Teacher Bill Morgan walks into his third-grade class wearing a black Pilgrim hat made of construction paper and begins snatching up pencils, backpacks and glue sticks from his pupils. He tells them the items now belong to him because he “discovered” them. The reaction is exactly what Morgan expects: The kids get angry and want their things back.
Morgan is among elementary school teachers who have ditched the traditional Thanksgiving lesson, in which children dress up like Indians and Pilgrims and act out a romanticized version of their first meetings.
Morgan said he still wants his pupils at Cleveland Elementary School in San Francisco to celebrate Thanksgiving. But “what I am trying to portray is a different point of view.”
Others see Morgan and teachers like him as too extreme.
“I think that is very sad,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. “He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving.”
You know, the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about today.
That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.
But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin — the genocide of indigenous people — is of special importance today. It’s now routine — even among conservative commentators — to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.
One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.
… Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.
And the kids in Bill Morgan’s class? Well, they probably won’t be assigned to read Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold: Europe’s Conquest of Indigenous Peoples or Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present, so they may not learn the rest of the story, beyond the “caring and sharing” of the first Thanksgiving, until they’re much, much, older. If then.
I’ll keep my copies of those books on the bookshelf, though, in case they’re needed to supplement my kids’ education on the subject. But I’m even going to try and talk about it to anyone else. I’m not even sure how we’re supposed to talk about. (Or when we’re supposed to talk about it. Or if we’re supposed to talk about it.) And since the reality is that I have European ancestors, and live on land that was stolen from someone, and eat food that was grown on land that was stolen from someone, etc., maybe I can’t talk about it at all. (Fortunately, William Burroughs could.) Or maybe I can, if I compartmentalize it down to that one dinner on that one day in history, and nothing else. But all that’s been said already.
I’m still gonna wear black, tho’, as I did on Columbus Day.