Teachers, what is nuance?

As a social studies teacher I’ve instructed a range of subjects (economics, American government, U.S. history, world history, world geography, civics, and public speaking.) I’ve also had the pleasure of teaching students from 7th grade to students in 12th grade. I’ve literally taught by the book due to being new to the profession. I’ve also taught without a book because the school did not provide them. One particular challenge I and other teachers run in to is to teach to state standards and to ensure student proficiency in them. The school year will often flow so quickly that great questions by students don’t get answered. You want students to know cause and effect, as well as how to cite evidence and explain it. Yet, when covering a topic, a student will ask a question that begs an answer but it goes unanswered.

WHY does it happen this way? I believe the answer often is that the classroom doesn’t offer much room to nuance.

Let me provide an example. When teaching about the topic of Indian Removal in the early 1800’s I’ve gotten asked how I felt about the topic. It’s something I could talk about for hours, yet class lasts only 50 minutes and I’ve GOT to teach each standard and move to the next. Truth is I’d often like to spend time on the term “Indian Removal.” To use the word remove activates feelings of necessity. Cavity removal, bug removal, problem removal. To remove will allow for relief or relaxation. How would it look if instead of “Indian Removal” the term “White Land Grab” was used? Land grab also activates feelings of necessity, why not use it?

The answer, for the purpose of this post, is nuance. Teachers do not often get the time and opportunity to dig into the nuance of topics.

Let me provide another example. During World War II Native Americans, especially the Diné (Navajo), were recruited and utilized to fight and to communicate encrypted messages. These soldiers came to be known as Code Talkers. Here again I’d like to spend time discussing the role these people had during the war, but instead of talkers I’d like to use the term “silence denied”. The people who came to be called Code Talkers were really the decedents to men and women who refused to be silenced. It was common practice of the United States government in the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s to remove (there’s that word again) Native children from their families and place them in boarding schools. This effort is best encapsulated by the phrase “kill the Indian, and save the man,” and it was another effort to do away with Native Americans. The Code Talkers are living and breathing evidence that Native Americans refused to be silenced.

Nuance. Or should I say nuance denied.

Finally, a more recent example. This year the Hellbender Brewing Company, based in Washington D.C., released its third iteration of the Code Talkers American Pale Ale. Stereotypes of drunken Indians abound, and evidence of alcohol’s impact on Native American communities is undoubted. Why then would Hellbender make a beer with the image of a Code Talker on it? The answer lies in the nuance. Hellbender employs LT Goodluck, the grandson of John V. Goodluck, the Code Talker whose image is on the beer itself. The company goes on to explain how the brew honors the memory of the Code Talkers. In spite of the its best efforts, Hellbender and Goodluck have been accused of being tone deaf.

The answer, of course, is that nuance is rarely allowed or understood.

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Filed under Native American, red power

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