This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Peter Cozzens, the award-winning author of The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West. As National Native American Heritage Month winds down, Mr. Cozzens reviews what our schoolchildren should know about Native Peoples’ innumerable contributions and heart-wrenching experiences. He discusses the life and importance of Tecumseh, the early 19th-century Shawnee Indian chief and warrior, who was the architect of the broadest pan-Indian confederation in U.S. history. Mr. Cozzens also provides a sneak preview of his spring 2023 book on Andrew Jackson, the Creek War, and the Trail of Tears, among the most tragic episodes in our nation’s history. They discuss major figures and events that shaped the American West after the Civil War, and the interview concludes with a reading from Cozzens’ book, Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Heroic Struggle of America’s Heartland.
Stories of the Week: In Boston, public school enrollment among Black students has declined by 50 percent over the past two decades. Is the district’s outdated school selection process driving families to charter schools? Companies like IBM, Google, and Delta Airlines are waiving standard college-degree requirements for new hires, focusing more on skills and experience – is this a short-term solution to address the labor market shortage, or a practice that’s here to stay?
Peter Cozzens is the best-selling, international-award-winning author of eighteen books of American history. His The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West was awarded the prestigious Gilder-Lehrman Prize in 2017 for the best book published on military history in the English language. Tecumseh and the Prophet: The Heroic Struggle of America’s Heartland, was a finalist for the George Washington Prize and winner of the Western Writers of America spur award. His works have been published in translation in China, Russia, Spain, and Italy, among other countries. A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South, the concluding volume in his trilogy on America’s westward expansion will be published in April 2023. Cozzens also is a retired senior Foreign Service officer. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he served as a captain in the U. S. Army.
The next episode will air on Weds., December 7th, with Betsy DeVos, a former United States Secretary of Education and the author of the book, Hostages No More: The Fight for Education Freedom and the Future of the American Child.
Tweet of the Week:
— The 74 (@The74) November 26, 2022
Boston schools lost 15,000 Black students in the past 20 years. Where did they go, and will they ever return?
WSJ: Employers Rethink Need for College Degrees in Tight Labor Market
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] Cara: Learning curve listeners, this is Cara Candal, fresh off World Cup-giving / Thanksgiving. I have lots of, eating time with family and nail biting due to Argentina’s performance in the first game of the World Cup, their recovery against Mexico. And I was working today, but I might have also been watching the USA team play.
[00:00:55] So, Gerard, how are you doing? Are , you doing World’s Cup giving too, or [00:01:00] were you just a Thanksgiving guy all.
[00:01:02] GR: Thanksgiving guy all the way, American football
[00:01:06] Peter: all the way, but have not
[00:01:08] GR: followed the World Cups. So I am ashamed to say, I don’t know where red, white and blue are
[00:01:12] Peter: at this point.
[00:01:14] Cara: No, they’re doing well.
[00:01:15] You know, in my house, of course it’s sacrilege, we’re rooting for the blue and white , and it gets a little crazy. Around these parts, I have to say. Yeah. At one point, my entire family, I think I might have already told you this, woke up at 4 45 in the morning to watch the first game, which was tragic.
[00:01:30] Uh, Wow. Argentina. Yeah. I mean, really this new off sides world, but also Saudi Arabia sort of slammed them. Rumor has it, the Amir of Saudi Arabia bought every player on the team a Rolls Royce for beating Argentina. Which, you know, wow. I mean, I don’t know if it’s true, so I heard, so I heard but no, I had to say though, the red, white, and blue.
[00:01:52] I think they’re looking pretty good. Certainly better than they were . Okay. And cups passed. So I think [00:02:00] it’s a pretty big deal, but I’m happy that this is it’s, I tell you, you gotta get into the beautiful game. It’s really sort of like a world community, Gerard. It’s pretty, pretty amazing.
[00:02:09] Although for my friends who are watching it in English, I really highly recommend watching it on Telemundo, even if you don’t understand what they’re paying. It is false entertaining in. So, but tell me about your time with family and, and in usual George Robinson forum. I’m sure you didn’t indulge in the pecan pie or the apple pie or any of the, any of the pies.
[00:02:31] No, you’re so good. None
[00:02:32] Peter: of the
[00:02:32] GR: pies. But I did have almond ice cream, so that was really good. And traditional food collared greens, big potato, I should say candy Gs it was all good stuff. Just, you know, minus of Turkey, but it was a good event hung. Family of ours who lives in Virginia.
[00:02:48] And after that we
[00:02:50] Peter: went to
[00:02:50] GR: Philadelphia. And the middle daughter participated in a prom with one of the guy friends that she met. At an event. So that was a [00:03:00] great event to get to Philly and to see the next generation of people go through early proms. I
[00:03:05] Peter: remember that like it was yesterday.
[00:03:07] Wow. So it was
[00:03:08] GR: food. Yeah. Fun and high school
[00:03:11] Peter: memories all in
[00:03:12] Cara: one. It’s hard to believe you’ve got a high school prom on your hands. Wow. It put me in the category of not ready for that Gerard, but it’s coming up on me . Pretty soon too. So, wow. One, I’m glad you had, you had a wonderful time. And you know, here we.
[00:03:26] Gearing up for winter for some of us it’s a long holiday season. For many of us it will. We’re looking for a little bit of respite in a couple of weeks, no matter whether or not you celebrate the, the Christmas holiday. I have to tell you, Gerard, I’ve been on fire these past couple days, not just about the World Cup, but about some of what’s going on in the news locally here in Boston.
