Part 2 The Cycle of Life
Lesson 3 Elders' Ways
In those days, we couldn't afford to go to the doctor unless someone was really sick and nothing else worked. The movies have stereotyped Indians as having medicine men, so a lot of people think we had them, but I don't remember a medicine man in our tribe when I was growing up. I remember medicine ladies. My grandmother was a medicine lady. I think she was the last one in my family to do the medicine that we have retained from a long time ago. . . . She said, 'After I am gone, there will be no need for these kinds of practices anymore.' She told my mother that we would be able to use the white people's medicine, and it's a whole lot easier to do.
--Bertney Langley, Allen Parish
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
Students study folk beliefs about illness and healing, research Louisiana graveyards and burial traditions, and talk about the cycle of life with older people in their communities. In turn, students share some of their own stories and traditions with older people.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students collect and compare folk beliefs and sayings about health and healing as well as folk remedies.
2. Students investigate local graveyards, analyze their findings, and compare graveyards in Louisiana.
3. Students engage in an intergenerational exchange with older citizens in their communities, swapping personal experience narratives about rites of passage.
2-5 class periods
Optional art supplies for folk remedy charts and other presentations. If your students will be doing fieldwork, you may need digital cameras, audio recorders, or video recorders in addition to notepads and pencils as well as appropriate fieldwork forms. Print out and duplicate any worksheets or rubrics that you will be using.
Background Information for the Teacher
Despite the seeming homogeneity of American culture, folk groups' beliefs and practices surrounding illness, healing, death, and dying vary widely, and elders in a community are repositories of many traditions, beliefs, and stories. Students may collect folk beliefs about healing, research local graveyards, record personal experience narratives of elders, and reflect on aging in their communities. What do elders' stories say to young people today? What do young people's stories say to elders? Intergenerational exchanges enrich all participants. In addition to home remedies and folk beliefs about health, traiteurs or treaters, are often called upon in Louisiana. Waiting For Babies: Lay Midwifery in Louisiana describes this tradition and its history in the state. If you want students to use this resource and it is written above their reading level, use Adaptation Strategies to build lessons around them.From the dramatic cemeteries of New Orleans to small family plots in North Louisiana, respectfully studying graveyards and gravestones teaches about history as well as tradition. Tourists' interest in picturesque graveyards is another aspect to consider. What's the effect on local residents, for example? How do views of cultural insiders differ from the tourist outsiders?
Identify graveyards where students may research and secure permission for fieldwork. Older and rural graveyards offer the best window to the past. Identify a group of older citizens, perhaps through senior centers, clubs, or religious organizations, to embark on an intergenerational exchange with your students. Consider what older people have to share with younger people. You may want students to investigate the traditions and skills elders have passed on. Think about your own beliefs or sayings about health and healing and collect some from friends or colleagues to share with students. The video Good for What Ails You: Secrets of the Bayou Healers, has an online study guide to choose appropriate research queries. If you use the film, cue an appropriate segment for the class. Some students may want to view the entire film, but begin with a segment. Read Waiting for Babies: Lay Midwifery in Louisiana to see if it's appropriate for your students. Accumulate and survey some of the Unit IX Resources to aid students' research and develop effective intergenerational projects.
8th Grade Activities
1. Share some beliefs about health with students to start a brainstorming session. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." "Feed a cold, starve a fever." You or students may type up all the beliefs using computer software to start a class master list or write them on the board or a big piece of paper. This exercise should produce a lively conversation as students uncover beliefs that are contradictory or similar to their own. Ask students to collect more beliefs from family members and neighbors.
2. The whole class or a group of students could collect herbal and folk remedies. Begin by asking students what remedies they know, such as drinking sassafras tea or rubbing a nickel on a wart then burying the nickel in the backyard to remove the wart. A new generation of herbal medicine beliefs popularized in the media has become mainstream in recent years, such as gingko for improving memory or St. John's Wort for depression. Students could classify remedies into two groups, "Traditional" and "Contemporary," and illustrate a poster with images from popular magazines for new herbal remedies and drawings for older traditional remedies. Or, they may use the Folk Remedy Collection Worksheet to launch their fieldwork collection from others and to categorize their findings. After completing research, students may organize data they collected on the Folk Remedy Worksheet. See Unit II to more fully develop a fieldwork project.
