I loved Little House on the Prairie. It was one of those family shows that taught the important of family bonds, hard work, perserverance in adversity, and learning life lessons--sometimes via hard knocks. The series was based on a series of books written by Laura Ingalls-Wilder, based on her experiences as a child with her family in the upper Midwest in the lat 19th century. I remember how popular this Laura Ingalls Wilder's book series was with the girls I went to school with in the 1970's. For years Ingalls-Wilder has been held in high esteem. A major book award, given since 1954 and bore her name (The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award), has been renamed "The Children's Literacy Legacy Award" because of concerns of Ingalls-Wilder's portrayal of Native Americans and black people. Her writing exhibited, apparently, "stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with the core values of Association of Library Service to Children," a sub-branch of the American Library Association.
There is an old adage that we must evaluate important people in history by the era in which they lived. Ingalls-Wilder's portrayal of Native and Black American may be "stereotypical" now, but they weren't then. They were quite common. History has taught us a lot. We have learned and grow. We change our perceptions. We improve upon our mistakes. We right wrongs. Do we scrub our history because of mistakes or misunderstandings made by historical figure of the past? Is Ingalls-Wilder suddenly a poor or less influential writer because she held contemporary views of her time that we now know were wrong? Are the lessons she taught and learned from her life experiences somehow less valuable? Should we discourage others from reading her works? Has our political sensitivity gone so far that even the mere knowledge that people in the past made mistakes justify eliminating their influence? Ingalls-Wilder is but one example of this.
History can be ugly. People of high esteem, who have done great things, have also made grave errors. Do we scrub their very existence to avoid recognizing the mistakes they may have made? Do we remove Washington and Jefferson from Mt. Rushmore because they owned slaves? People achieve greatness for different reasons. Ingalls-Wilder because she was a great writer. Washington and Jefferson because they were great statesmen. I am sure we could compile quite a list of people who accomplished much, while holding views that don't line up with contemporary political views. Erasing their positive achievements and contributions is a mistake. Rather, we should hold them up as examples of how we learn the lessons of history and become stronger for it. We hold them up as an example of how flawed individuals can profoundly impact our lives for the better. We cannot superimpose our political understandings of the present on the past. We lose a great deal of wisdom when we do.