Standing Up Against the Thanksging Story

The following is an email I sent to my son’s preschool teacher after I saw that “Pilgrims and Indians” was an upcoming theme with “10 Little Indians” as a song they would sing.

He attended a preschool that I really like with a kind and loving teacher. Like many educators in the US, she planned November activities around the Thanksgiving narrative that most of us grew up hearing.

Many adults today still do not know that the happy story of the “Thanksgiving Feast” is not fact. Just this week, an adult said, “Society needs to stop being so offended by history.” I politely informed her that if she wanted her child to re-enact actual history, they could dress up as colonists and play, “Here are some small pox blankets.”

Those of us that know the truth are obligated to use our time and energy to tell the truth and stand up for people that have long been oppressed. Even if that means having uncomfortable conversations. We can be polite. We can be kind. But we cannot sit back using our privilege just so our kids can participate in a “cute” activity. It is harmful. It cannot be ignored.

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I wanted to clarify the Thanksgiving themes for next week and the rest of the month. I love what I have seen so far in your classroom this school year and I am truly happy with X being there. However, this topic makes me feel like I need to be “that parent”. On next week’s outline it says the theme for Tuesday is “Pilgrims and Indians” and for the whole month it lists “Thanksgiving”. Will “Pilgrims and Indians” be just next Tuesday or are you going to cover it other days? Can you clarify what that theme looks like? Because that theme sends up red flags in my head so I want to double check what is actually going to happen. 

Up until this point in our house we have focused on Thanksgiving being a time to share what we are thankful for, we write notes thanking God for what we are grateful for, and we decorate with cute turkeys. We are also sharing that the colonists came here because people were not nice to them in their country. But when they got here they were really focused on what they wanted, they weren’t nice to the Native Americans and they took land that didn’t belong to them. We obviously won’t share gory details now, but will more and more as he gets older. 

These are two books we bought this year: 

Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times
The Children of the Morning Light: Wampanoag Tales as Told By Manitonquat

My concerns with the “traditional Thanksgiving story” are the whole issue of historical inaccuracy and the way the European colonists wiped-out most of the Native American population through plague and violence. As I am sure you know, the “first Thanksgiving” is just a story that was created far after. My understanding is there were brief periods of peace between the groups that often ended in broken treaties, genocide, and land “acquisition”. Many Native Americans consider Thanksgiving a time of mourning. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of racial harmony between the two groups when it never existed and Native Americans continue to be an oppressed group in our country. I try to avoid teaching stereotypes (and inaccurate names as they prefer to be called Native Americans) that are perpetuated with songs like “10 Little Indians”, even when they are done with tradition and not negative intent in mind. I assume this is a theme you have done for years and I totally know you had no ill intent.

I found this quote recently when I was reading about Thanksgiving education in schools and it really made me realize it is important to speak up about this topic: 

“It’s demeaning… I’m sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation’s history.”

Here are some articles with accurate information about the first Thanksgiving:

http://www.patriotledger.com/x1743700945/Pilgrims-and-Indians-A-practical-relationship (has a good review of the story)

http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/Teach-the-Real-Story-of-the-First-Thanksgiving.shtml

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-greener/the-true-story-of-thanksg_b_788436.html

I don’t want to pull X out of school for it; however, I do want to check what is being shared because it is important to me he understands the truth and I don’t want to perpetuate racial steroetypes. Additionally, I would love to see a switch in focus about what Thanksgiving is about for the future!

Thanks for taking the time to read my long thoughts on the subject and I look forward to hearing back from you about simple snack and these deep subjects!

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*I used several resources to help me write this letter but because it was two years ago, I am not able to link them now. But I appreciate all those that have put time and emotional energy into this subject in order to educate others!