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Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes

What Exactly is Critical Thinking?

The question: “What is the difference between how Egyptian slavery is described in the Bible versus in the historical document under scrutiny?” sparked a lively conversation in a sixth grade social studies class last week. The class continued by determining the supporting evidence for the parallel texts and delineating the assumptions in each set of texts. There was considerable discussion about the difference between belief and supported evidence.

That same day, in a fifth grade classroom, students were considering how the particular artist that each student was studying influenced society. Students needed to connect information about their artist’s style to artistic representations that trended prior to his/her prominence.

These are difficult questions to answer. They sound a lot like the questions I first encountered in college. These are the type of questions that ignited my passion for research, and for studying the humanities and social sciences in particular. These are the questions that make up a 21C education that emphasizes critical thinking.

What exactly is critical thinking? One definition that I like is: “It is a disciplined process of actively and skillfully analyzing and synthesizing information gathered from multiple sources.” (from a lecture by Scriven and Paul at the International Conference on Critical thinking and Education Reform 1987) It is an information generating and gathering skill set - a process that needs to be taught and applied repeatedly to new situations.

In teaching critical thinking, we take students through a process that builds from kindergarten onward. We help them understand different points of view as we discuss how different characters in a story perceive the story’s conflict. We encourage students to think about the objectives of different arguments - is the author trying to persuade or inspire the audience? Students need to know how to articulate the assumptions presupposed in a particular position, and they need to know their assumptions in the various positions that they take in class discussions. We begin to teach the idea of inference (what conclusions are we drawing from this) in kindergarten by letting students make reasonable inferences as they estimate quantities or try to infer the message of a particular story. All of these concepts continue throughout our students’ education at Wornick, and throughout that process we strive for clarity, accuracy, depth, breadth and logic.

We know that critical thinking is now considered one of the survival skills for this century – one that it has been privileged in universities and in elite independent schools for a very long time. But why should we place an emphasis on critical thinking in the K-8 educational environment today? Teacher Randy Kasten published an effective answer to this question:

The ability to think critically is one skill separating innovators from followers. Critical thinking reduces the power of advertisers, the unscrupulous and the pretentious, and can neutralize the sway of an unsupported argument. This is a skill most students enjoy learning because they see immediately that it gives them more control.

Randy Kasten, “Critical Thinking: A Necessary Skill in an Age of Spin” in Edutopia, May 7, 2015

Wornick is all about creating poised, empathetic leaders. Part of the magic sauce that gets us there is the emphasis on critical thinking. Happily, that the sauce also creates an exciting educational environment of engaged learners.

Shabbat Shalom
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday February 12, 2016
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Learning Connections

I bet that most of you learned about graphs in mathematics or a statistics class. You studied negative and positive integers in a mathematics class, and the relationship of the earth, sun and weather patterns in a science class. Most likely, you covered the locations of countries and continents in a social studies class. I would assume that none of these different pieces of information were taught at the same time. While you ultimately learned all of these items, for some of you that “ah ha” moment of how these might be meaningful connections came as late as college. Many might have had no clue why it might be interesting or important to know these things – and you might still have difficulty in remembering locations around the world.

Research supports the notion that learning is strengthened when connections are made between previous knowledge and new learning (i.e. Judy Willis, Ignite, 2006). Willis notes that interconnected knowledge strengthens neural pathways supporting sustained learning rather than fleeting memorization. To maximize this, teaching should connect new learning to student’s prior knowledge, and make connections across different subject areas. This interdisciplinary approach to learning runs through the Common Core standards that our school adopted last year and was a part of our teaching prior to Common Core.

Yesterday, I observed a terrific example of how this concept defines learning at our school. Third grade recently completed a unit that connects mathematics with science and social studies. Students studied weather patterns (part of the earth science standards for 3rd grade) in different parts of the world. They noticed that some areas had daily temperatures in negative digits and others in positive. The class studied different ways to account for these weather patterns in terms of the positioning of the sun and the relationship of particular cities to the earth’s axis. They tracked daily temperatures, wind patterns, and precipitation for the month of January and graphed their results. Students produced bar graphs, line graphs and pictographs for their cities under study. Finally, they predicted what the weather pattern in that city might be at this same point in time next year. In twelve months, they will see how accurate these predictions were.

Just a few years ago, each of the parts of this lesson would have typically been taught in a more fragmented way – the graphs and negative numbers as part of a mathematics lesson, the location of the different countries belonging to social studies, and the weather patterns might have been covered in science class. Teaching in a connected way not only facilitates the strengthening of neural pathways, but also engages students by helping them see how knowledge is actually produced and used – something that they will need to do throughout their careers.

