Indigenous Philosophy and Education Phase Three
Presented to Dr. A. Keith Carreiro Northern Arizona University
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
EDF 670-801, Philosophy of Education
Maria Cordero Enrique February 23, 1995
I. Table of Contents
II. Title of Topic Inquiry........................................... 1
ill. Rationale............................................................. 1
IV. Literature Review................................................. 3
V. Literature Response............................................. 4
VI. Conclusion........................................................ 12
VII. Reference-..;; ......................................................... 21
II. Indi£enous Philosophv and Education
The Xicano Paradi£m KNO\VLEDGE which can lead to
\VISDOI\1, which will develop STRENGTH, that we may achieve
HARMONY within and without.
The focus of my paper will be to examine the implications of the above paradigm in terms of contemporary educational practices. I will attempt to un earth the indigenous philosophical roots from which this paradigm emerged. examining the conflict and contrast with other educational strategies. As an expression of my own individual philosophy of education the paper will relate research and introspection as a process whose goal is the enhancement of my personal and professional educational goa ls.
The theme of multi-cultural education invokes heated debate among advocates and dissenters. On one hand, the loss of the cohesive and directing force of a culturally monolithic curriculum based on Western philosophical precepts is seen as a threat to the security and future of
society. In anticipation of the population trend which will create a "white"
minority within a national majority of people of color, the thrc t of loss irt psychological position over the historical "colored" minorities looms
before the heirs to man i fest desti ny. In contrast, advocates of mul ti-cultural approaches to education point to the accelerating globalization processes in communications and economics as a sign of the end of the era of the culturally parochial perspective. Yet, perhaps both approaches are not really in opposition. The technological revolution advancing the global economy presents itself as a man i fest destiny for the technological elite, except that this ti me frontier is not the new world continent , but the entire globe. Much of what passes for multi-cultural education is only the preparation of the workforce with the necessary managerial skills to deal with the emerging global markets. As the proponents of "traditional" western education are driven by the need to maintain the dominance of the Europea n-Ame rican model, multi-culturalism seems to be driven by maintaining competitive prominence in the global arena for the same European-American interest bloc.
When my son was in the first grade, he completed a school assignment of the type wherein three objects are illustrated, and the task is given to identify the one which does not belong. The three objects in this case were a trumpet, a drum, and a tree. My son identified the trumpet as being out of place and was marked by his teacher as WRONG. What this
· teacher was unaware of was that our family, being practitioners of an indigenous M:>":ican traditional form of discipline known as Danza Azteca, had been recently involved in the process of making a traditional drum.
The construction of the drum involves many hours of work preparing and carving a special tree trunk. Drum, tree, and family represent a continuity of identity and community that was reflected in my son's mind.
It is the perspective of this continuity that I would explore in this study. Yet, at the same time, part of this perspective involves a questioning of the educational process that produced my son's first grade teacher. The skill of recognizing relationships is certainly at the core of building a body of personal knowledge, of becoming educated. But what is the relationship within the established educational system between the colonizer and the colonized? \Vill indigenous peoples 0 the only ones to see the value in asking this question?
IV. Resources Being Studied
A. Literature Review
Several books selected for review, but not limited to, include: God is Red by Vine Deloria. Kccpers of the Earth by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, Aztec Thought and Cultl/re by Miguel Leon-Portilla, Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice by Mark J. Plotkin, and Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford. Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice is an excellent source on the destruction of the rain forest and it's peoples. Plotkin spent several years researching the native usage of rain forest plants and has translated his works into a native language in order that this knowledge is not lost. In phase two I wi11 out!ine other aspects of his study and how this and other
knowledge can be used in our classrooms. Other related literature to be examined include articles on ecological, environm ental, and multicultural education. I am trying to locate more information on indigenous philosophies around the world specifically the Americas in order to enlighten myself to their truth, value and beauty . Several documentaries are also to be reviewed, specifically one on a tribe in South America who have sent a message to the the outside world, or their " young er brothers " as they refer to us.
