Joe Martin Cantrell

Lesson 2: The Wanderer—Personal Discovery


Understand that values and beliefs often derive from a “hidden curriculum” which is learned through both formal and informal social channels.


Become a critical consumer of cross-cultural messaging derived from many sources and work with others to bring about transformative visions and social healing.

The Wanderer

The Wanderer is attempting to move towards connecting with other people, searching for a means of support.  The goal is finding acceptance from others and discovering who you are.

What is . . . The Hidden Curriculum?

The hidden curriculum has been described as “those lessons nobody teaches, but everyone learns.”  Here’s an example: Suppose during an entire semester of a college class on U.S. History, the instructor makes minimal or no reference to Native American tribes and their contributions to our country’s history.  By completely omitting the importance of the American Indian historical perspective, students in that class may begin drawing conclusions like, “Gee, it seems like Native Americans didn’t play much part in our country’s history and therefore they must not matter much.”  This is called bias by omission.  Omitting facts and other information is one method for devaluing something.

Another form of hidden curriculum happens when the information shared is incomplete or biased.  For instance, by only describing one side of a story, it is easy to control other people’s perspectives of that story.  This is bias by commission.  The role of the Native American in U.S. History has been biased by commission, which has led to beliefs that American Indian people are savage, lazy, worthless, etc.

Hidden curriculum messages may be subtle or overt, but in each case they can profoundly influence how one learns, what one learns, and consequently, how one perceives “reality” about his or her place in society.  With hidden curriculum, self-esteem suffers and racism flourishes.

The Removal

“The Trail of Tears got about fifteen minutes in 8th grade American History….I graduated with a history minor and it was almost not mentioned.”

Joe Cantrell

The “legal” removal of the Cherokee and their journey to Oklahoma is known as the Trail of Tears.  It is estimated that about 4,000 people died as a direct result of this forced march.  Not only did the people lose their homes, much of the property they carried with them was seized.  The Trail of Tears and other instances of tribal relocation may be documented in history texts, but, as Joe acknowledges, attention to detail is meager.  Moreover, description of these events is rarely accompanied by critical analyses of the abuses suffered by Indian people or their lack of compensation for the loss of tribal homelands.

Biased historical content, as well as content that has been mythologized, are not unique to Indian people or to history education.   The public media is also a vehicle for a hidden curriculum that gives rise to limited perspectives and perceptions of truth.   The failure to accurately mirror the realities of Native Americans fuels stereotypes and racism.

Wild Bill and John Wayne’s West

“I think that much of American history exists in peoples’ heads because John Wayne happened to star in a movie about it.  He didn’t do a movie about the Cherokee wars, so who knows, so they didn’t exist?”

Joe Cantrell

The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was a dramatic reenactment seen by millions of people in cities across the United States, in Canada, and even in Europe.  Its “cowboys and Indians” theater helped to crystallize the image of the Indian of the Plains.  This image came to symbolize Indians everywhere, and has been persistent over time.  Even tribal people of the Northwest Coast have been portrayed in contemporary, popular children’s literature wearing feather headdresses and living in tepees.

Stereotypic media portrayals have been repeatedly confirmed over the years rather than challenged or tested against reality.  The hidden curriculum has consequences.  For one, it renders Indian people and their unique cultures invisible.  For another, Indians are consistently portrayed in historical contexts—in roles that are both trite and repetitive—riding after buffalo herds, dancing around campfires, circling wagon trains.  The sin of omission is not providing a cultural stage for contemporary Indian people—it’s a failure to offer portrayals of people who function in daily roles like their counterparts in the majority culture.

Native Veterans – Finding Answers by Sharing Your Stories

“There had been a series of movies and media depictions of Viet Nam veterans as a bunch of crazed, drug-addicted sociopaths.  It was unfair and untrue.”              Joe Cantrell

“When I was growing up we had John Wayne movies, Audie Murphy movies that had a bit of truth, but they glamorized war…if someone died, they did it neatly and with one thoughtful last word.”                                                            Joe Cantrell

Stereotyping and cultural invisibility can work together to cause people to accept negative images of themselves.  Many veterans are uncomfortable with the reflection of themselves they see in films and as a consequence feel blame, guilt and anger.  Veterans who give voice to their motivations, empathetic feelings, political allegiances, worldviews, and experiences help to expose the myths and correct the inaccuracies.

Your task:

Join together with other veterans to encourage discussions of personal and cultural histories.  Find opportunities to become involved in an existing discussion group, or begin by starting your own.  Set an agenda and make it part of your agenda to accomplish the following:

  • Set up norms for your discussion group (these are rules of engagement; e.g., speak your truth; be a respectful listener; disagreements are okay, and so on)
  • Establish nuts and bolts -- a calendar for meeting times, a roster, methods for communicating w/members, etc.
  • Define how stories will be shared (e.g., talking circle)
  • Identify community resources and procedures for asking for help
  • Commit to working through stereotypes and biases
  • Consider alternative “realities”
  • Be open to change and growth!