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Thanksgiving Takeaway

November 23, 2020

Food for thought

Susannah Remillard is a language arts teacher in Cape Cod where she has been working to “present a balanced Thanksgiving story to students.” She has been building her knowledge by participating in professional development online sessions being offered by the National Museum of the American Indian, Shelburne Farms and the Tarrant Institute at the University of Vermont. The archived webinar is available at THIS LINK.

Recently she wrote Thanksgiving Takeaway for the Atlantic Black Box Project. These are her sharing points taken directly from Susannah’s writing:

  • Scrub the word tribe. So many good things happen when you focus on the indigenous groups that live in your particular area and use their names. Adopt words like peoples and communities. Drop Squanto for Tisquantum and use Ousamequin instead of Massasoit. These may seem like small switches, but the thinking behind them, and the thinking you ask students to do because you have made these priorities, can teach them much about honor and respect.
  • Release the primary sources into the classroom. Students need the skills we teach with primary sources, the skills of discernment and comparative analysis, even though these documents can be challenging to analyze. Present them with voiceovers. How is your colonial English accent? It doesn’t really matter. When students examine sources from a time period, they feel that they are solving the puzzles of the past, so they often come to realizations in authentic and deeply felt ways. Give them the time and space to do this work.
  • Talk about the difference between inaccurate and inappropriate. Talk about how an inaccuracy can start a conversation, but inappropriateness can often shut one down. Bring in the mascot debate, even when it’s hard to talk about or you can’t find an easy counter argument for every justification. Use examples with white people. Talk about pain. These are important conversations that bring up hard historical truths that need unpacking today. You are in a position to do this.
  • Finally, just keep doing the work. It took years for our educational system to look like it does today. It’s not a bad system, but we know how to break through some of the most damaging remnants of our colonial past, as long as we keep doing the work.

What Susannah says makes good sense and reminds me of the work my colleagues and I did when we established a Holocaust unit when we realized that the number of survivors of the Holocaust were dwindling. Primary sources and resources on the topic are plentiful today. A fair and comprehensive curriculum honoring and recognizing truth is at the foundation of education that we must all be committed to and strive for in all subjects – for the learners we presently teach and the ones not born yet.

Susannah teaches language arts at Cape Cod Lighthouse Public Charter School. She holds degrees from Colby College and the University of South Carolina and is a National Geographic Certified Educator, an NEH Summer Scholar, and a lifelong Cape Codder.

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