This web site is written primarily for kids in the fourth grade to the eighth grade. I started this site in response to the many questions I get from kids over the Internet from another web site, Texas Archeology E-Journal. The kids asked some pretty good questions, but I could tell they arent using very good sources that is, sources suitable for kids. While there are a couple of other comprehensive books on Texas Indians, (and that is about it ) they are not for kids this in this age group. I also had quite a few adults who were frustrated by books written for and to college level anthropologists. They are hard to understand without some background most people don't have. The best book on the subject I know of is W. W. Newcombs classic book "The Indians of Texas". I recommend Newcombs book as a companion to this book for older more advanced students. It is written at a college sophomore level and would make a good high school senior or college textbook. But, younger kids need a good source they can understand on Texas Indians. So here is a web page just for them.
However, even Newcomb's book has problems for today's readers. It was written in 1958. Another major set of problems can be found in the many of these older "classic" books on Texas history or about Texas Indian tribes. Many of these books are filled with false information, outdated information and false stereotypes. Many are from the nineteenth century or use sources from the nineteenth century. Much of the material from this time period has turned out to be little more than propaganda and popular cultural myths used to excuse the killing of Indians or driving off the Indians. Others are folk tale exaggerations and fictions -- entertaining but factually wrong. Many historians have now cross referenced known facts about Indian culture with the data in these old books and found many of the old books greatly wanting. Although they are certainly very useful and important, most professionals in this field read and use these "classic" books with increasing skepticism. Even works by scholars of the highest caliber like John Swanton or H. E. Bolton and even Newcomb contain biased stereotypes and have a good deal of information that has proven to be inaccurate using new information from new research.
Take Newcomb's "The Indians of Texas" as an example. Right in the table of contents Newcomb starts the book with false, rather racist, negative stereotypes of two major subgroups of Indians. One title is, "The Savages of the Western Gulf Culture Area". Another major section title is, "Barbaric Gardeners". The barbaric gardeners Newcomb is referring to include the very civilized Caddo, the complex Jumano, and the Wichita. The Caddo, Jumano, and Wichita are hardly barbarians by any standard. The Caddo and Wichita are still with us up in Oklahoma and they do not appreciate being labeled "barbarians", even when it refers to their ancestors. The days of using terms like "savages" and "barbaric" when referring to other cultures like Native Americans should be over.
Experts know what parts of older works to accept and what parts to be skeptical of. A non expert cannot do this and has a real problem using much the information in many of the older works. When kids try to use this material it results in a huge waste of time and some really crazy ideas. They can wind up thinking the Caddo Indians are all like "Connan the Barbarian" of movie fame. When kids, and even some teachers I have talked to, try to use material written at a post graduate level of anthropology, they get confused and frustrated quickly -- this turns them off to the subject. One thing this site will try to do is use up-to-date information in a format and vocabulary accessible to kids. The other is to put an end to many of the old racist stereotypes that have caused so much harm.
Because this site is used by close to one million Texas school kids every year. AND, because I am a big kid myself. I am going to have some fun along the way. I am going try to use the vocabulary that todays kids use and understand best (up to a point). I am going to use words like stuff, goodies, and maybe even a cool (or kewl if it is like WAY cool ) here and there. I want to try to use a more conversational English, not the boring (for kids ) formal English of most text books. I am also going to use net talk from the internet with emotes like smilies ;-) and capital letters to YELL and TALK LOUD. The more conversational tone and emotes are from the internet where the written English language is two way and in real time a written conversation. Changes in function and use causes changes in form, and like it or not -- written English is changing fast. English teachers and mavens take note and get thee to a computer with a modem to see the language changing before your eyes.
The internet is the future information source and the communication medium for these kids, and it has its own culture and language that kids should learn and become comfortable with so they can participate on-line. It is not going to change to suit some fanatical English teacher. I have found that kids love the net-talk style. The really get into it fast and it holds their attention. I am going to do whatever it takes to keep the kids attention, communicate the information too them, and have fun doing it. Texas Indians are a very interesting subject and kids should be able to understand and even have fun learning about them.
Along the way, I am going to explain some basic cultural anthropology needed to really understand different cultures such as Texas Indians. This has been one of the major shortcomings of many of the teaching materials I have looked at. Understanding another culture takes some basic intellectual tools. Anthropology provides these tools. To do this I am simplifying quite a bit in places. I am also knowingly leaving out some information and facts to avoid overloading kids with more information than they can handle. My basic guidelines are to keep it simple and basic and a just little more. If I can set a good foundation of the basic knowledge needed to understand the rest of the web site, I will have met my goal. Other teachers can add too it later. I want the kids to be able to begin to use this kind of knowledge now and with cultures other than Indians. In a multicultural society, being able to recognize a different culture for what it is, and what it is not, is an important skill.
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