Middle School, and a missing part of history

20 Oct

Guys, I love teaching in middle school so much.

Yesterday, my Dyad partner and I team-taught a 45 minute lesson in 7th grade humanities.

The students read and thoughtfully discussed four articles about the use of Native American imagery in sports mascots, as an introduction to their Native American Culture unit, which includes reading Sherman Alexie’s amazing young adult book, Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (if you haven’t read it, I highly suggest it. Alexie is a local author, who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He writes mostly about life as a Native American in the modern world – his writing is amazingly powerful.)
Our lesson, which was suggested by our co-teacher, was thrown together at the last minute – on Wednesday she realized that our class was a day ahead of schedule, so asked us if we wanted to teach on Thursday. Considering we had about 12 hours to plan, I think our lesson went extremely well.

The articles we had the students read were a mix of local pieces about a recent recommendation by the Washington State Board of Education for schools to do away with Native American Mascots, opinion pieces about the use of Native American Mascots, and a piece from 2005 about the NCAA’s ban on “hostile or offensive” mascots and nicknames. If you’re interested, you can check them out:

Native American Mascots Challenged in Washington

Lose the Indian Mascots

NCAA American Indian Mascot Ban

Time to Rethink Native American Imagery
The discussion went really well – these 7th graders had some really great things to say. However, one student made a comment that surprised me: “When we think of racism, we think of slavery and how horrible that was – but nothing bad like that really happened to Native Americans so we don’t automatically think of racism being against them.”

I had to have him clarify his statement because I was confused – by 7th grade, students haven’t learned about The Trail Of Tears? About forcing Native children to attend boarding school to erase their “Indian-ness?” About the Indian Removal Act? Apparently not – and come to think of it, I’m not sure I knew about those things by 7th grade, either. The history of the systematic destruction of the native peoples of North America is missing from our education system. Why? Because we are embarrassed? Because it makes us look bad? Because it opposes the view of early America as a vast open wilderness, waiting for Americans to make it what it is today?

I was struck with the horrible thought that our lesson, though well planned and interesting, was actually irrelevant because these students were lacking the background to understand all the issues. If that is the case, where do we start? When do we start? How do we start?

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3 Responses to “Middle School, and a missing part of history”

  1. lotsirb October 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    I love that you introduced the mascot idea to these 7th graders. I am saddened to hear that they are unaware of such a large (ongoing) aspect of racism in America. Who can blame them? You’re right; I think the pervasive view of dominant culture is to be ignorant about the atrocities against Native peoples in this country. They really are too terrible to face, and alternate views of history are so much more “palatable” (Sacagawea helping, Thanksgiving Indians ‘helping’, etc.). For more reading on the mascot issue, Ward Churchill wrote a great article in his anthology “Indians R Us” called “Let’s Spread the ‘Fun’ Around: the Issue of Sports Team Names and Mascots.” I found a link to is that I will add to diigo. It really is worth a look. And keep up the good work enlightening these students!
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/98828579/The-Ward-Churchill-Reader

  2. janevangalen October 22, 2012 at 3:24 am #

    So interesting, because I see so many units on regional native Americans in K-5, complete with dioramas and close-of-unit ceremonies of some sort. You really have me thinking — do we look at dwellings, art, and foods, but never talk about how that all turned out in the end?

    • teacherbecoming2013 October 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

      That’s a good point – students definitely spend time learning about pre-Columbian Native Americans, but very little time is spent on anything that happened after colonization.

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