Archive for Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Teaching about Thanksgiving in a multicultural society

Annie Shew, a first-grader at Kennedy School, reacts after realizing she forgot to draw glasses on a picture of her brother in her “I Am Thankful For” book Tuesday at the school. At right is her teacher, Rebecca Hout. Students were studying Thanksgiving and making drawings that will be distributed to Meals on Wheels clients on Thanksgiving Day on Thursday.

Annie Shew, a first-grader at Kennedy School, reacts after realizing she forgot to draw glasses on a picture of her brother in her “I Am Thankful For” book Tuesday at the school. At right is her teacher, Rebecca Hout. Students were studying Thanksgiving and making drawings that will be distributed to Meals on Wheels clients on Thanksgiving Day on Thursday.

November 21, 2012


Children in Rebecca Hout’s classroom spent much of this week doing the same thing schoolchildren throughout America were doing: learning about the Thanksgiving tradition and holiday.

Hout, who teaches first grade at Kennedy School, had her pupils make picture books describing the things in their life for which they were thankful.

They read those famous short passages from the diary of William Bradford, leader of the Puritan colonists in New England, describing that legendary first Thanksgiving feast in 1621.

Some of them also made Thanksgiving decorations that will be delivered to area seniors through Meals on Wheels.

But one thing her students didn’t do was to dress up like Indians and Pilgrims and play out the characters that have long been part of the American psyche.

“I remember doing that,” Hout said, recalling her own education, “and I remember wearing a Pilgrim costume, and it was fun, but it was characterizing a culture. I think it teaches kids to stereotype Indians. The whole story is so complicated, we don’t get into it that much. It’s just too much for first grade.”

Hout isn’t alone in believing that lessons about the Thanksgiving tradition need a more multicultural approach.

In many schools, it may still be common for children to make buckskin costumes out of brown paper grocery sacks, or to fashion feathered headbands out of construction paper and glue. But increasingly, many teachers are finding that those kinds of cultural stereotypes, especially about Native Americans, are no longer relevant, or particularly useful, for today’s students.

“We do talk about the history of it,” Hout said. “We talk about that first Thanksgiving story and how it’s a cute little story, but maybe it didn’t really happen that way.”

In truth, historians say, the Wampanoag Indians who lived in the area in what is now Massachusetts that became Plymouth Plantation didn’t wear buckskin clothing, nor did they wear feather headdresses.

Jennifer Attocknie, coordinator of Native American student services for the Lawrence school district, says those are popular images that serve to reduce and distill native culture into a simple, homogeneous picture.

“There’s a common stereotype that we’re all the same,” said Attocknie, who grew up in a Comanche family in Oklahoma. “There are over 500 different federally recognized tribes in the United States. That’s not including the nonfederally recognized tribes. So there are hundreds of languages and cultures and relationships and everything.”

Lawrence schools may have more diversity in its Native American population than most, in part because the community is home to Haskell Indian Nations University, which attracts both students and faculty from a wide cross-section of Native American cultures. Attocknie said there are about 580 Native American students in the district, or nearly 5 percent of total enrollment.

Attocknie has been trying in recent years to convince Lawrence teachers to teach about Thanksgiving differently and to move away from those stereotypes.

“I think that they want to get things correct,” she said of teachers in the district. “So either they avoid anything to do with American Indians and Native Americans and indigenous cultures, for fear of getting it wrong, or they cling to this romantic stereotype that they experienced as a child and have the positive feelings that they remember as a child.”

Attocknie said that in her family and culture there always was a certain indifference about the Thanksgiving holiday.

“I asked my grandma about it once and she said, ‘Well, we’re all off of work today, so we might as well hang out.’ And I think that’s pretty common from my friends and my family.”

But Hout said she experienced it differently. Her mother’s family was part of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, but she grew up not knowing much about her own Native American heritage.

“My mom was taught to try to pass as white,” Hout said. “She came from that. She came from (a background that said) you don’t really talk about it, that it’s viewed negative to be seen as native.”

Paul Kelton, associate professor and chairman of the history department at Kansas University, says “origin myths” like the ones surrounding Thanksgiving are common in most cultures, and at times can serve a useful purpose in unifying people around common values and ethics.