V. Literature Response
In order to examine the Xicano par ad igm, the origin needs to be expl ored. The Chicano student movement of the sixties expressed the need for the formation of an " int ell ec tual defense" of the people. This need was expressed in terms of self-determination as opposed to
assimilation within the U.S. educational system. It was an era which for the first time descendants of the Mexican people in the Southwest had broken past the educational barriers to higher ed ucation. · This generation of Chicanos would organize and unite under the banner of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan). Invoking the indigenous ancestral identity of Aztlan (homeland of the Azteca people), the l\1EChA movement throughout the Southwest emphasized the goal of community in contrast to individual empowerment. The concept was for the university educated graduates to return to the barrios and pueblos of Aztlan to put
their sk i ll s and education to,vard the advancement of the decolonization of the Mexican people. Simultaneously, the MEChA movement pushed for and was successful in implementing courses in Chicano studies in various universities and colleges. At Davis, California a Chicano-Indian university was established and accredited \vith a curriculum which was based on indigenous ident i ty and values.
On the occasion of the California Statewide MEChA conference in 1994, the veterans of this era gathered to reflect on the history of the student movement they hrld helped to build. These movement veterans, and other::i i:'1ey knew, had attained higher education becoming lawyers, teachers, administrators and community leaders. Yet along the way something had been lost. something was missing. What was expressed was not feelings or accomplishment but rather feelings of hurt and betrayal.
\Vhile some had returned to the barrios to sow a new generation, the higher educational process itself had overwhelmed a vast majority. This vast majority had become assimilated into the competitive corporate culture wherein an educational degree was a ticket into an upwardly mobile lifestyle. The assimilation process accelerated during the Nixon administration when the term Chicano was undermined by th e-gene ric "hispanic" identification for all Spanish speaking minorities. As one Mechista joked, the Hispanics had gone for the BMW and gave up on the UFW (United Farmworkers Union struggle). And by accepting the
hispanic definition, further ground was lost by abandoning the indigenous history of the Mexican peoples in the Southwest. Still convinced that higher education was the right path, the veterans now questioned themselves "But to what end?" One movement veteran having heard this discussion at different times and places questioned the following of an educational philosophy that they described as follows:
EDUCATION \vould open up
ECONOl\1IC OPPORTUNITIES, which would lead to S UCCESS. v.1h ic h would then translate to
From the perspective of the collective history of exploitation and disempowerment as a peop le, the goal of achieving economic and political power for the Chicano community was seen in terms of a common priority. The priority remained evident after twenty years. There was a sense among the group of a profound need for a re-evaluation of the context and process of the shared experiences within the dominant system.
In expressing the sentiments of the group, the movement veteran stated "Would it not better to define our own educational paradigm? A paradigm which would reflect our ancestral wisdom, upholding the knowledge that guided our people for thousands of years. Should we consider the formation of our own educational paradigm? (Enrique, 1994) He offered the following to be explored in the creation of our own educational paradigm:
. KNOWLEDGE which can lead to
WISDOM, which will develop STRENGTH, that we may achieve
HARMONY within and without."
Harmony is defined as " rhe mechanism of give and take so necessary to any relationship" (Aceves, 1994). In addition, hannony is not free of conflict, quite the opposite, conflict is a needed part of hannony in order to reach an understanding and consensus. Conflict, when seen as a tool to achieve harmony allows us to enter relationships that grow through
co nse nsus rather than se ek to clorninate. As I begin to explore this
expression of educational philosophy I will express m,y own philosophical
,... ... .
values and practices. \Vi thin the bounds of my topic I will make connections to the axiological concerns of philosopy. What we value on the surface and what in the end we choose to put a value on are often in · contradiction. \Vhat can be said of an educational system at this juncture in time which fails to put value on the preservation of life on this planet? The endangered species list is not limited to plants and animals but to indigenous peoples around the world who are . in the way of the bulldozer.· The air upon which ,ve depend for life is dangerous to breathe during various times during the year. These questions are a part of the axiological concerns of ethics. If we as teachers fail to address the problems inherent in the valuing of technological progress to the exclusion of ecolgical and human values, we are not neutral, we are "supporting Lhe ethical statu quo" (Knight, 1989). Practical classrooms applications will be outlined as
well as research and literature in this area.
Throughout the western hemispere, one commonality that exists among indigenous people is how we refer to ourselves. We call ourselves Mexica,"la raza''. the people. The Delaware called themselves Lenni .
