Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are You Teaching The Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving"?

Are you teaching the true Thanksgiving story or is the version you're passing on to your students a blend of fact and myth? Ready to set the record straight?

"I propose that there may be a good deal that many of us do not know about our Thanksgiving holiday and also about the 'First Thanksgiving' story," says Chuck Larsen in the introduction to Teaching About Thanksgiving. "I also propose that what most of us have learned about the Pilgrims and the Indians who were at the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation is only part of the truth."

"When you build a lesson on only half of the information, then you are not teaching the whole truth," Larsen adds.

Larsen seems to know of what he speaks. As a public school teacher, a historian, and an American of Indian heritage, Larsen has always had a difficult time teaching about the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Every year I have been faced with the professional and moral dilemma of just how to be honest and informative with my children at Thanksgiving without passing on historical distortions, and racial and cultural stereotypes," Larsen says in his introduction.

"The problem is that part of what you and I learned in our childhood about the 'Pilgrims' and 'Squanto' and the 'First Thanksgiving' is a mixture of both history and myth," Larsen continues. "But the theme of Thanksgiving has truth and integrity far above and beyond what we and our forebearers have made of it. Thanksgiving is a bigger concept than just the story of the founding of Plymouth Plantation."

Larsen goes on to try to sort out the myth from the true history in his introduction to "Teaching About Thanksgiving," a project of The Fourth World Documentation Project of The Center for World Indigenous Studies. The project includes an accurate telling of "The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story" along with study and discussion questions, ideas for enrichment, art projects, and authentic recipes -- all intended to enable teachers to accurately portray the events surrounding the first Thanksgiving.

In closing his introduction, Larsen provokes with a question: "What started as an inspirational bit of New England folklore soon grew into the full-fledged American Thanksgiving we now know... But was [that 'First Thanksgiving'] really our first Thanksgiving?"

"There really was a true Thanksgiving story of Plymouth Plantation," Larsen says. "But I strongly suggest that there has always been a Thanksgiving story of some kind or other for as long as there have been human beings.

There was also a 'First' Thanksgiving in America, but it was celebrated thirty thousand years ago…Every last Thursday in November we now partake in one of the oldest and most universal of human celebrations, and there are many Thanksgiving stories to tell."

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