Wornick, we carry the connections one step further by using an overall curricula design model called Understanding by Design. In this, all learning is connected to an “enduring understanding” – something that will link the present learning to something they will see again in other aspects of their life at different points in time. The enduring understanding for the particular weather unit was that “the analysis of patterns of change facilitates the making of predictions.” Students will see this again in their analysis of novels, in future science experiments, history classes, and long beyond their time at Wornick.

Stop by and visit our bulletin boards to see some of the latest products of our interdisciplinary teaching.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G

Posted by dizenson on Friday February 5, 2016
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Context Matters

“What was it like in the olden days?” a precocious first grader asked me last Tuesday. I had to restrain myself from laughing, as heretofore I had never thought about myself living in the “olden days”. Those were days of horse and buggies weren’t they? Then I realized that I am indeed from the olden days for this little guy! I proceeded to explain what a dial up phone looked like, and how it worked. He was satisfied and then jumped to a completely new topic. This first grader is part of Next Gen. or Generation V (“v” for virtual), according to a speaker I heard this past week. His mini-history is set in the context of virtual, web-based networking. Understanding his context, as well as that of our spouses, children and co-workers, is key to communicating in a way that will build lasting positive relationships.

Jane Buckingham from Trendera, an expert on intergenerational understanding, spoke at the annual conference for Heads and Trustees of California Independent Schools. The message of this presentation was that each generation has been reared under such different social-historical conditions that they communicate and think about life very differently. Marketing experts know this. Teachers and parents don’t always appreciate it, but we experience it every day.

As a “boomer”, I grew up in times of post-war prosperity, when the American dream was a promise that we all pursued and believed we could attain. My high school and college years were marked by student uprisings, war-protests and equal rights initiatives that changed the world. As a group, boomers have been characterized as being optimistic, having a strong work ethic, being critical of authority and as consensus builders. We are the educators or bosses who will not lead in an authoritarian manner - even cringing at the idea of being called “the boss”. We are also the generation of “workaholics” because we grew up with the idea that one lives to work.

Wornick’s teaching staff and parent body are primarily Gen X’s (ages 36-49) and Gen Y’s. Gen X came of age with dual-income families, single-parent families, the Watergate, AIDs and energy crises. They are the first generation that may not do as well financially as their parents. As a group, they are fiercely independent, self-sufficient, and often have a sense that “you can’t really count on jobs or marriage.” They tend to dislike change, as it usually was a negative experience for them. Because of this context, Gen Xers place a very high priority on family and their community. Gen Xers are many of the parents and teachers in our school who have built a community through PTO, school volunteerism, and their connections to the parents in their children’s classes. These are often the staff members at our school that initiate staff social gatherings, and the parents who lead the way with class get-togethers.

Gen Y (ages 20 – 35) grew up in a more colorful time, with digital media, self-esteem building classes, school shootings, and 9/11. They are confident, optimistic, hotly competitive, expect personal attention, and are intensely concerned about security. This is the networked generation who believe that who you know can be more important than what you know, and they operate at “high speed”. They question workplace longevity. Our Gen Y parents and teachers are more results than process driven. They are sociable, well educated, and very accepting of diversity.

Our students and our children are Gen V – the evolving generation. We know that they are virtually connected to the world, and that they and their friends work on three things at once – phone, computer, and television. Recent research discusses an emerging reading issue as these youngsters have grown up scanning digital material and therefore have difficulty reading deeply.

Another emerging issue for this generation is the tendency to measure their self worth by the number of “likes” that they receive on their network feeds. They are adept at posting information throughout the day and night about themselves and then waiting, counting, and timing the responses. Parents and teachers need to be aware of this and be able to address it with their children. This phenomenon requires us all to help this generation find inner, enduring self-worth and meaning so they are less vulnerable to on-line shunning and shaming. Ira Glass, in a This American Life broadcast addresses this very issue.

All of these factors - and so many more - impact how we teach, who we hire, how we parent, how we interact with our partners and spouses and how we structure our community. Context matters in understanding both ourselves, and the people with whom we interact daily. It is not productive, nor accurate, to wax poetic about the “good old days” nor to lament the “current trends.” It is, however, very important to know the context so we can understand and help each generation find purpose and value.

Shabbat shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday January 29, 2016 at 01:56PM
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What’s Your Measure of Success?

