We the Teachers

Recreating Teaching American History Colloquium, Teacher Helps Students Learn about African American Experience in World War I

Love of history and an interest in helping young people drew Jotwan Daniels away from a planned business career and into high school teaching. He also hoped to improve on the teaching method his own teachers had used. “They viewed students as baby birds: they digested material and regurgitated it for our consumption.” Consequently, “we retained historical concepts long enough to pass the test, then forgot them. They were brokers of knowledge; I want to facilitate learning,” Daniels says.

Daniels uses the approach Teaching American History (TAH) encourages: guiding students’ conversations about primary documents. He asks students to read several accounts of one event and then draw their own conclusions. “Reading primary documents allows students to ask questions of themselves, ask questions of each other, and ultimately ask questions of history,” Daniels says.

A TAH weekend colloquium on World War I introduced Daniels to primary documents he would later use in his classroom. He enjoyed discussing these texts with the facilitator: Professor Jennifer Keene, a historian at Chapman University and a visiting faculty member in the Masters of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program at Ashland University. Instead of lecturing, Keene guided the teachers in discussing readings on the experience of soldiers in the war and of Americans on the home front. Even so, Daniels felt he “really benefited from Keene’s expertise. I also enjoyed bouncing ideas off of other teachers on how we might use the documents to recreate the colloquium for our own students.”

Daniels wrote a lesson plan based on the colloquium, tested it with his students at Summit High School in Frisco, Colorado, and then contacted Teaching American History Program Manager Jeremy Gypton to report that the lesson went very well.

He used documents highlighting the African American soldier’s experience. Students first read President Wilson’s speech announcing America’s entrance into the war, calling it a fight to “make the world safe for democracy.” Then they read an editorial in the NAACP journal Crisis by W. E. B. Dubois, who urged black men to enlist. Finally they read a letter sent to Dubois by one of those who enlisted and fought in France.

African American Sergeant Charles Isum had been quartered in a French family’s home, treated as an honored guest and invited to social events. Accepting these invitations, as Isum told Dubois, brought his arrest by American military police, who had forbidden fraternization between the black soldiers and the French locals. After the French protested, Isum was released and a threatened court martial hearing was dropped.

To provide extra historical background, Daniels showed students a video on the 369th infantry regiment—an African American force sent to fight under the command of the French. Dubbed “hellfighters” by the Germans they fiercely combatted, they captured a key railroad junction during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Upon returning home to New York City, the “Harlem Hellfighters” were honored with speeches and parades.

Nevertheless, their heroic service did not lead, as Dubois had hoped, to better economic opportunities and recognition of civil rights for African Americans. The case of Corporal Henry Johnson, who with another soldier repulsed a surprise German attack on a bridge held by US forces, illustrates the stubborn African American reality after World War I. Johnson was awarded the highest French military honor—the Croix de Guerre—and personally welcomed home by New York Governor Al Smith. Yet he died young, poor and alone, his injuries having left him unable to support himself.

“The students I teach are still innocent,” Daniels said, “so they were shocked by what they read. But our conversations around these documents were amazing.” To prepare for discussion, students worked in pairs on a silent “collaborative annotation” exercise. They pasted copies of the documents to butcher-block paper and then wrote comments around them. “One student’s annotation would prompt a written response from his partner.” Having processed the documents silently, all were ready to join the conversation that followed.

Later, students returned to the butcher-block paper to complete a Venn diagram. Inside one circle they noted African American soldiers’ experience in France; inside the other they wrote about these soldiers’ experience in America. In the overlap between the circles they noted conditions the soldiers experienced in both countries. This exercise helped students articulate the ways that racist attitudes blinded many Americans to what the French recognized as heroic service.

Daniels believes that reading the testimony of the past, even when it shows American failures, does not teach cynicism about the American future. “History can be a little sad,” Daniels says. “But if students understand the historical background of current events, they may be better able to devise solutions to those problems today.”

Troops from the 396th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters.

Jotwan Daniels teaches American history at Summit High School in Frisco, Colorado.

Students stretch out on the floor for the silent annotation exercise.

United States Colored Troops Lesson Plan

Paul LaRue, 4th-usct-weba teacher at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio and the 2010 Ohio History Teacher of the Year, shares with us a lesson plan he contributed to the Civil War Trust’s web exhibit on the United States Color Troops.  Highlighting the unique contributions of African-American soldiers to the Union’s cause, the unit is appropriate for middle grades American history classrooms. It is just one part of the Civil War Trust’s complete series of curricula available for all grade bands.

