I thought I’d write a bit about America First! by Lawton Evans, the book that we use for American history in Form 1.
Recently on one of the Facebook groups there was concern that this book is both racist and violent, so I wanted to address these concerns openly.
Is America First violent?
Some of the stories are.
At least in the beginning of the book.
That is why you will see on the Form 1 pages the wording “not all stories are used.”
Rest assured, we skip those stories we deemed too violent for our little ones.
Your child may be different and able to handle them, however for the majority of 6 and 7 year olds, these stories are too much and not in keeping with the feeling that we wanted to give Form 1.
Is America First racist?
America First is in the public domain and was written in the early 1900s. The culture was different than it is now, and what was considered acceptable then is no longer.
As a whole, America First is very well balanced. While there are stories that show “Indians” as the enemy, the vast majority of them portray indigenous people sympathetically and even point out that often the Europeans treated them cruelly and selfishly.
There is more than one story that talks about how poorly the Europeans treated the indigenous people. There is also more than one that describes indigenous people in unflattering terms. Most of these we skipped, on both sides, because most of these stories also tended to be the violent ones.
We don’t start the book until halfway through Form IB, and we also know that some children simply won’t be ready for it even then. Not because the stories we’ve chosen are inappropriate, but because they aren’t as light and funny as in American Tall Tales.
That’s why we suggest if your child is not yet ready to make the switch, to keep using Tall Tales until IA.
We are selective in the stories throughout Form I— many are simply not a good choice, and it works out because of the page counts to skip those stories.
I want to reiterate, however, that it is definitely not one-sided.
It does not paint Pizarro, Cortez, or Ponce de Leon in a good light. For example, one story says, “Like all the early Spaniards, he was cruel to the Indians and greedy for gold. He made the poor natives work hard, and slew them for the slightest offenses. In consequence, De Leon was hated as were all the Spanish oppressors of that period.”
Again though, these stories are skipped, because of the age that they would be encountered at.
There is also a difference between stating something happened, and glorifying it. It is stated in the Miles Standish story (that WW also skips) “Other mounds contained baskets of corn, which the men very promptly carried away, since they were much in need of it for bread.”
It doesn’t say that it was a good thing to do or a bad thing to do, just that they did it.
Many Europeans are painted in a poor light, and a good one. Indigenous people in general are portrayed as being the victims of treachery quite often, but some are also treacherous.
Because it does not label all people of a certain race good or bad, but instead takes each individual story on its own, we can talk to our kids about how we also can’t judge an entire race good or bad.
Most people are good, but not everyone is, no matter what race or culture they come from. We can— and should, as our children grow — discuss whether or not motivation excuses actions. If you are starving and your family is starving, is it ok to steal? Is it ok to steal food for your hungry family if it means that someone else will go hungry? We know that indigenous people and Europeans both killed each others’ women and children at different times. Is it ok to break your “code of honor” so to speak if it’s in retaliation for injustices done to you and your family? These are all big issues that should be grappled with, and this is where the discussion part of a Charlotte Mason education comes in.
There are some instances where “savages” is used, but the majority of times the indigenous people are called “native people,” “natives,” or “Indians.”
African Americans are usually called “negroes”.
Why do we use America First if there is so much violence and what we now consider some racist content?
Because when those stories are skipped, the remaining ones exemplify what Charlotte Mason recommended for Form I — stories about the people, not abstract concepts or strings of wars, politics, and battles. People profiled in the stories we chose to keep are often stand-up members of their community, or they are standing up for what they believe is right against their community. The stories are interesting and the students that have used this book in our testing have enjoyed it.
What’s a parent to do? First, we do not recommend that you hand this book over to your kids to read on their own, precisely because of these issues. I don’t care what their reading level is, this is one book that you as the parent should be reading to your child, both so you can skip the offending passages, and because some of these stories will warrant discussion.
Second, we expect you to edit on the fly. Is this a CM practice? Absolutely! Charlotte Mason advocated this for even the Bible, and, later, Plutarch. The parent is supposed to run a quick eye over the day’s story before reading so she is aware of what words and passages need to be edited (changed or completely skipped) for her children’s sensibilities.
Consider this from Home Education, page 281:
Given judicious skipping, and a good deal of the free paraphrasing mothers are so ready at, and the children may be taken through the first few volumes of a well-written, illustrated, popular history of England, say as far as the Tudors.
Perhaps one day we will create an edited-for-Wildwood edition of America First.
In the meantime, take a look at the stories we’ve chosen by reading it on archive.org before you decide to buy, and see if you agree with us that the stories we’ve chosen have the feeling we want Form I to have.
Also be aware that we’ve added additional optional biographies of minorities and women to help you balance it even more, if you decide to go that route.
If after all this, you still feel that this book cannot be on your bookshelf, look at the books on the Options page. We hope you can find something that will fit your homeschool.
Marjorie Lang is co-creator of Wildwood Curriculum, and passionate about making a Charlotte Mason education available to everyone.
She blogs at: https://juniperpines.com