California 4th Grade Mission Project

The California 4th Grade Mission Project is a project that has been used in the school system for decades that results in the building of a scale or miniature version of a Mission as part of California's fourth grade school curriculum.[1]

Content StandardEdit

There currently is no requirement by the State of California mandating a particular way of synthesizing material learned or mandating a specific event or location to be given as an assignment.

The role of curriculum frameworks is to provide guidance to teachers and administrators. While some content is mandated by state law, the majority of decisions that affect classroom instruction are made at the local level by teachers, schools and the local school district. Various frameworks and standards, related to this topic, used presently and in the past are listed or summarized below.

College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards[2] The C3 Framework was published by the National Council for the Social Studies in 2013 and consists of topics with guiding questions.

Pre-Columbian Settlements and People

  • What was life like for native Californians before other settlers arrived?

European Exploration and Colonial History

  • Why did Europeans come to California?
  • How did European explorers change the region?
  • How did the region’s geography impact settlement?

Missions, Ranchos, and the Mexican War for Independence

  • Why did Spain establish missions? And how did they gain control?
  • How were people’s lives affected by missions?
  • How did the region change because of the mission system?

Related Content Standards (2005)[3]

1 Discuss the major nations of Indigenous Californians, including geographic distribution, economic activities, legends, and religious beliefs; and describe how they depended on, adapted to, and/or modified the physical environment by cultivation of land and use of sea resources.

3 Describe the Spanish exploration and colonization of California and the relationships among soldiers, missionaries, and Indigenous Californians.

4 Describe the factors, geographic and economics, in the placement and function of the Spanish missions; and how the mission system expanded the influence of Spain and Catholicism throughout New Spain and Latin America.

5 Describe the daily lives of the people, native and nonnative, who occupied the presidios, missions, ranchos, and pueblos.

6 Discuss the role Franciscans played in changing California into an agricultural economy.

8 Discuss the period of Mexican rule in California and its attributes, including land grants, secularization of the missions, and the rise of the rancho economy.

Related Content Standards (1998)[4]

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.

4.3 Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood.

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s.


The California 4th Grade Mission Project can be controversial depending on several factors. The project is especially debated and talked about in the San Francisco Bay Area.


As teachers vary in many ways (cultural identification, age, length of teaching career) so do the teaching points. Teachers do not have a script to follow, they might be using old or outdated curriculum or are simply instructing students in the version of history that they take as fact.

Missions have been portrayed as "good" for the following reasons:

  • Missions as cultural centers for Indigenous Californians, omitting the practice of conversion (sometimes coercively) to Roman Catholicism and occasions of Indigenous Californians attacking missions
  • All Indigenous Californians were happy with the Franciscans and Spanish government[citation needed]
  • Franciscan padres were hailed as being a protector of Indigenous Californians and their lands

Missions have also been portrayed as "bad" for the following reasons:

  • Franciscans and the Spanish soldiers brought diseases that killed many[citation needed]
  • Previous cultural practices of Indigenous Californians were forbidden or replaced
  • Indigenous Californians were slaves[5]

Additionally in some school districts and schools, especially those near Missions or Presidios, this topic naturally takes on a larger picture. There might be field trips to Missions where students engage in tours or living history programs, which also spark criticism.[citation needed]


Just like instruction, judging what the student has learned through the project takes many forms, including:


Despite the lack of a formal requirement, many parents worry about the California 4th Grade Mission Project. Concerns mainly lie in what their children are being taught, although some parents complain about the actual construction of the project. Criticisms include:

  • exposure/direct instruction of a white-washed (or revisionist) version of history[6]
  • the absence or ignoring of the narrative of Indigenous Californians[7]
  • having to reeducate or teach the child the version that parents want them to hear
  • forced creation of a mission that that is really a prison in disguise
  • wasting of food product (for those that building with sugar cubes, pasta, graham crackers, or rice krispie treats)
  • too much time needs to be devoted to the project (generally built at home)


  1. ^ Graff, Amy (2017-08-30). "The next generation of California public school students will skip the 'mission project'". SFGate. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
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  5. ^ Duggan, Marie C (2017). "Beyond Slavery: The Institutional Status of Mission Indians," in Burns and Johnson (eds.), Franciscans and American Indians in Pan-Borderlands Perspective. Oceanside, CA: AAFH.
  6. ^ Reese, Thelma (July 27, 2015). "Whitewashing history". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2019-11-12.
  7. ^ Bamberg, Michael (2004). "Considering counter narratives". Archived from the original on 2011-10-17. Retrieved 2019-11-12.

External linksEdit