Lenape or "true men''; the Mandan or Numakaki means "people"; the Comanche or Nemene means "the people"; and our neighbors the Yavapai or Enyaeva deem themselves the "sun people"(Deloria, 1973). Non Indians were not referred to by color or race but rather by behavior.
Europeans were re ferred to h y the Lakota as "washichu" which means "the greedy one \vho takes the fat", meaning that they not only took what they thought they needed but rook everything else (Redhouse, 1979).
The indigenous method of self identification relates an important precept of indigenous philosophy which is the belief in the brotherhood of all humankind, the two-legged. but not in a heirarchy over the other natural life forms. The Lakota express it as ,;Ometakuye Oyasin", which translates as "all my relations'' and the Maya say "In lakech", you are my
- other me. Both are expressions of an underlying understanding rooted in
our common humanity and shared history which is interwoven with a-ll ,
other living beings. Thus identity is not isolation, but instead seen in terms of relationship. And education must proceed accordingly. Is this what Johanson with his "Lucy'' and the Leaky's at Olduvai Gorge are proving? (Johanson. 1981). \Ve have arrived at the same conclusion but we have
come to this understanding and knowledge through different paths.
The relationship of the people to the earth is another important concep.t of indigenous philosophy. The earth is not regarded in terms of a commodity but as a living being with a spirit. We may call her Tonantzin (Mother Earth) or by another name but the recognition of a relationship of origin and destiny e x ists. Recently the theory of Gaia has been examined by scientists. This theory relates in scientific research that the Earth is a living organism with the ability to maintain a balance, or in other words the Earth like all other living beings is capable of self-preservation. Western scientists are coming to believe what indigenous people have known for countless generations. It is not the content but the process that has made the difference in the sociological and personal value of this knowledge. A practical implication of this problem in the classroom is the challenge to engage the student in viewing the universe in a different way. For example. I teach \Vorld History and Geography, and maps are an integral tool in the understanding of diverse peoples and cultures. One map that I use when teaching about Mexico is a map which shows the various tribes that existed in the 1S00's. The map clearly shows Baja California and the interior of Mexico. but what is different is the orientation. Looking at the map on the wall, the tip of Baja points to the 1ight. A conventional map would show the tip of Baja ,pointing down (south), indicating that North is the top direction. This particular map, however, was made in the Nahuatl
traditional way \vith E,lst. the direction of the rising sun, at the top. This geographical convention, which is common to most indigenous peoples, is a reflection in turn of the cultural and scientific foundation of native peoples cultural identity. Indigenous rvrexican teachings refer to humankind as each individual being composed ofa flame of the the spirit of the sun captured in the earthen form. The map exercise is an excavation of the living philosophical values of indigenous cosmology. In my experience I have found that stuc!ents have a hard time with this exercise and with maps that !'lip north ancl so uth . Having been exposed to one viewpoint of the v,;orld. the students have been not educated to be open to other perspectives.
In an attempt to explore a pedagogical model based on indigenous philosphy, the Phoenix Union High School District implemented a program in the ESL and bilingual Social Studies classrooms called the Xinachtli Project in 1991. Xinachtli is a Nahuatl (Mexican) word describing the momentous transformation of a seed bursting open to begin it's life as a plant (Simeon. 1984). The Xinachtli Project has as it's goal the· reintroduction of the Nahuatl culture into the community schools of the Xicano Mexicano community (Enrique, 1991 ). The pedagogy of the project is based on the three traditional Mexica principles of:
Tezcmlipoca - the aspect of memGi)", history Quetzalcoatl - the aspect of intelligence, consciousness, and
Huitzilopochtli - will.
These are principles of human development which are the foundation of the indigenous M xican (Azteca) spirituality and cosmology which have been preserved intact through five centuries of European colonization through the discipline of the Danza Azteca.
Carlos Aceves. in his book .;The Xinachtli Project" refers to these principles in the following way: "learning is a process of creating and not acquiring, children clo not acquire but create knowledge" (Ac eves , 1994).
\\'hat is indicated. and what the Mecha veterans at the California state conference sensed hacl transpi reel. was that the content of the educationa.:' process is secondary to the process. If the process is constrained by the cultural prejudices of 500 years of European colonization, where does the ulitmate reality Iie for Indian people unwi11 ing to surrender their humanity in exchange for short term. individual dividends? Especiall at this historical juncture. ,vhcn global tribalism is a growing trend?
