Marcy Prager: Studying the Hopi in a Second Grade Classroom

Marcy has been a teacher in the Town of Brookline for thirty-five years. Her passion has always been teaching geography and social studies to students in grades 1, 2, 3, and 4. Helping students to understand other cultures around the world is a first step towards understanding and peace in the 21st century. Many of her past students have become teachers, archaeologists, and have become part of many other professions that help other people. Knowing that she has been slightly responsible for students choosing “helpful” professions and working towards a peaceful future has been extremely gratifying for her! Her own children, now 26 and 21 years of age, have developed her beliefs in a better world to come.

Marcy_Prager_Pic.jpgMy second grade class is studying the Hopi, a Native American people who live in the northeastern region of Arizona.  I was lucky enough to receive a Brookline Education Foundation grant to visit Hopiland. I spent time among the Hopi and learned more deeply about their culture in order to impart my knowledge to my students.  The Hopi are a deeply religious people.  Their entire year is devoted to praying for rain, for their geography shows that rain is scarce in this desert land. 

One of the Hopi origin stories, the Magic Water Jug, tells how the Hopi migrated to four worlds, each world a more difficult place to live, to ensure that they would not forget to pray to their Creator, Taiowa. And what would force the Hopi to remember their Creator?  The lack of fresh water…which would result in a lack of food (corn being their leading crop). The lack of food would make certain that the Hopi would continue to pray to Taiowa.  If you look at a Hopi calendar, each month has celebrations when different Hopi groups dance and pray for rain, as the Hopi spectators look down upon them from the rooftops of their pueblo homes.  Some of the dances include the “Snake Dance,” “The Butterfly Dance,” “The Bean Dance,” “The Eagle Dance,” etc.  Here is a video from the early 20th century showing a Hopi rain dance.

Hopi life in the past was not altogether different from today.  The traditional dances are still being held on top of the mesas, corn still grows, and the spiritual life of the Hopi continues.  Fresh water is always considered a gift from the Katsina spirits.  The Hopi do not ever take fresh water for granted.

In the past, the Hopi women would have to walk down the steep sides of the mesas with their pots in order to fill the pots with water from a well deep below the earth.  Carrying the water pots back up the rocky mesas was a feat!  Life for the Hopi centered around the planting of corn and the availability of fresh water.  The roots of the different corn plants reached thirty-six inches below the ground in order for them to reach the water source.  If rain did not arrive, the roots would not grow.  The Hopi would not survive.

Learning about Hopi life, past and present, motivates my students to learn about and respect other cultures. I believe that young students should not take the fresh water they receive on a daily basis for granted.  Every time my students now turn on a faucet in their home, they realize that there are people in the world who do not have running water in their homes.  All students should have an appreciation for the fresh water they have, and understand other cultures that have a deep appreciation for the fresh water that helps them survive.  

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