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August 10, 2018 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Native Americans push schools to include their story in California history classes

For decades, California 4th-graders have studied the Golden State: its geography, people and history. Now, historians and Native American teachers are pushing to broaden that curriculum to include more on the culture and history of the state’s original inhabitants.
posted by poffin boffin (16 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Overheard just yesterday sitting with some friends and sharing family history:

"Your great-great-grandma sounds amazing, did you ever see a picture of her?"

"Of course there aren't any pictures of her [from that era]. She was Native/colored."

posted by loquacious at 9:57 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Huh. Growing up in Texas, Native American history was a huge part of Texas and American history classes. Then in High School in Oklahoma, well, without Native Americans there you lost the grand majority of the story.

It never crossed my mind that they were being so left out elsewhere, but I guess I'm not surprised either.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:06 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

The genocide of Native Americans in California was definitely presented as part of my fourth grade education, hard to do your mission project without running across it. But I would have loved to learn more about what life was like before Spanish colonizers showed up.

This quote though: "Genocide” implies that the native culture was completely erased, Castro said.

Um...not really, no? We call it genocide when that's attempted, not just when it succeeds.
posted by potrzebie at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I definitely learned about the Chumash and whatnot during my 4th grade year. Although, unlike just about everyone else st my school, I did the report instead of building The Mission of San Fernando our of sugar cubes or whatever. So perhaps I learned all that via my “research”.
posted by sideshow at 1:27 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

The one thing I still remember 25+ years later: their time working to stay alive (farming, hunting, etc.) averaged about 8 hours per week. The rest was leasure time. Even to this day I remember that fact and think to myself: man, that was the life.

As a counter-example, the Aztecs spent like 50 hours a week, which is why they were mean assholes who tried to conquer everyone. At least that was my 4th grade understanding of the situation.
posted by sideshow at 1:34 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes, sideshow! But their food didn't sound that delicious - lots of acorn-based fare. Did you go here for a field trip with your fourth grade class too?
posted by potrzebie at 1:54 PM on August 10, 2018

The article makes it sound like the popsicle stick "build a mission" projects are on their way out, and let me be the first to wish those projects good riddance and goodbye.

As someone who attended fourth grade in California, I didn't have a choice at my school to do something else and quite frankly I've always thought it was ludicrous to imply that anyone would learn something about the mission system (such as the fact that Native Americans were basically enslaved) through gluing sugar cubes to popsicle sticks, or, quite frankly, buying a kit and getting parents to do basically the entire thing if you were fortunate enough to have parents with disposable time and money.

I'm a individual who has been lucky enough to have generally enjoyed all his formal schooling, but this mission project has stuck with me two decades later as one of the things I found the least valuable of my entire education.
posted by andrewesque at 1:58 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have two kids that just finished 4th grade in a public school in California. They definitely learned about local native tribes as well as the history of California from a Native American point of view. It is an IB program, that probably helped.
posted by q*ben at 4:18 PM on August 10, 2018

They also built a mission however. Which was worthless make work until I asked them for the waterproofing details.
posted by q*ben at 4:22 PM on August 10, 2018

It's startling to me that this is not already in the state-mandated curriculum. (This is the kind of thing that, in blue states, tends to be easy to add to state-mandated curriculum -- although thereafter badly taught -- and absolutely impossible to remove.)

Although it sounds like they're creating some really awesome curriculum materials that I hope other states can use as a template!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 PM on August 10, 2018

My fifth grade grammar school education covered California "history." Kindly Mexican priests established a series of missions that brought civilization, and enlightenment in the form of Christianity, to the Indians living in California--showing them how to build mission compounds with barracks lodging that separated the men from the women. The Padres were kindly, as I said, and they can't be faulted for not realizing that their acolytes spoke a few dozen different languages. The padres viewed the Indians as their children, and treated them as they might treat children. Well, they recognized that their children were sort of wild, and needed to be tamed, if they were to save their souls. It's to their credit that the padres argued with the missions' military forces about whether their children were indeed human enough to have souls. The soldiers weren't so sure.

Sometimes Spanish soldiers were required to go out among the tribes in the San Joaquin Valley to capture and return the ungrateful among them, who for some reason rejected Christian kindness, and foolishly wanted to return to their homes. Now and then the soldiers had to punish some villages for persistent abetting of these misguided folks.

Later on, huge Spanish land grants were awarded to Americans, who came to tame the wilderness and bring prosperity to the land. A war with Mexico eventually obviated the need to consult with the Mexicans who owned the land.

I forget what happened to the Yokuts in the central valley, or the Costanoan tribes up north, or the hundreds of tribes and tribelets that inhabited the river valleys coming out of the Sierras. Maybe they forgot to teach me that. Okay, I believe I went to the fifth grade in 1956. Maybe somebody remembered what happened to those guys since then.
posted by mule98J at 7:40 PM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

In the USA Social Studies has been traditionally taught in elementary schools as concentric circles beginning with what the student is most familiar with and rippling out. So like this PDF example from the state of Texas, Kindergarten starts with family, then as students get older they learn community, their school, their city/town, the "state" curriculum is usually around 4th grade, the USA is 5th grade, more world in 6th grade, etc. As they grow and their world gets larger, the Social Studies curriculum usually mimics that. And while nice in theory, it just doesn't work anymore, especially after learning the Lies My Teacher Told Me and that history is not so clear cut as many of us were originally taught.