Although indigenous philosophy is not monolithic, there is a basic pattern of expression which repeats and is echoed across the indigenous cultures. The indigenous cul tu res are spatially orientated, and view the world's history as part of the creation's history - still in progress. Part of this understanding is an awareness of the cyclical nature of natural phenomena. It is a philosophy that is rooted in a deep appreciation for the entire human evolutionary exp erie nc e, not merely the relatively recent periods when history ha: been documented. Based on a precept of appreciation and ethic of res pons ibilit y as caretakers of the earth , life is seen as a dynamic, not static. cxrrcssion. The inflection of the teachings of this philosophy attempt to achieve a sense of 01ientation and well-being for the learner, the better to participate in the harmonious development of life itself. For want of a better word in the English language, indigenous educational philosophy is spiritually based.
In the Americas, this philosophy of the people who have a millenial spiritual and historical connection to this land has been a problem for the Euro-American educational system. We as indigenous peoples walk across the land, realizing the earth below our feet is the dust of our
ancestors. How shall our philosophy guide us when we are confronted by
. ... - 1
curriculum which only reinforces the supremacist doctrines of "European Discovery" of the continent? Although most professional teachers may be
fami Iiar with the ck bz-tte among European cartographers regarding the naming of the New \Vorld. hmv many are familiar with even one indigenous naming of the continent?
Five hundred years of ignorance is a long time, but it has not been long enough to exterminate the \Vi11 and determination of the indigenous nations to survive and nourish. The future is not what it used to be. And the present? Stripping mvay cultural rrejudices, the indigenous philosophies are just as modern ancl scientific as those philosophies grounded in \Vestern reality a11ci of the Christian persuasion. As both a teacher within the public school system and a traditional person, this duality inn uences me in my profession al, personal and spiritual life.
The Indian dances to bring rain or sings songs to make the com grow. That these acts me seen ,ls superstitious goes against modern scientific research regarding the theory of the value of sound vibrations. That Indian people can communicate ,vi th animals, trees or stones is also seen as supersition. In his book P/1ysics and Philosophy, James Jeans relates the following:
"Space and time arc inhabited by distinct individuals, but when we pass beyond space :rnci time'. rrorn the world of phenomena towards reality, individuality is replaced by community. When we pass beyond space and time. they [separate individuals] may perhaps form ingredients of a single continuous stream of life (Deloria, 1972).
In this idea of nature. a continuous stream of-life, it is conceivable of learning to hear trees talk or to communicate with animals. Scientific
research is now beginning to explore the idea of communication with dolphins and of understanding the songs of the whale.
In 1054, the appearance of the Crab Nebula supernova was recorded by Indians on the west coast in the form of a rock paintings and inside a cave in California. These petroglyphs show a bright star next to the crescent moon. The Chinese and Japanese also recorded this event which lasting three weeks was visible to the entire world. The Western world yet failed to record this natural orcler of the universe because it contradicted
. their idea of an unchanging un ive rse. The western medieval mind wasn't ready for the Aristotelian idea of truth through observation.
Indigenous philosophy is based upon observation of nature in all dimensions. It is an intellectual exercise wherein science and spirituality have never been separated. My values and practices are rooted in these ancient philosophical thoughts. Just as modern western man l?oks to the thinking of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates as being timely today so do I in the readings and thoughts of the indigenous peoples thoughout time. The Mexica (Aztec) poet Nczahualcoyotl related the following:
\Vhat does your mind seek?
\Vhere is your heart?
If you give your heart to each and everything, you lead it nowhere: you destroy your heart.
Can anything be found on earth? (Leon-Portilla, 1963)
The poet is asking the axiological question of whether the mind a.rru heart can discover real value here on earth. The poet also states that without a
destination humans lose their heart. In Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica, yol!orl (heart) is derived from the word ollin (movement), thus heart is defined as the "dynamic quality inherent in the human being" (Leon Portilla. 1963). The last li ne expresses the thought of whether it is possible to find anything on earth capable of satisfying the whole dynamic being of man. The Mexica understood the problems involved in establishing values in a changing \vorlcl.
