Thanksgiving beyond construction paper turkeys

My enthusiasm for sentimental holiday traditionalism has eroded increasingly with each passing year- especially for the Thanksgiving weekend. Over time, I learned the myths of our beloved national holiday and grew to dislike celebrating the propagandized day of peace which makes us forget about the horrendous years of domination and slaughter that were inflicted on the indigenous peoples of our country.

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Despite my discontent for the holiday, and in keeping the tradition of giving thanks- set in motion during my school years of making the colorful construction paper hand-print turkeys and writing lists of I was most thankful for, I still take the time every year to stop, collaborate, and really think about what life has given to me.

I distinctly remember making this craft and writing an exhaustive list in Sr. Audrey’s second grade classroom which was decorated with fall colors, had windows looking out into the forbidden slough, and had crucifixes, statues of The Virgin Mary, coat hooks, and chalkboards adorning the walls.

(I remember many times the chalkboard closest to the door displayed my name with a checkmark indicating I was that much closer to getting detention for my most common offenses of: being in the wrong place when it was my turn to read out loud, thinking we were on a Hail Mary instead of an Our Father when praying the rosary, talking to my best friend Cassie in the back of class, or having my shoe untied as we stood in our segregated lines.)

After washing and rubbing off the dried glue from our hands and obediently throwing away scraps of brown, yellow, and red construction paper, the class read what we were thanking God for this year. After hearing the typical second grader response, “I am thankful for my family, food and my friends” twelve times, I thought I was clever and original by chiming in that I was thankful for my hamster.

Thinking back to my second grade Thanksgiving and every year after, I realize my classmates’ lists became more complex and elaborate including specific talents, different opportunities, or significant people in their lives- but no one ever thought about being fortunate for attending the school that made us think about this topic.

The students, of course, thought most every other school was better- unless it came to athletic rivalries. St. Mary’s was “ghetto” because our buildings weren’t exactly new, our science lab was built in the 1950s and we were still using it, our computers seemed to get dated quickly, and we didn’t have the budget or the courses of the public schools. Public School was better mostly because it was “easier,” they never had homework, didn’t have to go to church or attend regular religion classes, and didn’t have a dress code, dress code fines and gum fines.

I must admit, I didn’t exactly enjoy leaving my locker empty at the end of the day only to have all of its contents loaded into my bubble gum pink backpack to do my hours of studying and homework that night after I got home from work or sporting events.  Even though my teachers gave me all of this homework, I really didn’t HAVE to do it, but I did for fear of disappointing my parents.

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I didn’t start appreciating or even knowing the importance of a good elementary and high school education and the support of my parents until I reached college, and I now see it every single 10:30-6:30 work day that I complete in Grady High School in Brooklyn.

Every day I go to work, I feel fortunate not only for the learning environment that was carefully fostered and enforced at St. Mary’s but how that shaped my life, and the life experiences that were made possible to me through everything I learned there- most of the concepts not from my seemingly evil geometry book or copy ofPride and Prejudice.

While dress codes, fines and going to church during school hours may seem unfathomable to the students at Grady High School, students of St. Mary’s can’t even imagine how a school environment with metal detectors, security guards, recruiting gangs, uninvolved parents, an overall disillusionment for the system, and a graduation rate of 40% can inhibit learning and ultimately life chances.  I never knew how easy it was to learn at St. Mary’s and never understood how a good education is the greatest privilege that a child can receive.

It’s sad that many appreciations have to occur in hindsight- but better late than never? My education gave me the invaluable gift of critical thinking- to question things such as propagandized holidays, and the desire to dig for deeper meanings in myself, which leads me into different adventures and allows me a great quality and appreciation of life. Without St. Mary’s, I probably would not be a lover of reading, writing, questioning, and conversing- and certainly not the person I am today.