Veto Message of the Bill on the Bank of the United States

Proclamation Regarding Nullification, Andrew Jackson,December 10, 1832

 

For suggestions on how to guide students in analyzing the document, see the EDSITEment lesson plan, Lesson 1: An Early Threat of Secession: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis in The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing. The lesson was co-authored with high school teacher Constance Murray by Washington and Lee Professor Lucas Morel, a faculty member in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program. Excerpts from Jackson’s Proclamation and a student worksheet make the document accessible to students.

New Teaching Resources on the Federalist Papers

Roots of Liberty

Roots of Liberty

The Cornerstone Project has just introduced The Roots of Liberty: Unlocking the Federalist Papers. This is a comprehensive curriculum for teaching about the Federalist Papers, and it includes:

  • a student text featuring ten essays written by scholars unifying key topics and themes throughout the Papers (20 copies included with each classroom set)
  • an accompanying teacher’s discussion guide with multiple tools and activities
  • companion videos corresponding to lessons

Topics Include:

  • the doctrine of enumerated powers
  • separation of powers
  • federalism
  • the independent judiciary
  • how the U.S. Constitution enables public officials to make good decisions
  • political freedom
  • economic freedom
  • religious freedom
  • the Constitution as a defense against foreign aggression

To learn more, or to access a free lesson, click here.

New Resources for Catholic School Teachers

If you teach in a Catholic school you may want to be aware of a new opportunity from Sophia Institute for Teachers. The organization has just launched a website for teachers to upload and download lessons they’ve created. While they are building it out, they’re paying $10 for every resource that is accepted for publication.

The Curriculum Exchange already contains several resources for teachers of American History and government, such as this lesson on the Declaration of Independence and Just War, and this DBQ on Martin Luther King, Jr and non-violence.

You can find more info on the $10 per lesson offer here.

Martin Luther King, Jr, and Nonviolent Resistance

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” So wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 as he served a ten-day jail term for violating a court injunction against any “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing” in Birmingham. He came to Alabama’s largest city to lead an Easter weekend protest and boycott of downtown stores as a way of forcing white city leaders to negotiate a settlement of black citizens’ grievances. King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a public statement by eight white clergymen appealing to the local black population to use the courts and not the streets to secure civil rights. The clergymen counseled “law and order and common sense,” not demonstrations that “incite to hatred and violence,” as the most prudent means to promote justice. This criticism of King was elaborated the following year by a fellow Baptist minister, Joseph H. Jackson (president of the National Baptist Convention from 1953–1982), who delivered a speech counseling blacks to reject “direct confrontation” and “stick to law and order.”

By examining King’s famous essay in defense of nonviolent protest, along with two significant criticisms of his direct action campaign, this EDSITEment lesson plan will help students assess various alternatives for securing civil rights for black Americans in a self-governing society.

Crafting Freedom

CraftingFreedom.org is a new resource exploring the African American experience during the era of slavery. Featuring lesson plans and a variety of classroom resources including  videos, slide shows, and student handouts, Crafting Freedom relates the slave experience through the narratives of those who lived it. Based on these primary source documents, the site is an excellent way to apply Common Core standards in your classroom.

Crafting Freedom grew out of a popular National Endowment for the Humanities workshop, Crafting Freedom: African American Artisans, Entrepreneurs, and Abolitionists of the Upper South. Additional web resources will be released at NEH’s EDSITEMENT website in 2014.

New! Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents in paperback

You’ve likely seen Ashbrook’s 50 Core American Documents project online at TeachingAmericanHistory.org50core. We’re pleased to release a new paperback book edited by Ashland University professor Christopher Burkett. The book contains all fifty documents, a brief introduction to establish context, and several questions suitable for your own private musing or for classroom discussion.

Looking for a gift for that teacher, student, or history buff in your life? Order a copy today!

Bill of Rights Day resources

BRI DuelBill of Rights Day, the day on which the first ten amendments to the constitution went into effect upon their ratification, is December 15th. In addition to TeachingAmericanHistory.org’s own interactive resources on the Bill of Rights, our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have a plethora of related interactive and documentary resources designed for use in secondary school classrooms.  Among these are animated games and exercises, quizzes, videos, SMARTboard activities, and lesson plans.

Learn more at the at BRI’s Bill of Rights Day page.