I taught 4th grade for 9 years in PA in the early 1990s and I taught the state of Pennsylvania - all the state facts, geography, Valley Forge and Philadelphia's role in the founding of the USA, and lots of great things about the Lenne-Lenape and Delaware Indians. I was lucky to have a student whose Grandmother was Lenne-Lenape and she came back year after year to share her culture with my students before the annual field trip to a museum. It was the cool fun Native American Indian stuff - how they planted the Three Sisters and how they used ALL of the deer they killed, the kinds of things that 4th graders could easily get their head around. At the time I didn't even stop to think about the atrocities committed against these people and how the government relocated many of them, there was nothing in the state curriculum about it, and so it wasn't taught. And as an FYI, the elementary teacher has to teach every subject (math, reading, English, spelling, science, social studies) - so the curriculum winds up being a mile wide and an inch deep sometimes. Not making excuses, just stating the facts that if is wasn't in the curriculum I didn't go looking outside of it for more things to teach.

But I did have to teach about the Underground Railroad and slavery. And that sucked because it was hard. Some of my students just didn't understand the concept and idea, it was too complex for their age, they couldn't imagine that people really had other people as slaves and not just any people, but black people - of which there were many in my class. I kind of felt like I was teaching them a bad thing - taking their young innocent minds and introducing them to this form of hate that most had ever even heard about. A little girl, Deja, came up to me the next day after recess crying about it: "Albert (a little shithead btw) said I was his slave because I'm black". I was crushed. But I'm not stupid, I know that if we do not learn from history we are condemned to repeat it, so I understand why this has to be taught. Back then I was uncomfortable with the way it was presented in the curriculum and textbook, without an emotional context for the students to help them understand, and I did the best I could, but I wish I could have done better, especially for Deja and Albert, I feel like I failed them both.

So what I guess I'm trying to get at is one thing that would help is if these topics are not covered in such an organized by proximity-to-the-student-pattern type of curriculum, but more in a "what makes sense at this age" approach. I would have loved it if the Guidance Counselor helped me plan that lesson on slavery and we could have co-taught it at a more emotionally appropriate level for 4th graders. And if I were teaching that and the Lenne-Lenapi Indians in 2018, that is definitely what I would do. If we're going to teach these topics to elementary school kids, lets give it to them in a meaningful, emotionally accessible, and age appropriate manner.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:54 PM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

My 4th grade class absolutely did not teach us anything about native Americans and when I asked my teacher, she was confused and embarrassed because she didn't know anything more. They literally said "Native Americans moved out and into the missions," as if it was a summer camp. I spent many hours learning gold miner folk songs for credit. Also eventually subconsciously came to the conclusion that the Catholic Church was evil and funded all of this curriculum and has a disproportionate impact on the 4th grade California history curriculum for public schools after reading the donors list for a Mission I visited, so me finding The Golden Compass in Borders in 5th grade was GREAT. So not assigned reading. This was all in 2001 by the way.

Always teach your kids critical thinking and to research and figure things out for themselves! Let them be rebellious!
posted by yueliang at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2018

Reading back that comment, that might have also been the time I lost faith in public education and started rebelling against exponents. I wish I could go back and give my 9 year old self a hug and tell her math is not as evil as social studies, she was dang deductive.
posted by yueliang at 10:42 AM on August 11, 2018

My fifth grade grammar school education covered California "history." Kindly Mexican priests established a series of missions that brought civilization, and enlightenment in the form of Christianity, to the Indians living in California… I forget what happened to the Yokuts in the central valley, or the Costanoan tribes up north, or the hundreds of tribes and tribelets that inhabited the river valleys coming out of the Sierras. Maybe they forgot to teach me that. Okay, I believe I went to the fifth grade in 1956.

mule98J – that's basically what I remember from fifth grade in 1980, so not much had changed in 25 years. It sounds like the curriculum has been changed since then, which would be good.

If anyone is curious about how tasty they'd find Ohlone cuisine and can get to Berkeley, check out Café Ohlone by Mak-‘amham, opening this month.
posted by Lexica at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lexica, thanks for that link. I remember reading that people in the bay area sometimes fell back on shellfish when other game was scarce, hence the large shellfish mounds in certain areas. Also, in pre-colonial days, overflights of bird migrations often filled the sky.

I once rented some acreage in the foothills of the Sierras, at about the 4000-foot level, which contained a pounding rock with dozens of holes, once used by a local tribe. They crushed not just acorns, but several types of grass there. Story was that they moved up there from the edge of the valley to escaped the summer heat. A small stream from a nearby spring flowed through rock grottoes, emerging just above the pounding rock. Several large oaks populated the area around the rock, and it wasn't hard to imagine families encamped there.
posted by mule98J at 2:58 PM on August 11, 2018

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