We the Teachers

Weekend Colloquium: Andrew Jackson

From 3-5 November, TAH.org hosted 18 teachers from across the country in Nashville, TN, for a Liberty Fund co-sponsored colloquium on Andrew Jackson. Meeting for six 90-minute discussion sessions throughout the weekend, the teachers studied Jackson’s public life, with an eye toward seeking to describe and make sense of his political philosophy and how and why he sought to change American politics of his day.

Of special consideration was his role as something of an avatar for his age – the only era of American history named after a single person – and how his views shaped his politics, and how his politics changed America, giving the country its oldest political party – the Democrats – and elevating the cause of the ‘common man’ to being on par with what had up to that point been a rule of mostly Virginia planter elites. This American populism has continued to shape our politics, policies and institutions to this day.

Weekend Colloquium: Abraham Lincoln

TAH.org and Liberty Fund co-sponsored a weekend colloquium in Springfield, Illinois, October 13-15. 17 teachers from across the country gathered to study the public life of Abraham Lincoln, working through a collection of documents that spanned from his first run for state office, to Frederick Douglass’ memorialization of him in 1876. In addition to the six discussion sessions, teachers visited both the Lincoln home and presidential museum.

Team-Teaching Social Studies and Language Arts in a Rigorous Project-Based Curriculum

Teachers who aim to impart critical thinking skills must be willing to trust their students. Trust is essential to a range of teaching strategies, but one very interesting example appears in the work of Cathy Alderman and Steve Main, who partner in a combined Social Studies and Language Arts program at Anderson New Tech High School in Anderson, California. They allow trust—and accountability—to regulate the pace and direction of the curriculum.

Alderman, a graduate of Ashland University’s Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program, teaches Political Studies, a required course for seniors that combines English, American Government, and Economics in an integrated curriculum at Anderson New Tech. Students at New Tech are given responsibility for the management of their own education from the first day of their freshman year, due to the school’s use of a rigorous version of “project-based learning” modeled after the team-based work environment of corporate America. With English instructor Steve Main, Alderman team-teaches both the freshman and the senior classes at Anderson New Tech, introducing new students to the project-based model and later pushing them, as seniors, to complete a months-long research project in which students work in teams to investigate local civic challenges.

Anderson and Main jointly plan and lead class sessions and work together to coach students through projects, assessing their work at regular intervals. Partnering with an English instructor has given Alderman the confidence to put the exposition of primary documents into the hands of students themselves. Main uses a combination of Socratic questioning and “scaffolding”—quickly filling conceptual gaps by, for example, explaining archaic vocabulary—to help freshman students closely read the primary documents covered at the beginning of the course: excerpts of 17th and 18th century English and American political theory, usually characterized by long periodic sentences. A few weeks into the fall semester, however, students are working through primary documents on their own. Class sessions become student-led discussions, sometimes conducted in a “fishbowl” style: a circle of eight students debate questions posed by both teachers. For example, after reading “Common Sense,” students are first asked to consider, “How does Paine ask you to prepare yourself for his ‘common sense’ arguments?”

Participants in the discussion must cite passages of the primary document to support their views. Meanwhile, the rest of the class takes notes on the debate, so that later they too can comment, challenging or supporting the interpretations they have heard. Alderman and Main trust the students to keep the discussion on track. “Students become very good at calling each other out for making claims that are not supported by the text,” Alderman says. “They’ll demand, ‘Where did you find that in the document?’”

These discussions early in the freshman year give students the confidence to undertake a later project when they divide into teams and research the earliest constitutions adopted by the newly independent states during the Revolution. Each team of three or four students assumes the identity of one of the thirteen states. They review early constitutions and other primary sources which shed light on the distinctive political perspective of their state. As each team digests and discusses the documents they have found, they come to understand their shared political principles and interests. Then all the teams meet in a mock convention, attempting to hammer out a single federal constitution. “When teams have so thoroughly and enthusiastically adopted the point of view of their states that they are unable to resolve their differences, it opens a discussion on the remarkable achievement of the Founders in 1787,” Alderman says. Students grasp an essential tenet of historical thinking, a tenet often obscured by the march of dates and facts that textbooks present: that political outcomes are not inevitable. Human beings, acting cooperatively or confrontationally in history, determine their own future. Moreover, students observe that in a free society, the ability of citizens to shape their own future is in the largest measure limited only by their ability to compromise.