3. You might decide to study the practices of traiteurs or treaters. Do students know anyone in their community who others go to for help with illness? Screen a selection of the film Good for What Ails You: Secrets of the Bayou Healers, which features an online study guide. Students could embark on a fieldwork project to study healers and beliefs about health in their community.
4. As a culminating activity, decide with students how to present their findings: computer slide show, classroom exhibit, master class list. They might analyze beliefs or remedies by folk group such as gender, age, ethnicity, religion, birthplace, and so on; how common they are; the ailments they are good for. Students who are observing the presentations or other projects should record their thoughts and responses on the Folk Remedy Presentation Response Journal.
5. After making arrangements with proper officials and emphasizing the importance of respecting graves and graveyards, plan a fieldtrip with students to a local graveyard. Print and duplicate The Stories They Tell -- Graveyard Data Collection Worksheet and explain it to students. First they will collect data during a visit to a cemetery. After class or group discussions, they should record conclusions after class or group discussions. Take a look at The Heritage Education Network website's The Cemetery: History Written in Stone. Stress that cemeteries and the stones do indeed have stories to tell and should be used with care. Read the Cemetery Preservation Guide as you are planning the lesson. Fieldtrip activities could include mapping, photography, drawing, and recording of data on the worksheet. Around noon is the best time to photograph since names, dates, and decorative details are not shadowed. Aspects to consider include cemetery names, boundaries, locations, age, religious affiliations, ethnic or folk group, funeral traditions, comparison of old and new cemeteries. How do stone shapes, decorations, and epitaphs change over time? What symbols do you find? How do children's graves differ?
6. With students, design an intergenerational exchange between your students and a group of older citizens that allows both groups to hear stories from the other using tools from Unit II to record information and secure permission to use it for educational purposes. In this case, students will be sharing stories as well and should plan to record themselves as well as their interviewees. By starting with the general topic of rites of passage, students can initiate discussions with older people, working individually or in teams. Ideally, students and older people will find a rapport and learn something about the cycle of life from each other. Students might ask interviewees to describe a milestone they find important, or students might choose one such as marriage, first job, having children. Another tack is to interview elders about traditions and skills they have passed on. Ask students to read how the young apprentice of Cajun fiddler Hadley Castille finally took his lessons seriously in the Introduction of Keeping It Alive. If this is written above your students' reading ability, refer to the Adaptation Strategies for ways to adjust and modify it to levels your students can understand. After recording interviewees' stories, students share a story, "Now I'd like to tell you a story about a milestone in my life." Students may have decided before the interview what story they will tell, or the interview might influence their choice. This activity could involve a one-time visit or an ongoing relationship between adolescents and elders. (See Nourishing the Heart, Generating Community, and other materials in Unit IX Resources for information on designing successful intergenerational projects.)
7. Ask a student to read the English version of the poem, "La grégue" by Sandy Hebert LaBry of Lafayette on the Life Cycle Poetry Worksheet. If there are French speakers in the class, ask one to read the French version. This poem describes three generations of women in her family engaging in the same tradition of making coffee in a French drip pot. Assign students to write a poem about an intergenerational experience in their own lives with a family member, neighbor, or even a stranger.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Use the Good for What Ails You online study guide to research traiteurs and treaters further. Topics include the effect of technology and change on folk medicine, authenticity, and superstition.
2. Investigate historical markers and shrines in your region, such as statues, religious shrines, or roadside shrines where people have died in car accidents. If students are documenting this emerging tradition of roadside shrines, discuss ethics and proper behavior in class. Some roadside shrines are somewhat temporary, while others remain; some are added to or changed during the seasonal round. Document by photographing, sketching, mapping, respectfully interviewing people about their knowledge of shrines, beliefs, and opinions. Make a community memorial map by marking official memorials such as statues and markers honoring residents who fought in wars as well as unofficial memorials in neighbors' yards, beside roads, or elsewhere on a local map. Photographs, drawings, and postcards can decorate the map.
3. If engaged in an exchange with older people, design activities beyond the rites of passage story swap. Consider art, music, publication projects, or family photo album days (see Unit IX Resources).
4. Research and compare funeral practices and traditions in Louisiana, such as the jazz parades of New Orleans, wakes, and beliefs among different religious groups. Research funeral practices in other parts of the world (see Unit IX Resources).
5. Compare Louisiana traditions with those in the Online Archive of American Folk Medicine.