With Thanksgiving approaching, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude, and the role that school plays in it.
I can still remember the feeling of my hand, spread flat on brown craft paper as my kindergarten teacher traced it around it. With round-tipped scissors, I carefully cut on the line she had drawn. I was good at it and proud of it. It was important work; we needed to decorate the room properly for Thanksgiving. With a little imagination and minty-smelling paste, our handprints would be transformed into turkeys, commemorating the Pilgrims' feast with their generous Wampanoag hosts.
Inspired by the Pilgrims' example, as a class we talked about the many things we were thankful for, like our families, our friends, and our school.
Of course, much later I learned that the origin story of Thanksgiving is pure saccharin: sweet and fake. If the first Thanksgiving happened at all, it has been misremembered into myth. The Pilgrims were more apt to fast than to feast, and in any case turkey probably would not have been on the menu.
Nowadays, students in many schools learn updated, important lessons about the deadly history of contact between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Let's face it: the headline of the story is how poorly it ended for the Wampanoags.
History notwithstanding, Thanksgiving is worth pausing for. It brings families together and provides an opportunity to practice gratitude. Thanksgiving is an event, sure, but it is also an attitude and an opportunity.
I feel thankful that America's children have the benefit of universal, free public schools. It is increasingly true that each and every child in America is provided with a free education through grade 12. The scope of public education has expanded over time, inching closer to the vision of preparing every child for their adulthood. There is plenty of work to be done to improve this system, but even with its flaws it is worth remembering on Thanksgiving lists.
Public education might just be the most amazing accomplishment of modern society -- bolder in vision and greater in value than any monument or victory.
Thanksgiving officially marks a moment to practice gratitude, but it tends to be a holiday of words more than of deeds. Strangely, although giving is a powerful way to express gratitude, giving isn't part of the Thanksgiving tradition. As November surrenders to December, the attitude of gratitude is easy to lose in the swirl of holiday tinsel powered by Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Founded in 2012, the Giving Tuesday movement suggests a moment to follow through through on gratitude by giving. This year, #GivingTuesday falls on November 28.
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