Teaching The History of Thanksgiving: Are We Doing It Right?

Growing up I was taught the history of Thanksgiving in school, just like many of you. The stories were about cornucopias, planting corn, peaceful dinners, and interactions of the Native Americans (referenced as Indians at the time) and the Americans. It was a great story that left us all feeling satisfied and happy with the ending, understanding why we all sit around the table every Thanksgiving Day with our families and eat food. 

And then one day I learned more about the true history behind Thanksgiving, as I’m sure most of you did too. If you haven’t yet, just do a quick Google search and it’ll give you a deep dive of information. I distinctly remember that day in my college class when I learned the true, brutal history of Thanksgiving and how betrayed I felt learning that I had been withheld from the truth. It made me think of the reason behind the misinformation given. Here were the few I came up with. 

  1. Because my teachers were genuinely misinformed. They hadn’t taken the time to research it themselves, they just trusted the curriculum placed before them and went with it. And we can’t blame them for that! Have you ever thought about researching long division and questioning if it really works or the history behind it? No! 
  2. Our schools teach American Exceptionalism in their curriculum. They want students growing up thinking we as a country are the most exceptional and incredible at everything we do. So this means hiding history. 
  3. I think in a way it’s also their mindset that they are “protecting” students by shielding them from the violence and bad things of the world. That if we teach only good things, that’s how our society will continue to act. 

But is this the right way? Information is incredible for teachers, it would be beneficial to research the history before teaching it. And it’s okay to admit that our country isn’t the best at everything! For example, if you Google search “Which country has the most advanced health care?”, you’ll get multiple lists all with various answers, but it’s important to note that The United States is not even in the top 5 of the majority of these lists. It’s okay to admit that we aren’t the best in health care (or education, or transportation, or anything else!), because it’s a good learning opportunity for our country to receive information from those that are better at it than we are. 

And is it really doing our students any good to protect them from the truth? I know for me, it didn’t “protect” me from anything, it just made me feel betrayed and lied to once I did learn the truth. There’s power in learning about our harsh pasts of the country because we as a society can recognize the mistakes and learn from them so they aren’t repeated again. 

This video does a great job of giving a quick (real) history of Thanksgiving:

What are your thoughts on teaching the true history of Thanksgiving in classrooms? 

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