Thanksgiving: More than a Single Story
This post is by Allison Spire, a SEED leader and K-1 teacher at Our Community School in Chatsworth, California.
Since attending SEED New Leaders’ Week, I can no longer teach the traditional pilgrim stories (the single story) I have always known. I keep hearing the voice of Chimamanda Adichie saying in her video (in that beautiful voice), "Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story." At first, since I had not had an opportunity to develop new curriculum, I simply focused on a general theme of "being thankful." I believed that was, at least, better than teaching the single story—until I could get my act together.
As an educator, I continue to grapple with how to help my young students understand the true history of our country. Historians have misled us and, it seems, education has become dangerous propaganda that perpetuates lies. I have been uncertain about what exactly to teach my K-1 students regarding Thanksgiving; so much of the true story is beyond their understanding, and it is so ugly and violent.
On the other hand, I find myself in a very unique position — my young students have not, yet, been taught the lies. And so, during this time of the year we focus on a unit called “My Place in the World.” We study the concepts of family, ancestry, cultural heritage and immigration. Students learn that unless their lineage is 100 percent Native American, they have ancestors that were immigrants to the United States. Students learn that when Europeans first came to this country, people already inhabited the land. This was their land. Europeans came, and took it.
Our discussions include questions such as, “How do you suppose the people who lived here, the Native Americans, felt when strangers came and took their homes and forced them to leave?” Even a six-year-old can figure out that one.