When I think of how Thanksgiving was taught to me I have some clear memories of elementary school. We dressed up as pilgrims and Indians, and we put on a play for our families. I also remember drawing pictures that I was so proud of that looked a lot like the skit: pilgrims and Indians sharing corn and pumpkin pie and turkey. When I reflect on these common activities that happened in schools (I hope they still don't) when I was young I cringe to think about what was taught to me and how I believed that to be truth for so long. Do you have memories of lessons in school or at home that are similar to mine? When did you finally learn the truth around Thanksgiving? Today think about what you know/don't know as the truth around the “First Thanksgiving” and reflect on how you interact with your students around the content. Simply put...when we know better, we do better.
What my teacher asked us to do was not right. We appropriated a culture by dressing in stereotypical outfits as we created headbands to wear. The Wampanoag people did not wear the elaborate headdresses depicted in European paintings of the “First Thanksgiving” (The depiction of them in headdresses breaking bread with the pilgrims is not historically accurate). There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. In order to appreciate, students must understand the historical context of such dress, the religious and cultural significance, the ways in which Indigenous peoples have been oppressed and their culture appropriated. Without such understanding, students cannot appreciate the culture for what it is. While my elementary teacher’s goal may have been to engage her students and have “fun” dressing up as First Americans to help us relate to history, it was not the right way to go about it. Objecting someone’s culture is not about being politically correct--it’s about recognizing that wearing someone else’s culture as a costume diminishes the significance of their cultural dress, and is particularly harmful when there is a history of oppression related to it.
I think it’s important that we accurately teach history- especially so our student don’t end up like me (or maybe you too?) who felt as though I was misinformed/lied to by my teachers/adults in my life. Students are forming their ideas about how they interact with the world, and how the impacts of historical events ripple through to today. Presenting a false narrative about the “First Thanksgiving” and the Wampanoag people allows students to frame the relationship between Indigenous peoples and white European colonizers in a way that softens or outright erases the unconscionable violence and destruction of nations that took place in the 1600s and beyond. While November is Native American History Month there is trouble in only teaching about Indigenous peoples for one month. We perpetuate the idea that they shouldn’t be taught/discussed year round. This also goes for Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and others. With all of this being said I have a some resources both for teachers and students and below I have share some tips as you move through this topic.
This resource has a ton of links within it to support your learning as well as your learning with students:
Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in School
Lesson Ideas and Resources:
'Equity means that PEOPLE should receive what they need to achieve their potential, and their race and other aspects of their identity should not prevent access to opportunity.’
We spend a lot of time in our school & district talking about race, specifically Black/African American males, because we know that this is where we still have much work to do in terms of academics (college and career ready, academic growth, proficiency) and in tackling the disproportionate numbers of referrals. (By the way, I don’t mean that we avoid writing them necessarily, but that we tackle our beliefs about writing referrals: Who do we write them for? What language do we use when writing them? Do we try to problem-solve and deescalate before we write referrals? What is the outcome we expect when we write them? Have we considered if these behaviors have happened before and what factors might influence the problem so we can address the 'root of the problem' so we can avoid a referral altogether?)
With all that said, I want to be clear, equity isn’t just for a certain demographic, race, gender, or social class, etc., equity is for ALL PEOPLE. Equity at school is about building the capacity for all students – we must leverage their value, their voices, and their leadership. We need to reflect deeply on what we, as educators, feel and believe about our students of color, ELL students, children identified as low SES, and so on; we need to be mindful of what we see as “deficits” in order to see areas for US to change and grow. The shifts in our mindsets and beliefs don’t happen just because we attend a PD or read an article, rather the shifts come after the PD and the reading when we begin thinking critically about ourselves.
When considering equity, we need to believe that we can teach all students and that all our students can learn, even when (especially when!) we set high expectations. I want us to remember our perception data we discussed earlier this week. So many students said they don’t believe they are smart and gave us their reasons why they hold this belief about themselves. One of the steps to equity in this article is to become a “warm demander”. It's explained more here: The Teachers as a Warm Demander
Warm demanders are teachers who “expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential...” What might happen to our Hoyt students’ beliefs about themselves if we spoke life into them and “convinced them of their own brilliance”?
Finally, I encourage you to take some time to also reflect on your self-efficacy. Do you believe you can teach all students at a high level? “Teacher efficacy is when teachers believe in their own ability to guide their students to success. For over thirty years, researchers have explored the link between teacher self-efficacy and student achievement. Research suggests that teachers with a strong sense of self-efficacy tend to be better planners, more resilient through failure, and more open-minded and supportive with students. Collective efficacy is when a staff of teachers believe that together they can inspire growth and change in their students.” And according to John Hattie, professor and education-researcher, “collective teacher efficacy has the greatest impact on student achievement—even higher than factors like teacher-student relationships, home environment, or parental involvement.”
Imagine what your classroom will look like when you ramp up your teacher-efficacy and the beliefs you hold in all of your students’ abilities to achieve. The sky is the limit!