The Lesson Of Thanksgiving

I did something different with my first grade class this year.  It is a common teaching practice to ask children what they already know (or think they know) about a topic before you study it. For years Room One has learned about Native Americans just before Thanksgiving.  It was not an indepth study because I am teaching six and seven year old children but I try my best to give accurate information.  This however, was the first time I have ever asked the children what they already knew about Native Americans. Their answers blew me away!

First off, not one child knew what a Native American was.  We had just finished learning about Veterans so they were all confused and told me stories about how Native Americans were people who had fought in the war. Of course the irony of this mistake was not lost on me…. But I digress.

Once I explained that Native Americans sometimes are called Indians everyone raised their hands to tell what they knew… we were in business! And then I started to write down their ideas.  My children started telling me that they killed people, they ran around with axes, they were mean, they fought cowboys, and they were wild. One little girl sat in the back and shook her head as I wrote down what each child said.  We were both in shock.  I always try to honor what children think but as I wrote down the long list of horribly wrong information I formulated a plan.  When the list was done I looked at the little girl who was shaking her head and asked if any of this was true…. She told me that none of what I had written down was true.  We had a long talk about information and that just because someone thinks something, even if it is written down in a book, on the Internet or in a classroom does not make it true.

Then I taught my lesson.  I usually just talk about how and why Native Americans were mistakenly called Indians and read a few Native American legends.  I did do that, but then we imagined that one morning some bigger children came to Room One.  They said they didn’t have a room of their own and could they come in.  I teach sharing and caring in class so of course we all agreed that we would welcome them into our class.  We would be friendly and helpful.  Then I asked them how they wold feel if those big kids decided they didn’t really want to share the room with us and they wanted us to leave. Because they were bigger they would just push us out. How would we feel? We might get angry and want to fight.  We imagined that they wanted us all to spend the rest of our day sitting in the hallway away from our drinking fountain, books and tables. Those big kids would say we were too little to understand what they were doing and that they needed our room more than we did.   I explained that this was sort of what happened to the Native Americans…  Those were bad days for the Native Americans and to this day many still live ‘out in the hall’… Hopefully Room One was paying attention…

I skipped the story of the first Thanksgiving and we focused on friendship and had stone soup. Each child shared what they were thankful for as we sat around the table… I am thankful for many things, one of them is the ability to open the minds of young children and create people who think more deeply about the world…

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