9/10s Make a Case for Indigenous Peoples' Day
Once again this year, on Monday, October 8, the second Monday in October, Bank Street College, including the School for Children, is closed for business. For the first time in our history, however, all Bank Street calendars mark this holiday as “Indigenous Peoples Day” rather than the federally-recognized “Columbus Day” (stemming back to a Knights of Columbus-mobilized FDR proclamation in 1934). While this change in nomenclature is not unique to Bank Street—in fact, four states, a growing number of municipalities, and various independent schools and public school districts have in recent years elected not to apotheosize Columbus—what is unique is how this change came to be in our community. This is a Bank Street story.
For many years, through reading literature, facilitating class discussions, and examining current events, School for Children teachers have used the occasion of Columbus Day to problematize how our history has been narrated across generations and the role that power and privilege (in particular White, male Eurocentrism) play in shaping curriculum—as well as to bring light to the stories of those whose voices continue to be systematically silenced. Last year was no exception, as these conversations played out in developmentally-appropriate ways across all age levels and divisions of the school. One group of children in the 9/10s, however, under the skillful guidance of Chaylor and Becky, felt particularly compelled to turn their learning into action.
On January 30, 2018, for only the second time in recorded memory, these twenty children brought a well-researched and impassioned policy proposal to President Shael Polakow-Suransky and the Cabinet of Bank Street College. [The first occurred in the 1990s when a group of students successfully appealed to the then-President to forbid adults from smoking cigarettes in front of the building.] With each student reciting a portion of the proposal, they addressed the historical inaccuracies of Columbus’ “discovery” of America, presciently emphasized the gravity of truth telling, exhibited their understanding of and commitment to social justice, and even channeled Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s call for us to demonstrate “flexibility when confronted with change, and ability to relinquish patterns that no longer fit the present.” In essence, they proclaimed that in an institution committed to “gentleness combined with justice in passing judgment on other human beings,” we should no longer be calendrical homage payers to an individual whose actions contributed to the genocide, enslavement, and cultural destruction of a nation of people.
While met with overwhelming approval from the Cabinet, the work of these nine and ten-year-olds was not finished. As Shael wrote to them in response to their presentation, “Bank Street College is a progressive institution in which the broader community deserves a voice in the decisions that impact them.” He stipulated that in order for their policy proposal to be ratified, these young changemakers would need also need to go before the broader Bank Street faculty/staff community at an All College Meeting led by the College Advisory Council and separately at a School for Children faculty meeting. And so they did, each time with even more confidence and conviction than the prior.
October 8, 2018 and all subsequent second Mondays in October are now known throughout Bank Street College as Indigenous Peoples Day. Not because a group of reform-minded grown-ups sat behind closed doors to make a politically-correct policy decision. Not because of outside pressure or a desire to keep up with the Joneses. But rather because a group of children, informed and inspired, engaged in rigorous research, turned idea into action, looked deeply into the mirror of social justice, and ultimately because they knew that it was the right thing to do.
And this is a Bank Street story.
All best, always—
Head of School