November 17, 2008

Teaching teachers about Thanksgiving

Finding New Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving

By Kevin AbourezkRecently, my wife showed me a post to a teachers' Web site in which one teacher described how one year she had half her kindergartners wear Pilgrim hats and white collars and had the other half wear grocery bag vests and feathered headbands to reenact the Thanksgiving feast.

The teacher admitted it "wasn't very PC, but the kiddos loved it and the parents did to (sic)."

My wife, always the activist, asked me, always the diplomat, to please help her craft a response to the misguided teacher, who obviously didn't get it.

Sitting down at the computer together, we wrote a response to the teacher's post, suggesting that by portraying Native people in a purely historical manner the teacher was giving her students the impression that Native Americans no longer exist. That they are a thing of the past.

My wife related how a student had just the week before asked her if Native Americans were still alive.

The question forced my wife to consider, how could her student possibly have gotten the idea that Indians are no more?

Then she realized: All her student sees and reads about Native Americans is historical. She doesn't see them living, working or sharing her classroom today.

As with most things she has never seen (Santa, the Tooth Fairy), the girl believed Indians didn't exist.

We let the teacher know that the cliche Thanksgiving portrayal of Native Americans and Pilgrims sharing a table together perpetuates that false idea, as well as another mistaken notion - that Native Americans celebrate the historical feast between Pilgrims and Indians.

They do not, we told the teacher.

For Indians, that feast is a symbol of the betrayal, of the killing and of the forced removal from their homelands that followed.

We told the teacher we understood her desire to skip over this "messy bit of history" in favor of creating a warm, fuzzy experience for her students, but that by neglecting history she was doing her students a great disservice.

We suggested this: that she find a Native American in her community and ask that person to visit her classroom on a day this month to talk to her students about what Thanksgiving means to him or her.

We told her that person would likely be happy to share their thoughts and feelings on this difficult subject and wouldn't preach if asked in a spirit of truth-seeking.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see 10 Little Pilgrims and Indians.


Anonymous said...

Did you receive a response from the teacher?

Rob said...

This isn't my article. I merely quoted Kevin Abourezk's article. He's the author, not me.

Since he hadn't received a response as of November 13, 2008, I'm guessing he still hasn't received one. I'll let you know if he does.

Anonymous said...

I apologize. I'm new to your blogs and just didn't read then entry carefully.

Thanks for the response.