Southern California Schools Rethink Thanksgiving Classes – Press Enterprise


A viral video showing a math teacher hopping around her classroom in a counterfeit Native American headdress spread outrage across the country and not just in southern California.

Now, about a month after that scene exploded on social media, the Riverside Unified School District is taking advantage of the embarrassing incident to have conversations with the community and diversify its teaching. Part of his conversations with local Native American leaders includes a question that extends beyond North High School, where the teacher appears to be trying to teach a complex math concept.

How should public schools teach Thanksgiving?

Educators across Southern California say the traditional image of pilgrims and Indians and the conventional myth that “all was well” needs to change. Failure to tell students the truth about how large Native American communities perished from failed pacts, war, and disease would be obliterating history and facts, they said.

A screenshot from Instagram shows a viral video that went into circulation on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. It shows a math teacher at North High School in Riverside wearing a fake Native American headdress and dancing around. The teacher was on leave from the Riverside Unified School District. (Via Instagram)

Riverside principals have made a public decision to educate students about Native American history and culture and improve teaching practice.

As part of that effort, Henry Vasquez, chairman of the Native American Community Council of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, posted a preliminary list of resources to the school district last week. Topics included a section on presenting Thanksgiving in the classroom.

Historically, said Vasquez, the Thanksgiving story taught to students at that time of year was “very sad and inauthentic.”

“That kind of idea of ​​dressing kids up as pilgrims and Indians, wearing paper feathers and hats – that’s pretty insulting,” he said. “It makes Indian children feel really bad. I understand that for many it is a vacation experience, a fun experience. But it’s also important to think about how it will affect local children. “

The reality is that the story of Native Americans welcoming the pioneer pilgrims to a solemn festival is riddled with historical inaccuracies and myths, Vasquez said. Telling and retelling these falsehoods is detrimental to the Wampanoag Indians and other indigenous people, who know that lives and societies were forever damaged after the English arrived in Plymouth, he said.

The riverside teacher’s actions have caused pain to an entire community, Vasquez said, but the new partnership and dialogue with the school district gives him hope.

“I understand that we don’t immediately agree to everything,” he said. “But I’m impressed that they are working on a folklore curriculum and want to teach more authentic history.”

Riverside Unified spokeswoman Diana Meza said the partnership is in the preliminary stages.

Other Southern California school districts have also attempted to feature Native American history prominently in their schools.

Los Angeles Unified School District has a Native American Ethnicity Study course and is now developing “additional additional resources and lessons that reflect the diverse experiences of Indigenous peoples,” said district spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry.

She said the curriculum addresses a number of questions, including the following: How did European explorers and settlers interact with American Indians? How have the American Indians changed with the arrival and settlement of European colonists? Why did American Indians fight each other? Why did they fight with European settlers? What role did trade play both in cooperation and in conflicts between and between European settlers?

The Los Angeles Schools Board has also approved $ 10 million for indigenous education. The district will allocate funds to schools applying for services to support indigenous students, she said.

There is an urgent need to reconsider the way the Thanksgiving story is told in classrooms across California, said Tom Hunt, president of the Riverside School Board.

“My generation’s education about Native American history has been shallow and inadequate to say the least,” said Hunt, 66. “Our traditional Thanksgiving presentations and pageants have been spurious and offensive.”

Historians say the meal known as First Thanksgiving was held in the colony of Plymouth sometime in the fall of 1621. When George Washington declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1789, his proclamation made no mention of the three-day festival in Plymouth.

In 1820 a Philadelphia antiquarian published an account of Thanksgiving in his 1841 Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers with the footnote: “This was the first Thanksgiving, New England’s Thanksgiving.” In 1863, Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation that Americans should take time to say thanks in the midst of the bloodshed. It was then that the Thanksgiving holiday was linked to the history of Plymouth.

According to historian David J. Silverman, author of “This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, the Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving”“While the famous festival of 1621 was peaceful, the ensuing destruction of the indigenous communities was removed from Thanksgiving history.

History teachers should take a more active role in correcting myths surrounding Thanksgiving, said Lindsey Charron, who has taught eighth-grade US history at the Horace Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach for 16 years.

“As a student, I was taught the same myths about Thanksgiving as everyone else,” said Charron, who sits on the board of directors for the California Council for Social Studies. “It is important to correct these inaccuracies.”

One way to address the problem is to start locally and recognize the indigenous peoples who lived in the countryside, she said.

“We have to think of the tribes, the indigenous peoples who were administrators of the land,” she said. “I explain to the students how these natives came to the aid of the pilgrims and that the pilgrims would not have survived without this help. We also talk about how their relationship took twists and turns. It is good to be grateful on Thanksgiving Day, but it is also important to recognize several perspectives in relation to this celebration. “

Some Indians celebrate Thanksgiving as a national day of mourning that Charron mentions to their students.

“We can be proud of our country, but parts of it are uncomfortable and we can’t deny that,” she said. “Historically, the narrative has been controlled by certain groups and Native Americans have not been given the opportunity to share their perspective. But now there are more opportunities to socialize and we understand that these are all voices that are part of our story. “

Thanksgiving pageants are “problematic” and should have been launched a long time ago, said James Fenelon, director of the Center for Indigenous Studies at Cal State San Bernardino, who added that he was buying the excuse not to have it to discuss a difficult subject.

“If you can talk about the War of Independence, you can talk about the Wampanoag,” he said. “Isn’t that justice? When we talk about friendship pacts, we should also talk about the failure of these pacts. “

These inaccurate presentations have a significant impact on local children, Fenelon said.

“You signal to these children that they are less than,” he said. “If they talk about their inheritance, they will be closed. This contributes to all types of traumatic behavior. Sooner or later you will have to tell the other side of the story. “


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