[00:03:46] So I wanted to take some time. To talk about that today. Certainly on the learning curve before I have been a, what shall we say, a sort of a harsh critic of what’s been going on in our own Boston Public [00:04:00] schools. You know, the drama of will they, won’t they put the school system in receivership and will the mayor come to an agreement with the ed commissioner?
[00:04:07] And of course, true to form nothing much of meaning happens, but. Something meaningful that is going on in our community is that the Boston Globe has been for years publishing this just amazing series called The Great Divide, and it shines a spotlight on, lots of things going on in Boston who’s really looking at Boston Public Schools and what’s going on.
[00:04:30] Now one of the things that the Great Divide has been highlighting recently that we have also talked about on this show is the really the huge decline in enrollment in Boston Public Schools, which has multiple ramifications. But this latest article really hones in on. How many black students Boston Public Schools is losing.
[00:04:53] So this great divide article, peace, not even article. It’s amazing. I can, I highly recommend it to our readers by Jenna [00:05:00] Russell and Christopher Huffer. And I’m so sorry Mr. Christopher, if I’ve mispronounced your last name, the title is, Boston schools lost 15,000 black students in the past 20 years.
[00:05:13] Where did they go and will they ever return? Now, you know, there’s been this narrative during the pandemic that we’ve certainly discussed here that many black families are. Choosing a homeschool now, like so in numbers that they hadn’t in the past or that they hadn’t pre pandemic. I think that’s probably happening in Boston, but there are a lot of things going on in Boston that contribute to the decline in enrollment of black families, which as we’ll find out in a minute, is it’s just a really important part of not only Boston’s history, but Boston public schools have traditionally.
[00:05:44] Far more black students in the public school system than sort of what is represented in the greater Boston community. So let me put it another way. in Boston, as in many urban centers, we know that birth rates are declining. The rising cost of housing is pushing all types of [00:06:00] people out. But the thing is here, what the Great Divide article recognizes is that just.
[00:06:05] Dissatisfaction, in some cases, much stronger words than dissatisfaction could be used with Boston Public Schools is a huge reason that black families are leaving Boston. So to put this in perspective, the city of Boston is about 19% black, but the schools, the public schools have long hovered around being 40% black, right?
[00:06:27] So that you had this sort of disproportionate representation meaning. The way I think of it is that white families, as they have historically, certainly when we desegregated our schools, who not only fled to the suburbs, but to private schools during that really difficult time white families continue to do that.
[00:06:45] Many white families that live in Boston certainly not all of them have the means to do so, but they choose other options private schools and that’s reflected in the composition of Boston’s public schools. But recently, you know, those numbers have. Then going down. And [00:07:00] according to surveys from a lot of black families, they’re just, they’re fed up.
[00:07:03] They’re tired of waiting for schools to get better. Now, one feature of this Gerard that I just find fascinating is, as you may know, Boston uses a lottery system, a system of. Air quote, school choice that allows families to sort of rank the schools they wanna attend. Now, I think that when this system was instituted, it was instituted in good faith, the idea that families would have more choices.
[00:07:25] And also the idea here was that when families failed to choose certain schools, it would reveal that those schools weren’t serving families well. And I think the idea of folks, certainly like my mentor, Charlie Glenn, who was a big part of this lottery system in the beginning. The idea was then you would then close those schools if families didn’t want them, cuz you could look under the hood and probably find out that something was wrong.
[00:07:48] But the fact of the matter is that the lottery system, according to the families interviewed in this piece, has become a huge burden for a number of reasons. Number one families are encouraged to put sometimes upwards of 20.[00:08:00] on their list, like, so 20 schools ranking them in the order of which they would wanna attend.
[00:08:04] And in many cases, families aren’t even getting something in the top 15. Right. So they’re, they’re ranking schools hoping that they might be able to go to the good neighborhood school down the street or, and due to the, some, an algorithm developed by the city. Most of the time families aren’t getting their top choices.
[00:08:20] I can testify that many of the Boston based families that use the private school that my kids attend are all families that have been waiting to get into a school of choice in the Boston Lottery, and many of them never ever do. So they end up paying private school tuition if they can afford it. And part of the reason I think this is happening, Gerard, is because the system, meaning Boston Public Schools, You know, well, the system, meaning the city, because the mayor leads the Boston Public Schools they’ve failed to close schools.
[00:08:48] They have, they’ve just utterly overtime not only failed to close underperforming schools, but they have propped schools up that have dwindling enrollment, which is expensive, and [00:09:00] a really silly investment to make. There’s this just utter, you know, resistance to closing schools in a responsible way for the.
[00:09:10] Of kids. So I wanna point out a poll that’s in this article, and I found this to be just, it, it heartbreaking, it’s fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. So a poll conducted by Mass Inc. And the Shaw Foundation found that just 34% of the district’s black parents, Would choose a Boston public school If they had the option to send their child to any type of school, 25%, they’d prefer a private school, and 36% said that they would prefer a charter school. Now, remember Gerard. Here in the city of Boston, we’ve got a cap on the number of charter schools seats that can exist. Yes. It’s seats not schools.
