Written Assignments

Interpreting Native American Stories


Web Resources for This Assignment

The Iroquois Creation Story

Interpreting   In a previous learning skills assignment, I asked you to evaluate the difference between facts and interpretations. As you probably found out, you can't function in the world without interpretations. In fact, almost 100% of your understanding of the world comes from interpretation. You take facts before you, whether they are phenomenal facts or the "literal" facts of a text and you assemble it into something orderly and coherent. These interpretations usually come preformed: in order to make an interpretation, you have to ask questions of the facts. These questions come ready-made and predetermine the way that you're going to understand the material that you're trying to interpret.
   When understanding other cultures, though, you need to ask questions that will allow you to understand how that culture understands the facts. The preformed questions that you ask, then, have to be wide open questions that can allow for a variety of answers. The more specific your question is, the more chance you have of imposing your own world view on that other culture.


Asking the Right Questions   This assignment is very simple. I want you to read the Iroquois Creation and come up with at least five questions that you would ask in trying to understand the world view of the Iroquois. What overall questions can this text answer? What aspects of world view seem to be contained in the text? Make sure that you write a one or two sentence justification for each question. When we meet in class on Wednesday, we will use your questions to discuss the tale.


Grading   You'll be graded on a couple things. The first is how open-ended your questions are: does your question allow you to interpret freely enough, or are you imposing European values or thought-patterns on the text? The second is specificity: are your questions specific to the text? Are they derived from the material in the Iroquois Creation, or are you just making up general questions?


Extra Credit   You can get extra credit by responding to someone else's questions. In this response, I want you to grade their work. Do their questions meet the criteria above? Which of their questions is the best and why? Which is the worst and why?


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