We the Teachers

Bill of Rights Anniversary

The Bill of Rights was adopted on 15 December, 1791, and is made up of the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. Originally made up of 12 amendments, two of which would be ratified later – one much, much later – the Bill of Rights we think of today was in part a compromise between the earliest political camps in America, as came out of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and refined during the Ratification Debates across the 13 states from 1787 to 1788.

Take a moment and look over Professor Gordon Lloyd’s exhibit on the origins, politics, and ratification of the Bill of Rights, and explore the English and Colonial roots of these most precious rights; the ideas borrowed from existing state constitutions; and examine the lineage of each right within each amendment.

Additionally, TAH.org has the following resources to help you understand, and more effectively teach, about these fundamental rights enjoyed by all Americans.

New Resource: First Volume of Core Document Curriculum Now Available!

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is excited to share another resource for American history,  government, civics, and social studies teachers. While you may be familiar with our 50 Core American Documents book, we are launching a new 35-volume document collection.

The first volume of the American History and Government Core Document Curriculum – the American Founding – is now available on iTunes, Kindle, and PDF.

This collection of documents on the American Founding inaugurates a new series of document collections from TeachingAmericanHistory.org. As in the American Founding volume, each Core American Document volume will contain the following:

  • Key documents on the period, theme, or institution, selected by an expert and reviewed by an editorial board
  • An introduction highlighting key documents and themes
  • A thematic table of contents, showing the connections between various documents
  • Study questions for each document, as well as questions that refer to other documents in the collection
  • Notes on each document to identify people, events, movements, or ideas to improve understanding of the document’s historical context.

When complete, the series will be comprehensive and authoritative, and will present America’s story in the words of those who wrote it – America’s presidents, labor leaders, farmers, philosophers, industrialists, politicians, workers, explorers, religious leaders, judges, soldiers; its slaveholders and abolitionists; its expansionists and isolationists; its reformers and stand-patters; its strict and broad constructionists; its hard-eyed realists and visionary utopians – all united in their commitment to equality and liberty, yet so often divided by their different understandings of these most fundamental American ideas.

The documents are all about this – the still unfinished American experiment with self-government. There is no better place to begin to understand that experiment than with these documents from the American founding.

In sum, our intent is that the documents and their supporting material provide unique access to the richness of the American story.

We hope that you will find this resource to be intriguing and helpful for your classroom.

Please contact Daniel Mitchell if you have any questions or would like more information about using the Core Documents Curriculum in your classroom.

Thank you for all that you do!

Documents in Detail: Monroe Doctrine

 

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18 October’s Documents in Detail program focused on the Monroe Doctrine – that which gave rise to the politics that led to it, what it said and meant, and how it represented a growing sense of American identity in the world and a guide for relations with other countries at the time, throughout the rest of the 19th Century, and even to today.

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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.

Students “Unlock” Clues in Primary Documents, Finding Constitution Booklet

Joe Welch, an American history teacher at North Hills Middle School near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, relies on internet technology for access to primary historical documents. He directs his eighth graders to online libraries such as Teaching American History’s (TAH.org) collection “almost every day.” This helps students learn our nation’s history directly from those who lived it. Reading the words of earlier Americans, students empathize with the way those Americans thought and felt, relating their own life challenges to those of the past. This helps students understand themselves. Welch tells his students, “Technology and styles may change, but human emotions do not change.”

Teachers with these high goals need to step back into the role of student from time to time, to check whether their approach works. Welch did so last spring at an TAH-sponsored weekend colloquium on Alexander Hamilton’s role as advisor to George Washington.

A group of twenty teachers sat together discussing Washington and Hamilton’s speeches and letters, guided by an engaging scholar: Stephen Knott, a faculty member in TAH.org’s Master’s program at Ashland University, a presidential biographer, and a Professor at the US Naval War College. “I had not discussed history in this way since college,” Welch said. Knott helped teachers answer the questions that arise when reading primary sources: “What was Washington’s motive when he wrote this? What other contemporary events affected his thinking?” Discussing such questions pointed up those unexpected layers of meaning that Welch hopes his eighth graders will discover.

Later, Welch attended a conference on classroom technology. One workshop suggested a classroom application of the “break-out” game, in which a team of friends is locked in a room and uses clues to find a way out. In the educational version, students go to websites to find clues to open a box with multiple locks. “How can I use this to introduce students to primary sources?” Welch wondered.

Welch thought of the most important primary source he uses in his class: the US Constitution. He carries a pocket Constitution at all times. “We study it as we cover the Founding; in later lessons I pull it out and refer to it. I wanted my students to find the Constitution inside the lockbox.” So Welch reached out to his new contacts at TAH, who agreed to donate 100 copies of the booklet, enough for every student.

In the game Welch designed, students examined five sets of short primary sources to open six locks. Documents included short letters, speeches, images, even a hand-written Electoral College vote tally. It was early in the school year, and Welch wanted to demonstrate the range of documents historians use.