[00:09:48] And so we haven’t been able to expand the charter sector in any meaningful way really for much longer than 20 years, but one could say since about 2010, 2011. And so families are just actively [00:10:00] being shut out. Of the schools that they’re saying they want and they need. And our charter schools continue to be disproportionately populated by black families because they want them according to this poll.
[00:10:10] and it’s because of special interest groups that just adamantly refuse to allow more charters into a system that has clearly been failing for years. And it’s, you know, I wanna quote. One of the families that was interviewed for this article, and she says, I won’t name her, but she says, this school system serves mostly black and brown families in a city with all the resources it needs to succeed at education.
[00:10:33] Remember folks, you can throw a rock and hit like 20 institutions of higher education. From anywhere in the city of Boston. Good ones too. So this, city has all the resources it needs to succeed at education. So when it fails generation after generation, it begins to appear intentional. This mother says to me, it speaks to Will.
[00:10:53] You can do great things in Boston. You can build a new neighborhood in the seaport, A very expense. Area [00:11:00] of town that is quite new. You could bury a highway to create the Greenway, which is a park here. But when it comes to bps, you choose not to. So this article goes on to, explain the many reasons why parents are actively choosing, not just to leave the system, but sometimes to leave the city in order to get out of the system.
[00:11:21] And, you know, I think the only bright side of this is that the article also notes that increasing. Black families compared to in the past have the resources to get themselves out of the city and go to suburban schools, go to private schools figure out anything to avoid. And that’s also sad because for people who want to live in the city of Boston who have deep connections to and families in the city of Boston, the fact that our public schools just adamantly.
[00:11:46] Refuse. I think the people in charge of for so long refuse to help them live up to their potential is just a tragedy for generations of kids. So I sort of came into the week really on fire thinking about this. It’s been. [00:12:00] Not quite a year, but it’s been almost a year since Pioneer Institute published a report on an audit that was conducted of Boston Public Schools years ago.
[00:12:08] as I said, not much has been done. We do have a new superintendent in charge of bps. I hope that she can fulfill the promise. I wish her all the best of luck. This system has a track record of absolutely eating district leaders alive , and it’s been a very long time since we’ve had somebody who stayed in the post long enough to be successful.
[00:12:27] But I think the Boston Globe for this just wonderful reporting and really shining a light on what continues to be, I think truly the shame of our city. The fact that so few parents are satisfied with the options that they have in a. That is known for education nationwide and in fact the world over. So Gerard, I’ve gone on for long.
[00:12:52] I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
[00:12:55] GR: to hear the fire continue. As many of you know, I went to Harvard Education School back in the [00:13:00] nineties. I’ve got a number of friends who graduated from different schools in Boston who, African American. Some had children when they were in graduate , school. Others had a family once they left, and they’re in the Boston area. And so the story you’re sharing with me is a story of Boston. But it’s a story of 10 other cities, but we’ll stick with Boston. You’re right. A lot of families who have means leave the city and one of the main reasons they leave isn’t because of crime.
[00:13:28] It’s because of lack of educational opportunity. If you look at polling data, one of
[00:13:32] GR: the top three
[00:13:33] GR: reasons families leave, particularly black families, When I talk to families in Boston, it’s education, and so that’s something that’s unique. The great thing is you’ve got Brookline Cambridge, your neighborhood.
[00:13:46] You have other enclaves around Boston that people are moving to for schools and they will tell you, They wanna stay in Boston. There’s a lot of culture activity and their jobs are in Boston, but they find themselves having to drop their kid at school, or [00:14:00] he or she will get on the bus and then they have to come to work and then they have to work out, you know, pick up afterward.
[00:14:05] Number two, private schools have been and will be for the next 20 years, a safe haven for the black middle class. Who have given up on public schools, not the promise of public education, not the ideas of democracy, but the rhetoric hasn’t met the reality, so they’re putting their kids in private schools.
[00:14:23] Third, Boston has some of the best charter schools in the country when people had an opportunity to lift the cap. They decided to listen to the crap and that led to thousands of families not having opportunity to get into great schools. I had a chance to visit Mystic Valley Charter School a few weeks ago to see it in person.
[00:14:41] GR: Very diverse school.
[00:14:43] GR: Number of African Americans, or I should say black students cuz some are African Americans, some are Haitian Americans. So the story you’re telling
[00:14:49] GR: is one of something
[00:14:51] GR: that black middle class families in particular have had to deal. But the black poor often aren’t given the opportunity to pivot.
[00:14:58] And that’s one of the reasons I’ve been a [00:15:00] proponent of parental choice going back to 1991, and particularly for low incoming middle class families. The new superintendent, I don’t know him or her. We’ll see what happens, but I’m gonna stay cautiously. Un optimistic because this isn’t a money problem cuz Boston Public Schools got a lot of money.
[00:15:19] It’s not a resource problem. You have some of the smartest people in the country at Boston College, Boston
[00:15:24] GR: U, Harvard Ed School, Simmons
[00:15:26] GR: College. You have the brain power there. It’s not because we don’t know what it takes to educate and keep great. This is what it has been and what Ron Edmond said in the 1983 article.
[00:15:38] This is a political will problem and the will just isn’t there. And so when it’s not, families will will themselves through hook or crook, even if it means, as someone will say, stealing an education by using the address of someone else to go to a better school in light of possibly being arrested, which we’ve seen in other places.
[00:15:55] So I hear you
[00:15:57] GR: now. I’m fired.
[00:15:59] Cara: I like to hear that [00:16:00] fire , what’s, what’s on your mind this week? What’s your fire?
