Pilgrims and Puritans / Thanksgiving Day Special Post

“Give the kids colors and they’ll color wrong.”

Years ago, while working on a certificate to teach high school science, I thought I had better check out the “real thing” by signing on as a substitute teacher. At first I was handed some of the worst assignments: kindergarten and “special” kids already classified as “troubled kids” in elementary grades. One assignment was a standout in the bizarre world of American education.

The “special” kindergarten class was handled by one “real” teacher and an aide who was absent – it was she who I was replacing for the day. A handful of children, who only spoke Spanish, were gathered into one room. They were lively and talkative, but not doing anything disruptive. The teacher spoke no Spanish; neither did I. It happened to be Thanksgiving week and the assignment was to introduce the traditional “origins” of the holiday. This seemed to be a task doomed to failure for obvious reasons. Even a kindergarten class full of kids who had grown up in the U.S. and speak English, would likely know the triad of “Pilgrims, Indians and turkeys” and not much else.

The teacher began handing out the usual sheets to color, with outlines of a sailing ship, a large turkey, a Pilgrim holding a gun, and Ms. Pilgrim placing food on a picnic table. “Indians” decked out in feathers stood around waiting to eat: the last picture showed an Indian fertilizing a lone corn plant with a fish. I swear that these were photocopies of the same lame and incorrect depictions of the First Thanksgiving that were handed to me and my schoolmates in the 1950s.

The teacher directed me to grab enough crayons for everyone and to put them on the big table that the kids shared.  The children began coloring lime green turkeys, pink Pilgrims, blue Indians and all types of mixed color schemes. I thought nothing of it, except that bright colors would seem “normal” to kids from Mexico… but  the teacher yelled at me!

Who knew? Not only was Marilyn Monroe at the first Thanksgiving, she shot the turkey.

Who knew? Not only was Marilyn Monroe at the first Thanksgiving, she shot the turkey.

“Those are the wrong colors!” she shouted. “Take them away – they’re only allowed to use black, brown, white and gray crayons because that’s all the Pilgrims wore.”

I was absolutely stunned; I couldn’t understand on what basis she had come to this conclusion. And the kids had no idea who the Pilgrims were, and why should they? If this was an attempt to “indoctrinate” migrant children into the cherished myths of American history it was doomed from the start by  unrealistic thinking.

She gave me that “just do it” look, and I gathered up all the crayons except the black, brown, white and gray colors. Little faces looked stricken by that common childhood state of bewilderment at adult actions. I wanted to tell them, “Just wait – this is only the beginning of the bizarre world of adult behavior ahead,” but I didn’t speak Spanish.

The teacher was circling the table yelling at the kids in English. “You can only use black, brown, white and gray  crayons. The Pilgrims only had those colors.”

I took one last shot at being reasonable: “But what about the Indians?”

“No,” she yelled. “Give the kids colors and they’ll color wrong.”


Puritans wanted to remove all vestiges of Catholic ideas and practices from the English Anglican Church. They were reformers. The Pilgrims wanted total separation from the Anglican Church.



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