Thanksgiving

colored paper cutoutsWaiting to pick up my granddaughter after school last week, I noticed all the other 1st graders pouring out of the building with Indian headresses made from colored paper just like the ones I made when I was in the first grade way last century. Some had what looked like a Pilgrim hat or a woman’s head scarf made from colored paper instead.

And that got me wondering why our schools don’t tell our children the truth when it comes to explaining our cultural heritage. The legend is that the Pilgrims were grateful for a bountiful harvest and, being the magnanimous human beings they were, decided to share their bounty with the underprivileged native peoples living just outside Plymouth Plantation. In fact, the Pilgrims were on the brink of starvation and were saved from extinction by the generosity of the indigenous people around them.

ZinnI was 50 years old before I read Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History Of The United States, which teaches history from the point of view of the losers. It was from him I first learned that Christopher Columbus wrote glowing reports back to the King of Spain informing him that the natives he found in the Caribbean were quite docile people who would make excellent slaves. It’s no wonder the Hispanic community refuses to celebrate Columbus Day! But today our schools are still passing on the same tired old myths even though we know better. Why is that?

I had the privilege of attending an excellent preparatory school and an Ivy League College. I even graduated from law school. But I was never taught some of the most basic truths about the founding of America. In effect, I didn’t get educated. I got brainwashed into believing a fiction about the superiority of white European people and their natural hegemony over all other denizens of the earth. I should demand a refund of all that tuition money.

It is left to us as individuals to educated ourselves about human history. If you are particularly interested in the colonial period, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower is an excellent resource. And for a fascinating peek into what the world was like before Columbus made his first momentous voyage, 1491 by Charles Mann is packed with information they didn’t tell you about in school.

teacherI mention this because I think there is nothing wrong with telling our children the truth about history. In fact, doing so could actually do some good. It might help them grow up without so many negative stereotypes about people with a different genetic heritage. Maybe they could even learn to cooperate so we could all put our heads together to solve the truly enormous challenges facing our planet.

And isn’t that really the purpose of education?

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About Steve Hanley

Totally enamored with my family, my grandkids, and seeing the world.
This entry was posted in Books, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Thanksgiving

  1. Ellen Dunn says:

    Steve, I could not in good conscience tell my students that Columbus was a good guy. I skipped the “holiday” in favor of a lesson on Native Americans. When I was a para a few years ago, I did a whole unit on Native Americans and included a “rap” music piece on Columbus from the Flocabulary series, which teaches truth in an entertaining, relevant way. I also included sections of “1491”. My Multicultural professor used to say, “The privilege of the privileged is to be oblivious to the obvious.” So true.

    • Steve Hanley says:

      Thank you, Ellen. Loved that quote from your professor!

      We really need to stop teaching our kids fairy tale history. The world is not Ozzie and Harriet simple and America has made grievous mistakes. They have a right to know. Mistakes are the best teachers – if we allow ourselves to learn from them.

  2. Jason Carpp says:

    I agree. Like you, I grew up being told that old Christopher Columbus was a good man who discovered America. I have heard of Howard Zinn, but I’ve yet to read his book, A People’s History of the United States. Nevertheless, I have heard stories that Columbus bought and sold Caribbean natives as slaves. After first learning that, I’ve decided then and there to refuse to celebrate Columbus Day.

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