Traditionally, depictions of Thanksgiving are fraught with images of Native Americans in feathered headdresses, pilgrims in black hats, and a feast of turkey, potatoes, and corn. Unfortunately, all of these images are historically inaccurate. Many schools portray an incorrect image of Thanksgiving to their students. This not only fills their heads with inaccurate information, but also reinforces ignorant views on Native Americans. As educators it is important to present the holiday of Thanksgiving in an accurate way.
It does not help that performing a search on Thanksgiving will give you thousands of results perpetuating incorrect information. It would not be surprising for even educators to be incorrect of aspects of this holiday, considering the traditional education on the subject.
The first step to teaching students about Thanksgiving is to give background information on the people who partook in the festivities. The Pilgrims, for example, were very different than the Puritans. The Pilgrims came on the Mayflower and came for a myriad of reasons, such as religion, seeking new wealth, and more. The Puritans arrived a decade later, and it was strictly due to religion. Pilgrims did not wear buckles, and did not dress in only black and white. Similarly, the Native Americans (Wampanoag) did not live in teepees or have access to horses. It is important to emphasize that Native American’s are not a single set of traditions. Different tribes have different cultures. Focus on the culture of the Wampanoag instead of teaching generic “facts” about Native Americans.
As for the feast itself, the “first Thanksgiving” in 1621 certainly wasn’t the first of its kind, though it is the event that led to the holiday we know today. Feasts celebrating the harvest were common. In addition, there is still great controversy surrounding the meal itself. It is still in question if the Wampanoag were invited to the feast, or if they simply showed up. The Wampanoag did, however, contribute to the feast with deer, and potentially other items. While the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did feast together, the events around this 3-day event are still unclear.
The feast may be looked at fondly, as a time that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag dined together peacefully. However, relations between the two were not good, and within fifty years their relationship had completely deteriorated. As more colonists arrived, the Native Americans were forced farther west. The Wampanoag’s land began to be taken from them. The colonists brought new diseases that terrorized Native Americans. While this is not a happy fact traditional taught during this time of year, it is a very important one.
In your lessons, it may also be a good idea to teach about Native Americans in the USA today. Some students see Native American’s as being figures of the past, versus people who are still alive today. While teaching about the modern Thanksgiving, be sure to emphasize that students should be grateful for what they do have. Thanksgiving is a great time to teach children about those who are less fortunate. This time of year is a popular occasion to host food drives, clothing drives, and more.
By all means, you do not have to make your lesson on Thanksgiving a somber one. However, you do want to be sure you are accurate while you are teaching students. If you are looking for ideas, there are plenty of resources put there to help you teach students about Thanksgiving in an accurate but fun way!