, I’ll bet my students do this on Twitter and Facebook all the time.  They’re probably way better at it than I am!

So I decided to design a lesson where they could use their hashtagging skills to identify key words and themes in literature.  Since I’m sure not all of my students are Twitter fiends, I began the lesson with this very informative video about hashtags by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake:

(Don’t worry, I ended the video right before Questlove walks in).

According to my pacing guide, we were supposed to read a story from our literature book called “Everybody is Different, but the Same Too.”  I created a worksheet to go with the story that incorporated hashtags (instead of writing down key words or phrases) to summarize each paragraph.

summarize

#summarize     click here for pdf file

My English students really like to read out loud, so a different student read each paragraph, and we added hashtags after each one.  I modeled the first one, and the students caught on pretty quickly.  Their hashtags were much closer to actual summaries than other assignments had been where I just asked them to summarize.  We then connected their summaries to the overall theme of the story, and I’ll share that activity in a separate post.

Warning: I did kind of create a monster with the whole hashtag thing, and for the next few days, they added the word “hastag” to everything.  

“Hashtag-hi Mrs. Forbes!”

“Hashtag-can I please go to the bathroom?”

“Hashtag-what is the homework?”

“Hashtag-have a good weekend!”

As annoying as you might think hashtags are in Twitter-form, they’re much worse in spoken word!  But this ended up being a really fun way to break down a story, and the kids keep asking to do it again.  Using hashtags taps into their background knowledge and allows them to apply elements of their outside lives to school.  Plus, they gave me much more accurate summaries of the story than I had ever gotten before.  #winwin

happy national handwriting day! (jan 23)

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Happy (late) National Handwriting Day, everyone!  I have always loved anything to do with handwriting: keeping journals, writing notes in class, making lists, having pen pals, filling out forms, sending people birthday cards, you name it.  Even now, I keep track of my schedule in a planner that I take with me everywhere.  Sure, I have an iPad and an iPhone with brilliant apps that could organize everything for me–but I wouldn’t get to write everything down!

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Also, since 9th grade I have only used one kind of pen: black, fine point, Pentel RSVP pens.  Nothing else will do.  I’m very stingy with my pens, too.  I will watch you like a hawk until that pen is safely back in my pen pouch in my purse!

My husband recently bought me a Kindle Paperwhite to help me avoid the back and neck problems inflicted upon me by the 20-30 books I have to read each semester for my Masters program, but again, I need to write in the margins.  (I love the Kindle for pleasure reading, but when I am analyzing a text, I have to engage with it using an RSVP pen).

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You know what else is kind of strange about handwriting?  Mine is almost identical to my mom’s, and hers is almost identical to my grandma’s.  My best friend since 7th grade (Rochelle) and I also have incredibly similar writing.  Both of us have been confused when receiving Christmas cards from each other in the mail–Did this get sent back?  Did I have the wrong address?  Oh, ha ha, that’s not my writing after all!  Is handwriting hereditary, or do we copy what we see?

Anyway, I am always very excited for National Handwriting Day, and this year we celebrated it in my English class.  Sixth graders are never excited to hear the word “cursive,” but I opened their eyes to a whole new concept this year.  “You’re not in elementary school anymore,” I reminded them, “so now you can write however you want!  You can do loops on your y’s and g’s this week, and then hearts on top of your i’s next week, you can write in half cursive-half printing–the sky is the limit!”  I just wanted them to practice neat penmanship, and to have fun doing it.

We started off by writing the alphabet in whatever handwriting they liked best.  I encouraged them to develop their own signature style (no pun intended).  Then we wrote out some panagrams like,

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog  and

My grandfather picks up quartz and valuable onyx jewels.

(Panagrams are coherent sentences that include every letter of the alphabet).

Next, they practiced writing their signature, or autograph.  You would be shocked at how many of my 8th graders cannot write their names in cursive.  Like, no matter how many different ways I explained it, I still got their name written in printing.  It was nuts.  So with my 6th graders, I want to make sure that they practice writing their signature at least once a year.  If they get that MLB contract one day, they are going to need to know how to do this!

Students had the option to continue to observe National Handwriting Day by completing an extra credit assignment that was due the next day.  They could either make up their own panagram (it’s actually REALLY hard!), or hand-write a letter to someone on stationary.  The art of letter writing is pretty close to extinct, so I am doing my part to bribe students into reviving it.  Here is what one class brought back the next day:

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Really, they didn’t have to write the letter to me, but hey, they’re smart!  How can I not give you a bunch of extra credit if you hand-write all the reasons why I am amazing onto a cute card?  I also liked the homemade stationary (which they probably made ten minutes before the bell rang from their binder paper and a pen they found at the bottom of someone’s backpack, but whatever).

Side note: I have heard that many states are dropping cursive from their Common Core curriculum (California is keeping it, though).  This is a shame, because I have read in a few articles that the act of connecting one letter to the next requires the brain to think one step ahead, and makes writing in cursive a fundamentally different task from printing.  Experts also argue that cursive is useful to know for note-taking, although I would guess that most students will be typing their notes in the future anyway.

Still, I enjoy handwriting, and I love to read at beautiful script.  I am going to continue to celebrate National Handwriting Day every January 23rd, and I hope that you do too!  What other ideas do you have for NHD activities?