Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Columbus Day: Shifting Thinking and Habits

Teachable moments come to us in all kinds of ways. We don't know when or where they will appear and you have to seize them before the moment passes. Last week Mayor Joseph Curtatone made an announcement that Somerville will be joining other cities and towns, such as Cambridge and Brookline, by observing Indigenous People's Day On October 8, not Columbus Day. Curtatone noted "Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history. We all know there’s more to the story than a nursery rhyme.”

And yet, in many schools, the nursery rhyme version persists.

When faced with shifts in thinking and practice, we can sometimes balk: Wait, I can't celebrate Columbus Day anymore!?  

But the larger question is: Why would you want to?
This leads to an even deeper question: How do my practices perpetuate myths?

So we are at a crossroads - one path is our old habits: 

1) The pictures of a smiling Columbus and his boats sailing across the ocean to "discover" a new world.  

2) The other is that teachable moment - if we dare to take it up. It will mean looking at ourselves, and making some changes. 

It is also an opportunity to teach things in new ways. Even young children can understand that encounters with those different from ourselves can result in conflict, but that as humans, we hope that we can build relationship. 

Columbus didn't "discover" people who were already here and there are great lessons about sharing space, materials that even young children can understand. We can talk about who Columbus was and his journey without glorifying what happened next, which for many is a day of mourning remembering genocide and enslavement - not something to celebrate.

Somerville Early Education has a new literacy curriculum rooted in the idea that working with Big Ideas as a foundation for all content areas makes learning relevant and inspires children to contribute and discover more.

The Big Ideas connected to building community and relationships with others, and how to treat people kindly and fairly resonate with young children and are great jumping off points for researching what discovery is, and how to engage is successful encounters with those new to you. Aren't these the messages we want children to embrace?

At the cornerstone of our  Community and Relationships curriculum are Big Ideas such as:

● We are members of a group.
● We form relationships with each other.
● Members of a group work together for a common goal.
● When we all take care of each other’s bodies, feelings,
work and the classroom/environment, we can have
the most fun and learn together. 
● We are all learning new things and how to do things for ourselves.
● We all have our own feelings, sometimes our feelings are different than our friends’
● We belong to different groups/communities: family, neighborhood, class, school,
city, team, etc.
● There are helpers in our communities.

The resources below can help you think differently about that day we have off from school in a few weeks and how to address it with children. 

Rethinking Early Childhood Education by Anne Pelo

Teaching Tolerance: Rethinking Columbus Day