[00:16:03] GR: So mine is a
[00:16:04] GR: different type of fire. The students that you and. I’ve spent our career and families and educators working with is to get them to college. But guess what? College education is going to go through a radical education, not solely because governors who recently been elected or reelected the office say that they want to revamp higher ed, not because higher ed wants to revamp itself, although it’s been doing so, it’s because the guard rail.
[00:16:30] To what it means to leave college and go to the workforce or to go to high school is being changed by employers. So my article is from the Wall Street Journal. Austin Huffer wrote an article titled Employers We Think Need for College Degrees in a Tight Labor Market. So when I name the companies who decided themselves to change the requirements to enter a job at the company that no longer so.
[00:16:57] A four year degree is now [00:17:00] optional, but they’re saying if you got the skills, you can come in. Listen to this alphabet company, Google Delta Airlines, IBM are just amongst the few. For profit higher ed companies
[00:17:12] GR: who have reduced the educational requirements
[00:17:15] GR: for certain positions at their company, they’ve even shifted the focus from degree to skill and experience.
[00:17:22] Do you still
[00:17:23] GR: need a degree
[00:17:24] GR: for a lot of jobs? Absolutely. But what these CEOs and HR directors are saying is that we want people who have great skills and they’ve got data on their side. So if you look at 2019 when Burning Glass Institute,
[00:17:36] GR: which is the think tank that studies the future of work, and I’ve
[00:17:39] GR: taken a look at their work for a number of years, particularly when I got introduced to them through some colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute in 20 19, 40 6%
[00:17:48] GR: of the jobs required a bachelor’s.
[00:17:52] Well, right now that number’s dropped to
[00:17:53] GR: 41%. Still high. But it’s a drop. But there’s another factor in place right [00:18:00] now. There are 10.7 million openings in
[00:18:03] GR: September of this year across the country for jobs
[00:18:06] GR: compared to 5.8 million people who are unemployed. So there’s really a lot of
[00:18:10] GR: competition going on for jobs right
[00:18:12] GR: now.
[00:18:13] And guess what people are saying? I think we need to reshuffle the requirements to get through the door. So let me give you an example
[00:18:22] GR: of a real world.
[00:18:24] GR: Who’s given an opportunity and. To pivot. So let’s take a look at Lucy Mathis. She won a scholarship to attend a Women in Computer Science conference.
[00:18:34] While she was there, she learned about an internship
[00:18:36] GR: at Google, and
[00:18:38] GR: the internship said, we’re gonna put you through a program, provide you the training. And guess what? If things work out, we can offer you a job. Well, what Lucy decided to do was she eventually dropped out of her computer science undergrad program and decided to become a full-time employee.
[00:18:54] Right now she’s 28. She makes a six figure salary and she’s a [00:19:00] systems analyst. And when asked about this idea, she said, listen, I found out that I have a knack for it. And then she said, I’m not good at a. It’s not for me. More than a hundred thousand people in the United States have actually
[00:19:15] GR: completed Google’s
[00:19:16] GR: online college alternative program that offers fast track training and fast track opportunity to jobs.
[00:19:25] It and more than 150 other companies are now using a program to hire entry level workers across the board. And so when I think about ibm, and I’m old enough to remember when it was big blue and when in the fifties, sixties, seventies, early eighties, it was the dominant computer company. And if you had a degree in engineering or IT or computer science, she worked for IBM Today, of course, people still could go to ibm.
[00:19:49] But the marketplace is, is broader than it was then. And so even IBM said they were no longer
[00:19:54] GR: required a four
[00:19:56] GR: year degree for certain jobs, and this was done if the company decided to [00:20:00] do an internal review of its hiring practices. Yes, there’s still jobs that will require it, but there’s several that will not, but that’s the only ibm.
[00:20:08] Let’s talk about Walmart, who’s a country’s largest private. Fighter, they’ve been a particular uh, proponent of skills and knowledge, and they identified through an internal research that 75% of its US salaried store managers actually started their careers in an hourly job. And so, according to Walmart, executive Vice
[00:20:28] GR: President, Kathleen McLaughlin, quote, we don’t require degrees for most of our.
[00:20:34] GR: In the field and increasingly in the home office as well. And so ibm Walmart are moving in that direct direction. Now, let’s put that into perspective in terms of what it means for the long term. The research shows that you still have an economic advantage if you earn a college degree. So
[00:20:51] GR: according to a 2021 report by the Center on Education
[00:20:55] GR: and the workforce at Georgetown University, they identified that someone.
[00:20:59] GR: Who has a [00:21:00]
[00:21:00] GR: bachelor’s degree will earn 2.8 million million over his or her lifetime. Someone with a high school diploma, 1.6 million. So there’s a gap there, but you could still do great things. But what this article is telling us is that someone with a high school diploma who then decides to pursue technical training, skills level management, he or she, in fact, can earn.
[00:21:23] The 2.6 million. While we don’t know, at least I don’t know, or this report didn’t identify the data who’s to say that that person may not be in the two million range? There’s also, of course, the issue of sending students to college and the student having to take out a loan to go to
[00:21:36] GR: school. We know that right now that 43
[00:21:39] GR: million people hold 1.6 trillion in student debt.
