Wednesday, December 30, 2009

4th Grade California Mission Projects: A Thought Experiment for Parents, Educators, and Students

Sisters at the California Indian Conference, 2007: Rose Miranda, Louise Miranda Ramirez, Deborah Miranda. Wearing the very cool jackets designed for us by Louise.



4TH GRADE CALIFORNIA MISSION PROJECTS: A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT FOR PARENTS, EDUCATORS AND STUDENTS

In California schools, students come up against the "Mission Unit" in fourth grade, although the same children have been breathing in the lies most of their lives. Part of California’s history curriculum, the unit is entrenched in the system, and impossible to avoid.

Because this assignment is typically started over Winter Vacation, I’m posting this note for parents and children who are starting their research now. Please be aware that I have other blog posts about the missions as well; please take a look at them too. Three main posts are http://whenturtlesfly.blogspot.com/2009/01/san-franciscomission-delores.html , http://whenturtlesfly.blogspot.com/2008/06/excerpts-from-my-very-late-mission.html and http://whenturtlesfly.blogspot.com/2009/09/weapons-of-mass-destruction-mastiffs.html .

The Mission Unit is a powerfully authoritative indoctrination in Mission Mythology against which fourth graders have little if any resistance, and intense pressure is put upon students (and their parents) to create a "Mission Project" that glorifies the era and glosses over both Spanish and Mexican exploitation of Indians, as well as American enslavement of those same Indians during American rule. For a 4th grade mother's take on the pressures and competitive aspects of the project, see Jennifer White's column "Fourth Grade Mission" at http://www.havingthreekids.com/onamission.html , where White writes, "Part of what’s making me so grumpy is that I don’t see any point to this project, any more than I saw the point of the shrunken-apple-head witch project, or the Halloween diorama project. Even if the missions are still relevant enough to justify this effort by all of the California fourth-graders and their families (and frankly, I’m not sure that they are), I just don’t see how building a model helps the kids understand the missions any better. I've thought about asking Riley's teacher, but I can't bring myself to question her on this sacred topic. It would be vaguely heretical. None of the other moms I talk to are sure what the point of the project is, either, but we’re all resigned to the idea that the mission model is like death and taxes -- annoying, but unavoidable."  Others are beginning to question the tradition of the "Mission Project," too; see David Templeton's essay about the extraordinarily expenses students typically run up vs. actual educational value.

In other words, the Mission Unit is all too often a lesson in mindless competition, imperialism, racism, and Manifest Destiny than actually educational or a jumping off point for critical thinking or accurate history.

Can you imagine teaching about slavery in the U.S. South while simultaneously requiring each child to lovingly construct a plantation model, complete with happy darkies in the fields, white masters, overseers with whips, and human auctions? Or ask fourth graders to study the Holocaust by carefully designing detailed concentration camps, complete with gas chambers, heroic Nazi guards, crematoriums?



Try this: below is a standard “Mission Project” taken directly from an anonymous 4th grade teacher’s file.

Mission Project
Dear Students and Parents,

Here is a packet that will assist you in completing the California
Missions Project this year. Each student will research one of 21 California
Missions and write a report (see the sample report to learn the format). In
addition to the report, each student will construct one of the three
projects (see the sample project ideas below). The materials used to create
the projects are suggested materials. You may have your own ideas on how to
put together the project that will be selected.

Students are not required to present their reports on any type of
display board. Type written or hand written (double spaced or a line
skipped) on he appropriate paper will be fine.

Fabricated Mission Kits that can be purchased at the local craft store
MAY NOT BE USED. I would like the students to learn the value of problem
solving and being creative when constructing their projects. Cardboard,
wood, sand, clay, dirt, paint, Fabric, pasta noodles, paper tubes, natural
and artificial plants, twigs etc. are all great materials to use. I have
even seen projects built out of Lego blocks, chocolate, and sugar cubes.
Please parents, try to refrain from doing your child's project for them. This
is a valuable time for your child to grow as a learner. It makes it difficult
to grade projects with fairness when they appear to be done by adult hands.
We will be talking at greats lengths in class about how best to go about this
projects but it may be wise to save wrapping paper tubes, boxes and other
scrap material left over from the holiday season.

There our several web sites on the net for you to use in your
research. Simply go to your favorite search engine (Yahoo,
Google , etc.) and search for California Missions. There is a wealth of
information. Books and encyclopedia are big help too. If you should have
questions, please contact me. Okay kids, this will keep you busy!!! Have
fun and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Warmly,

Mrs. X


Name _________________________________________

Mission Research Notes


1. What is the name of the mission?



2. When was the mission built?



3. Who founded the mission?



4. In what town or city is the mission located at today?



5. What number in the chain along the El Camino Real
is this mission?


6. Which tribe or tribes of Native Americans lived around the mission?



7. What did the mission grow or manufacture (make)?



8. What special features are seen at the mission?



9. How is the mission used today?



10. Are there any special facts or unusual stories about this mission?


Now, what if we tweak this assignment’s rhetoric just a little bit? Do you see what happens to the idea of California Mission Projects as 4th grade education?


Plantation Project
Dear Students and Parents,

Here is a packet that will assist you in completing the Mississippi
Plantation Project this year. Each student will research one of 21 Mississippi
Plantations and write a report (see the sample report to learn the format). In
addition to the report, each student will construct one of the three
projects (see the sample project ideas below). The materials used to create
the projects are suggested materials. You may have your own ideas on how to
put together the project that will be selected.

Students are not required to present their reports on any type of
display board. Type written or hand written (double spaced or a line
skipped) on he appropriate paper will be fine.