But he says they can also be harmful, “in that they inhibit people from asking hard questions.”

“I think that mythologies that obscure a very complex reality and tidy up with a very sanitized version are very destructive,” he said. “Any time that you obscure a very violent and brutal history, you don’t encourage people to learn why that happened.”

Kelton said: “The idea that somehow what defined the founding of America were native peoples and Europeans coming together in a very friendly manner — that was an exception. And if the exception becomes how we understand our past, then we’re really not understanding our past, and that’s dangerous in my book.”

In Rebecca Hout’s class, students don’t spend time learning that aspect of European-Native American relations either. As she said, it’s a bit much for first-grade students.

But they do seem to know intuitively that Thanksgiving is a big deal.

“They’re super excited,” she said. “They all talk about turkey. It’s turned into a time to eat and a time to be with family.”


Robert Rauktis 1 year, 4 months ago

History and culture are predominately written by the victors. But why do all these white people want to be Fightin' Sioux or Illini or Utes and use the tomahawk chop? Could it be because they can't take pride in any culture for reminiscing and they're stuck in worthless lives with two celebratory days out of the rest of the year. And all that food and junk doesn't make up for the other 363?

They're jealous because they lost. They didn't discover anything. Enjoy the rest of the year. The numbers are in our favor.


Mike Ford 1 year, 4 months ago

it was attributed to a Native American Professor from UConn.....plagarizing really???? beyond that as a White American you have no idea about that 1637 incident do you? You've probably heard of Foxwoods Casino and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. It was at the Mystic Swamp in 1637 where the British and Mohegan and Narragansett allies drove 700 Pequot men, women, and children into that swamp and lit it on fire killing hundreds. The survivors were sold into slavery to other tribes or to Bermuda where the descendants of these Pequot people still live. A tribe that had 1500 or 2000 members then has about 1200 in the 21st century. Miles Standish made comments of God's intent for the Pilgrims to benefit from the elimination of the savages in that time. Massasoit, a Wampanoag leader, worked with the Pilgrims but over time his son Metacomet saw how the English colonists stripped the Wampanoag people of lands and drove them into praying towns to destroy their indigenous identity and by the 1670's Metacomet had enough and the Metacomet or King Philips War took place. The tribes pushed hard but Metacomet ended up being drawn and quartered by the "Civilized"? colonists and his people were sold into slavery on Deer Island in the Boston Harbor and only a decade ago was a law from the 1670's taken off the books prohibiting Indians from entering Boston proper. Know your history and stop white washing mythology.


James Minor 1 year, 4 months ago

I agree there were atrocities to Native Americans and the Thanksgiving event more than likely did not happen as written in most books. The article is focused on a teacher leading her students in a less offensive way of celebrating Thanksgiving and that is good. Eliminating Thanksgiving will not erase the tradegy and those that followed. America can learn from Thanksgiving by not eliminating it but spending the time in fellowship and remembering the importance of everyone getting along and being thankful for the time spent together in peace.


Lawrence Morgan 1 year, 4 months ago

This is a great story, and Peter Hancock did a superb job in presenting Thanksgiving in this way.

I personally love thanksgiving. BUT we need to keep in mind tuschkahouma's very valid point.

Somehow we need to incorporate both the good and not good of the past, and bring the holiday into an honest mode with the present.

And i would agree that Columbus Day is much, much worse. There is much to be thankful for, today, no matter what tradition you come from.

We also need to look at how corporations have monopolized modern day Thanksgiving. Black Friday is bad enough, but now they want to take over Thanksgiving evening as well, and to my mind, that is completey unacceptable.


Mike Ford 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanksgiving Day Celebrates A Massacre

William B. Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the Anthropology department at the University of Connecticut, says that the first official Thanksgiving Day celebrated the massacre of 700 Indian men, women and children during one of their religious ceremonies. "Thanksgiving Day" was first proclaimed by the Governor of the then Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 to commemorate the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance...Thanksgiving Day to the, "in their own house", Newell stated. - small snip - -----The very next day the governor declared a Thanksgiving Day.....For the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won."

Deny this.......


rockchalk1977 1 year, 4 months ago

Hyper-sensitive political correctness run amok! If you don't like American traditions... pack up and leave.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 4 months ago

Columbus Day in my mind is far more offensive to Native Americans and other minorities than Thanksgiving.

