This year, our year long unit of study is “It Takes Many Voices to Tell the Story of California.” Starting with early exploration, it is important for the learners to try and feel empathy and compassion for the native people that called the land of California their home for thousands of years prior to the first European explorers arrival. This is such a challenging concept for adults to wrap their heads around, so obviously challenging yet important for young learners to start to grabble with.
Today, the 3/4 team worked with the 5/6 team to stage a surprise “invasion.” During conventions workshop, our classroom was invaded by Ben’s homeroom class. Ben and his class stormed into the classroom and began gathering resources, scribing data on our community, and putting members of our community to work sharpening pencils, all under the watchful eye of his generals. We had no warning and we had no real understanding as to where they had come from and why they had chosen our room to invade. When they found something they liked and wanted to take, they gathered them up and did so. They ransacked our classroom, taking pencils, chairs, glue sticks, books and really anything they decided was valuable. No one stopped to answer our questions, hear our concerns or express any interest in the feelings of confusion we were having. It was very upsetting and overwhelming for many of the learners who were struggling with what was happening. As a class, we talked about how it felt to be invaded. The room was charged with emotion. The learners were having so many mixed emotions. It was difficult to even have a class discussion because everyone wanted to share at once. The class shared that they felt confused, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, nervous, angry, upset, sad, jealous, and unsafe. Many said they were needing respect, compassion, comfort, reassurance, inclusion, and respect for their belongings and their community. At that point, I shared a book that I thought might help them make some connections to what had just happened. We listened to the book Encounter by Jane Yolen. Encounter is a fictional account of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, written from the perspective of a Taino Native American boy. As we read the book I will ask the class to imagine what it would have been like to be a Native American boy or girl, encountering European explorers for the first time.We talked about connections we were making to this text and what had happened that morning. Learners connected with the native people that were confused by the arrival for giant white birds and pale men from the sky just like we felt confused by the 5/6 learners earlier.
Over the coming weeks, we will look at exploration through the eyes of the European explorers to gain understanding of their perspectives as well. The learners realized that this was just a simulation, not a real invasion. After some reflection, they started connecting the invasion to how the natives might have felt when explorers arrived in the new world. They were able to develop empathy for the fact that many of their needs were not valued or considered by the explorers, yet most of the needs of the explorers were. This was a very powerful discussion. Please take a few minutes to talk with your learner about their feelings, and how there are often many sides/voices to a story.