PALS is once again excited to announce a guest post — this time by Sonya Lawson-Salmasi, a lecturer at Ohio State University. Lawson-Salmasi writes about using Jane Johnston Schoolcraft in the composition classroom. Find out more about Lawson-Salmasi’s teaching here.
Dr. Yvette DeChavez’s call to decolonize our literature syllabi is particularly relevant in 2019. As DeChavez says “if academia continues to uphold white men as the pinnacle of literature, they’re also upholding white supremacy.” However, such work shouldn’t stop in the literature classroom. We can best serve students in other courses, particularly writing courses, by introducing and analyzing texts that they rarely encounter and issues they often do not consider. This is where Jane Johnston Schoolcraft comes in for me.
PALS has already published an excellent piece on teaching Schoolcraft in 19th century literature classes, and I have taught her work in a variety of literature courses myself. This particular post outlines how I have integrated Schoolcraft into my Second Year Writing courses. In thinking about teaching American Indian writers in composition courses, I relied heavily on the edited collection Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Jessica Safran Hoover’s “Rhetorical Sovereignty in Written Poetry” was exceedingly helpful for reframing Schoolcraft in a rhetorical mode, as it describes how code-switching and translation in poetic works represent survivance and autonomy for American Indian writers. This essay helped me situate the Ojibwe language and the act of translation within a rhetorical context and gave a great theoretical foundation for understanding the importance of translation and language for American Indian culture and literature.
With this theoretical backing, I developed a three-day sequence for two different versions of Second Year Writing. Because these were writing courses, the study of literature needed to serve the efforts of writing instruction. I chose to couple Schoolcraft’s work and my overall discussions on American Indian language and U.S. history within the framework of exploring how claim-evidence-warrant structures work within argumentation. Adding Schoolcraft adds diversity, yes, but also adds an opportunity for students to think through complex cultural assumptions and new forms of argumentation while also giving them an opportunity to tackle big ideas like the way history is written and erased and the place of language in a diverse conception of American culture and history. In working toward decolonizing my writing syllabus, I also expanded critical thinking and understanding of rhetorical situations and argument structures, making such inclusion doubly beneficial for my writing students.
Now, for the nuts and bolts of how I use Schoolcraft in class. Day 1 is all about introducing both Schoolcraft and American Indian poetry in translation. The readings for the day are two poems by Schoolcraft titled “To the Pine Tree on first seeing it on returning from Europe” and “On leaving my children John and Jane at School, in the Atlantic states, and preparing to return to the interior.” These poems are copied from Robert Dale Parker’s edited collection The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (2008). I use this edition specifically because of Parker’s focus on translation and his extensive editorial commentary. Students are asked to read the Ojibwe and English versions of the poems along with Parker’s notes for each.
To begin this day, I give a little lecture where I focus on who Schoolcraft was and her identity as a metís Ojibwe in early 19th century America. Having a very brief intro to the concept of metís culture in early America situates the linguistic, rhetorical, and historical stakes of Schoolcraft’s poetry while introducing the idea that, in some places and at some points in the past, American Indian culture was not always thought of as outside or apart from American culture. However, the bulk of the class is spent on a Think-Pair-Share activity. I use translation as the focal point and ask students to respond with their initial reaction to reading in an unfamiliar language and list some ways they can pinpoint differences between the Ojibwe and English versions of each poem visually.
Just viewing the first stanzas of each poem and translation gives a number of visual clues about meaning and intention in translation. Schoolcraft constructed “Pines” first in Ojibwe then in English. As writer and translator, the intention behind the meaning and form of the poem appears to be similar in both the Ojibwe and English versions. You can visually see the similarities in structure and grammar even if you do not know Ojibwe:
Shing wauk! Shing wauk! nin ge ik id,
Waish kee wau bum ug, shing wauk
Tuh quish in aun nau aub, ain dak nuk i yaun.
Shing wauk, shing wauk No sa
Shi e gwuh ke do dis au naun
Kau gega way zhau wus co zid.
The pine! the pine! I eager cried,
The pine, my father! see it stand,
As first that cherished tree I spied,
Returning to my native land.
The pine! the pine! oh lovely scene!
The pine, that is forever green.
“On leaving” was only written by Schoolcraft in Ojibwe, then translated into English by her husband, and translated differently for Parker in his edition. Each version varies in length, grammar, and structure, which is clearly visible to readers:
JJS Ojibwe Version:
Nyau nin de nain dum
May kow e yaun in
Ain dah nuk ki yaun
Waus saw a kom eg
Ain dah nuk ki yaun
HS (JJS Husband) “free” Translation into English:
Ah! when thought reverts to my country so dear,
My heart fills with pleasure, and throbs with a fear;
My country, my country, my own native land,
So lovely in aspect, in features so grand,
Far, far in the West. What are cities to me,
Oh! land of my mother, compared unto thee?
Newer English Translation (2005) by Dennis Jones, Heidi Stark, and James Vukelich:
As I am thinking
When I find you
Far in the west
Seeing how translation by the author verses translation by others differs can point students toward an understanding of how connections with theme, intention, or audience change depending on who is writing/translating and how they are writing/translating. Both poems touch on issues of home, love, and family, yet the varied specific subject matter and personal issues at the center of each could mandate how and why Schoolcraft decided to construct the poem in a given language(s). In seeing her choices (and non-choices) in language on the page in front of them, students begin to think through the ways Schoolcraft’s Ojibwe/English usage may reflect what she valued in each poem and why, rhetorically, she would decide to translate or not translate.
