Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 2021 Issue »

    The Mission Project

    Teaching History and Avoiding the Past in California Elementary Schools

    In this article, Harper B. Keenan investigates the treatment of violence in elementary history education through a case study of a fourth-grade unit on the colonial history of California featuring “the mission project,” a long-standing tradition in California’s elementary schools that has students construct a miniature model of a Spanish colonial mission. Grounded in broader social and historical contexts, the study explores how the use of model making invites children to engage with colonial history and what the assignment reveals about how adults teach children about the violent past. Keenan argues that the mission project perpetuates a societal pattern of “ritual avoidance.”

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    Harper Benjamin Keenan (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1355-3451) is the Robert Quartermain assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia. Broadly, his research analyzes how adults teach children to make sense of the social world. Much of his work investigates the management, or scripting, of children’s knowledge and ways educators and their students might work together to interrupt that process and imagine something different. He is interested in those social issues that many adults fnd diffcult to talk about with children, things like racism, gender, sexuality, and violence. Keenan’s work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals and popular press outlets, including Teacher’s College Record, Gender and Education, Theory & Research in Social Education, Slate, Huffngton Post, and Feminist Wire as well as in multiple edited volumes. Before earning his doctorate in the Curriculum and Teacher Education program at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, he was an elementary school teacher in New York City.