Teachers, Any Lesson About Thanksgiving Should Include Native American Perspectives

Nov 23, 2021 12:00:00 AM


It is that time of year again. It is time for some teachers somewhere to completely botch incorporating Thanksgiving and Native Americans into the curriculum. However, this does not need to occur. Teachers can take the time to research and plan to avoid being the next teacher to go viral for missteps in the classroom.

Teaching starts with the state standards. Teachers should first look at their state standards to determine which skills they want to teach and then identify the content they would like to use to teach the skills.

Next, teachers should realize that they should not only talk about Native Americans in November during Native American Heritage Month or the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Reading stories is one way teachers share information about a topic, as well as a way to cover some academic skills. We all know responding to a text verbally or in written form is a literacy skill students need to master. I was asked to review some Thanksgiving books. Not only did I review those books, but I also picked up the first books I could locate on Thanksgiving at my local library and reviewed them, too — and I created a spreadsheet. On one tab of the spreadsheet, I pulled out standards that could potentially be covered for literacy and social studies. These Indiana standards are based on the grade level of the teachers I was helping, but you could do the same for any state's standards. On the second tab, I included a review that had these categories: the author, year of copyright, concerning content, highlights, and a final recommendation. 

There were factors I used to drive my recommendations. These same factors should be used to drive lesson plan choices. First, I considered the perspective told and if it was truthful. The Pilgrims did not invent the concept of Thanksgiving. Dinners of thanks have been happening around the world and included in various Native American tribes.

Any talk about Thanksgiving should include native perspectives. It is even better if the author is Native American.

Moving outside of Thanksgiving to learn about Native Americans is also important. Native Americans aren’t only in the past. They are still here so modern-day Native American life should be included. When teaching about Native Americans, teachers need to understand that Native Americans are not a monolith. Teachers should teach about specific tribes and the specific information that matches those tribes.

Finally, teachers should start with the Native Americans who lived on the land, both past and present, in the state where they teach. 

It is important to note that it is not necessary for students or teachers to dress up as Native Americans to learn about them. When we know more, we can do better.

Teachers, do better this year.

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at gardenershicole.com. To learn more about Shawnta, visit educatorbarnes.com.

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