It’s often the question, isn’t it? For historians, of which I am not one, it must be the question that sends reasonable academics down rabbit holes, where subterranean historical societies meet and overstuffed armchairs line up next to roaring fireplaces. As a middle school language arts teacher, I’ve not often traveled to these complex spaces. For me, the beginning is the student in front of me. The ending is the last student to leave class that day. In between, there are books, and pencil sharpenings, and robust discussions around essential questions, but where to begin and end is really circumscribed by the 14-minute attention span.
But oh, what you can accomplish in those 14 minutes! A few years ago, I decided to take a deep dive into Native American history. Living on Cape Cod, and growing up digging arrowheads from the fields around my childhood home, this history has always been very much alive for me. In the classroom, I did not feel that the same was true for my 6th grade students. The ground beneath them held a history of abundance but also of struggle, survival, and the clashing of cultures, but they knew none of it. To change that, I began by asking students to re-write the story of Thanksgiving using a more accurate historical record, then pushed them to express themselves and the inner and outer conflicts of the colonial era through poetry. I asked them to recognize that the Wampanoag still live here and challenged them to understand how much these people lost when others arrived. I asked for reparations to be expressed through my students’ thinking, as they learned to study, feel, and honor the history that is soaked into our small peninsula and come to realize and envision a future where we all do better.
My students and I are a work in progress. But we have begun. I’d like to take you along, from this early understanding to our current project: a garden dedicated to restorative agriculture and indigenous ways of knowing. Ideas are becoming action, as we create a space to explore how Native American ways of being with the land can inform how we move forward as caretakers of the environment and each other, which ultimately aren’t two separate things. Sort of a different kind of social action, I suppose, based on the slower growth of squash, corn, and beans. I’ve attached my TEDx which should bring you up to speed on some of the underpinning of this work, but ultimately it will be the journey forward into the garden that will consume my focus here.
For our garden, we have grants, school involvement, helpful parents with bobcats, and a curious school year about to start. I have been working with our Wampanoag community to try to get both the planting and the learning to be accurate and respectful, to be sure that we are not taking beyond what is offered and acknowledged. This give and take feels reflective of the space itself, and I am hopeful that a beautiful garden will take root and soon be growing on the grounds of our school. If you have an interest in working with difficult history in schools and finding ways to connect students to indigenous knowledge, please join us on this journey. Like a bee submerged in a squash blossom, I invite you to be all in. #AtlanticBlackBox #Wampanoag #CapeCodLighthouseCharterSchool #restorativeagriculture