This time of the year is the perfect time to reflect upon our own practices as educators. At this time, we are faced with the question of how to teach about the histories, cultures and traditions of the Thanksgiving holiday that is celebrated in the United States and other countries around the world, including Canada, Germany, Japan and The Netherlands.
As it relates to Thanksgiving in the United States, it is, of course, categorically appropriate to teach our students about indigenous cultures and to do related activities in ways that honor indigenous cultures, celebrate the idea of a good harvest and teach the concept of thankfulness in our lives. I encourage and support it as it is important for students to have age-appropriate historical, cultural and conceptual contexts when we enjoy our beautiful Thanksgiving luncheons at school this month.
The discussion that we have had as educators in the last 2 years, in particular, has been about ensuring that we are teaching about cultural sensitivity and the realities of this historical era in order to avoid any form of cultural appropriation, the latter of which is always an issue around Halloween and Thanksgiving. We discuss how important it is not to be perceived as culturally insensitive by reproducing stereotypes that may be offensive or making fun of any one cultural group.
As a side note, in the Secondary School, there was a controversial case of cultural sensitivity last year around this time that we faced, not in the classroom, but among several students, so it really hit home for us. As one teacher stated, we are educating our students for global citizenship, so we have the responsibility to reflect on our practices and take measures always to avoid perpetuating or passing along stereotypes, albeit unintentionally, to our students. This is the heart of our discussions as educators each year and I firmly believe in the value of reminding ourselves of these responsibilities regularly.
In short, it is absolutely correct to introduce and teach our students about the histories, cultures and traditions of this time of the year, especially for them to have a sense of context for our Thanksgiving luncheons on Thursday, November 23 and our day off the following day.
So, my advice to our Pinewood teachers is to continue their studies around the Thanksgiving holiday in their classes and always work as educators to reflect on what they’re doing in ways that are inclusive and honoring in nature.
Dr. Giampapa is the President of Pinewood American International School, a forward-thinking PreK-12 college preparatory school in Thessaloniki, Greece.