De-Colonizing Your Thanksgiving Curriculum

De-Colonizing Your Thanksgiving Curriculum is the title of an interactive online workshop for educators offered in late October and early November of this year. It is a collaborative project of Gedakina, the UVM Institute for Innovative Education, Shelburne Farms and Vermont Learning for the Future. The courageous  co-facilitators of this webinar are Judy Dow, Emily Hoyler, Jeanie Phillips and Aimee Arandia Østensen.

An Invitation to Question Tradition

The “First Thanksgiving” is something we’ve learned about since we were small children. Happy times, family, food and football seem to be the theme for the day in many homes.  There are books brought to the forefront in libraries and bookstore windows, and special foods like pumpkin bread, apple cider and cranberries that line the end caps of the shelves at food stores. Holiday shopping ads, with everything from airfare sales to big screen TV’s blast every digital device we own. All of these things contribute to the misinformation and disinformation around this holiday that we first learned about as children.

As educators, what can we do to decolonize the myths that encircle our traditions around the “First Thanksgiving?”

Along with the problem of perpetuating myths, stereotypes and the whitewashing of history, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to teach the essential skill of critical thinking and to expose students to the power of multiple perspectives.

Here is a gift of resources from us that will help you to see this holiday in another light and hopefully contribute to changing the cycle of myths that people in this country have found themselves embracing year after year. Why? Is it because the holiday brings us together as a family to give thanks? Or maybe it’s because we never bother to question what we’ve been told? Can’t we remember that to understand another perspective we must “question authority”?  Let’s hope so.

Develop a Classroom Gratitude Practice

How do you show gratitude and give thanks in your daily life? Thanksgiving promotes the idea of a day of gratitude. For Abenaki and other native people, gratitude is a daily act.  Many teachers are finding small and large ways to weave gratitude into their classroom culture. It may be as simple as holding space for a gratitude circle at the beginning or end of the day or expanding the exploration and expression of gratitude into a writing practice or art project.

Resources:

  • Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
  • A Rhythm of Gratitude by Elizabeth Barbian in Rethinking Schools
Explore the Diversity of Passed-Down Traditions Celebrated in your Community

The ways in which families and communities come together to celebrate is vast and diverse. We need to challenge the assumption that there is a singular way that “we” celebrate any given holiday or moment in our lives. Start by investigating the multiple ways of celebrating that are alive within your own classroom. For example, consider asking your students to do some intergenerational research on a dish that is significant to their family during holidays. How is this food connected to the backstory of my family and our geographic and cultural roots? Create a class cookbook to share their findings. The key to doing this type of work successfully is creating a trusting and safe space where all experiences and voices are welcomed, valued and respected. You may be surprised by the richness of experience within the circle of your classroom community.

Resources:

Celebrating Our Roots: Multicultural Recipe Book, a project of the Burlington School District

Cooking with History by Judy Dow

Deconstruct historical myths and critically assess your sources

Our actions can either perpetuate the status quo or act to shift perspective, understanding and culture towards decolonization. It’s important that we do this in an informed way. Taking a critical look into the stories we tell and traditions we pass on to our students is the starting point for re-envisioning our curricula. What would it take to get underneath the myths and surface a more accurate history? We suggest searching for primary sources from multiple perspectives. As you do that, don’t forget to ask:

  • What is this a primary source of?
  • Does my view of valid and reliable sources stem from a colonial mentality?
  • Whose story is being told? By whom?
  • Whose perspective is missing?
Resources:
Examine your own perspective and teach many perspectives

As unique individuals, our present day actions and decisions stem from the unique quilt of the stories, beliefs and knowledge we’ve gathered along the way. In order to shift what and how we teach, we must first shed light on our own internalized structures and biases. What do I carry within me that hinders my contribution to the process of decolonization? What do I carry within me that is a gift in this work? Who else can I and my students learn from as we examine our curriculum together?

Resources:

Our gift of resources to educators as you tackle this essential work is much greater than this! We invite you to connect with us to do the challenging work of decolonizing your curriculum in community with others. We also invite you to watch the recording of our recent webinar on this topic, paired with the slideshow which is also packed full of resources.

With gratitude, hope and resilience,

Judy, Aimee, Jeanie and Emily

Author

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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