36 I CHRONICLESnschools as an arm of the state tonrearrange society (though he did favorna necessary orthodoxy of pohticalnteaching in support of repubhcanismnwhich our civil libertarians, committednto leftist revolution, will not allow).nOur public school system was builtnupon a Massachusetts-Prussian modelnthat proceeded from the beginningnwith nearly opposite goals. Its purposenwas to provide not leaders but a docilenwork force and conformist citizenry.nPossibly this goal was even a good onengiven the conditions of the later 19thncentury, but it was not Jefferson’s.nJefferson, defender of the aristocracynof talents against the aristocracy ofnprivilege, would find anathema, I be­nlieve, a school system which expendsnvast resources in the hope of makingnmarginal improvements in the mindsnof the dull-witted, while neglecting,ndemoralizing, and alienating the talented.n(The main function of Americannpublic education is to make surenthat the talented poor do not get angood education and are not able to risenand compete with the class that cannafford private schooling, a class notednfor its sterling verbal commitment tonegalitarian public education.)nThis brief sketch, I believe, capturesnsomething of the essential Jefferson.nBut, of course, history is many thingsnand serves many purposes, and itsnfascination lies just in the fact that it isnSterile Prairie by Wayne Michael Sarfn”Look how wide also the east is from the west: sonfar hath he set our sins from us.” „ , , „,n— Psalm 103nThe Fatal Environment: ThenMyth of the Frontier in the Age ofnIndustriahzation 1800-1900 hynRichard Slotkin, New York:nAtheneum; $37.50.nIt has been said that an intellectual isnsomeone who can listen to the WilliamnTell Overture without thinking ofnthe Lone Ranger. But the life of thenmind hardly requires that William andnHenry, rather than Frank and Jesse,nfirst spring to mind should “the Jamesnbrothers” be mentioned; nor is it inconsistentnwith “popular” culture ornsuch “romantic” Western subjects asnIndian warfare or frontier crime. Resistingnseduction by frontier fantasies,nscholars may choose instead to dissectnthem, tracing the transmutation of historyninto myth and flawed humans intonAmerica’s frontier pantheon. Othersnmay adopt a sociological approach tonfrontier society, though their effortsnmay fail to evoke a deeper Truth;nrecently in these pages Odie B. Faulk,ngalvanized by two books he considerednWayne Michael Sarf is author ofnGod Bless You, Buffalo Bill: AnLayman’s Guide to History and thenWestern Film.n”larded with sociological and psychologicalnjargon and motivated by economicnprejudice against the entrepreneur,”ninsisted that he had gainednmore insight into the cattie trade fromntwo cowboy anecdotes than fromn”some two dozen years of academicnstudy.”nThe defiant opposite to a homelynbrush-popper’s yarn might be a probingnof Western myths and “ideology”nthat largely neglects the actual West innthe consciousness of the dudes —nthose who helped hammer out for usnan enduring frontier of the mind.nRichard Slotkin’s The Fatal Environmentnexcavates its “Myth of the Frontier”nchiefly from the writings of Easterners,nfrom an era when the frontiernwas known to be, with a ghastly finality,nvanishing.n”Men live by lies,” proclaimednD.H. Lawrence, brooding over Cooper’snLeatherstocking cycle. And sonwith nations. Our Old West — ournFrontier — is a young nation’s closestnapproach to a Heroic Age, to be alternatelynglamorized or debunked asnpride or guilt takes us, its tragedy andndrama famous beyond our shores.nSmall wonder that despite an abundancenof honest and entertaining nonfictionnwriters, bad “historians,” cater-nnnnot and never can be definitive. ProfessornCunningham has enjoyed a pleasantnand prestigious appointment, by nonmeans a sinecure, to provide a newnaccount of Jefferson’s life in relativelynshort compass. If one wants a reliable,nfactual, well-written overview of thenlife of Jefferson the public man, innsome but not too great detail, then thisnbook will serve the purpose. It is anpleasant but not very invigorating diversionnfor those who like their Americannhistory as untroubled as possible.nAnd I have no doubt that a great manynmore readers will prefer Gunningham’snfiltertip cigarette to the pungentnbut authentic plug of old Virginianbright leaf that I have proffered above.ning to Wild West dementia, oftennseem to drive out the good — an ironynsummed up by anthropologist JohnnGreenway’s comment that DeenBrown’s Bury My Heart at WoundednKnee “is the most popular book on thenIndians ever written. It is also thenworst.”nYet there seems scant agreement onnthe Western “myth.” Does it celebratenrugged self-reliance, or violent “gunnculture”? Are its Indians beasts, orndoes “natural” virtue hold a reproachfulnmirror to civilized vice? Do wenwelcome its passing — the arrival ofnschoolmarms and temperance societies—nor mourn an ever-receding anarchynof ring-tafled squealers and eyegougingnbrawlers? Perhaps all answersnare correct, the myth, like Western filmnand fiction, being a catchall in whichnany fancy or folly can be indulged.nBut for Richard Slotkin, here as innhis 1973 Regeneration Through Violence,nthe “Myth of the Frontier” isnarbitrarily boiled down to a theme ofnIndian or “savage” warfare, a confrontationnwhich for generations of Americansnhad become “the symbolic key toninterpreting the meaning of history.”nAcknowledging that many nevernadopted this myth, Slotkin asserts thatnit provided the terms in which GeneralnGeorge A. Custer’s contemporariesnunderstood his 1876 defeat by Siouxnand Cheyenne warriors — and alsonthat these terms “continue to shapen