ST. GEORGE – As certain religious groups, equality groups, and Native American tribes have expressed dissatisfaction with the old traditional Thanksgiving story, many schools are now focusing on changing the first Thanksgiving curriculum.
Washington County School District director of communications and endowment Steven Dunham told St. George News that there is no state curriculum standard for Thanksgiving. And the current teachings on the Thanksgiving story are less about history and more about gratitude.
Shauna Lund, the Iron County School District communications and charter coordinator, told St. George News something similar.
“I don’t know anything about specific history lessons in each classroom,” she said. “Speaking to district leadership, they said most classrooms focus on the aspect of gratitude in recognition of Thanksgiving.”
The old traditional story taught in schools up until the 1990s was the version of Tisquantum (Squanto), a Native American who found the English colonists after arriving at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower. The colonists struggled to survive the harsh land and environment.
He and other members of the Wampanoag tribe, including Chief Massasoit, could speak English and taught the colonists under Mayor William Bradford how to till the land, prepare for winter, and survive. In return, both the English colonists and the Wampanoag sat down and ate together and gave thanks.
However, according to historical accounts by Plymouth pilgrim Edward Winslow, the “first” Thanksgiving celebration was more one of war and sorrow, not the grateful history of Turkey’s holiday as most children were previously taught in public schools.
The “Real Story of the Thanksgiving,” written by direct ancestors of both the Wampanoag and the colonists, reads: “It is easier to believe this story than to look at the facts. In reality, English history was invented and the holiday declared for political reasons.”
Since 2018 there has been a growing response from schools teaching about the actual historical events of the first Thanksgiving. These schools include those in Virginia, Oklahoma, and others across the country.
With several Native American social justice leaders pushing the history-correcting agenda, the traditional narratives are a thing of the past, Time magazine reported in a November 2019 article.
In October, the Auditor General of the Utah Legislature reviewed schools in Utah on “Curriculum and Teacher Training in Public Education” and cited key findings.
Key findings relate specifically to “sensitive” curricula and materials, but still cover controversial historical teachings.
According to the audit, one of the biggest risks of student exposure to potentially questionable content lies in the materials chosen and the way they are presented in class. Currently, the materials used in the classroom are determined by the school district with board approval.
The state code is unclear as to who should make decisions about the appropriateness of addressing emerging social issues in classrooms and whether such decisions fall under the purview of local control, the Utah State Board of Education, or the legislature. More recently, the focus has been on allowing local education authorities to make these decisions.
The auditors also reported that there had been limited guidelines and training on teacher neutrality. As a recommendation, the audit names some current processes that could be strengthened. State governments are recommended to do better to defuse contentious areas such as neutrality standards and emerging social issues. Again, state governments have passed the guidelines and training to local school districts.
And as Dunham previously noted, no content guidelines or curriculum are currently required for the Thanksgiving story.
Both Dunham and Lund said the general consensus is to teach Thanksgiving as a day of thanksgiving and gratitude, rather than lecturing on the actual history of the event.
Currently, none of the school districts have plans to change the way Thanksgiving history is taught in relation to the facts of the famous 1621 dinner.
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