(Last month, I was asked to write a letter to a fifth grade student that is interested in archaeology. The student is African American and has not been doing well in school. The Society for Black Archaeologists asked all of its members to write a letter of encouragement that, hopefully, will help this student get back on track. Here’s what I submitted:)
Dear Future Archaeologist,
My name is Bill White. I am a member of the Society for Black Archaeologists and have been doing archaeology for over 10 years now. I am writing you because I heard you are a fifth grader and are interested in archaeology. This is good news to me because I’ve wanted to be an archaeologist since I was in kindergarten and I really love telling people about my job.
Archaeology is one of the most interesting jobs in our society. I love my job. You may have seen some shows that featured archaeologists such as the Indiana Jones movies or documentaries on public television. Our jobs are very similar to what you see on public television and not like the stuff on Indiana Jones.
Archaeologists spend most of their time reading books about the past and writing reports, magazine articles, and letters, like the one I’m writing you now. But, we do go out into the field sometimes to look for new archaeological sites or dig at sites we already know about. I enjoy doing fieldwork almost as much as I like reading about past cultures and people. Fieldwork can be exciting, but so is making discoveries by reading old newspapers and looking at old maps.
In my career, I have worked all across the United States. I have also traveled to other countries to learn about other cultures and see what their ancestors have created. If you want to be a good archaeologist, you have to be very interested in learning about people. You have to want to know why people do the things they do. You also have to be willing to try and understand things from other points of view because not everybody thinks the same way we do. Learning about other people is one of my favorite things to do. It is one of the reasons why I have always wanted to be an archaeologist.
If you are serious about becoming an archaeologist, you will really have to want it. There are not very many of us in the United States. It takes a lot of education and hard work to become a professional archaeologist. Here are some things you can do now to help you on your career path in archaeology:
- Go visit an archaeology project in your town. There are hundreds of projects going on all across the country at any given time. There may even be one in your town. Pay attention to your local newspaper and television news to hear about digs in your town that accept visitors.
- Visit museums and libraries. Some archaeologists work in museums. We all spend time in libraries. Take a visit to a local museum or library and see what you can learn. (P.S. You can’t learn everything from the internet. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to visit a library. Might as well make it sooner rather than later.)
- Learn how to be a good student. Most archaeologists are college graduates, so we are really good at schoolwork (reading, writing reports, and giving presentations). We don’t all get good grades, but all archaeologists have to be good writers and scientists. Learning how to learn is very important if you want to become an archaeologist. School teaches you how to learn.
- Start paying attention to the world around you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Why do the people you know say the things they say? Why is your town the way it is? How come people in your city act the way they do? Every good archaeologist is naturally curious about the world around them. Start learning about people by paying attention to them.
- Never let anyone take your dream away. Every archaeologist has been told that they will never make it, that they won’t be able to do archaeology for a living. This is untrue. Around the world, there are archaeologists of every race, gender, and age. Both rich and poor people have become archaeologists. I won’t lie. Becoming an archaeologist is difficult, but thousands of Americans do archaeology as a job every single day.
When I was your age, I had a lot of trouble with school. I was the only black kid in my grade and felt lonely. I didn’t want to listen to my parents or teachers, so I didn’t get very good grades in certain subjects. I really felt like I could do anything, if only somebody would give me a chance but my grades and behavior in school made people think I wasn’t worth helping.
When I got older, I realized I wasn’t going to become an archaeologist if I didn’t do better in school. So, I paid more attention in class and did my very best in the subjects I liked. I even tried hard in the subjects I didn’t like. I knew that if I was ever going to be an archaeologist I’d have to learn as much about people as I could, so I went to the library and started reading all kinds of books on history, culture, and science. The biggest change I made was I started to care about school, my life, and my future. After that, everything started falling into place.
A lot of people told me that my dream was stupid and that I didn’t have the grades to make it into college. I have spent most of my life trying to prove them wrong. I’ve achieved my dream of being an archaeologist and really love my job.
I hope this letter helps you want to do archaeology as a job. The world needs more black archaeologists who are willing to research the past and heritage of our people. Someday, I hope I can work with you in the field.
I hope my letter helped this student strengthen their resolve to become an archaeologist. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Write a comment below or send me an email.
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