Be assured that the conquest of the Americas is not fondly remembered by the Indians of the America’s. The period of European discovery and conquest has not been kind to the indigenous people. After the coming of the Europeans, many Indian populations were tortured and abused, greatly reducing their numbers and making some extinct. the aftermath of the meeting of the Old World with the New meant that the composition and values of entire populations would be altered forever. In the case of Mexico, the illustrious past of their indigenous Indians has not been forgotten -neither has the period of European conquest. Unlike the United States that rid most of it’s land of native Indians, the Mexican population has amalgamated it’s Indian and European populations into a new breed.
In stark contrast, Americans for the most part have divorced themselves from the true meaning and implications of the discovery of the “New World.” The Native Indian populations have almost been eradicated or placed on “reservations”. Only the yearly holiday of Thanksgiving is vaguely associated with the conquest of the Americas. By the way, let us not forget the brief romanticized version taught to us at school of how Christopher Columbus convinced a mighty power to fund his expedition to discover a shorter route to gold and spices.
In retrospect, knowledge of the discovery and conquest of the Americas as presented by my Elementary and High School Teachers was at best brief and very inadequate. Even more distressing to me is the complete lack of knowledge and exposure I was given concerning the people who inhabited the Americas before the “discovery of America.” Now, as Teachers should we not ask, “Why does learning about the Indians of the America’s not occupy a place in our Social Studies curriculums along side that of the Greeks and the Romans? Is not the way of life and contributions of the Indians of the America’s as significant?, If not more majestic?
With the coming of the quincentennial celebration of the discovery of America, I as an Elementary School Teacher of the 1990’s felt a responsibility to write curriculum materials that teach students about the forgotten Indians of the Americas. I felt that a good place to start students on their road to discovering the complexity and majesty of one such Indian civilization before the coming of the Europeans was the Aztec Indian civilization of Mexico. I hope that by participating in activities that inform students on the lifestyle and contributions of the Aztecs, children who share in these activities will be given opportunities to learn, and respect all indigenous populations. Furthermore, by giving children the opportunity to experience Social Studies that is taught in such a way as to allow them to make clear connections between the past and the present, children become critical thinkers.
My unit is geared towards the teaching of third and fourth grades. I think it can also be usable for Middle School students and special populations with little modification. Along with using this unit to teach Social Studies, it was also written with the intent of teaching a second language. Please note that although this curriculum was written with this two fold purpose, a teacher need not use all lessons in their entirety to achieve desired objectives. This unit is but a portion of a larger curriculum that is currently being written to serve as a pilot project for the Language Academy in New Haven.