Day 2 introduces argument structures in connection with our understanding of Schoolcraft and the work of centering American Indian language and literary history. The readings for this day are a brief outline of Claim-Evidence-Warrant structures I created and a short book review of Parker’s edition by Margaret Noori – “Bicultural Before There Was a Word for It.” This review focuses on how language is used, discussed, and presented by Parker, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, and Henry Schoolcraft (her first editor). It presents a clear argument about the value of the recovery work Parker did in order to create this unique collection.
We begin the class with a review of what constitutes a good claim, how evidence should concretely connect to a good claim, and how implicit/explicit warrants function. We then use Noori as a way to think about these new argument concepts. I give students 10 minutes to review their Noori article, asking them to find as many claims as they can. We then, as a class, list claims on the board and break each down, seeing what evidence is used and how they are connected through warrants. This is a day where argument is the central focus, and it shows how writing instruction can still include examples and texts that value the work of indigenous voices and present indigenous issues that may be ignored in the writing classroom.
Day 3 is about dictionaries, language, and history-making – something students don’t often consider. The reading is light, just a short, translated Ojibwe story from Schoolcraft – “The Origin of the Robin.” We start with a lecture on the creation of English and American-English dictionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries, connecting each to concepts of nationalism and exclusion through language. This leads into a viewing of “Marie’s Dictionary,” a 2015 short documentary (9:36), which follows Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of Wukchumi, in her efforts to create/record Wukchumi stories and a dictionary so her American Indian language can potentially survive after her. After viewing the film, we discuss Schoolcraft’s work in translating Ojibwe stories into English and how the two projects highlight language, history, culture, and preservation.
Afterward, we do a quick Pass the Claim activity. Students create claims regarding the subject matter for the day then think of possible concrete evidence from the texts (story, editorial notes, and film) to support the claim created by a fellow classmate. Finally, they pair up and discuss how the evidence works with the claim and what implicit and explicit warrants would function within that structure. For example, one student could make a straight-forward claim like “Using language helps preserve culture.” The second student could then point to particular moments in Wilcox’s story of dictionary creation and Schoolcraft’s practice of translating Ojibwe stories into English as two different ways in which this claim could be supported with concrete evidence. Paired conversations about implicit warrants could then focus on particular cultural beliefs we have today about language and culture or the importance of preserving forms of both for future generations. The explicit warrant discussion would require the pair work together to literally put claim and evidence in writing to see what logical moves, explicit explanations, or style issues are needed to make such evidence connect with the claim. By using Schoolcraft and Marie’s Dictionary for an activity that could actually be done with a wide variety of different texts, they not only become familiar with these complex and diverse language issues, but also become acclimated to creating arguments about such issues and using a variety of sources that show differing ways of knowing/arguing in an academic context.
Doing work with and through a figure like Jane Johnston Schoolcraft in the writing classroom refines and complicates assumptions about what American language is and who has and does participate in creating and sustaining literature and culture in America. All of this brings diversity in text and thought while reinforcing issues of language, style, argument, and textual creation central to a writing classroom. My process of decolonizing my courses is a continual process. As a white woman, I have a responsibility to use my privilege to open space for other voices that are not privileged in our society and to, as De Chavez states, “push against whiteness as a default” in all classes, whether it is a literature or writing course.
DeChavez, Yvette. “It’s Time to Decolonize That Syllabus.” Los Angeles Times, 08 October 2018. https://www.latimes.com/books/la-et-jc-decolonize-syllabus-20181008-story.html. Accessed 9 August 2019.
Hoover, Jessica Safran. “Rhetorical Sovereignty in Written Poetry: Survivance through Code-Switching and Translation in Laura Tohe’s Tséyí/Deep in the Rock – Reflections on Canyon de Chelley.” Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain King, eds. Utah State UP, 2015.
mhrange. “Teaching Jane Johnston Schoolcraft.” Pedagogy and American Literary Studies. 25 September 2017. https://teachingpals.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/teaching-jane-johnston-schoolcraft/. Accessed 9 August 2019.
Noori, Margaret. “Bilingual Before There Was a Word for It.” Wellesley Centers for Women. Update 2019. https://www.wcwonline.org/WRB-Issues/bicultural-before-there-was-a-word-for-it. Accessed 9 August 2019.
Parker, Robert Dale. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. U Penn Press, 2008.
Vaughan-Lee, Emmanuel. “Marie’s Dictionary.” Global Onenesss Project. Accessed 16 September 2019. https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/films/maries-dictionary.
Bio: Dr. Sonya Lawson-Salmasi received her MA in English Studies from the University of Louisville and her PhD in 17th-18th Century Transatlantic Literature from Miami University. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at The Ohio State University. There she occasionally teaches literature courses when needed, but the bulk of her teaching work is in First- and Second-Year Writing courses. She has presented on her teaching at a wide variety of national conferences such as the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Multi-Ethnic Literatures in the United States conference. When not teaching, Sonya enjoys spoiling her cat, reading romance novels, and watching horror films. You can learn more about her teaching here.