Monday, December 8, 2008

Mixing history and holidays: a recipe for disaster!

It's amazing how quickly time passes; I can't believe I've been home for two weeks already! I thought I would have blogged about some LA experiences that I never got to, but I haven't even written about things that have happened here in Ohio... A reader even emailed this morning missing me. Aww! That rocks. Although I'm not so sure that particular reader will agree with me on this issue...

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I had a great celebration with my immediate family at my parent's home. My mother puts out an amazing holiday spread and my new four day old nephew was even there! However, as the day drew to a close I became troubled when I sat down to help my niece with homework.

She had been sick and missed a few days prior to the holiday break. While the rest of my family couldn't believe that a first grader got two to three pages of homework every night, I was appalled by the content. The Thanksgiving themed pages were sexist and derogatory!

The first sheet was reading comprehension; I read the following short paragraph and then she had to write short answers to simple questions: "In Colonial days children did daily chores. Boys hunted and fished. Girls learned to sew. Children helped their parents."

As soon as the words left my mouth, I went charging into the living room to read it to the rest of my family, with my niece on my heels. "It says in Colonial Days," my mom, who works at a preschool, defended. We retreated back to the kitchen table but as we colored the picture on the page my niece and I talked about all the times she's gone camping and fishing with her dad and I told her that boys can sew too!

I'm sure many of you agree with my mom and would not have thought twice about the paragraph. My concern is that no one is pointing out to the children that now days things are different. When I asked about her teacher, my brother rolled his eyes, saying she is very old and traditional in a bad way! I fear many sexual stereotypes are perpetuated in my nieces classroom.

The second page really set me off, as it talked about "Indians." Yes, I honestly feel the correct term, Native American, should have trickled down to our small town elementary schools by now. I explained to my niece that Indians are the people who live in the Asian country of India, which is where the explorers thought they had landed. I realize that terminology for America's indigenous people is widely debated; many people do not find "Indian" offensive, but I can not help but be troubled by our schools inability to teach our children the facts! My brother feels similarly about Columbus Day. Unlike the schools, he's taught his daughter the truth: that Mr. Columbus was a horrible tyrant who does not deserve a holiday and was not even the first to discover the Americas.

It was certainly not my intent to upset anyone, but by deeming everything offensive I ended up offending my mom, who wonders why everything she was taught and grew up with is now so awful. We tried to explain that history has been written by the winners, which largely means from the point of view of affluent white men and in some cases is therefore incomplete. My mom went through the rest of my niece's folder to find me other pages that did use the words Native American. Unfortunately she found something else that I found to be the worst of all.

There was a Thanksgiving handout from a local church. I didn't even look at it, I didn't want to know... My oldest brother backed me as I mentioned the separation of church and state, but we then let it all go and changed the subject, as to not cause a great debate during an otherwise happy holiday.

1 comment:

Mombi said...

Oh holy crap... The first one didn't offend me, but the rest of those items did!