[00:21:43] But I think what was most exciting to me was not. Hearing what businesses
[00:21:47] GR: are doing, but
[00:21:48] GR: what are states doing. And so the outgoing governor of Maryland decided to do an internal review of the hiring practices for Maryland. So after a year and a half of looking at internal data for the state and state [00:22:00] hiring, Maryland decided that it was going to move forward with reducing the number of jobs, requiring a four year diploma.
[00:22:06] And guess what? There was a 41% jump in the number of people who were applying and later getting hired. Jobs. So the government decided to be an entrepreneur and to take on this work. So, I think this was a great article. It’s something that you and I have talked about. We’ve actually had people on the show who are social entrepreneurs, who are employers who are talking about skills.
[00:22:25] I know, and I
[00:22:26] GR say this as being a board member of America Succeeds
[00:22:29] GR: we actually uh, supported , study where our, our organization. 80 million
[00:22:34] GR: job
[00:22:35] GR: postings from 2020 to 2021, and they identified several durable skills needed for the workforce. So I would say employers should take a look at that as well.
[00:22:44] And if we think that this is something young people just thought about,
[00:22:48] GR: That’s actually not true. There’s
[00:22:50] GR: a non-profit organization called E C M C Group their non-profit group headquartered in Minneapolis. They actually have polled teens, particularly Gen Z [00:23:00] teens, to see what they think about high school and life afterward.
[00:23:03] And they’ve identified according to a study from 2022, that 51% of gen. Teens who were
[00:23:11] GR: considering a four year degree are now
[00:23:14] GR: saying they’re thinking about some other options and lanes to walk in order to earn a living.
[00:23:19] GR: So
[00:23:19] GR: this is a trend that’s moving
[00:23:20] GR: forward. What are your thoughts?
[00:23:23] Cara: I will be very succinct.
[00:23:24] My thoughts are, thank you, business community for forcing some change into a structure that has seemed immovable for so long because I think this is actually what is gonna change the game, not top down policies that seek to, make college more affordable or whatever it’s gonna. businesses taking the lead and states reacting in meaningful ways to make these options accessible.
[00:23:46] I’m also thinking Gerard, that, believe it or not, it is time to bring in our guest. So in just a moment, we are going to be speaking with Peter Cousins. He’s the award-winning author of the Earth Is [00:24:00] weeping, coming up right after.[00:25:00]
[00:25:12] We are pleased to welcome Peter Cozzens to the Learning Curve. He is the bestselling international award-winning author of, 18 Books of American History that might be close to the record for the learning curve. His book, the Earth is weeping. The epic story of the Indian Wars for the American West was awarded the prestigious Gilder Lehrman Prize in 2017 for the best book published on military history in the English language to come see in the prophet.
[00:25:38] The heroic struggle of America’s heartland was a finalist for the George Washington Prize and winner of the Western writers of. Spur Award. His works have been published in translation in China, Russia, Spain, and Italy, among other countries, a brutal reckoning. Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South.
[00:25:58] The concluding volume [00:26:00] in his trilogy on America’s Westward expansion will be published in April, 2023. Cozzens is also a retired senior foreign service officer. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he served as a captain. In the US Army. Peter Cozzens, thank you so much for being with us today on the Learning Curve.
[00:26:17] Nice to meet.
[00:26:18] Peter: thank you very much for having me. I, I It’s a pleasure.
[00:26:22] Cara: Yeah. Well, we’re really excited to dig in here. As we don’t have to tell you, November is national Native American Heritage Month. Now we’re coming up on December. So we’re, we’re getting close, but we’re happy to be able to do this in the month of November.
[00:26:35] So I’ve already told our listeners how many books you’ve published on this topic, and you’ve just completed. An award-winning trilogy about American Indians, which covers much of the 19th century. one of the things we like to talk about here on the learning curve is like what students need to know and what we should be thinking about in schools.
[00:26:52] If my own education is any indicator it was just horribly lacking when it came to learning [00:27:00] about the native pupils of this country. can you tell us what you wish would be taught in schools when it it comes to this?
[00:27:06] Peter: Three or four key things. I think , that have emerged for me in the course of writing all three books in my trilogy.
[00:27:13] First, that it can clearly be stated that the American Indians never started a war against. The United States against the whites, however you want to put it, without provocation. Throughout , , the long history of Catholic from the late 18th century until the late 19th century with notably few exceptions, native Americans showed remarkable restraint.
[00:27:41] In the face of, of white encroachment on their lands and, white efforts to, to compromise their way of life. and also a, a real desire to avoid conflict. I think that’s an important point to make. I, I came to recognize a great deal of difference between [00:28:00] tribe. Indian tribes East, the Mississippi, those who lived historically east, the Mississippi and, and west of the Appalachians and they, those who lived west of Mississippi, just it seems to have been a number of features that were common tribes on the opposite size of that river.
[00:28:19] Among nearly all the tribes, you see a deep sense of the divine uh, a deep, deep spirituality that pervaded all aspects of American Indian life, regardless of tribe. Another thing that really impressed me too, and I, I still have trouble comprehending this is the great multiplicity of languages that existed among American Indian tribes.
[00:28:46] and by the time white Americans to use the term of the, of the time made contact with many of these tribes, they had already been greatly reduced by diseases like smallpox and influenza that had [00:29:00] reached them before the whites, and so they were much smaller. But even so, largest of the tribes.