He presented a scenario: “A new President has been elected, and he wants to create his own version of American history. He is destroying all our primary source documents. But our Founding Fathers locked away one thing to prevent a tyrant from taking power and erasing our memories. What is it? Open the box to find out. You have 40 minutes until the President’s executive order takes effect.”

“It was far-fetched, but middle-schoolers ate it up,” Welch said. “I’d never seen students so eager to examine primary sources. They read each document, then read it again.”

The locks opened in different ways. One set of clues directed students to a key hidden in the room. Another lock was opened by a word; two required a combination of digits. Finding keys required making connections between documents. For example, one set of clues contained a dated copy of the Gettysburg Address and a copy of the Declaration of Independence with the date blanked out. Students realized that the first words of the Gettysburg speech, “Four score and seven years ago,” referred to 1776, the year Americans announced their independence—and also the four digits that opened the lock.

To make some clue sets, Welch pulled documents related to Western Pennsylvania. A 1794 letter from Alexander Hamilton (then Secretary of War) to Governor Thomas Mifflin, “on the necessity of an immediate March of the Militia against the Western Insurgents,” referred to the Whiskey Rebellion—an event in local history most of Welch’s students had never heard of—and yielded the clue “western” for a directional lock. As clues to the word lock (opened with the key “PITTS”), Welch pulled 18 images from the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Rapidly researching the images to discover what they had in common, students realized that playwright August Wilson and ecologist Rachel Carson were born in or near Pittsburgh, that Fred Rogers filmed his children’s program there, that the Westinghouse Company was headquartered nearby, and that Meriwether Lewis launched the keelboat he and William Clark needed for their expedition into the west on the Allegheny River, at Fort Fayette in Pittsburgh.

Since Welch had built two lockboxes, students competed in teams. This introduced another skill: collaborative reading. “They divided to conquer, then worked as groups to figure out the remaining clues.” Seven out of ten teams (in five classes) met the 40-minute deadline.

Welch designed the game to show students “that they were going to have dig underneath the surface of primary documents to find their meaning and to find connections between documents.” At the end of class, the look of triumph on students’ faces showed they had also learned that “you can really work together with your peers to accomplish something.

You can learn more about the lockbox game Welch designed here

Inside each lockbox students found copies of Ashbrook’s Constitution booklet.

Students used a flashlight to read a clue written in invisible ink: the number 538, the total number of Electoral College votes today.

Second Roots of Liberty National Essay Contest is Underway!

TAH.org is once again excited to support the Roots of Liberty National Essay Contest. This is an excellent opportunity for a high school teacher to sponsor an outstanding student essay. The contest asks student to build a thoughtful essay about the following:

“In To Make Their Interests Coincide With Their Duty: How the Constitution Leads Public Officials to Make Good Decisions, law professor Robert T. Miller argues that the brilliance of the American Constitution is that it “creates a system of procedures for selecting public officials and ordering how they make decisions that are in the best interests of society.” Analyze one consequential presidential decision to determine to what extent, if any, the Constitution leads presidents to make good decisions.

The winning student essay will received a grand prize of $5,000, plus a trip to D.C. for 2. The teacher who sponsors the winning student will receive a prize of $1,000. Additional cash prizes are available. Find prize and rule details here. The essay contest deadline is Friday, December 15, 2016.

Saturday Webinar 2016-17 Season: Landmark Supreme Court Cases

Announcing the 10 LANDMARK SUPREME COURT CASES Webinar Series

Building on the success of our last two years of Saturday WebinarsAmerican Controversies and American Presidents – we invite you to join our 10 Landmark Supreme Court Cases webinar series during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Drawing from our list of 50 Core Documents and related sources, TAH.org’s Saturday Webinar series is designed to help teachers develop a deeper understanding of the historical, political, constitutional, and social dimensions of 10 of America’s most important Supreme Court cases. Each month a different panel of scholars – experts in their fields –discuss the topic at hand, with Dr. Chris Burkett of Ashland University as moderator, and a live online audience of teachers.

Document links will be updated throughout the season, at least a month in advance of each episode.

Register for the 2016-17 season

Plessy v. Ferguson: May 18th, 1896

May 18th is the anniversary Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the doctrine of “equal, but separate” was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. This landmark case helped to cement the Jim Crow laws already prevalent throughout the South, and paved the way for another 60 years of legal segregation before it was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Learn more about the details and historical context of this case at TeachingAmericanHistory.org, where it’s one of our 50 Core Documents. The case, with Justice Harlan’s dissenting opinion that the “Constitution is color-blind,” is also accompanied by a summary, guiding questions, links to related documents, and a search tool to help you find state academic standards relevant to the case.

