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Lesson Plans

Re: totem poles

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sun, 19 Oct 1997 21:41:56 -0400 (EDT)

<< Aren't plastic bucket totem poles in the same boat as paper pilgrim hats?

Is the study of other cultures (or even "our" own) too complicated and
important to treat with triviality?

Do our students have a culture or are we intent on borrowing one from a
different time or place?

Where is the artmaking in this?
There are some excellent thoughts here, but I also feel that we have to keep
in mind the age and ability levels of children. I would LOVE to have my
elementary students have a chance to meet a totem pole artist, as I did in
Alaska....but I shudder at the thought of putting an axe, for carving, into
their hands! And looking at the curriculum used in our district, I either
cover it now....or it never gets covered at all. And to leave some subjects,
such as this, solely in the hands of classroom teachers is unthinkable. (Hey,
I've been battling it out for awhile with another teacher who thinks that
kids playing "the Indians" in a play should say "how.") I'd rather put in my
two-cents worth where I have some level of direct experience, rather than
leave a gaping hole for the kids. If you have kids with the ability to work
with wood and sharp objects, and a community of teachers to back you up in
your vision, I say go for it and make the most of it. I wish that I had that
same opportunity.
Bear in mind, you can present this in all it's beauty to young children. I
have a full class period of slides that my classes sit through. I relate to
them many of the stories associated with the totem poles, and we discuss, as
a class, why these might have remained important within their culture. And
each fourth grader is required, upon completion of their totem pole, to fill
out an art critique with the rest of their "community" (working partners),
relating why they chose the animals they did, and what they were attempting
to represent.
I realize that we are walking on sacred ground here. Although white of skin,
I am Seneca Indian in spirit. I was adopted into a local tribe when I was in
Junior High, because of my extreme interest and subsequent research into
their myths and storytelling. Every year, I carefully tiptoe around the
Iroquois falsefaces. The kids look at me with amazement when they realize
that, to me, they are MORE than masks (as are the totem poles). They aren't
"play things," and although I have dealt with them hands-on at various points
in my life, I have never once been tempted to try on a false face. It is not
my place within my Native American community....
Although the younger kids can't always work with the actual materials used.
such as a living tree in the case of false faces, I think that it is possible
to instill in them the joy, wonder, and respect for these unique pieces of
heritage. If we TEACH them the background, and show them our love for the
culture, we might encourage a few students to go on and study it for
themselves later on in life. I am sure of this. Guy, one of my students,
hammered it home for me last year. As his extra-curricular project for his
fourth grade class, he made a set of three false faces....the same three I
had shown them in slides in class. He had made them from papier mache, set
over balloons, painted them with acrylic, and decorated them with fake hair
from a halloween wig. They were, in a word, outstanding. I asked him later
why he never cut out the backs, as false faces were masks. He looked me
straight in the eye and said, "You said that only shamen or those who had
had the calling of the spirit should wear these. This way, nobody will wear
them and misuse them." Hmmmm....sometimes, the kids really do listen.
We all do the best we can, with the students we're given, and with the hearts
we ourselves possess. I give thanks each day that I am in the particular art
department I am. My other two elementary coworkers in the art department and
I all teach differently and have different strengths, but we fit together so
very well. Likewise here....yes, we have different views on this matter, but
let's not make it a matter of contention. There's no win or lose
here...we're all here because we want to give the kids the very best that
we've got. For each of us, that's a different gift.....

Deb Meier-Sprague
aka Dayohatas (Early Dawn)
Batavia City Schools