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Izzit Capitalist Propaganda?

By Julie Knutson

Free teaching materials intrigue me. I could spend hours perusing Curriki and TeacherTube for appropriate, anti-biased resources for my 8th-grade U.S. History students. So, when forwarded a link to izzit.org?which allegedly serves 195,000 teachers, 44,000 schools, and 18 million students?I took the bait. As the basic but inviting website opened, my eyes were immediately drawn to the free DVD offerings for educators. I began scanning the list of films, entertaining the possibility that the cryptically titled Yours and Mine: The Lessons of 1623 might provide a fresh perspective on life in the Plymouth colony.

Admittedly, after all that excitement, the DVD sat shrink-wrapped and unwatched on my bookshelf for nearly a year. I came across it again a few weeks before launching a unit on early colonial life in the Americas. Hoping it could offer some compelling details about 17th-century New England, I decided to watch it. No stranger to the world of teaching materials, I prepared myself for some hackneyed but harmless reenactments and some overly brief accounts of colonial history. Nevertheless, the DVD's description promised some "surprising facts"?such as the Pilgrims' affinity for "colorful clothes"?so I remained vaguely optimistic. Several minutes into the film, however, I realized I was watching an unabashed ode to free-market capitalism and private property.

We begin with our young narrator, Priscilla, whose stated purpose is to debunk some common myths about the Pilgrims. As she prepares us to venture into the main storyline, she stresses that we should think of the Pilgrims not as brass-buckle-wearing religious zealots, but rather as social pioneers whose image should be conjured "every time we use our cell phone or iPods." As if sensing my confusion, Priscilla looks into the camera with a raised eyebrow and asks, "Curious?" Not knowing where her odd digressions were taking me, I mentally replied with a cautious, "Yes."

On this myth-busting expedition, our host is accompanied by her father, an economics teacher and direct descendant of the Fullers of Plymouth. Hellbent on discussing the role of private property in the nascent years of the colony, Priscilla's father attempts to reeducate his daughter and a misinformed reenactor named Samuel about the devastating effects of sharing on the Plymouth Plantation.

Through a series of interviews with the local townspeople, we learn of the Pilgrims' trials and tribulations that first winter on Cape Cod Bay. While the colonists managed to produce a good harvest the following fall (thanks to whom the teacher's guide calls "a friendly native"), a ship bringing 35 more colonists meant that food needed to be rationed. Malnourished and still relatively unskilled at growing food, we're told that the Pilgrims' initial attempts at sharing the labor and harvests began to unravel. "It left the opportunity for some to take advantage," a woman in period garb explains through what is apparently a Puritan accent, "and leave the work for others." To combat these "leeches," as Samuel calls them, Governor William Bradford decides to parcel the farmlands into private individual properties and order is restored in Plymouth. Therein lies the great Lesson of 1623: that privatization and ownership provided the Pilgrims with an incentive "to work harder and be more productive in a strange land."

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