How will you teach Thanksgiving next year?

thanksgiv-dayBy Nick McDaniels — If you’ve read any or many of my posts over the past few years, you know that I typically walk a fine line between extremely liberal and imprisonably radical.

This political bent undoubtedly comes through in my classroom practice, yet I’ll I admit that on the issue of teaching Thanksgiving, I have probably been just conservative enough to qualify for potentially existent Rush Limbaugh Excellence in Teacher Award.

This is why I am challenging myself next year, because I really dropped the ball on teaching about it at all this year (other than asking my students what they were thankful for), to teach my students about the real Thanksgiving, the holiday that was conceived after the mythical peaceful dinner between the European invaders and the natives to this continent, the holiday that was thought of primarily as a time to give thanks for the eradication of native tribes from around the Boston area.

With this in mind, I’ve committed myself to doing some more research on the real “First Thanksgiving,” though the event did not really occur at all, and ensuring that my students understand that racist undertones, and overtones, of this uniquely white, European-American holiday. While I certainly see the merits in helping students to realize all they have to be thankful for, it is not in the name of this holiday or its myths that this practice should be adopted. Also, it is the very sentiment that underlies this holidays that has prevented many of my students, 100 percent of them students of color, from having longer lists of things to be thankful for.

You see, my students deserve to know this history, not to spoil their holiday spirit, but to help them reject all of the bad parts about Thanksgiving and declare ownership of the good parts. The original Thanksgiving, declared by Massachusetts Colony Governor John Winthrop, was intended as a celebration of the return of the colony’s militia after that militia slaughtered 700 Pequot Indians, thus, this Thanksgiving feast celebrated a major genocidal action against American Indians. To be fair, the term Thanksgiving may not have come from this event, but rather came from a series of meals hungry Europeans had on a weekly basis after days of fasting which were meant to conserve food. Regardless, the tradition of the post-harvest fall feast we now know as Thanksgiving, is rooted in horrific acts of brutality and hatred, a tradition we should not lightly pass on.

While it would be easy to ignore the myth of a friendly Pilgrim-Indian dinner, it is just as easy to ignore the true history of Thanksgiving. I am challenging myself next year to teach my students the true history of Thanksgiving, to hang on to the important reflective quality of considering what we should all be thankful for, and to push our thinking beyond a simple understanding of historical events to a level of activity devoted to celebrating all of those who have, since the real first Thanksgiving, worked to combat genocide, racism, and hatred. These are the people we should all be thankful for and these people will be my guides for how I am going to teach Thanksgiving. I will be thankful for those of you who will join me in this effort.

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