Fabricated Plantation Project Kits that can be purchased at the local craft store
MAY NOT BE USED. I would like the students to learn the value of problem
solving and being creative when constructing their projects. Cardboard,
wood, sand, clay, dirt, paint, Fabric, pasta noodles, paper tubes, natural
and artificial plants, twigs etc. are all great materials to use. I have
even seen projects built out of Lego blocks, chocolate, and sugar cubes.
Please parents, try to refrain from doing your child's project for them. This
is a valuable time for your child to grow as a learner. It makes it difficult
to grade projects with fairness when they appear to be done by adult hands.
We will be talking at greats lengths in class about how best to go about this
projects but it may be wise to save wrapping paper tubes, boxes and other
scrap material left over from the holiday season.

There our several web sites on the net for you to use in your
research. Simply go to your favorite search engine (Yahoo,
Google , etc.) and search for Mississippi Plantations. There is a wealth of
information. Books and encyclopedia are big help too. If you should have
questions, please contact me. Okay kids, this will keep you busy!!! Have
fun and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Warmly,

Mrs. X


Name _________________________________________

Mississippi Plantation Research Notes


1. What is the name of the Plantation?



2. When was the Plantation built?



3. Who founded the Plantation?



4. In what town or city is the Plantation located at today?



5. What number in the chain along The Mississippi River
is this Plantation?


6. From which countries or tribes were African slaves taken to live at this Plantation?



7. What did this Plantation grow or manufacture (make)?



8. What special features are seen at the Plantation?



9. How is the Plantation used today?



10. Are there any special facts or unusual stories about this Plantation?

Okay, if you’re still having difficulty seeing the problem, close your eyes and imagine your child coming home to tell you about THIS project:


Concentration Camp Project
Dear Students and Parents,

Here is a packet that will assist you in completing the German
Concentration Camps Project this year. Each student will research one of 21 German
Concentration Camps and write a report (see the sample report to learn the format). In
addition to the report, each student will construct one of the three
projects (see the sample project ideas below). The materials used to create
the projects are suggested materials. You may have your own ideas on how to
put together the project that will be selected.

Students are not required to present their reports on any type of
display board. Type written or hand written (double spaced or a line
skipped) on he appropriate paper will be fine.

Fabricated Concentration Camp Kits that can be purchased at the local craft store
MAY NOT BE USED. I would like the students to learn the value of problem
solving and being creative when constructing their projects. Cardboard,
wood, sand, clay, dirt, paint, Fabric, pasta noodles, paper tubes, natural
and artificial plants, twigs etc. are all great materials to use. I have
even seen projects built out of Lego blocks, chocolate, and sugar cubes.
Please parents, try to refrain from doing your child's project for them. This
is a valuable time for your child to grow as a learner. It makes it difficult
to grade projects with fairness when they appear to be done by adult hands.
We will be talking at greats lengths in class about how best to go about this
projects but it may be wise to save wrapping paper tubes, boxes and other
scrap material left over from the holiday season.

There our several web sites on the net for you to use in your
research. Simply go to your favorite search engine (Yahoo,
Google , etc.) and search for German Concentration Camps. There is a wealth of
information. Books and encyclopedia are big help too. If you should have
questions, please contact me. Okay kids, this will keep you busy!!! Have
fun and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Warmly,

Mrs. X

Name _________________________________________

Concentration Camp Research Notes


1. What is the name of the Concentration Camp?



2. When was the Concentration Camp built?



3. Who founded the Concentration Camp?



4. In what town or city is the Concentration Camp located at today?



5. What number in the list of Camps is this Concentration Camp?


6. Which type of Jews lived around the Camp? (Sephardic, Ashkenazim, non-religious, traditional, Hasidic, scholars, villagers?)



7. What did the Concentration Camp grow or manufacture (make)?



8. What special features are seen at the Concentration Camp?



9. How is the Concentration Camp used today?



10. Are there any special facts or unusual stories about this Concentration Camp?



What major problems does this Thought Experiment bring to light?

The first thing you might notice is an almost complete lack of focus on the ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS whose lived and died in these Missions: California Indians. Over 500 different tribes existed in the lands now forming the State of California at first contact: about one million people. By the time the Missions closed, the Rancho (Mexican) era was over, and the Gold Rush (Americans) led to statehood, only 5-10,000 Indians remained alive. What happened to them? How did the Missions contribute to that devastation? What kind of “lives” did those Indians lead in the Missions that created a life-expectancy of about seven years old?

Secondly, you might notice a complete lack of reference to two crucial Mission actors: Priests, and Soldiers. On whose authority were these Missions ordered constructed? And hey – who constructed them, anyway? And why would Indians give up their freedom to become, essentially, slaves?

Who decided this was a good idea? How, exactly, was it carried out? In other words: let’s talk about VIOLENCE and RACISM.

I’ll stop now. If you don’t get the point by now, I’m wasting my time, and yours.

But if this Thought Experiment has done any good, and I hope it has, you will do the kind of parenting that really matters: direct you children toward the truth, and onto a path of critical thinking that will only make them stronger, more compassionate, better-educated citizens, ready to engage with the real world.

Alternative 4th Grade Projects for your child:

1. Interview a real California Indian. See tribal websites for contact people.


2. Look up California Indian artists and writers on line. How have they interpreted and represented the story of Missionization?


3. Challenge the usage of past tense in Mission histories. Which Missions still have active tribal members living in the area? What languages do they speak? What kind of gatherings do they have? Are there recordings of their current songs?

Feel free to use the California Indian links on the right side of this blog to start your research, especially Edward Castillo's "A Brief History of California Indians."


Remember, this information is going into a child's brain, and heart. How will you choose to nourish your child's education?

California Native flag design © by Louise Miranda Ramirez. Do not use without permission.



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