In the second half of the freshman year, students to undertake a research project combining literature and geography, reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley while working in teams to research one of the towns Steinbeck describes in his memoir. Eventually they work up video presentations, pitching the town’s amenities and quality of life to the rest of the class, as if they were speaking for the local Chamber of Commerce.

“When you teach as we do,” Alderman says, “you are trusting students to reach their own conclusions. When you show this level of confidence in your students, and they see you are there to cheer them on rather than to dictate what they should think, they astonish you with their willingness to think, investigate, and even originate policy ideas.”

Liberty Fund Weekend Colloquium: Thomas Jefferson

15 teachers gathered in Charlottesville, VA, to discuss Thomas Jefferson through a collection of documents spanning most of his public life, and visit historic Monticello. Professor Todd Estes, of Oakland University, served as Discussion Leader for the weekend, facilitating sessions focusing on Jefferson’s ideas and writings during the American Revolution and presidency, in which teachers discussed the evolution of his political thought, and the complexity of his character as expressed through his ideas and, as president, his policies.

Teachers visited Monticello on Saturday, 18 March, where they toured the grounds and house, where they were able to see expressions of Jefferson’s mind at work in the many artifacts, art, and fascinating household gadgets he’d created and collected throughout his life there.

 

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.

Following in Ancient Footsteps: The Hopewell in Ohio

Our friends at the Ohio History Connection are pleased to announce their 2017 NEH Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop entitled Following in Ancient Footsteps: The Hopewell in Ohio.  This opportunity is open to all K-12 teachers in the United States, the US territories, and Department of Defense schools.

20150720_112536You are invited to join them this summer to learn about the internationally-significant sites of the Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures in Ohio: the Newark Earthworks, Fort Ancient, the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, and Serpent Mound. Attending Summer Scholars will experience these sites with expert scholars who will bring the sites to life; and learn about archeological methodology and teaching historic sites from practicing archaeologists and site educators. The one-week workshop will be run twice, July 9-14 and July 23-28, 2017, and is based in Columbus, Ohio. The program is free for accepted applicants and includes a stipend to aid in covering travel and other expenses. Teachers who have previously attended this workshop are not eligible. Applications are due March 1, 2017. For more information and application instructions, visit http://hopewell.creativelearningfactory.org

Program Report: Alexander Hamilton hosted at Fraunces Tavern, NYC

This last Saturday, October 15th, the esteemed Dr. Stephen Knott presented a Forum at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City.  Fifty-five teachers from several states gathered at this historic site, the very place where General Washington bid farewell to his troops at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.  Dr. Knott spoke on “Hamilton’s View of Federal Power”, “Launching the New Government” and “Cabinet Warfare: The Report on Manufacturing and the Whiskey Rebellion” as topics, as well as all facets of Hamilton’s life, his workings with Washington, the rivalry with Jefferson and the duel with Burr that ended his life. All participants received a copy of Dr. Knott’s latest book, “Washington and Hamilton: An Alliance That Forged America”   This program was generously funded by the Achelis & Bodman Foundations.  

Teachers at the Fraunces Tavern

Teachers at the Fraunces Tavern

 

Liberty Fund Weekend Colloquium: George Washington

This last weekend 18 teachers came to Alexandria, Virginia  for a Liberty Fund Colloquia on George Washington.  Topics of conversation considered Washington’s early life and the beginning of the Revolution and his advocacy for Federalism and Republicanism.  Teachers discussed the complexities of his first and second Presidencies, and the difficulty of setting new precedents while always remaining committed to the limits set forth within the Constitution.  We spoke at great length of Washington’s virtue, integrity, character and commitment to his nation.  Washington set for the standard by which all future Presidents were and are  judged.  After a long day of thoughtful discussion, teachers toured the Mount Vernon estate and the Presidential Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Liberty Fund Weekend Colloquium: Abraham Lincoln

Eighteen teachers from across the United States gathered in Springfield, IL, from 9-11 September to study Abraham Lincoln’s public life, through a broad selection of readings representing his early political career, the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and the phases of his presidency. Led by Dr. Joe Fornieri, teachers took part in six 90-minute discussion sessions throughout the weekend, and also visited the historic Lincoln Home and Lincoln Museum, both in Springfield.

