Friday, November 10, 2006
Below is a post from back in September that I'm repeating today. Instead of the problematic "Thanksgiving Pilgrims and Indians" lessons, get the book I describe below and try some of the lessons from that book. If it is too late for this year, get it NOW so you'll be ready to do something different next year.
Native Americans: Lesson Plans
With Thanksgiving approaching, teachers across the country are getting ready to teach children about Native Americans. Unfortunately, far too often, November and Thanksgiving (and Columbus Day) are the only times of the year that Native peoples make an appearance in the curriculum. That is not "best practice!" I urge teachers to teach about American Indians throughout the year. Here's one book to help you do that.
A terrific resource for early childhood teachers is Lessons from Turtle Island: Native Curriculum in Early Childhood Classrooms, by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw.
Published in 2002 by Redleaf Press, the book has a lot to offer. Here's an excerpt from the introduction:
"Throughout this book, we have often relied on outstanding children's literature, usually by Native authors, to introduce positive, accurate images of Native peoples to children. It is our view that, with the possible exception of classroom visits by American Indian people, excellent children's literature is the most effective way to counter deeply held stereotypes and help children focus on similarities among peoples as well as cultural differences. The literature serves as a catalyst to extend related activities into other areas of the curriculum."
And here's an excerpt from Chapter 1:
"Omission of Native peoples from the curriculum, inaccurate curriculum, and stereotyping all amount to cultural insensitivity. This is heightened, however, when well-meaning teachers introduce projects that are culturally inappropriate."
Jones and Moomaw go on to discuss projects such as feathers and headdresses, peace pipes, totem poles, dream catchers, sand paintings, pictographs, rattles, drums, and brown bag vests.
Chapter 2 includes a lesson plan called "Children and Shoes" that uses Bernelda Wheeler's Where Did You Get Your Moccasins? and Esther Sanderson's Two Pairs of Shoes. It includes suggested activities in dramatic play (Shoe Store), math (Shoe Graph) and science (Shoe Prints), all of which convey similarities across cultures.
Chapter 6 is about the environment. Featured are two of Jan Bourdeau Waboose's books, SkySisters and Morning on the Lake. In the "not recommended" section that closes each chapter, this chapter says it is not recommended to ask children to make up Indian stories, and explains why.
As a former first grade teacher, I highly recommend this book to anyone working with young children. It is available from Oyate for $30.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
“They’ve been warned that Indians may attack them.”
looks wild and strange. Is it safe? Are Indians hiding in the forest?” America
“Suddenly they see Indians! But the Indians are frightened and run away.”
“They know the Indians are watching them. They can see smoke from their campfires. They can hear them in the woods. A guard is posted day and night.”
“The Indians must not know how few Pilgrims are left.”
“Indians are sighted nearby. They come closer and closer. Then one day an Indian walks right into the settlement. The children are terrified. But the Indian smiles and says, ‘Welcome’. His name is Samoset. He speaks English! The Pilgrims ask Samoset many questions. They give him presents. They want to trust this friendly Indian. Samoset comes back with an Indian named Squanto. He speaks even better English!”
“Lots of feathers,” said Arthur. It’s a very glamorous role.”
“Yuk! Vomitrocious!” squealed Muffy. I should be the Indian princess. I have real braids."
“Brain, I’ve saved the most intelligent part for you," explained Arthur.
“No way will I be the turkey,” answered Brain. "I'll be the Indian chief."
Edited on July 23, 2015, to update links.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
James Rumford's Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing
[Note: This review is used by permission of its author. It may not be published used elsewhere without permission of the author.]
Rumford, James, Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, illustrated by the author and translated by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby (Cherokee). Houghton Mifflin, 2004; unpaginated, color illustrations; grades 1-4.
On a family road trip to
Rumford’s text, reminiscent of traditional storytelling, is concise and evocative. Each paragraph in English is followed by a parallel in Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby. The book design, format and illustrations are a thing of beauty and perfectly complement this story within a story. The tall, slim format and mostly dark brown and forest green accents honor both the stately Giant Sequoia trees and the man, Sequoyah, whose name they bear. The bold-lined artwork—done with ink, watercolor, pastel and pencil on drawing paper adhered to a rough piece of wood, then “rubbed” with chalk and colored pencil—remind one of 19th-Century woodblock prints. The Cherokee writing serves both as an example of what Sequoyah accomplished, and as a beautiful design element that completes the wholeness of the book.—Beverly Slapin
Monday, November 06, 2006
Recently, someone asked if I had read Nathaniel Philbrick's book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War. I have not, but there is an article about it in Indian Country Today.
The article, "Correcting history: Telling 'our' story" is by Paula Peters, who is Mashpee Wampanoag. For those of you interested in a Native perspective on Philbrick's book, take a look. It was posted November 3rd, 2006 in the Front Page section on the on line paper.
Also in Indian Country Today is an article about a forum, "Forum examines colonization mythology" that took place at U of Massachusetts, Boston, on October 10th. Philbrick was one of the participants. The moderator, Joan Lester, posed these questions:
"Are historians obliged to represent all participants? Lester asked. Where does an author go when there are no written sources? Does the reader have a responsibility to develop the critical thinking skills needed to recognize bias? And how do authors and readers move beyond longstanding stereotypes and misconceptions to a fuller, more accurate and respectful telling of the American story?"
Both articles are helpful as we think about the ways children are taught about Thanksgiving, and the ways that story is told in children's books.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I'm getting a few private replies to my post asking teachers to think critically about using traditional American Indian stories as a model for a writing activity. One person said that while she has learned a lot from what I've been sharing on the blog, she is getting a little tired of my critiques. It seems that I can find something wrong with every lesson or activity on American Indians teachers do, or every children's book they use. One person, in a comment, said I am losing credibility with readers of the blog.
I can see why someone would feel that way. October and November are months when Native American content is very visible in schools across America. I've discussed problems in dressing up as an Indian at Halloween and problems in depictions of characters dressing up as Indians in favorite children's books. And, I've been critical about the ways that Native peoples are, and are not, presented in lessons about Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving.
So, it seems like a bit much right now.
But maybe it is because there IS so much wrong with the way we are teaching children about American Indians.
I don't think any given teacher is a bad (or racist) person because their lessons provide a heroic or romantic picture of America's history. Most likely, that teacher didn't get much in the way of critical thinking about teaching this topic in his/her teacher education program. Maybe there haven't been opportunities to think about this, either, once the teacher entered the classroom.
Teachers are overworked and underpaid. They and the profession often get little respect. Most are doing the best they can.
I'm not asking teachers to immediately drop all the lessons you've been doing for years. Meaningful change takes time. If a teacher elects to modify a lesson, it takes time to figure out what to do instead. That means a lot of time for research, thinking, writing, locating and developing new materials for their students.... Time most don't have, because they're struggling to do a good job as it is, given things like No Child Left Behind.
What I'm doing with this blog is offering some ideas for teachers to think about. My hope is that this will lead to change. I know some teachers can make changes right away, and others will modify something more slowly, and still others will think over my input and then reject what I offer because it is counter to the way they view things.
I have confidence in education and in educators. Teachers are caring people. They care about the children they teach. They want to do a good job, and if they're reading this blog, they are interested in thinking about the ways they teach about American Indians. I offer this blog to help them.