Teacher Bill Morgan walks into his third-grade class wearing a black Pilgrim hat made of construction paper and begins snatching up pencils, backpacks and glue sticks from his pupils. He tells them the items now belong to him because he “discovered” them. The reaction is exactly what Morgan expects: The kids get angry and want their things back.
Morgan is among elementary school teachers who have ditched the traditional Thanksgiving lesson, in which children dress up like Indians and Pilgrims and act out a romanticized version of their first meetings.
He has replaced it with a more realistic look at the complex relationship between Indians and white settlers.
“I think that is very sad,” said Janice Shaw Crouse, a former college dean and public high school teacher and now a spokeswoman for Concerned Women for America, a conservative organization. “He is teaching his students to hate their country. That is a very distorted view of history, a distorted view of Thanksgiving.”
Chuck Narcho, a member of the Maricopa and Tohono O’odham tribes who works as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles, said younger children should not be burdened with all the gory details of American history.
Adam McMullin, a member of the Seminole tribe of Oklahoma and a spokesman for the National Congress of American Indians, said schoolchildren should get an accurate historical account.
“You can’t just throw an Indian costume on a child,” he said. “That stuff is not taken lightly. That’s where educators need to be very careful.”
Becky Wyatt, a teacher at Kettering Elementary School in Long Beach, decided to alter the costumes for the annual Thanksgiving play a few years ago after local Indians spoke out against students wearing feathers, which are sacred in their culture. Now children wear simple headbands.
Laverne Villalobos, a member of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska who now lives in the coastal town of Pacifica near San Francisco, considers Thanksgiving a day of mourning.
She went before the school board last week and asked for a ban on Thanksgiving re-enactments and students dressing up as Indians. She also complained about November’s lunch menu that pictured a caricature of an Indian boy.
James Loewen, a former history professor at the University of Vermont and author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong,” said that during the first Thanksgiving, the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrims had been living in relative peace, even though the tribe suspected the settlers of robbing Indian graves to steal food buried with the dead.
“Relations were strained, but yet the holiday worked. Folks got along. After that, bad things happened,” Loewen said, referring to the bloody warfare that broke out later during the 17th century.