Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What's All the Hubbub, Bub? All I Want Is Turkey, Family, and a Little Football

Tomorrow is Thursday and folks who participate in the Thursday Thirteen meme will be posting their list for the week. I posted my first list last week. I decided to join the meme because it looked interesting and I thought it might be a great way to attract people to this site who are not involved in education. I decided that I could incorporate history and educational issues into my list each week.

Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving I thought a list of Thanksgiving myths or misconceptions would be appropriate. Wow, there is quite a debate going on out there, and a multitude of misinformation exisits even on the debunking sites.

The first thing I did was google “Thanksgiving myths”. After I had gone through the first couple of pages of hits my head was actually reeling. There is a large amount of information, misinformation, and spin…..not to mention a large amount of copycats.

One website attempts to take on all comers and actually attempts to use primary sources to support his thoughts. Imagine that! Jeremy Bangs, a former curator at Plymouth Plantation, has posted an excellent posting which wades through many of the myth webpages zipping around the Internet. You can see his three-page work here.

Mr. Bangs states:

Surveying more than two hundred websites that “correct” our assumptions about Thanksgiving, it’s possible to sort them into groups and themes, especially since Internet sites often parrot each other. Very few present anything like the myths that most claim to combat. Almost all the corrections are themselves incorrect or banal. With heavy self-importance and pathetic political posturing, they demonstrate quite unsurprisingly that what was once taught in grade school lacked scope, subtlety, and minority insight.

One could go on. Someone should go on. To respond to all the assorted internet nonsense about Thanksgiving it is necessary to go on and on.

He then refers you to the site I have linked to above.

History News Network has some great articles up under the heading “Thanksgiving” but they appear to be a repeat since many of the comments are dated 2002 and 2003. An item under “Breaking News” caught my eye.

In an Associated Press article titled Teachers Emphasize the Indians reprinted here there is a discussion regarding how many elementary teachers are abandoning the romanticized version of Thanksgiving and settling for the more realistic version. The article discusses a teacher who attempts to get students to realize Europeans came and took possession of lands without any thought that they might already belong to someone else.

“I think that is very sad,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokewoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. In criticisim of the teacher detailed in the article Ms. Crouse states, “He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving.”

Personally, I think Ms. Crouse is wrong. There is a place in our classrooms for the realistic as well as the romanticized versions of history including Thanksgiving. My students realize that when Columbus landed in the Carribbean and claimed the land in the name of the Queen of Spain it wasn’t his to claim. Does the fact that my students understand Plymoth Plantation was once a Patuxet village and the Pilgrims simply took it over mean they will hate their country? I think not. I think the knowledge helps them to understand their country better.

That being said I firmly believe a great responsibility lies with the classroom teacher to help students bridge the gap between realism and romanticism. We should provide enough background to students so they see the context of the time period. I explain to students that we are constantly uncovering new information that can be documented about historical events. Many things I learned in school has since been updated. Many things they learn today will more than likely be updated as more investigation is made.

Rick Shenkman, editor at History News Network weighs in here with Top 10 Myths About Thanksgiving.

Timothy Walch tries his hand with Thanksgiving Myths here. He states:

So what do most Americans believe happened on that first Thanksgiving Day? Most still cling to what they learned in elementary school. The Pilgrims sat down with Indians for a big meal of turkey, cornbread, cranberries and pumpkin pie. The Pilgrims dressed in black, and the Indians wore feathers and colorful beads. In fact, many Americans today still recall if they were "pilgrims" or "Indians" in their school pageants.

It's a charming story, but it's a myth. To be sure, it's a powerful one -- one that will be repeated many times this November. The fact that it's so pervasive is evidence that American myths have long lives.

So it's a good thing that Americans today are not tested on the history of that first Thanksgiving, because few of us would earn a passing grade. It seems that the historical evidence of Thanksgiving is not as compelling as the myths that cloud our memories. It's too bad that childhood images of Pilgrims and Indians aren't based on historical facts.

Here is the part of Walch’s essay that really hit home for me:

And yet there's a legacy about this holiday that threads its way from past to the present and defies both myth and historical evidence. That legacy is generosity. To be sure, Americans today may not be as religious as the Pilgrims, but most Americans do share their plenty with their family and friends on this special day. It's a holiday that brings all Americans, no matter their creed or disposition, together. And that's something worthy of our thanks.

Does it matter what they served, who served it, what they wore? I agree with Mr.Walch. We need to remember for one brief shining moment Native Americans and Europeans, though they may have been wary of one another, sat down and broke bread. They shared a meal, they interacted, they tried to understand each other. It would be a shame not to share this fact with students as well.

We can all argue, quote, and requote, until kingdom come but one thing is for sure. Just like in any historical investigation we need to look at the artifacts and the written sources. If you can’t verify it then it is simply conjecture. I’m going to post my list of 13 myths tomorrow. Anyone who wants to quibble is welcome to do so, but come armed with primary source documentation from the various writings of Willam Bradford or other involved people of the time.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very cool and educational post. I agree that students should have both sides of the story presented to them.

Oh, by the way, the Spanish held a "thanksgiving" feast in the Americas long before the Pilgrims. It doesn't matter who held it first ~ at least we celebrate and give thanks to the One who blesses us all.

Texas history is quite interesting especially when told from the point of view of Mexico. My education on Texas has been GREATLY updated since I was in elementary school ~ now I teach it!!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Happy Turkey day to you as well!

My records indicate Juan de Ornate, a Spanish explorer, held a thanksgiving meal in president-day Texas in the year 1598. I wonder what they had?