Today was my fourth annual Mission Museum. As the culmination of our unit on missions, we invited families to come see students' models of missions, reports on missions, and diaries about mission life.
Making models of missions has been much-maligned in California by history educators, and I understand why. Craft stores sell kits for building each of the 21 missions out of styrofoam, and it is hard to see what educational purpose is served by just assembling styrofoam pieces. But my students and their families really love building models of missions! Many of my students' parents have a limited education in Spanish; having finished only fourth grade in Mexico is normal. Plus, many have only limited English skills. By the time their children are in my class, they often cannot help their kids with homework - in English or in Spanish - because they don't know how to do it themselves. Many students' parents, however, work in construction, carpentry, or related trades, so building is something at which they are experts. Our mission building project becomes, for many families, a total family effort, in which parents' "funds of knowledge" are valued. I encourage students to spend as little as possible on their mission models and tell them that I value their creativity much more than the accuracy with which they reproduce the exact proportions of the missions they are studying.
Another criticism of building models of missions is that it glorifies missions and does not help students think critically about the role of missions in California history. It seems wrong to value building pretty white churches over teaching about the enslavement of Native Americans at these pretty white churches. But I think there's no need to give up the latter while doing the former. Almost all of the my students wrote diaries in the voices of Native Americans who wished they could escape from the mission where they were living, who longed for the village where they used to live, and who, in some cases, were plotting an uprising against their captors.
About 20 parents came to my classroom today to see students' work. Many of them dressed up for the occasion. Students were so proud to show off their missions. We put out papers for our museum visitors to write comments, and every students' comment sheet was full with really thoughtful feedback from their peers and from parents. Students would come back over and over to check how many comments they had gotten and read what they said.
Every time I invite parents to come see students' work, I always vow that I should do it more. It's so easy, and the students and parents love it. Somehow, though, I never manage to pull it off as often as I hope.
Here are pictures from our mission museum. Students and their families really had ingenious ideas for building - lentils for a pathway, folded construction paper for a roof, aluminum foil for a reflecting pool. Look closely!