How many of you think of yourselves as “successful”? More importantly, I’m curious what you think contributed to that success. In what ways are your perceptions of your successes and failures fueling your standard of success for your children?

My questions stem from a recent lunch I enjoyed with Denise Pope, senior lecturer in education at Stanford and one of the founders of Challenge Success for educators and parents. Pope and her colleagues created CS after conducting research that suggested current mainstream definitions of success are creating undue stress among students - particularly among middle class and upper middle class families. The Challenge Success message is about redefining success. This message is resonating across the country in University departments of education, educators, and parents. Their agenda is pushing top universities to transform their entrance requirements, and prestigious independent schools to drop grading systems and to rethink assessments.

For many middle class families, the goal of attending “the right school” for college (or high school) can be applied to a very narrow band of schools. A majority of very capable students will not get into those schools because the applicant pool is so great, and the number admitted is so small in comparison. It’s not because they are lacking in talent, but because there are just too many other students similar to them applying for too few places.

There is no question that “right schools” are structured to maximize the chances for their students to be challenged and engaged. In addition, their students get to study with academically similar peers, and the alumni networks created among their fellow graduates often provide an advantage in locating work following college. Yet, even these privileged few often lack the very qualities that are proven indicators of long-term success: purpose, sense of self, resilience and interpersonal skills.

There are other serious problems associated with this goal – problems that are far too critical to ignore. Pope and her colleague, psychologist Madeline Levine, documented the large spike in stress related issues (including depression, anxiety, suicides, and addictions) among middle class adolescents. Students spend inordinate amounts of time doing homework, and/or participating in grueling hours of athletic training solely to achieve the illusive admittance to “the right” school or to earn “the” athletic scholarship. If they fail to gain admittance to their choice or don’t get that scholarship, they, and their parents, are crushed. Even if they achieve that goal, what’s next? Furthermore, students who either cannot, or do not, want to participate in this pressure-cooker environment see their interests and talents ignored and trivialized. (Madeline Levine, Teach Your Children Well, pg xiv)

When we look at the compelling data that Pope and Levine have gathered, it is clear that school needs to be more of a journey that opens up possibilities rather than a race to a finish line defined by a very narrow goal. While experiencing these possibilities, children need, now more than ever, the resilience that comes from experiencing failure and learning how to bounce back.

School also needs to be structured to engage meaning-of-life questions so children can develop their purpose. Children need time to ask “why” questions - (Why is there order in the universe? Why are there wars? Why are some people heroic? Why did my pet die?), and they need to explore possible answers. Varied responses to these questions present different perspectives on the purpose in life. This range of possibilities helps children in thinking about the future that they might create.

The measure of success for schools and families who understand this idea of school as a journey, would be the graduate who finds interesting work and balances the “joy of living” with the “obligation to improve the world.” Wornick JDS is a school that sets the condition for this sort of success. Our program is structured so that students have the content knowledge they need to find their vocation, the language to express wonder and gratitude, a year punctuated by celebrations, and ample time to explore the “whys”, while trying on different possibilities to create a better world. I look forward in June to sharing our graduates’ stories that reflect both their journeys, and the exciting possibilities that lie ahead.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Thursday January 21, 2016 at 12:53PM
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Homework Wars

A few years ago, I observed a frustrated second grade boy who was upset because he had to close his journal since “writing was over” for the day. I asked him why he didn’t take the journal home so he could continue writing? He answered, “Because my teacher didn’t give it to us as homework… our journals don’t go home.” That exchange sent me on a journey to look more closely at homework practices. One of the most frequent questions asked by prospective parents is “What is your homework policy?” I used to say “reading 20 minutes each night, never new material; and always meaningful review.” Even when saying this, I knew that there was something flawed in that answer.

The efficacy of homework has been debated among American educators, parents and students for as long as I’ve been in education. In an article in the New Yorker a few years ago, Louis Menand laid out the different sides of the debate. Those against homework argue that it creates undue stress and that it is either unrelated, or negatively related, to academic achievement. He notes that parents hate it because it makes their kids unhappy, or creates undue dinner-time tension. Students and teachers hate it for other reasons. Those who support homework argue that it creates useful work habits and has positive academic effects.

So what does the American ambivalence about homework mean? We have diverse interests with different expectations about the purpose of education. Some focus on values of happiness, others on discovery learning, while some emphasize the need for content mastery, and still others want to keep kids off the streets.

