Celebrating Thanksgiving Without Perpetuating The Myths

by | Nov 19, 2019 | Educational Resources, Holidays, Teaching Resources, Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is almost here. The week leading up to a break can be tricky as far as keeping your students engaged in your curriculum. 

The solution we usually have is to create lessons and activities that surround whatever holiday we are approaching. 

With Thanksgiving coming quickly, we tend to veer towards reenactments of the first Thanksgiving dinner, math activities involving candy corn, and lots of “My Country Tis of Thee.”

If we aren’t careful, though, we can end up perpetuating many of the myths that surround Thanksgiving. 

We have made great strides when it comes to telling students the whole truth about the first Thanksgiving. However, we can continue to be mindful of how we present the holiday.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post with resources for teaching about Native peoples. You can read about those resources by clicking here.

In this post, I wanted to share a few specific ideas for what to do – and not do – in your classroom while celebrating Thanksgiving.

Ditch The Thanksgiving Dinner Reenactment

When we dress our class up as pilgrims and Indians, we perpetuate the myth that these “characters” no longer exist. And while Pilgrims no longer truly exist in the traditional sense, the cultures of our indigenous peoples are still alive and well. When we dress up our students as Native Americans without any additional conversation, we are creating a few problems for our students’ understanding of Native peoples:

  1. Portraying Native peoples as back in time does not allow them to live in the present and gives students the idea that tribes no longer exist.
  2. By dressing students in Native “dress,” we make their traditions a costume. Tribes had different styles of clothing, and the Wampanoags did not necessarily dress the way the Natives are portrayed in Thanksgiving reenactments. (Neither are Pilgrims – who were not called Pilgrims, but that is an article for another day.)
  3. Certain traditions hold great significance for Native people. Having students pick a “Native name” or wear feathers can offend many indigenous people. 

Don’t Teach The Thanksgiving Story From One Point Of View

Part of the issues that we find when it comes to teaching the history of the first Thanksgiving is that we don’t have the full story. The entire Native people’s perspective is lost to us, leaving us instead with a white-washed version of what we assumed was a beautiful day. There are few surviving primary sources regarding the Thanksgiving feast, so we can’t have a definitive discussion of what did or did not happen. We know the peace that was experienced was short-lived and was followed by major unrest and war.

Know What Is Appropriate For Your Classroom

I think teaching the true story of Thanksgiving can be tricky for any grade, but especially for the younger grades. We don’t necessarily take time to teach them about all the awful things that happened during any wars or famines, and yet Thanksgiving is a significant event they learn about. Know your classroom and be the judge of what is appropriate for your students while being as conscious as possible. 

It can also be okay to frame Thanksgiving with its modern meaning: it is a day to be thankful for family, friends, and our blessings.

If you have questions about what is appropriate for your classroom, ask other teachers who teach your grade how they are approaching Thanksgiving.

Be Mindful Of The Thanksgiving Activities You Choose

If you choose to do activities related to Thanksgiving, make sure they are mindful of presenting the reality of the history or that they are more generically associated with the holiday. 

I think it is important to learn about the history of the Pilgrims, but I think their arrival and its effects can be presented truthfully. Choose activities that do not perpetuate the myths of Thanksgiving (i.e., no dressing up as an indigenous person, no drawing yourself as a Native person, etc.).

Instead, choose to do activities that review math, writing, reading, and (of course) the factual history. I put a few of my favorite Thanksgiving activities at the bottom of this post.

Turn Your Students Into Thanksgiving Historians

A fun activity to do in your upper level elementary and middle school grades is to put your students into groups and give them a myth that has been accepted about Thanksgiving and have them do the research.

They can present their findings to the class, which allows students to take ownership of what they learn, as well as investigate being a good media consumer (looking at various sources, verifying information, etc.)

Looking For Thanksgiving Activities That Don’t Perpetuate The Myths? Check Out My Thanksgiving Resources Below!

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Celebrating Thanksgiving Without Perpetuating The Myth
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