[00:29:06] Never numbered again during the period after white contact, more than 20, 25,000 people, and some of the tribes only numbered several hundred or maybe a thousand or 2000. Yet they all had a distinct language. Granted, they were descended from perhaps similar language groups, but they had unique languages, and they were, rich languages.
[00:29:28] And I, I, I find it remarkable. Tribes that were no larger than, you know, a small town in the United States or a large village would have a unique language. And that, that struck me profoundly too. So I think, and the last point too is that particularly in the case of the tribes in the American West, and you could say this I guess overall too, it was never a sense among the American Indians of being.
[00:29:54] one people again, particularly among the tribes of the West, until it was really kind of too [00:30:00] late to, withstand American expansion. Indians thought of themselves, first and foremost as members of a tribe or of a plan within their tribe. And so I think those are important, all important points to keep in mind that the American Indians thought of themselves and I think continue to do in some measure.
[00:30:18] Members of a tribe, person, foremost, that a great sense of the divine pervaded the American Indian peoples. And that they did not look for warfare. They looked with, you know, encouraging white Americans. They looked to accommodate whenever it was feasible. Wow. I can
[00:30:36] Cara: certainly put all of those things on the list of things that were certainly never explicitly taught or even implied in my own education.
[00:30:44] Granted, it was mainly in the 1980s and nineties. But this is, these are really, I think, Important points for us to think about. I’d like to pick up on this idea of the great diversity, not only linguistic diversity, but I’m sure cultural diversity that [00:31:00] existed when white Americans, so to speak, came, to this land and encountered all these different tribes.
[00:31:06] And you, you note that Native Americans didn’t start to think of themselves as one people. Probably many still don’t today. I should correct myself as one. People united against white Americans until it was too late. And you have written in 2020 in your book to coma and the prophet you wrote about
[00:31:27] Two Midwestern Shawnee Brothers actually who architected sort of this pan-Indian confederation. Can you tell us about
[00:31:36] And his efforts at creating. Inner tribal unity as well as his support for the British during the war of 1812, which is fascinating stuff,
[00:31:46] Peter: it’s difficult to, to, to summarize in a few minutes, but essentially Tecumseh was an exception to the rule. He recognized as the, had Chief Pontiac in the [00:32:00] 1760.
[00:32:00] He realized that only. Uniting could, and this in case it comes to we’re speaking of the, the region of the Great Lakes and the present day Midwest, that was the domain in which he operated. And he, he recognized that only by uniting and presenting a united front against American expansion, could the Indians have a chance of preserving their way of.
[00:32:28] In the first years of the, 19th century, the United States made a number of treaties with portions of tribes in the Midwest to carve away their land. And it was fairly nefarious treaties, often lubricated with alcohol and bribes and to come. So recognize that. We’ve gotta stand together, stand united, because if we don’t we have simply no chance of resisting The Americans, they’re too numerous.
[00:32:58] they’re too conniving and they’re [00:33:00] negotiating and, and we just, the only chance we have is to stick together in terms of, of his support. For the British, it was really, And alliance. I don’t wanna say a of convenience, but it was a mutual benefit. The British recognized that, the United States wanted to expand into Canada and if possible, seas of British Canada.
[00:33:23] There was a real powerful movement in the years leading up to the war of 1812 to to cease Canada and. A British threat completely from the North American continent and the British being engaged as they were in war. Napoleon, on the continent in Europe recognized that without Indian allies to fight the Americans, they didn’t stand much of a chance themselves of resisting any American effort to take Canada because again, they , were, stretched in in Europe.
[00:33:55] And so, Kind of natural. Again, alliance [00:34:00] emerged in which the British in good faith promised to come to Allied Indian. That if they and the British were to prevail against the Americans in the war of 18, 12, whatever land they were able to seize and hold the British would guarantee any negotiations with Americans at the end of the war that that land would.
[00:34:23] Indian homeland and would be invi. And we’re talking about essentially modern day Michigan, modern day Wisconsin, Minnesota, and a good part of, Indiana as well as northernmost Ohio. As you read my book that comes from the prophet I think the reader will be surprised that there were numerous times when the British and their Indian allies came close to achieving their objective and to actually winning the war.
[00:34:50] ultimately they lost for various reasons. But that was the nature of the relationship between the British and Tecumseh and his Indian Alliance in a nutshell. [00:35:00] And I should add two things. You know, like the book is about both him and his brother. 10 Satwa, no one better known as a Shawnee prophet.
[00:35:08] And he is very important because to American Indians prophets. Those who were recognized as having a genuine link with the divine, with the master of life, the great Spirit with God. Those who were perceived as having that were held in high esteem by American Indians and thanks futa because of a remarkable vision that he had and a creed that he developed from that.
[00:35:35] Was considered to be a legitimate prophet and he was able beginning 1805 to unite members of, about a dozen disparate tribes throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest region as followers of his kind of native revival. Social and religious movement that held that if the [00:36:00] Indians return to a pure way of life, that all the setbacks that they had experienced at the hands of Americans would be rectified By God, by the Great Spirit, and to come to built on that alliance to create his political military alliance to oppose American encroachment. So the two kind of worked together in a, symbiotic relationship, and they, came the closest, if any, any Indians to having success. And they created the.
[00:36:30] Can Indian Alliance at the United States, the Western American Republic would ever face by far.
[00:36:38] Cara: I feel so fortunate to be learning about these figures that I’ve heard of, but , you know, wasn’t fortunate enough to learn about prior. Now you’ve got a book coming out very soon here, and it’s about an episode in American History that I think a lot of people.
