Virtual Bourgeois

Just An Analog Guy Trying to Upgrade For a Digital World

“Mommy, is Thanksgiving a fraud?”

Posted by Gerald on November 18, 2009

According to some of my friends at work, I might soon become responsible for some dewey-eyed pre-schooler asking this of his or her mother.

The community college where I teach is home to a well-regarded day-care center that is the core of a program for training people to work with pre-K children.  Earlier this week, the other history instructor at the college – who is also the mother of a child who attends the college’s pre-school – was asked to some and talk to the little kiddies about Thanksgiving.  We both found this funny, given that – like me – she can’t discuss this topic without frothing a bit and using words like “genocide.”  In any case, she can’t do this when they asked due to her class schedule.

Our assistant dean has now passed the request on to me.  Joy.

I’m really caught here.  On the one hand, while I know not to describe rape, robbery, and murder to little kids, I’m at a loss as to what I should say if I accept.  On the other hand, if I do accept I can at least try to talk about this without all of the layers of mythology (another colleague’s child brought home a kindergarten assignment on T-day that is marked correct if the Pilgrims are described as “eating and playing games” with the Native Americans).

My best thought so far is a friend’s suggestion that I just talk about the Native Americans – that these people were farmers, maybe show some artists renderings, and try to get the message across that not all Native Americans are Plains Indians.

Of course, I could also wind up with a room filled with terrified children looking at the huge man with his newly regrown beard.

I don’t know.


5 Responses to ““Mommy, is Thanksgiving a fraud?””

  1. raspberry aunt said

    I was absolutely appalled the first time I went to one of my nephew’s preschool Thanksgiving programs. It wasn’t even the presentation of the historic event itself that bothered me — it was that half the kids were dressed up in really horrible Indian costumes and clearly only thought of Indians as a kind of exotic (and monolithic, fixed in time, etc.) category of fantastic creature from long ago. And they were clearly being TAUGHT that by adults who ought to know better. So any chance you have to teach the teachers in ways that will have domino effects on future generations is a chance to be taken. I don’t think you even need to focus on the bigger picture of colonialism, genocide, whether Thanksgiving is a good thing to celebrate, etc to make a difference. Just thinking about the people back then as real people more or less like them — from two different groups who had different ways of doing things, and sometimes appreciated learning each others’ ways, but sometimes felt scared, or got into conflict or had things go wrong for them because of those differences — would be a step forward.

    • Gerald said

      I really took this to heart. I tried to talk about all of this in terms of similarities and differences between the two groups and a little about why they might not understand each other – but aimed at 4 year olds. I have no real sense of how it went.

  2. Steve said

    Maybe you could organize a short scene reading from “Pangs”:

    Spike: I just can’t take all this mamby-pamby boo-hooing about the bloody Indians.
    Willow: Uh, the preferred term is…
    Spike: You won. All right? You came in and you killed them and you took their land. That’s what conquering nations do. It’s what Caesar did, and he’s not goin’ around saying, “I came, I conquered, I felt really bad about it.” The history of the world is not people making friends. You had better weapons, and you massacred them. End of story.
    Buffy: Well, I think the Spaniards actually did a lot of – Not that I don’t like Spaniards.
    Spike: Listen to you. How you gonna fight anyone with that attitude?
    Willow: We don’t wanna fight anyone.
    Buffy: I just wanna have Thanksgiving.
    Spike: Heh heh. Yeah… Good luck.
    Willow: Well, if we could talk to him…
    Spike: You exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better? It’s kill or be killed here. Take your bloody pick.
    Xander: Maybe it’s the syphilis talking, but, some of that made sense.

    It’s fun, insightful, Thanksgiving fun!

    (Still chuckling– in an endearing, understanding tone– at the thought of a grandfather Christmas Gerald with a sea of children gathered round to hear about genocide…)

    • Gerald said

      As it turned out the dialogue was more like this:

      Me: … and so they used sharpened oyster shells for knives.

      Child 1: Bears live in the woods!

      Child 2: I shot an arrow over my house!

      Child 3: (Silently – but quickly – raises her hand and then immediately blushes and says nothing when called upon)

      Child 4: I’ve got a question about (some sounds approximating the words “Native Americans”)

      Me: Okay!

      Child 4: I… uhh… I… I got a new toy!

      Me: Cool!

      Child 4: Yeah! Its (insert excited but incomprehensible exclamations concerning said new toy).

      Me: Okay, so does anyone know why the Pilgrims needed help from the Native Americans?

      I’m afraid there was very little clever about it, but at least I didn’t make any of them cry.

  3. It’s funny. I was planning on addressing this same basic topic on my blog very soon. We just started home schooling our six year old, and I, as the History teacher in the family, have responsibility for the Social Science part of our “curriculum.” We just reached the part where Native Americans and Europeans are “introduced” to each other after Columbus accidentally ran into this hemisphere. I tried to keep it simple by helping her understand why these two groups of people might have “issues” with each other and why Europeans were going to win if they ever started fighting. It’s not a happy story, and I’m still wrestling with the basic question of when to start exposing children to reality. I’ll post a brief essay on this later in the week. (

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