Back to my traditional answer to the homework question, and why it is flawed. The answer to how much time to allocate to homework is different for every single child. Children have different capacities and learn at different rates. One child may complete a particular assignment in 10 minutes while another might need much longer. The answer should be that time devoted to homework is usually a function of children’s learning differences, preferences and capacities. It is possible that a particular child is so engaged in figuring out a particular problem that s/he willingly devotes more time to that endeavor. His/her parent might be unnecessarily concerned about how long the child spent on this work. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there might be a child who completes an assignment in a few minutes, and the parent wishes that s/he had more work. These concerns are often about who gets to control “time” – the teacher, the parent or the child.

Time allocation is one issue. The other issue focuses on the assumptions behind the practice of never assigning new work for homework. That idea is premised on the belief that the child might make mistakes, or might become too frustrated because s/he is not learning the material first from a teacher. This answer is also connected to the desire to control rather than understanding how deep learning takes place. We know that sustained learning takes place through exploration, mistakes and revisions. So, why aren’t we letting children explore new material for homework? Why can’t they turn in something that is “in process” and is not perfect?

The homework debate is never really a question of too much or too little. It is a question about “to what end?” My new way to answer the prospective parent’s question is by sharing the questions and the resulting answers that drive our school’s position – What sort of education do we value, and how do we deliver that education?

The answers reflect the school we want to be: We value 21st Century learners who have command of different literacies, take initiative, and know how to create, communicate, and collaborate. Equally important, we value an education that teaches children how to listen, care, and act for the benefit of others. Given that, homework at our school could include hours of collaboration over a Google document on a project conceived by the students. It can also include a child interviewing his/her parents about a family narrative. To fulfill our mission of teaching students to communicate and to problem-solve effectively, at times there just might be a spelling list and some mathematic practice as well.

If we really want an informed citizenship that takes responsibility for their learning and for their actions, the best case scenario is learning without boundaries: Children who are so engaged at school that they can’t wait to get home to finish reading a class book, to replicate or extend a science experiment, or continue writing in their journal. We want parents who understand that this is also homework; and we strive to be a school that lets those books, science projects and journals come home.

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Friday January 15, 2016 at 09:28AM
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Struggling in Order To Learn

When I was an Education Fellow at Hebrew University, I took an intensive Hebrew language class called ulpan in order to qualify for regular university classes taught in Hebrew. After the first day of class, I went directly to the ulpan coordinator’s office and said “I think you placed me in the wrong class. I didn’t understand most of what was said in class today.” She responded, “You’re in the right class. You Americans all think that you need to understand everything all the time in class. If you did that you wouldn’t be learning much would you? You will probably understand 20% of what is being said right now and in a few months about 40% and by the end of the year 90%.“

With that insight, I returned to class the next day and allowed myself to not understand much of what was said by the instructor. From that day on, it became a game for me to try to understand more and more. The coordinator was right. With time, patience, and perseverance, my comprehension continued to grow, and I ultimately passed the Hebrew entrance exam for the University.

I think about this story often when I see a student select a book that is easy to read rather than one that might challenge...or a child who gives up after a few minutes when a game or subject is difficult. Similarly, the college student who selects a class that might be an “easy A” as opposed to one that might be difficult but that would offer interesting new insight exhibits this same aversion to persist.

Was that Hebrew language coordinator correct about Americans having an aversion to struggle? A few years ago, an excellent report on NPR explored this question.
It considered the idea of “struggle” in education contrasting American and Asian classrooms. The author, Dr. Stigler, a professor of psychology at UCLA, was surprised by the practice in Japanese schools of teachers asking children who have difficulty solving a problem to come to the board to solve it there. The student’s classmates waited patiently and celebrated his success.

Stigler noted that in the United States, we call to the board the child who knows the answer. We see struggle as an indicator of “you’re not smart” (a phenomenon also noted by Carol Dweck in Mindsets), whereas struggle is understood as opportunity and part of the learning process in Asian societies.

We do tend to err in of smoothing the path to learning rather than in celebrating the struggle to learn. The news isn’t all bleak - the article also states that the East can learn much from us about teaching creativity and the West can learn from the East about “struggle”. Let’s encourage our children and students to persevere even when they feel challenged. It is one of the surest ways to success!

Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Thursday January 7, 2016 at 05:03PM
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Taking the Moral High Road

What would you do if your brother did something unspeakable to you as a child? You were not in contact with him for twenty years. One day you find yourself in a situation where you are asking a powerful person to help you out only to learn that the person is your brother.