Could Lincoln Be Elected Today?

FlackCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, has put together a series of mock political campaign ads for the 1864 presidential election pitting the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln against General George B. McClellan. Developed with the assistance of veteran campaign advertising strategists from the 2004 campaigns of John Kerry and George W. Bush, the ads and a series of accompanying classroom lesson plans are designed to help teacher show the role of mass media advertising in modern campaigns and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to separate fact from distortion.

Visit FlackCheck.org to see the complete set of ads and lesson plans.

Daniel Webster Urges Sectional Compromise

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Daniel Webster (Library of Congress)

As a result of the War with Mexico, the United States acquired a large area of western land, and at once controversy arose over whether the states organized in these territories would enter the union as “freesoil” or slave-holding. Southern states were anxious to maintain the equivalence between free and slave states and territories that obtained after the admission of the Oregon Territory, in which slavery was prohibited. But California was applying for admission as a free state, and the New Mexico and Utah territories were yet to be organized. Southerners began to talk of a Northern intent to restrict slavery and eventually abolish it; some went so far as to threaten secession. Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, as he had done in 1820, fashioned a compromise; he offered a number of resolutions designed to appease both sides while arranging for the admission of California as a state and setting terms for the organization of the other territories acquired from Mexico. While free states would now outnumber slave states, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed to stiffen existing requirements that slaves who had escaped to the north be returned to the south.

Joining Clay, another aged statesman who spoke out at this time to encourage compromise and denounce talk of secession was Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster. His “Constitution and Union” speech covered wide ground. Continue reading

New Resource from the Bill of Rights Institute

Our friends at the Bill of Rights Institute have introduced a new documentary resource written by teachers for use in K-12 classrooms. Documents of Freedom: History, Government, & Economics through Primary Sources is designed to be used as a supplement (or even as a substitute) for traditional government, civics, and economics textbooks. Each lesson unit highlights key primary sources and is indexed to the standards of many states, the Common Core, and the College Board.  Best of all, it works equally well across all platforms: Windows, Mac, tablets, smartphones, and other devices.

Access to Documents of Freedom is free (registration is required).

150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address: A Few Well-Chosen Remarks

Lincoln Gettysburg.jpgWhen Abraham Lincoln was invited in the fall of 1863 to speak at the dedication of a national cemetery on the site of a pivotal Union victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it was not to give the main speech. That oration was delivered by Edward Everett, a Massachusetts statesman, vice-presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union Party in 1860, and the most famous orator of his day. Everett spoke to the crowd of 15,000 without notes for over two hours, giving an example of the kind of ornate, learned, and transcendentalist rhetoric that was expected at such ceremonies.

The president used only 272 words in his dedication of the cemetery grounds, with most American newspapers taking little notice of the now famous speech. But the day after the ceremony, Everett wrote Lincoln to say, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln’s spare, poetic, and biblical speech buried the old rhetorical style of Everett and set the standard for a new kind of speech, which is still the model for such solemn commemorative occasions. If all American literature comes out of Huckleberry Finn, as Ernest Hemingway suggested, all modern American speeches come out of the Address.

How Lincoln turned a perfunctory eulogy at a cemetery dedication into a concise and profound meditation on the meaning of the Civil War and American union is the focus of the EDSITEment lesson The Gettysburg Address: Defining the American Union. The lesson, part of a  curriculum unit on the political thought of Lincoln, will deepen student understanding of the momentous themes of freedom, equality, and emancipation so central to any strong understanding of the Civil War experience. Continue reading

The Founding of the First National Anti-Slavery Organization

William Lloyd Garrison, an early spokesman for and eventual leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society

William Lloyd Garrison, an early spokesman for and eventual leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society

The American Anti-Slavery society was founded in Philadelphia 180 years ago, in December of 1833. The group agreed to a simple “constitution,” prefaced by a brief but eloquent “manifesto” that quoted both the Biblical commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself and the central idea of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Arthur Tappan became the society’s first president, while William Lloyd Garrison, who had already founded his abolitionist weekly The Liberator, was asked to write a “Declaration of Sentiments” expressing the organization’s aims.

Although the American Anti-Slavery Society was the first national organization of its kind, similar state organizations had already formed. Most of the earliest of these were organized by the Society of Friends, or Quakers. The very first one, The Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, had formed in 1774 and helped to pass Pennsylvania’s Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, the first anti-slavery legislation in the United States. Continue reading

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

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