Our 2016-17 Saturday Webinars will focus on developing a deeper understanding of Landmark Supreme Court Cases, including Plessy v. Ferguson. Registration details will be published soon. In the meantime, you can access all our archived webinars, and subscribe to our iTunes podcast, too.

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.

Session 30 pt2: The Reagan Era and the New Deal Legacy; George W. Bush’s Founding Faith

Prof. Kesler:  

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Focus

Reagan seemed to campaign against Roosevelt’s legacy, but delighted in pointing out that he voted for him four times. Yet, he seemed to be interested in cutting back the size of the federal government and making its programs less ambitious. What were his purposes in doing so? Was his failure to cut back the size of government due primarily to Reagan’s policies during an era of “divided government,” or rather more a reflection of FDR’s success?
President Bush seems intent on arguing that his policies, both domestic and foreign, derive directly from the principles of the founding. He argues that self-government needs to be re-invigorated and places emphasis on the obligations of citizenship, and sometimes public spiritedness is difficult. He reminds us that citizenship is not a matter of birth and blood, but rather, “we are bound by ideals,” and those ideals have to be learned. Is he right? Are his arguments about the philosophical and historical heritage he appeals to persuasive?


Readings:
George W. Bush:

Session 30 pt1: Martin Luther King, Jr; Malcolm X

Dr. Lucas Morel:  

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Focus

Does King’s proposal for a “Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged” indicate a shift from his earlier vision of the American dream? Does King’s advocacy of “compensatory or preferential treatment” look more to race or poverty as its justification? Is the G.I. Bill of Rights a good analogy for King’s promotion of a federal, economic program to help blacks and the disadvantaged, generally? What does “black power” mean to King?
How does Malcolm X’s theology inform his political thinking? Malcolm X insists that there is no legitimate intermediate position between “the ballot” and “the bullet.” He is highly critical of King’s reliance on “civil” disobedience. Is he correct? How does his understanding of political action, and particularly the justification for violence, compare to the right of revolution as articulated by John Locke and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence? Why did Malcolm X reject integration as an aim of the civil rights struggle? Why must Black Nationalism be an internationalist movement?
Readings:
    Martin Luther King, Jr.:

  • King, Why We Can’t Wait (1964)
    • Chap. 8, “The Days to Come,” 116-143
  • King, I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches
    • “Black Power Defined” (June 11, 1967), 153-65
    • “I See the Promised Land” (April 3, 1968), 193-203
  • Fairclough, Better Day Coming, chap. 11-12
Malcolm X:

Session 29: Brown v. Board of Education; Martin Luther King, Jr., Non-Violent Resistance, and the American Dream

Dr. Lucas Morel:  

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Focus

In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court briefly traces the history of public schools in America. How does this help the Court argue against racially segregated schools? What role do legal precedents play in the Court’s argument against “separate but equal” schools? What is meant by “intangible considerations” and how does this help the Court establish that the mere act of separating school children by race produces an unequal education? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Court’s opinion in Brown? If segregated schools did not produce “a feeling of inferiority” on the part of black children, would these schools be unconstitutional according to Brown?
Why does King reject force as a response to oppression? What is the major concern of the white clergymen who counsel King to stay away from Birmingham? What are the four stages of civil disobedience? How does King’s nonviolent resistance against a particular law actually support obedience to the government and laws? Why does King blame white moderates more than fringe elements like the Ku Klux Klan for lack of progress in securing civil rights for black Americans?
Readings

Brown v. Board of Education

Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Supplemental/Optional Readings
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: Writings–The Crisis, “Marcus Garvey” (Dec. 1920/Jan. 1921), 969-979
  • Klarman, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, “Brown’s Backlash,” 385-440
  • Fairclough, Better Day Coming, chaps. 6-8

Session 28: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP

Juan Williams:  

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Focus

What role did Thurgood Marshall play in the Civil Rights Movement? What was his view of the American founding? What was his opinion of contemporary activists for civil rights, like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X?
Readings

Session 27: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Democratic Leadership

Prof. Kesler:  

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Focus

The political and constitutional legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt is impressive. What was his extraordinary achievement? In what ways did he improve upon Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s, and the Progressives’ understanding of democratic life and political structures? How did his New Deal envision a powerful, active, and programmatically ambitious national government? How was this related to the possibility of self-government? What is his legacy?

Session 26: The Progressive Reform and Self-Government

Prof. Kesler:  

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Focus

The Progressives fought for reform at the turn of the century. What principled form did their criticism take of the Declaration, the Constitution, and political decentralization take? They revered Lincoln, yet did not emulate his devotion to the Declaration of Independence, but invoked the preamble to the Constitution to make democracy more active. Jefferson’s and Hamilton’s views became living arguments again, but with interesting shifts. Self-government was in need of some assistance. What effect did their reforms—for example, direct primaries, initiative, referendum—have on federalism, separation of powers, and political parties? What legacy did the Progressives, Woodrow Wilson in particular, leave the nation?

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

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