The Mexica also questioned their religious teachings of the hereafter as shown in the following poem:
Do flowers go to the region of the dead?
In the Beyond. arc we dead or do we still live?
\Vhere is the source of the light, since that which gives life hides itself? (Leon-Portilla. 1963)
learn the importance of our li fe struggle. Nezahualcoyotl in the following poem expresses the f'v1cxica attempt to discover a foundation, a true basic principal for man and the universe.
Does man possess any truth?
If not. our song is no longer true. Is anything stable and lasting?
\Vhat reaches its aim?
The Mexica philosopher. whose existence is documented in Fray_ Bernardino de Sahagun ·s General History of New Spain, were the ones who composed the songs in black and red ink. The Nahautl language employs a linguistic method called "clifrasismo", in which two isolated
qualities of an idea are put together to achieve maximum clarity and precision. Black and red ink is an example of a difrasismo. Black and red ink signify v.1 riti ng or wisdom. In xochirl, ;n cuicatl: flower and song means poetry. the only truth on earth. Another example is in topan, in mictlan: what is above us, the region of the dead. This expresses the idea of the metaphysical beyond or the unknown (Leon-Portilla, 1963). The Mexica philosophic thought is not attributed to isolated thinkers, with the exception of Nezahuacoyotl. bur rather it is grounded in the ancient schools directed by the \vise men .
Indigenous philosophy holds that all forms of life have their own purpose. There is strength in diversity. Shooter, a Sioux Indian explained this idea as follows: " Animals nnd plants are taught by Wakan Tanka what they are to clo. \Vakan Tanka teaches the birds to make nests......All birds, even those or the same srccies. arc not alike, and it is the same with animals. or human beings" (Deloria. 1972). Existence in creation is the recognition that in difference there is strength. This message is very timely in today's world in which our rainforest destruction rate rose from thirty million acres a year to forty million in the ten year period between 1980 and 1996 (Joyce, 1994). Consider the following statistics: of all prescription drugs one-fourth contain a useful plant ingredient, 121
prescription drugs around the world ar-e mad e from higher plants--half of
the plants in these medicines are from the tropics and three-fourths of these
were discovered because they were already used by indigenous herbalists (Joyce, 1994).
Harvard faculty members were asked by Harvard Magazine to name the world's single most pressing problem. The response of Edward 0.
Wilson was as fol lows: "The worst thing that can happen--will happen--is not energy depletion. economic collapse, limited nuclear war, or conquest by a totalitarian government. As terrible as these catastrophes would be for us, they can be repaired within a few generations. The process ongoing in the 1980's that will take millions of years to conect is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least I ikely to forgive us" (Joyce, 1994). Wilson equates the destruction of the tropics to "bLirning a Renaissance painting to. cook dinner·· (Joyce. 1994 ).
Vine Deloria states in his book God is Red that our environmental crisis is due to the "rejection of creation as a living ecosystem and the concept of nature as depraved and an object for exploitation" (Deloria, 1972). Indigenous philosophy sees man _and the land as one, with the land becoming the final resting place of man. We treat the land with respect because when we walk upon the earth we come in contact with those who came before us. Indian people have a concept of the seven generations.
That means that we must preserve and take care of the earth for the next seven generations: we borrow the land from the unborn.
How does th is kn ow led ge of i ndi ge nous phi losoph y affect my classroom prac t ices ? I bring m y va lu es into the classroom when I decide what to teach. what I will emphasize. the viewpoints I wil1 present. The Bering Strait theory is one example. Though widely accepted, the indigenous peoples have th ei r own distinct theory and documentation regarding the migration pa tt e rns that h a ve populated the hemisphere. The Indian v iew po i n t is a ll o \vecl expr ess ion in my classroom, not just through read i ngs , s peakers a n ci ass ig nm e n ts but I how I relate to m y stud ents , my demea nor. m y e xp e r ie nces :rncl my pe rsona l reflec ti ons of wh at I think is important.
The neglect of th e I nd ian v iewp oint is related in th e following story
by the Sioux physician Charles Eastman. A missionary was instructing a group of Indians about the truths of his holy relig ion. He recounted the creation story and the fall of mnn. The Indians listened attentively and thanked him for his story. One in turn started to relate the story about the origin of maize. The disgusted missionary offended by the story told the Indians that his story was the sacred truth and theirs was but fable. The Indian replied that they had believed his stories so why would he not give credit to theirs?
