Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Humbled Again By What I Don't Know

Last week I wrote about changing curriculum standards and described some of the "new" content that will be appearing in the social studies curriculum in VA in grades K-3. While I am very comfortable with the content of these grades and the U.S. history curriculum (generally taught in 5th and 6th grades), I am constantly working on my own knowledge of VA history.

I grew up in New York state, so my knowledge of other states was limited largely to important wartime battles and other historical events. Surely I knew about Jamestown before I moved here, you say. Well, to be honest, I didn't know much. You see, growing up in the Northeast, the historical focus was always on the Plymouth colony, the Mayflower, and the Pilgrims. Last year Jamestown celebrated its 400th anniversary, and in doing so, worked hard to take back some of its history and importance in establishing the colonies in the United States. Here is a statement from the Jamestown Settlement site. (The emphasis is mine.)
In 1607, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of 104 English men and boys began a settlement on the banks of Virginia's James River.
How's that for asserting one's historical importance?

I have learned a lot of Virginia history since arriving here fourteen years ago. However, I am humbled by how much I don't know, and how much more there is to learn and explore. The changes to the Virginia Studies standards (grade 4 state history) have me scrambling to learn enough to keep my students informed. In this way, I'm no different than the elementary classroom teacher who must constantly keep up with changing curricula and the demand to learn new material. With this demand comes the added challenge of devising engaging ways to share that information.

In the last week I have been studying up on Werowocomoco, Jamestown, and the native peoples of Virginia. Before I read the new standard (describing how archaeologists have recovered new material evidence through sites including Werowocomoco and Jamestown), I had never heard of Werowocomoco. My first problem was simply one of pronunciation. How do you say that word? I've found two suggestions so far. They are:
  • weh-ro-wo-COM-o-co
  • Whero-wo-ko-Mo-ko
I began my research by visiting the site of the Werowocomoco Research Project to learn more about the excavation and what has been found there. Then I explored Jamestown fort and the village of Werowocomoco through a National Geographic interactive feature. (There is a very nice feature where several Virginia Indians speak about the importance of Werowocomoco. I think I'll use their pronunciation.) Next I viewed John Smith's map of Virginia. I also read the annotated copy of the application to recognize Werowocomoco as a Virginia Historic Landmark. Prepared by the Princess Pocahontas Foundation, this document asserts that the current dig site is not located on the site of Werowocomoco. Here is a description of the foundation.
The foundation was formed to protect the statue; to research and collect facts, as to the true events in the life of Pocahontas, her people and those connected with her; to collect artifacts, pictures and items associated with her life and those of her people; to educate school children and others about Pocahontas; and to promote "truth in history".
Finally, I reread Karen Lange's book, 1607: A New Look at Jamestown. (You can read my review for more information.)

I will need to keep digging for information, but feel I have learned enough to share some of this information with my students. More importantly though, I want to share the process I used to learn this information. As future teachers they will need to know how to find information, evaluate it, and transform it for use in their classrooms. They also need to understand and accept the fact that they will never know everything they will be expected to teach, and that learning and staying informed will be a huge part of the job. Frankly, it's one of the reasons I love teaching so much. I simply love learning. I hope my students will feel the same way.


  1. Great post, Tricia! That last graf, especially!

  2. You may want to take a look at the NOVA PBS documentary entitled "Pocahontas Revealed" for more information about the recent archaeological research at Werowocomoco.

  3. Thanks, Tricia. Reading this post sparked a memory about the first college class I ever taught. I've written about it here: