(From 2006, in response to a then-current story on a local grade school principal cancelling a long-standing tradition of a Thanksgiving tableau enacted by the small children dressing as Pilgrims and Indians. The link to the original story is long-decayed, but in light of this particular blast, and this one from the eternally plastic Cher … well, still relevant.)
Reader Mark Rosenbaum commented on one of my historical pieces this week: “Why couldn’t they tell history this well when I was in school a half century ago?” About that same time, I ran across this story—part of the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Perhaps it might, in a small way, explain why people are not so enamored of history these days – at least, the sort of history taught in schools.
I can only assume that we are supposed to marvel at Mr. Morgan’s method of teaching, and his grim gray multi-culti sensitivity, in pounding it in relentlessly to a class of grade-schoolers that we actual or spiritual descendants of Pilgrims are “Bad, Bad People, Who Stole Everything From the Indians, and Celebrating Thanksgiving is Just As Bad as the Holocaust, Almost!” Myself, I think “Jeeze, what a dick-head!” Talk about sucking all the joy out of the room! Seriously, teachers like this was one of the reasons I gave a miss to teaching myself; and the reason for private school looking better and better when it came to Blondie. For one, the School Sisters of St. Francis did not conflate the Plymouth Colony in its shaky first years with three hundred years of savage conflict. Dumping on the poor Pilgrims for the Indian Wars seems to be a bit of a fallacy, as well as grandly oversimplifying history — not to mention the fact that the Indians warred on each other with keen enjoyment and no little inventive brutality for centuries. At the very least, Mr. Morgan is a dickhead for ruining the innocent joy of children in what appears to have been a fond ritual. Having the kids dress up like Pilgrims and Indians and commemorating a peaceful feast together – dear, can’t have that, can we? It’s just too simple!
History for children ought to be simplified, but dumping a metaphorical turd in the punchbowl like that may not be the most effective way to begin teaching the nuances of it all.
Because you have to begin with teaching the history, then bring in the nuances and the highlights, as well as the lowlights, the grand stories, and events. We need our heroes, we have to know what people did, how they behaved, and why. Its almost a primal urge – why do we still read the Iliad, of Beowulf and King Arthur, of Shakespeare’s kings and nobles, and Civil War generals. We need the stories of people, almost as much as we need oxygen, water, sustenance. We are driven to accounts of glorious deeds as much as of the ignoble, of disasters and adversity, wanting examples of how well, or how badly people behave in adversity, wanting to pattern our own selves against those who stood as pillars of integrity in bad times, and shining heroes in the good times. If we do not know how people in the past could survive, endure, and persevere – than how can we hope for ourselves? We would be alone, without a map, without an idea, and without hope. It would be a sort of intellectual sensory-deprivation tank, to be cut off from the past. Mr. Morgan’s chief offense, I fear, is that with the best intentions in the world, he is subtly discouraging kids from looking at history. Besides the permanently apologetic and masochistic, who truly wants to be ashamed of their ancestors, and where they came from? Yes, Mr. Morgan, about the paving material used on the approach to the underworld?
There is a theory that all this rubbishing of our heroes and heroines, and the events in our national saga being constantly painted as sordid, vile, an epic of treachery and double-dealing from the very beginning has a deliberate propose; an elaborate Marxist-Gramscian plot to render us spiritless, compliant to the leadership of some vaguely socialist cabal. It might very well be so; but tools like Mr. Morgan and his ilk may have overplayed their hand, because in spite of their tireless labors in the classroom and the upper reaches of academia and intelligentsia, people are still drawn to history on their own: to their own family memoirs, to amateur history circles, and to re-enactor groups of everything from mountain-man rendezvous and black-power shooting, to Civil War and Revolutionary battles, to reconstructing lifestyles and vintage clothing, and a hundred other ways of reaching out and touching the past. We cannot help ourselves, it’s an imperative; we must understand the present, and perhaps find a path through the future – in spite of educational apparatchiks like Mr. Morgan and his grim little exercise in political correctitude.
Wouldn’t it have been much more nuanced, do you think, to emphasize that on that long ago Thanksgiving, two very different peoples, whose descendants would be at each others throats for three hundred years, were yet able to join together for a great feast, to be courteous and friendly with each other, for at least a little while? Next month, I suppose Mr. Morgan will follow up by telling the kiddies that Santa Claus is an invention of the mercantile-industrial establishment.