Friday, November 30, 2007

Taíno Curricula: A World of Opportunity

To satisfy NYS core curriculum standards for Social Studies in The Western Hemisphere: Latin America, the 5th grade classes I am working with discuss Taíno culture as a way to chronologically kick off their year-long investigation of Hispaniola. But the cultures, geographies, and histories of the Taino people are so strong and varied that it's easy to imagine a Taíno investigation as part of a Global Communities curriculum, or a point of comparison for studying other indigenous "American" cultures in an early American history unit.

The more I talk with Taíno cultural experts around the city, the more I hear echoes of the same sentiment: it's awfully exciting to find out that Taíno culture is increasingly becoming a part of the curriculum in New York City public schools! The people I've worked with so far - from museum educators to performing artists - have all been warm and genuinely enthusiastic about introducing students to the richness of pre-Columbian Taíno culture. The Taíno Indians, before Columbus, inhabited much of the Caribbean including the Bahamas, present-day Puerto Rico, and Hispaniola. I get the sense that the community in New York is close-knit - people sharing similar interests and a passion for shining light on notoriously underrepresented indigenous peoples. Connecting with that community is an educator's dream. One person refers you to another, and soon enough a bevy of cultural resources seem to appear. The Voice of the Taino People blog is a vibrant living document that compiles news and cultural events relating to Taíno peoples in the Caribbean and the Diaspora.

And the Taíno legacy is so alive in New York City today! To so many students of Caribbean descent (and there are many in New York's schools), a Taíno artifact is not just a dusty museum relic but something with familial, personal significance. Maybe a student recognizes that wooden device from his grandmother's kitchen. Another realizes that the music she grew up listening to in 21st century Brooklyn actually pre-dates Columbus, and the instruments are, miraculously, the same. On a recent trip to the National Museum of the American Indian (also raved about by my co-blogger Margot), I was tickled to see so many students recognizing traditional Taíno artifacts as household goods. This surprising bridge, between contemporary life in Brooklyn and indigenous daily life on Hispaniola, would not have come nearly as alive without our full investigation of Taíno culture.

Posted by Evan O'Connell on November 28, 2007 at 08:24 PM
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