I wrote a piece last year about visiting my eldest daughter’s preschool and being surrounded by headdresses and war paint on children in suburban Maryland.
“I recently visited my daughter’s preschool for their annual Thanksgiving luncheon. I breathed a sigh of relief when I walked into find her wearing a pilgrim hat. As I drove over that morning, I kept picturing what I would do if I walked in to find her wearing some terrible rendering of a native headdress. Suffice it to say that I was not pleased when we met up with the older class next door to find them not only wearing their crafty version of headdresses but also war paint.
I understand that at 4 years old they may not be ready to hear the unsanitized version of the discovery and colonization of America. I know they will read the warm fuzzy stories of breaking bread together. I just wish people would understand that painting war paint on a child and pasting feathers on a paper cut out to represent something that has incredible meaning for a group of people is not a great way to celebrate unity.
Let’s take a moment to teach children about different cultures rather than picking one, trite depiction and thinking that is “multicultural education”.
I am trying to figure out the best way to address this with the school. I know there are some who would tell me to get over it, but I feel committed to doing not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because let me tell you that if next year that is my child, we will promptly march to the restroom to wash it off. I want to be a parent who lives my values even when it means pushing my own comfort level to do so.”
So back into the office I will go tomorrow to chat with the administrators about how to approach Thanksgiving and other holidays in a way that truly appreciates other cultures instead of appropriating them.
“There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation.” Tate Walker
For other parents who are not thrilled with the use of crafts and myths as the primary way that Thanksgiving is celebrated in their children’s schools, I compiled a few resources. I hope people will share their thoughts, ideas and suggestions.
Five Books that Reframe the Thanksgiving Narrative: This list has suggestions for different age groups. I’m still looking for very simple ones for little kids – one they would sit through and we could talk about. I may just get non-Thanksgiving ones about Native American communities and people and use those to talk about Thanksgiving and learn about other cultures.
Real Story of Thanksgiving: Teaching Kids : This one has a few tips and ideas, including emphasizing that this should not be the only time of year that schools talk about Native American people and culture.
Teaching a People’s History: This site has so many incredible ideas and lessons, including pieces about Thanksgiving.
Rethinking Schools: This is a blog looking at how to introduce social justice concepts and push back on myths. It is geared towards training teachers and has suggestions. What about learning about what the paint or headdresses mean or signify and reading stories about Native American people and culture? Or what about drawing the headdresses, but not having non-Native kids wear them.
Thanksgiving Lesson: Teacher of young elementary kids utilizing the idea of it being a season of thanks and charity to teach children about poverty and about giving back.
Teaching Tolerance: Lesson on Thanksgiving and colonialism for middle school.
4 Ways to Honor Native Americans Without Cultural Appropriation: Great piece from Everyday Feminism.