That is the story line in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash (Genesis 44: 18- 47:27). It is the conclusion of the Joseph story, and it is filled with suspense, pathos and interesting insight into the human condition. One of the take-aways connects to an idea that I frequently invoke when talking to children – the idea of “taking the moral high road”.

The context of the narrative is that Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt to seek food because of a famine in their area. Joseph, who is now second in power only to Pharoah, is the person they need to meet to ask for provisions. He recognizes his brothers but does not reveal himself to them. Instead he tests them in several ways – framing them twice, threatening imprisonment and sending them back to Canaan to bring back their youngest brother Benjamin.

The parasha (weekly selection) opens with Judah - the brother who, years ago, suggested selling Joseph into slavery rather than killing him. Judah appeals to Joseph to imprison him rather than their youngest brother, Benjamin. He gives a litany of the trials that they have endured, and says that if he were to return to Canaan without Benjamin, their father would be deeply aggrieved and likely die from the pain of this loss. At this moment, the text says that Joseph is filled with emotion, he wails loudly, asks all of his servants to leave him alone with his visitors, and “makes himself known to his brothers” (Gen. 45:1)

Think about how Joseph was feeling at this point. What should he say to them? Isn’t this the time to admonish them, express his anger over past grievances? They tried to kill him many years ago, and their action led to his enslavement, false accusations, and imprisonment. Now he is one of the most powerful people in the land, and he has the opportunity to exact revenge, to express his anger. But he doesn’t. When he reveals himself, his brothers “recoil in fear” (Gen. 45:2) Joseph instead offers reassurance telling his brothers that all that has happened has lead him to be able to provide for them now. In this, he reminds me of Nelson Mandela who left prison and publicly chose not to seek revenge for his imprisonment. His goal was “to lead” to move toward a productive, healing future.

The go-to position for young children, and, unfortunately for many adults is to exact revenge when wronged by someone. The lesson in this parasha is that focusing on blame and anger immobilizes. Taking the moral high road of looking forward, not backward, leads to positive change. As we get another chance at a New Year, let’s all try to be more like Joseph and Mandela, not blaming for past grievances but improving the world by looking forward.

I wish you all a peaceful holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Shabbat shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Thursday December 17, 2015 at 02:54PM
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My Prayers are with You

The weekly carnages that have become the new normal, leave us stunned, afraid, angry and speechless. The responses have become formulaic – prayer vigils, memorials decorated with flowers and candles and items posted on Social Media – “my prayers are with you.”

Sometimes “my prayers are with you” express heartfelt hurt and sorrow. But it also seems to have become a phrase used to dispense our duty to our fellow human beings who have suffered inexplicable loss. Send the tweet and move on to the everyday activities that demand our attention. Self-preservation does demand our ability to move on ...not to become immobilized by the very real fear that we could be the next set of victims.

In spite of the ambivalence that so many of us have about the subject of prayer, “my prayers are with you” is still our go-to phrase when talking to an acquaintance experiencing some horrible event. So what is it that “prayer” is supposed to do beyond being a handy phrase expressing “I’m really sorry for your loss”?

All major religions share the understanding that prayer serves the following purposes – opportunity for self-reflection, a way to express gratitude and a response to awesome or overwhelming experiences. All religions also have a place for solitary contemplation and opportunities for joining voices in communal response.

The Hebrew word for prayer (Lihitpalel) is a reflexive word suggesting that we pray to evaluate ourselves. There are prayers about qualities to which we might aspire – these prayers move me to consider if I’ve been my best self and to set intentions for the day for thoughtful behavior. These provide a daily opportunity to take stock and to improve.

Beyond indicating appreciation, prayers of gratitude are statements about human potential. In a world that seems to run at ever increasing speeds and with increasing violence, that speed and violence seems to control us. For me, prayer means that I take control of that time and space - even for a short time. I get to slow it down – to pause long enough to ‘smell the roses’. I get to step out of that violent space for a time and look at the places where humanity and peace prevails. It means that I make the time to notice beauty all around me. It means that I remember my humanity and that I can see that in those who care to alleviate suffering.

Sometimes there are moments so replete with emotion and feeling that we wish we had the right (the most beautiful) words to express those feelings. Prayer is the language for this. There are traditional prayers for such occasions, and there are so many new prayers that help us here.