[00:36:52] Think they know about. Um, And the title of your book is a Brutal Reckoning. Just really, really quickly, could you [00:37:00] give us a sneak peek of the major findings related to, Andrew Jackson, the Creek War, and what we all know is the Trail of Tears.
[00:37:09] Peter: I use the term brutal reckoning in the largest possible sense, but we have here, and this the event, the principle events in this book actually.
[00:37:19] More or less simultaneously with the events of Incu from the prophet to come from the prophet, you know, deals with a conflict north of the Ohio River, modern Midwest. And the events in a brutal reckoning deal with the forcible removal eventually of Indians from the American South. And we’re speaking specifically of what became known as the four civilized tribes, the creeks, chalks, Chickasaws, and the Cherokees these tribes together controlled most of the deep south, the alone at the time of the Creek War in 1812.
[00:37:59] When that, when [00:38:00] it began, their. Included all of Alabama about a third, the western third of, of modern Georgia, and a little bit of, eastern Mississippi. So they, control a vast swath of land, including the richest cotton growing land in the South, the so-called black belt, which is named at, not because of black slaves, but because of richness of the soil and.
[00:38:25] The war was begun. As a result. It started as a, as a creek civil war, and then eventually became a war between the United States and elements of the creeks called the red Sticks, who opposed white inroads that whites were beginning to make on creek land and impositions they were making on the creeks and their efforts to change the creek way of life.
[00:38:47] It was an interesting. Time because the United States government was, preoccupied fighting the British in the war of 1812. The creek war began with the bloodies. Massacre of [00:39:00] whites and mixed blood people by American Indians in American history. The Fort Men’s Massacre modern day Southwestern Alabama, which over 300 men, women, and children perished.
[00:39:13] But the government was too preop by fighting the British to really deal with this and this profound threat to the security of the American South. So it was led principally to Georgia, Tennessee, and the Mississippi territory. Small though it was to deal with the problem. And Andrew Jackson was the only one who had any success in fighting the CLEs.
[00:39:36] He, of all the different columns from me, from Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi territory that, that fought the creek, he alone was able to, his perseverance, his, doggedness, bullheadedness to see the war to his conclusion. And he Not only sought to a successful conclusion from the, white point of view, but he went beyond what the government wanted and [00:40:00] he annexed nearly half of the creek land at the end of the war.
[00:40:04] Which sort of set the stage for two things. The eventual removal of all the Indian tribes from the American South, because the creeks were really the only ones that had the wherewithal to attempt to fight the Americans. And after their defeats as numerous as these peoples were, they were.
[00:40:22] left without of means to defend themselves. So it set this, this stage for the eventual trail of tears in the 1830s. and the end of the war, an annexation of much of the creek land, including a good portion of the black belt, opened the door to settlement of northern Alabama, Western Georgia, and eventually all of these states.
[00:40:45] Cotton planting to the, the cotton growing culture which had the CREs prevailed, that might have been delayed for generations. So in that sense, I think the Creek war is the most consequential in US history. [00:41:00] United States gained the greatest amount of land. It opened the door for the cotton kingdoms throughout the deep south, and really opened, set the stage for the American Civil War.
[00:41:10] In some ways, it also was the conflict that made Andrew Jackson a household name. It was not the Battle of New Orleans that people commonly think it was his victory at the Battle of Horseshoe. Against the red stick creeks that opened the door for him because after that battle, which resulted in nearly a thousand Indians being killed, the greatest loss of American Indian life in any single battle in history after that victory, he was appointed military commander in the South.
[00:41:43] And that enabled him to be present to fight the British at New Orleans.
[00:41:47] GR: Definitely aspects of American history we often
[00:41:50] Peter: overlook in your
[00:41:51] GR: 2016 book, the Earth is weeping. The epic story of the Indian Wars for the American West. It earned the acclaim [00:42:00] of being what’s some would called a new standard of Western.
[00:42:04] Indian Wars history, would you talk about some of the major events and popular myths from the Indian Wars that teachers and students should know as well as how the historical records differ from the popular understanding of that
[00:42:17] Peter: era? As I touched on earlier, , , , the whole notion of a, of a United American Indian resistance against, expanding United States is a.
[00:42:28] Particularly so west of Mississippi , and nowhere was clearer than the northern and southern plains, which is, really when when we think of American Indian wars and popular culture, it’s the plains to which we tend to gravitate. and interestingly, these tribes, not only were at war some of them at war, the United States.
[00:42:50] But they were at war with one another. and the conflict among the tribe, again, particularly on the planes continued even while the [00:43:00] tribe were fighting for their homelands against the United States and the years falling the Civil War. Secondly, it’s important to note that there was never any tribe, not that Lakota.
[00:43:14] Better known as a Sue the Cheyenne, the APACS NS per, there was never a tribe that was wholly united against white encroachment against the United States, against, , the broken treaties and, the potential loss of their homeland. There was always a so-called peace and war affection Within these tribes.
[00:43:34] There were factions that wanted to accommodate, even wanted to try to assimilate. The difficulty was that the United States had never honored its treaty, has never fulfilled the obligation that it committed itself to, to helping Indians who wanted to assimilate to do so successfully. another myth is that there was some sort of genocidal intent on the part of the United States.
