A Unit on Geography and Reflections on Ally Work.

I will begin by sharing pictures and descriptions of our Geography Unit then I’ll dive into how this unit of study pushed me to reflect on our work as allies. If my words strike a desire for conversation or criticism, please get in touch, my heart is open and I am eager to grow and improve. I want to be an ally and I want to do better.

For the academic portion of this material, we use the Oak Meadow 3rd grade homeschool curriculum which inspires me to deepen and expand the lessons based on Sage’s interests. I am grateful to Oak Meadow for igniting our imaginations and creating the space for me to make this work so personal.

We began by exploring climate zones, seasons, and terrain. We incorporated language arts by noting the new vocabulary we learned while studying different landforms.

Using this information, we discussed how climate zones and terrain impacted ancient dwellings. We built the beginnings of an ancient hut structure from materials found in the local woods, created a model sized Neolithic stone dwelling, watched a team of anthropologists build a Celtic roundhouse on YouTube, and drew the types of ancient dwellings that existed in the middle east, and the arctic. On one of our adventures we found a hut structure built by someone else! Maybe another 3rd grade Waldorf homeschooler is in Cambridgeshire?

We bolstered our studies of geography with ancient folktales from different geographic regions. We created our own map by drawing different areas of the U.K, used the 7 summits to guide our discussion of the 7 continents, and marked on a United States map which states our family members had visited. After we completed the United States map we marked the regions of some indigenous North American tribes.

Through creation stories and stories of interdependence, we spent time focusing on the Cherokee, Sioux, and Hopi tribes.

This led us to the topic of colonization and westward expansion. We explored what the journey was like for settlers. This included a fun Saturday afternoon playing the original version of The Oregon Trail. Liz got cholera but luckily she made a full recovery. We read Little House in the Big Woods together and learned a ton about sustainable living!  

Our study of westward expansion would not be complete without addressing how colonization impacted the first inhabitants of North America. As we spent time learning and discussing the Sioux, Cherokee, and Hopi communities I was frustrated that this rich material was not a featured part of my education. Did you know that the Hopi people can trace their history, in what we now call Arizona, back 2,000 years? The impact of European Settlers on indigenous people and my curiosities about why this material was left out of my education, caused me a lot of discomfort. Sage had so many questions and I was sandwiched between my desire to preserve her rosy world outlook and the pressing need to tell her the truth. 

When people share the trials of parenting, I find the unsuspecting, quiet moments, when parenting intersects with moral responsibility much harder than not being able to use the toilet alone or enduring the stress of the terrible twos. As our youngest approaches the “terrible twos,” I find his strong will and the resulting tantrums rather endearing. But there is nothing endearing about cracking the shell of my daughter’s innocence with stories of devastation, death, and racism.

This topic caught me off guard and reminded me of the work I left on the sidelines last summer.

Last summer I joined a book group. We read Layla Saad’s, “Me and White Supremacy.”  Reading, discussing, and processing her work was a humbling experience and I realized how little I knew about allyship, race, and oppression. I knew nothing about my unconscious participation in furthering white supremacy and I am grateful Layla Saad gave me the opportunity to learn. The book sparked an urgency to make my family aware of these issues and to incorporate conscious practices of allyship into our lifestyle and learning. I want to do this well, I want to be an ally, and sadly, I am not making it a big enough priority and still know very little about where to begin. 

In my own reading practice, and in an effort to diversify my reading material, I picked up “Homegoing” by Yaa Giasi. When I began to read, I shuddered at the detailed accounts of the slave trade. I cried. I wanted to vomit. The stories in this book are horrific. I am too sensitive for a book like this. It’s graphic and I had trouble falling asleep. 

I put the book down. 

It sat on my desk for days. But each time I saw the profiles on the cover, surrounded by a border of ripe cotton, the book tugged at my conscience. 

I looked at the cover and thought about the two women whose stories weave the tales of generations. Half sisters that represent people who lived and died through disgusting, vile, and inhumane experiences. The sickest manifestations of evil. And then I thought again about how their stories make me feel. 

I can use these feelings as reasons why I shouldn’t read the book, or I can use these feelings as reasons why I should read the book. I’m ashamed to admit that people experienced things I can’t even read about. 

This got me thinking about Layla Saad’s message…

What a privilege that I can ignore a story because the truth hurts my feelings. What about the feelings of the people who lived these stories? Or the feelings of readers whose Great Grandmother or Grandfather lived these stories? What about the feelings of people who are still oppressed and fighting for equal rights and freedom? They can’t ignore these stories. These stories are their history. For some, their reality.

If I refuse to read stories because they cause me shame and humiliation, then I am refusing to take responsibility for the impacts my people had on others that came before me. And if that’s the case, then I should admit to ignoring parts of history that are emotionally inconvenient and confess to telling an abridged version of our greater human story.

It’s painful to confront my unconscious participation in the oppression of others. And on the topic of colonization, it’s painful to admit that my ancestry contributed to the death, robbery, and destruction of indigenous people in North America. But pain is not a reason to pretend it didn’t happen.

So thanks to Layla Saad, I reached again for “Homegoing,” and when it hurts (it always hurts) I remind myself that by reading this story I am honoring someone else’s story.

Homegoing,” may be a different kind of colonization story, the characters in this story are not the indigenous population of North America but the story represents, yet another group of people, who were tortured and killed by people who look like me. 

When it comes to the treatment of indigenous tribes in North America, I cannot trace my ancestors to specific incidents, making them directly responsible for these events, but I have come to accept that if my ancestors were white (they were) and/or immigrated to the U.S/Participated in westward expansion (they did) then we are responsible.

As I sat with this unit and the hard questions, I thought about whether or not I could use storytelling as a pathway to ally work.  I decided to give it a go. I told Sage what happened to the indigenous tribes in North America. And this story led to other stories about slavery. It hurts to tell these stories. But by telling the stories of oppressed communities, we make their stories matter. By making their stories matter, we give ourselves the opportunity to explore the responsibilities that come with our privilege and the chance to address the crimes of our ancestors.

I am ashamed to admit that this topic, nestled into our geography unit, caught me by surprise. 

When it comes to the conscious and intentional practice of allyship, I have a lot to learn and a lot to do. What will I do differently next time? Next time I will look ahead in our lessons, and create intentional space for these conversations. I will make topics of social justice and allyship a priority in our homeschool curriculum. I will prepare so these topics don’t catch me by surprise. Thanks to my friend Marieka, I will also remember not to perpetuate the role of white savior. It is important to not only tell the stories of oppression, but to also tell stories of black and brown people celebrated, lifted up, and in positions of power and beauty.

I will keep diversifying our book collection and make sure to give oppressed communities a permanent place at our homeschool table. They deserve more than a month. They deserve the chance to tell their story and they deserve our time to listen.  

2 thoughts on “A Unit on Geography and Reflections on Ally Work.

  1. Wow, so impactful to see how much you pour into learning. You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your inspirations and deep reflections.

  2. Thanks for sharing this rich and impactful experience.

    If Sage wanted – lyla created a lengthy PowerPoint presentation all about her tribe and work.

    These kids are amazing.

    Lori Baudino

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