Studying Pilgrims and Indians

Very cautious Chi Trib story here, about second-graders at Beye School, Oak Park. 

The kids

spent two school days aboard a faux Mayflower ship in their auditorium, braving simulated storms, seasickness and even the birth of a baby.

The pretend Pilgrims . . . kept journals to explore their fears of moving to a new land. . . . .

Beye kids 091125

Before the mock journey, they role-played and kept journals in a similar fashion as American Indians while studying different tribes.

The students also learned how some of the English settlers’ choices harmed indigenous people, examining both bright and tragic aspects of American history.

Many educators are striving to celebrate a more historically accurate Thanksgiving, ditching [sic] the stereotypical Pilgrim-and-Indian stories in favor of true [accurate?] social studies lessons. [Truly s.s. lessons, not faux ones?]

Teachers say a nuanced approach helps debunk popular myths and can add cultural awareness to the holiday. [Cliche hat trick there, dying for expansion and particularization]

“This makes history more real,” said Amber Schweigert, a second-grade teacher at Beye. [Italics added throughout]

Cautious because it tip-toes through minefields of cultural warfare, dropping hints.  The aim may have been to produce “a nice story,” as I heard a city editor speak approvingly many years ago and this writer may have heard a few days ago.  It ends up soft soap, tantalizing and deceptive.

Ron Grossman’s hard-copy, same-page [not web-site]companion piece produces something quite different.  It’s about

a number of Chicagoans who have discovered they are Pilgrim descendants and who gather on the weekend before Thanksgiving for a luncheon (yes, turkey). Someone reads the Mayflower Compact, a kind of mini-constitution the Pilgrims wrote just before landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Then the list of its signers is recited:

William Bradford, Myles Standish, John Alden

As each Pilgrim’s name is called out, his descendants rise.

The experience

“. . . sends shivers up the back of my neck, every time,” [Don] Sherman said. “Hearing the compact reminds me why it’s the first great historical document of our country.”


With only two sentences, the compact expressed a world-shaking idea: Ordinary people can govern themselves. In the 17th century, kings and nobles made the rules; others were to silently follow.

Not so among these settlers. A history lesson follows:

Originally called the Dissenters, [Pilgrims] were known and reviled for thinking outside the box, so to speak. [G. knows what he’s doing; semi-apologizes for radio-speak.]  They disliked what they considered the pompous Church of England and wanted to be ministered to by like-thinking preachers in simple churches. [Clean copy]

So the Dissenters went on a series of wanderings that would give them the name Pilgrims. They went first to what is now the Netherlands, even then an open-minded country. [A long-ago Dutch friend: French get ideas, Dutch have to try them.] Yet toleration presented another problem confronted by every immigrant group in whatever new homeland it chooses.

“Their children were becoming Dutch,” Morony said. “The Dissenters thought of themselves as English.”

They did not howl for bilingualism, whose day had not yet come, but like Huck Finn headed for the territory.

Fearing assimilation, a group of Dissenters planned a second exile: to a place far enough away from England that they could be free of the Church of England and yet still be English. Strangely, that agenda meshed with the thinking of London’s movers-and-shakers.

Late to colonizing, England wanted to catch up. So a scheme was hatched whereby the Pilgrims would be sent to New York as part of a commercial enterprise organized by English investors with the crown’s OK.

And off they went.  The rest is . . . [deleted as cliche] . . .

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