Most of my prescribed \Vorld History curriculum is related to the history of Eur ope . N on-E ur opean countries are described and related to in terms of their relationship to Europe as if they achieved nothing until they
fonned a relationship with the west. Our textbooks fail to acknowledge the experience of mankind as a whole. \Vorld history is related in terms of "Western man's conquest of the remainder of the world and his
subsequent rise to technological sophistication" (Deloria, 1972): My goal is to relate to my students the achievements of mankind and to get them to see a world viewpoint and not just the western viewpoint of the world.
Stonehenge is a virtual computer with its usage and meaning having eluded us: the Aztec cllcnclar stone is also an ancient computer with its knowledge now just being rediscovered. The debate rages on regarding how the ancient Egyptians construcreci the most massive structures on earth. The world is filled with ancient ruins that will probably still stand long after the buildings downtown are in rubble. We could not duplicate these structures if \Ve wished to do so. As I write, the newly drafted World History standards for the 21st century are being criticized because too much emphasis is placecl on multicultui·alism, and too little on the true important events according to Western tradition. Pat Buchanan in a recent editorial questioned the importance of students knowing who Mali's Mansa Musa was.
In 1980. when Edward 0. \Vi Ison made his analysis of the world's most pressing problem. the species of the Earth were disappearing at an alarming rate. Four hundred times hster than any time in the recent past. Species extinctions have been reported by biologists around the world.
Christopher Joyce in his book Earthly Goods states it very elo·quently
when he writes "We are abandoning fellow living things for a manufactured dream ,vorld, as ir we could grasp immortality by replacing what is born, grows, and dies with that which never ages (Joyce, 1994).
In this present historical context, v,1 e prepare our youth for the challenges to come. Ecological crisises have come to be generally accepted as nuisances in the pell mell advance into the global market, which requires a global extraction process for raw materials. From where comes the raw materials and the labor to sustain the foundation of this emminently consumptive society? Are we to superstitiously believe in the doctrine that technology will co1-rect itself?
In the indigenous traditional worldview, there exists a concept of justice. In traditional i\1exica teachings, the Sixth Sun which is now dawning is called the Sun of Justice. Based on the harmonic principle of equilibrium in nature and the reciprocal nature of relationships which defines our lives, it is a sun ,,vhose time has come.
Aceves, Carlos & J..A. ( 1994 ). The Xinachtli Project- -A Manifesto of Mvthic Peda 2:o y. ( an u np(1bl ished manuscript).
Caduto. Michael J . & Bruchac. Joseph. (1988). Keepers of the Earth- Native Ame1ican Stories and Environmental Activities for Children. Fulcrum, Inc. Golden. Colorado.
Deloria, Vine Jr. (1973). God is Red. Grosset & Dunlap, New York, NY Enrique. Tupac. ( 1994). The Xicano Paradi£m. (an unpublished
Enrique, 'Tupac. (1991 ). Xinachtli Project. Phoenix Union High School District publisher.
Johansen, Bruce & :f\1aestas, Roberto. (1979). Wasi 'chu- The Continuing Indian Wars . Monthly Review Press. New York, NY.
Johanson, Donald C. (1981). Lucv. The Beginning of Humankind . Simon &
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Joyce. Christopher. ( 1994). Eanhlv Goods. Med icine-Hunting in the Rainforest. Little. Brown & Company. Boston, MA.
Knight, George R. ( 1989). Issues & Alternatives in Educational Philosophy (2nd edition). Berrien Springs, Michigan: Andrews University Press.
Leon-Port i Ila. Miguel. (1963). Aztec Thought and Culture- A Study of the Ancient Nahuatl ivlind . University of Oklahoma Press:
Plotkin o Mark J. ( 1993). Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice. Viking Publishers.
New York, NY.
Simeon, Remi. (1984). Diccionario de la Lengua Nahuatl o Mexicana.
Mexico. OF: Siglo XXI: America Nuestra.
\Veatherford. Jack. ( 1988). Indian Givers- How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the \r\/orld. Fawcett Columbine, New York, NY.