It seems to me that the Thanksgiving story is one of cooperation, friendship, and good will. The Native Americans helped the starving Pilgrims by sharing their food and showing them how to hunt the animals in the country and to grow corn and squash.

No good deed goes unpunished, but this is a nice story of humanity and good will.

Stereotypes (e.g. buckled shoes and hats and feathered headbands) are recognizable cultural icons that help tell the story. While they are stereotypes, in this case I think they are harmless.


oldbaldguy 1 year, 4 months ago

does anyone know why a national day of thanksgiving was declared? it was not because of the puritans in new england. i agree with gaul's comments.


cooltrix 1 year, 4 months ago

I don't know why bablove's comment was removed, the truth hurts, I guess.


repete66211 1 year, 4 months ago

Does anyone really think of Puritans and Native Americans when they think of Thanksgiving? That may be what led to what we do now, but I don't think anyone over the age of 10 thinks T'giving is anything more than a day to have a big meal with relatives.


James Minor 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanksgiving is a time for fellowship. Teaching children to not be offensive while wearing another's cultural dress is important. America has a lot of barriers to overcome before we as a nation can say we have healed ourselves of racism and discrimination. Hopefully, tomorrow those that gather together will understand, respect, and be thankful, of those that stand next to them while everyone says "Please pass the turkey and dressing"


tomatogrower 1 year, 4 months ago

Let's just turn it into a day of Thanksgiving and leave out the history. A day when people can come together and celebrate the harvest, even though harvest doesn't mean as much to most of us as it used to.

I would rather they didn't teach it as history at all, unless they talk about what really happened in our country. I knew one teacher who tried to teach that the Pilgrims kept the Native Americans from starving. Or if you want to go with the fantasy history, make sure they understand that it is just a myth, and could represent how cultures could come together to share if they wanted.

But Thanksgiving has become a holiday that has little to do with the Thanksgiving myth anyway. It is a time to take a break and spend time with your family. Of course, if you don't like your family, it might not be that much fun, but at least take a break. Happy Turkey Day. Or Happy Tofurkey to all my vegetarian friends.


toe 1 year, 4 months ago

Thanksgiving is a hated holiday by many. It represents the oppression and bigotry of imperialist ethnic and religious groups. In a few more years, the holiday will be re-purposed as a day of morning for all the evils of the past. It will be called Hategiving.


Mark Jakubauskas 1 year, 4 months ago

BTW, it's now referred to as "Fall Break" not "Thanksgiving Vacation."


Gaul 1 year, 4 months ago

I love Thanksgiving, the time of fellowship, the turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Please, someone, ask these teachers with a political correctness agenda to stop trashing the customs of good Americans of all descents. This idea that "stereotyping" is always evil is reverse racism. I am sick of the perverse political agendas of sick, well meaning teachers. I taught high school for ten years and I know what kind of an almost anti-American spirit some have. Let's just enjoy Thanksgiving and be thankful for that early time of harmony between two different races. The one day (at least) of harmony is what ought to touted rather than this sick idea of agitating racism under the guise of being anti-racist.


bablove 1 year, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.


jonas_opines 1 year, 4 months ago

Honestly, I'd be fine with just teaching it as a time that people can get together with family, friends, and other loved ones in a time where we're often spread out, busy with working lives, and have difficulty finding time to be together.

Much the same as Christmas.


geekin_topekan 1 year, 4 months ago

The Puritans (Pilgrims) were Calvinist who believed that pre-destiny neither allowed nor barred them from heaven thereby justifying the murder of any living man, woman, or child in the name of Jesus Christ. If they were to to kill an Indian child, it was because the lord all mighty impressed the notion onto them and therefore it was a holy murder. Kind of along the same lines that a certain band of extremist used in NYC several years ago, the Puritans held the same wacky ideology.

That;s the "religious freedom" the Puritans (Pilgrims) sought and codified.


Gandalf 1 year, 4 months ago

Sounds like the same line of BS that was put out by the teacher who wanted to rewrite Mark Twain. I agree with not using stereotypes for plays. Use costumes as close to the times as possible. But don't try to sugarcoat or rewrite history. That simply defeats the purpose.


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