A Moment with Dr. Moore

November 15, 2023

A Million Reasons to Give Thanks

We may need to rethink the way we talk to young children about Thanksgiving. You likely know the feel-good story that many folks heard growing up. The Pilgrims fled England looking for religious freedom and landed on Plymouth Rock. The Native people who lived there, the Wampanoag, shared their land, food and knowledge of farming techniques with the new settlers, leading to the Pilgrims’ first successful harvest. In 1621, the grateful Pilgrims sat down with the Wampanoag people to break bread. This was the first Thanksgiving feast and Americans have been celebrating it ever since. Yet it’s not actually how the real story unfolded. I remember trying to explain it to my oldest daughter when she at five-years-old wondered why the Pilgrims and Native Americans stopped getting along.

Granted, the feast did happen, according to a colonist’s letter, but Thanksgiving didn’t become an official celebration until the Civil War, when writer Sarah Hale proposed it to unite the nation—a fact that I’m sure many of you didn’t know if you’re like me. We have traditionally left out what happened to Native communities in the centuries since 1621. “It’s not a pretty history by any stretch of the imagination,” said Bettina Washington, the Wampanoag historic preservation officer. “But we need the story to be told truthfully”—a challenge that educators and parents face at this time of year.

This year, I suggest we think of ways to celebrate the many contributions of Native Americans, especially since November is not just when we mark Thanksgiving. It’s also Native American Heritage Month, and that’s a time to tell children about the wide impact that Native people have made. According to the USDA, 60 percent of the world’s food supply comes from corn and potatoes, foods that Native Americans were the first to grow. Native ceremonies, symbols and ideals of selfless service laid the foundation for groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Native Americans built pathways that would lead to our first roads and railways. Their knowledge of plant life would lead to our medicines, soaps and clothes. And their political traditions made a lasting impact, too. Many concepts in the U.S. Constitution stem from the Iroquois Confederacy of 1142, the oldest democracy that still exists. Honoring these achievements and acknowledging the true story of Native Americans is crucial for a full telling of the American story.

“We cannot ignore the injustices that have been done to Native Americans,” said Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County Superintendent of Schools. “And acknowledging these injustices doesn’t take away anything from the pride many feel about our country and its history. Learning from the past and trying to do better is what will propel us forward as a society. It’s also one of the ways that we can give our historically underserved students the education and future they deserve”—a goal that depends on giving them highly qualified teachers.

I know that all children learn best when they have educators who look like them and share their culture. So, I’m committed to bringing the CDA® to a diverse pool of early childhood teachers, including those from our nation’s Native tribes. And this month I was pleased to honor Jada Vargas, a member of the Apache Tribe, for being the Council’s millionth CDA. Jada and her mom travelled from their home in Arizona to meet the Council’s board members and staff in Washington, DC. There was good food and great times as we marked her achievement and historic role in the Council’s work to provide all young learners with the skilled teachers they need.

Jada’s goal as a teacher is to improve life for the members of her tribe and lead them to brighter days. “As a Native American,” she told me, “I feel I have a responsibility to address some of the issues my people face, whether it’s poverty, struggles with parenting or failure to see the value of education. I also want to help preserve Apache culture and language as a part of my classroom practice with young children.”

As I joined her and my colleagues at the Council, I was thankful that we had succeeded in awarding a million CDAs. Each one of our credential holders is a reason to give thanks, I thought as I raised a glass to Jada. I also reflected on how we should talk to our children about Thanksgiving. The cure for the feel-good story isn’t guilt or feeling bad. Instead, it’s to emphasize the importance of giving thanks to the people who welcome us and help us thrive. We shouldn’t forget the tragedies of the past, and we should resolve to do better in the future. We should try to treat one another as all members of the same tribe.



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