Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Balancing "Gruesome details" and 4th Grade Standards

A reader writes: “I'm a teaching credential student and a native woman. I am trying to write a fourth grade lesson plan about the Missions and am having a hard time balancing the "gruesome details" and the standards. Do you have any research/resources that could help? Johanna.”

Hi Johanna,

Great question. I don't know of any curriculum out there yet that "balances the 'gruesome details' and the standards." I suspect it is being developed by hook and by crook by various teachers who aren't advertising their work because the attitude toward change is so negative. If you hear of any curriculums in your research, I would appreciate it if you'd let me know so I can share it on this blog.

Also, depending on your location, check with local tribes directly to see if they have any speakers, suggested readings or resources, that THEY like to use. Connecting to the local community is good for your students (who might think all California Indians are extinct), and for the tribe, who get to represent themselves first-hand, rather than through someone else’s lens.

One of the things I tell folks to do is look at how their school's curriculum approaches the issue of African American slavery. It's not perfect, by any means, but those lessons do mention flogging/beatings, separation of families via selling, cruelty based on race, economic exploitation, conversion to new languages and religions, and privilege based on race. If we can teach those things about African Americans, why not teach them about Native Americans? Try simply doing some of the same lessons but adapted for California's indigenous history.

Kids grow up knowing that America had slaves, that they were mostly African, that those slaves were beaten, mistreated, bought and sold. They may not get the gruesome details till later, but isn't slavery itself gruesome?! We tend to forget how horrific (and powerful) even the most basic details (truths) are.

One of the most radical things a teacher can do is stop and ask fourth graders, "How would this make YOU feel? What would YOUR mother have done? What would YOU have done? If you and your family were Indians and alive during Missionization, what would your lives have been like?" and really give them time and resources to respond.

Kids have an incredible instinct for justice and fairness at this age, but are not at all encouraged to use it. For example, just giving an assignment in which kids have to think from a Native perspective rather than Spanish, priest, or contemporary Californian, is a massive opportunity for their critical thinking processes to develop.

But it's also important not to stop there, with the Indians left as victims. That's why I advocate for education about contemporary California tribes too - those who survived, are using or revitalizing their languages, dances, basketweaving, literature, etc. How much more this courageous survival will mean to kids who know the truth about what it came out of! Having a California native come visit and discuss their culture is such a great thing for a teacher to do; move beyond the victimization and into practical, celebratory ways of looking at survival.

Don't forget to check out my California Indian links for more resource ideas.  One that I found just recently reflects on the California Mission Curriculum used in schools, providing a bibliography of current materials, an evaluation of those materials, and suggested alternative materials.  It's called "Critique of California Mission Curriculum" and evolved out of a research Project conducted by the Honors Ethnic Studies 210 class at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, taught by Dr. Colleen O'Neill.

Good luck with your search and your teaching, Johanna, and you have my admiration for your hard work!

Keep in touch.


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