I’ve often thought that prayer and an intentional prayer service can be likened to a great symphony or an awesome athletic event. For the participant or the performer in any of these arenas, that experience can be empowering, humbling and transformative all at the same time. ‘My prayers are with you’ doesn’t come close to those possibilities but it opens the door for us to consider the prayer possibilities beyond that phrase.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Thursday December 10, 2015
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Let the Light Shine In

Light plays a distinctive role during Chanukah as it does in so many other holiday traditions that take place during the winter solstice. We light our chanukiot (menorahs) with the addition of a new candle each night. In the Talmud, there is a famous debate between Rabbis Hillel and Shamai. Shamai argued that on the first night we should light all eight candles and on each subsequent night we should eliminate one candle until we light only one candle on the last night. Shamai claimed that this would best represent the decreasing light from the flask of oil in the Chanukah narrative. Hillel argued that we should begin with one light and add on each night to represent the increasing joy and increasing miracle of the oil lasting for all eight nights. We know that Hillel’s argument is the one that prevailed and is the tradition that we carry on today.

Last week, I heard one class discussing this debate. It coincided with a conversation that I had that day with our administration team as we prepared for our next admissions event. Once again, we were discussing the value-added of a Jewish education. We were looking at examples from our Jewish Studies curricula that support and enhance our overall academic goals.

The particular Hillel/Shamai debate is a really good example of how Jewish studies is a value-added. It fits so well with our core values and with critical thinking goals – different opinions matter, there is a protocol and an art to debating, all positions need to be coherent and supported, and when one side prevails, the other side needs to accept it, respect it and move on.

Additionally, the prevailing opinion in this particular debate is inherently optimistic with the idea of increasing joy and light as the holiday progresses. As we celebrate this season of light, let’s notice how our students glow with ideas, how our teachers shine with insights, how our administrators burn with the love of learning and how our parents kindle the light of community. As we celebrate this holiday of light, let us remember that our school is a powerful source of light to our community.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach (happy holiday),
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Thursday December 3, 2015 at 08:43AM
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Thanksgiving In Spite of Growing Terror

As the threat of terrorism grows, as a political campaign whips up blatantly racist sentiments and daily news reports are so bleak, there seems to be so many reasons that challenge a celebratory holiday like Thanksgiving. Yet the markets are crowded, everyone talks about where and with whom they are celebrating the holiday.

Thanksgiving is a big deal for me. I grew up in Southeastern Massachusetts, about 40 miles from Plimouth Plantation where we assume the first Thanksgiving took place. Cranberry bogs were nearby and cranberry ice cream, cranberry crumbles, and cranberry sauces figured prominently in our cuisine.

As a child, I really enjoyed visiting Plimouth plantation – a 17th Century reconstructed farming and maritime community along the shore of Plymouth Harbor. At the Plantation, we could see reconstructed homes from that period, and we met costumed role players who portrayed actual residents of Plymouth Colony. They had adopted names and viewpoints and life histories of the people who lived and worked in the Colony.

A few years ago, I returned to Plimouth Plantation with my daughter. The Plantation had added another experience – the Wampanoag Village. Within walking distance to the recreated English Village, along the banks of a river, a Wampanoag village had been constructed. The village represents the Native community that preceded the Pilgrims on this land. Unlike the actors in the English Village, the staff in the Wapanoag village are Native people. On this visit, the people on the Wapanoag side as well as those on the English site speak about the disagreements between the two groups. They challenge visitors to see their conflicting perspectives. As I sat in one of the Wapanoag’s matt-covered wetu (house), one of the Native facilitators described his home and shook his head as he questioned the wisdom of the stuffy, dark narrow houses of his English neighbors.

As an adult, I know that Plimoth Plantation really tells a story of two competing views of America and of American history: the American past as an heroic account of the birth of freedom and democracy and the nation’s past as a tale of conflict and racism. The traditional picture of a peaceful Pilgrim and Indian Thanksgiving that emerges from this experience glosses over the strife between these two competing interests. I know this intellectually, and I also know that history is a dynamic process where new meanings are layered on previous interpretations.

I reconcile my desire to commemorate the noble intentions of democracy with a history of racism by celebrating the former and working toward eradicating the latter. As I hold this idea in tension, one of my dreams is that one day the racists and terrorists of today will sit together at a Thanksgiving type event – celebrating the best of human intentions while knowing that there is still work to be done to achieve mutual understanding.

I wish you all a restful and peaceful Thanksgiving and a Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. G.

Posted by dizenson on Wednesday November 25, 2015 at 11:11AM
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Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School develops students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.

About Wornick

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