[00:43:59] With [00:44:00] respect to the Indians in the West, there was not a genocidal intent in the terms of a physical genocide. However, it’s unquestionable that the United States government wanted to change the Indian way of life. There was a belief that only by changing their way of. Would Native Americans in the West have a chance of surviving in the sea of, expanding Americans so the belief was that the Indians need to be placed on reservations that were well enough removed from the areas that white settlers or white gold seekers or whatever wanted that they could be protected.
[00:44:42] And then to government assistance transformed into Christian Small farmers or ranchers. There are a number of problems with that. One, kinda a naive belief that this could be done in one generation two government corruption prevented the, the government from [00:45:00] ever, you know, fulfilling these obligations.
[00:45:02] And interestingly, even, the most Deeply felt reformists and critics of American policy wanted to change the Indian way of life. Believe that Indians had to forgo their traditional ways of life to have a chance to, survive. And you know, that’s an important takeaway and as cruel as it may sound particularly on the planes, it.
[00:45:28] Given the millions of, you know, the, the 20 some million Americans who lived in the United States after the Civil War, and The fewer than a hundred thousand Indians who lived in the West and maybe 50,000 of most who lived in the plains their way of life really wasn’t sustainable. You had tribes like the, who numbered only two or 3000 people, but claimed as their hunting land because they relied on the hunt for their sustenance.
[00:45:58] They claimed the [00:46:00] eastern portion of Colorado Western. Kansas, Western Nebraska, Southern Wyoming essentially the equivalent of a modern western state as their exclusive domain. And that just wasn’t tenable to have, you know, three or 4,000 people claim or be granted a domain that size. And you had millions of Americans who were inevitably pushing westward.
[00:46:25] So as horrible as it. There was kinda a tragic inevitability , to what occurred. Could it have it done better? Oh, by, you know that most definitely. Was it inevitable in the west on the plains least? I think it was great. What I’d like to do, cause
[00:46:42] GR: you’ve touched on a couple of questions I was going to raise you’ve addressed them.
[00:46:46] Would love to open it up to you now to
[00:46:49] Peter: read a passage from a book of your. . . What I try to do in, my writing, I, I consider myself obviously an historian, but you know, I’m not an academic historian. I was a career diplomat. So [00:47:00] I’m not steeped in that tradition. I consider myself to be as much a storyteller as an historian.
[00:47:07] I, believe very much in good narrative history and trying to convey History through telling a good story. So with that spirit of mind, I want to read a paragraph about the young Tocoma Tocoma as a toddler and what life would’ve been like for him or any other Indian child in the Midwest in the latter decades of the 17 hundreds.
[00:47:30] And so here we go. Freed from a cradle board after a year toum to became subject to a mild form of discipline. If he misbehaved, the toddler might feel the swat of a stick on his tiny legs or find himself tossed into a shallow scream. Shawns. Generally doted on their children, however, and he would quickly discover that his parents preferred to raise praise, good conduct rather than [00:48:00] punish bad behavior.
[00:48:01] He would also learn to respect the elderly whose authority over children was absolute no sooner did to comes to learn to walk. That he was one with nature. His feet would’ve lighted over the cool, smooth, swept dirt surface of the family, big wha in the spring and summer, and sunk into the soft and warm animal skin rugs that covered the floor and the fall and winter months.
[00:48:29] Gratifying Winter green scent of the Birch Park walls mingled in this tiny nostrils with the pungent odor of smoke rising from the central hearth of the wigwam outdoors. He wobbled over a carpet of crenate leaves, learning to dodge the cat can, and combs that dotted the ground. A symphony of familiar sounds, the idle chatter of women at.
[00:48:55] The laughter of lounging warriors, the ceases barking and yapping of [00:49:00] countless dogs comforted Shawnee, toddlers like Tocoma. A thousand aromas rose from the forest floor, walked it on the wind at night. Broken moonlight, shivered beneath a canopy of swaying treetop. Inside the wand, the comes jostled for a spot among his parents.
[00:49:22] Three siblings adopted white brother and inevitable evening visitors. Mohani, he would discover a hoard solitude. So that passage I want, I, you know, give a flavor of what life was. At the time that grew up, and I try to do this throughout my books, try to immerse the reader in the, the physical, cultural, spiritual milieu of the times.
[00:49:48] Cara: Well, it’s absolutely wonderful and I think you have succeeded. Peter Cousins, thank you so much for spending this time with us and for teaching us about these wonderful historical figures. Thank you for your time.[00:50:00] .
[00:50:00] Peter: That was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
[00:50:02] Cara: [00:51:00] All right, Sheard. I love this tweet of the week because it’s about our friend Sahan, who was of course at the National Summit on Education just a couple of weeks ago. I think it was a couple weeks ago. Was it last week? I can’t remember. But this is from the 74 talking about uh, schoolhouse.org. At Schoolhouse edu has leveled the playing field for 20,000 students and given tutors a leg up when applying to universities, so I highly recommend this.
[00:51:58] This is about a free [00:52:00] tutoring platform that is helping kids with s a T prep and all of the things that they need to get into college, even after Gerard story about the idea that. college might be not the only option anymore that we should be thinking about, but it should be an option in Silicon.
[00:52:14] Always innovating to make it work. Gerard. Next week we will have a special learning curve guest. We will be speaking with former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Until then, please take care and keep that fire in your belly or wherever you keep it. Will do. Stay on fire. Right. Bye-bye.