Nostalgia Meets 21st Century Competency and Skills

Happy ThanksgivingIn America, we have just celebrated Thanksgiving Day.  This holiday, with origins attributed to the Pilgrims’ relationship with the Wampanoag tribe, older Christian practices and other historical events, is designed to help us – American citizens – recognize and acknowledge all the parts of our lives that we’re “thankful for.”  For many of us, it is a beloved holiday that brings together family and friends to celebrate thankfulness.

One of the holiday’s cherished pastimes from the late 20th century is watching two Peanuts episodes: “This is America, Charlie Brown: Mayflower Voyagers” and “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving“.  When I was growing up, it was one of the ways I knew it was Thanksgiving.  There was something about watching these Peanuts episodes that made me feel a part of the larger American community and culture.

This year, as tradition, I watched the two episodes but found it difficult to watch them.  Since my undergraduate studies, I have developed the art of being able to “turn off my critical thinking hat” when I watch media so that I can enjoy television shows and movies.  This Thanksgiving, I found this challenging to accomplish.

“Mayflower Voyagers” captures traditional American views about the origins of Thanksgiving.  Its European American perspective of the depiction of the Pilgrims and Native Americans’ relationship leaves out details and presents a biased view of information.  Without critical evaluation and discussion of the cartoon and historical facts, viewers may believe that this is “the truth.”  The story captures the sense of unity that the holiday represents at the expense of accurate information.

“Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” was progressive for the 1970s.  This Mashable article “How a schoolteacher helped create the first black Peanuts character” describes how this particular Peanuts cartoon presents its first African American character Franklin and shows integration at a time when it was an extremely controversial topic.  Despite being a forerunner in some regards, the cartoon doesn’t reflect the diversity of America, even at that time.  Beyond Caucasian and African Americans, there were plenty other ethnic groups in America that were not included.

As I grabble with these feelings about this Thanksgiving pastime, words from Dr. Maya Angelou come to mind.  In a video clip from Oprah’s Master Class, Dr. Angleou states that,

“Maybe the hardest part is that if you teach, you have to live your teaching.  You can’t say you do not as I do but as I say.  No, no.  You have to say I’m doing my best to live what I teach.”

This quote encourages me to reflect on my role as an early childhood professional, aunt, older cousin, and caring friend and my work in the field.  I resonate with the purpose of Thanksgiving – being grateful and showing love to important others – and watching these two Peanuts cartoons makes me feel even more connected to the holiday and American culture.  Yet, when I think about traditions I want to pass on to the next generation or my work with early childhood professionals, I want to do my best to make sure the media content I share is accurate, authentic and inclusive of all people.

Watching media content with children, whether they are family or students, conveys the message “This is valuable.”  If I disagree, this should be an opportunity for me to develop my media literacy skills and appropriately help children develop their media literacy skills so that we can all be better global and digital citizens.  Perhaps this experience presents an opportunity for me to deepen my 21st century skills and help other early childhood professionals and parents do the same.

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