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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
understanding patterns of belief and values or explaining particular actions; see Box 3-3). The Pilgrims’ task allows this understanding to be taken further, and question 6 pursues one major thread, presenting students with a paradox.
Students’ answers to question 6 revealed attempts to make what today appears to be rather indefensible behavior less unpalatable. Sean explained:
The Pilgrims wanted to discover more land and find out what the world looked like. They were not aiming to take over land when they set off, they were just aiming to discover more land and find out if the land around them was inhabited or if they were the only people existing along with other people they knew existed such as the French and Scandinavians.
Sean actually avoided explaining the relevant action of the Pilgrims, or at least justified it as not intentional, suggesting that the Pilgrims were in fact part of a larger movement of people who were benign explorers.
In the small-group discussion we have been following, the teacher drew the attention of Peter, Adam, and Matthew to this question.
Let’s think about this right they think they have to take the land.
They believe they had the right like Peter said, because they needed to get away and after some errors and accidents like they stumbled across a harbor, whether it was because of the wind or the backwardness of their ship’s captain they did not arrive where they had planned, so they therefore believed that God did not want them to live where they had planned, so whether it was the ship’s captain or the wind, God changed it around, so that instead they reached the harbor of Cape Cod, so therefore they believed that God wanted them to live there.
Peter took this argument further, suggesting they would need to justify the action in terms of the Native Americans’ religious “failings,” and Matthew was concerned that their religious beliefs should not go unrecognized. Peter, however, reinforced the point more precisely by talking about how the Pilgrims might justify their action in their own terms, rather than according to the way we would look at this situation now.