Thanksgiving is upon us and so is the yearly conundrum: what, as educators, do we say and do surrounding Thanksgiving? In this episode, we unpack our own experiences learning and teaching the lie of the “First Thanksgiving” and the mindset shift we both engaged in so that we could begin revealing the truth.
It’s important to note that neither of us grew up knowing the truth about Thanksgiving; we both experienced the “traditional” white-washed teaching of the “First Thanksgiving.” It required a lot of self-directed learning on the topic to get to where we are now… which is the case for SO many educators. There are many adults, teachers even, that still don’t know that the “First Thanksgiving” is a falsehood. It’s our job to do better when we know better and to help others do the same.
The Danger of a Single Story and American Exceptionalism
“Righting a wrong” isn’t the only reason to stop teaching the lie of the “First Thanksgiving.” There are so many reasons – to create space and hear the narratives of marginalized peoples in our historical record, to ensure that we’re allowing our learners opportunities for critical discourse, and to honor the humanity and dignity of indigeous peoples in America today.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave an incredible TED Talk on the danger of a single story. This applies to so much of our discourse – written, oral, recorded – but I’m particularly struck by it in terms of how history is presented to learners.
We encourage you to listen to the TED Talk below:
This post, from Jessica Lifshitz, is an incredible resource for teaching beyond the single story. We strongly encourage you not only to read and use this piece, but to follow Jess on Twitter: @Jess5th.
After watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, we have been digging into her idea of the “danger of a single story.” pic.twitter.com/FXuTMh9rLR
— Jess (@Jess5th) October 25, 2017
Recommendations for K-1 Educators
Leverage local resources and use this time as an opportunity to honor and teach about local tribes (November is, in fact, Native American History Month). The National Congress of American Indians has a database that can be utilized to find tribes local to your area.
Use the correct terminology with your learners and conversations surrounding that as a springboard for further exploration of history. This article is a great place to start exploring the language-aspect of this conversation.
Teach about thankfulness as a general practice rather than emphasizing the lie of the “First Thanksgiving.” Tamara has created an entire unit on thankfulness, which you can find here.
Recommendations for 2-3+ Educators
Utilize visuals – such as paintings like “The First Thanksgiving” – to discuss bias, historically and in modern representations of history. Ask the curious, open-ended questions that lead to learners comparing and contrasting the positioning/perspectives in the visuals. (Example: “What do you notice about the body language of the pilgrims vs. the Native Americans?”) Beyond the Bubble offers many great options, including this activity on “The First Thanksgiving.”
Use primary and secondary sources and allow students to analyze them in contrast to modern texts and representations of the time. The Library of Congress offers a free teacher’s guide and resource set for just such an exploration of Thanksgiving, past and present.
Culminate your study with a high engagement activity like the one Tamara details here, the activity she shares in this episode. Learners are able to work collaboratively, which not only increases their overall engagement but allows for differing perspectives.
Use tradebooks, such as “Encounter” by Jane Yolen (affiliate link), to present students with multiple perspectives of a time-period. While “Encounter” tells the story of Columbus’s arrival to San Salvador from the perspective of a Taino boy, it’s a good entry point for discussions of perspective surrounding “The First Thanksgiving.”
- “The Problem with Cute History” and “The Lie I REFUSE to Teach” by Tamara Russell
- “Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving: 5 Children’s Books That Set the Record Straight” from Indian Country Today
- “Let’s All Tell the True Story About Thanksgiving” by Yatibaey Evans, Op-Ed in the New York Times
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