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Creative Collaborations Among Teachers

The friendships that begin in the Master of Arts program in History and Government lead to a fertile exchange of teaching ideas. Recently they’ve led to teaching collaborations across time zones.

In this post, we share the story of two teachers who collaborated in assigning a local history project. Through it, students in California and Ohio learned that trends in national history have shaped their hometowns in parallel ways.

California and Ohio Teachers Collaborate on Local History Project

 

 

MAHG by the Numbers

On Saturday, August 13th, Ashland University awarded the degree of Master of Arts to 24 MAHG/MASTAHG students.  Since 2005, 174 students have earned the degree.

Twenty-two of these new graduates were in the MAHG program; two were in MASTAHG program.  They came from 15 states and include 14 James Madison Fellows.  Two students wrote a thesis, four created a capstone project, and 18 completed their studies via the qualifying examination.

There are now 244 students in the MAHG program; 75 in MASTAHG.  These students come from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and one US territory, the Virgin Islands (yeah, Norda!).

A free coffee mug to anyone who guesses which two states don’t have representatives in MAHG.  Two free coffee mugs if you enroll in the program from one of those states!

Students on campus this summer came from 36 states. For the Fall schedule of classes, go to https://www.ashland.edu/mahg/student-informationschedule-courses/fall-2016.  For more information, please contact Chris Pascarella at cpascarella@tah.org.

Program Reports: The Father of the Constitution and The New Frontier

TAH.org hosted two Colloquia the weekend of August 12-14: James Madison: The Father of the Consitution at Montpelier and John F Kennedy: The New Frontier in Quincy, Massachusetts.  

No single person contributed more to the constitutional mind of America than James Madison.  Through his contributions to the U.S. Constitution, Madison shaped this republican form of government.  Professor Chris Burkett, of Ashland University, led the conversation as teachers explored readings on religious liberty, the Federalist Papers, Bill of Rights and Madison’s final advice to his country.  Participants enjoyed a three hour tour of Montpelier and its beautiful grounds.  

Professor Stephen Knott, of the Naval War College, chaired the Weekend Colloquium on President John F. Kennedy, the nation’s youngest elected President.  This colloquium examined Kennedy’s brief presidency, including his Cold War policies toward the Soviet Union, Cuba, Berlin and Vietnam, his domestic initiatives on civil rights; as well as his lasting impact on the office of the presidency.  Teacher visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum as well.  

For more information and teacher resources, please visit our website www.teachingamericanhistory.org

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Ashbrook Teachers outside Montpelier

Ashbrook Teachers engaging in discussion during the Father of the Constitution colloquia.

Ashbrook Teachers engaging in discussion during the Father of the Constitution colloquia.

Program Report: August 5-7 Weekend Colloquia

This last weekend, Aug 5th-7th, TeachingAmericanHistory.org conducted two Weekend Colloquia at Historic Sites for forty-five teachers from across America.  

Professor Steve Knott, with the Naval War College, chaired the colloquia on “John Adams:  Founding Vice President and President” in Quincy, Massachusetts. John Adams had a lengthy and illustrious career, spanning over 40 years in public service. This weekend’s conversation focused on “The First Vice President” “Adams, Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton”,  “President John Adams” and the last session discussed “The Election of 1800 and It’s Aftermath.” Teachers also enjoyed a private tour of United First Parish Church, where John Adams and John Quincy Adams are buried, as well as tours of the Adams Homestead.  

Ashbrook Teachers tour the United First Parish Church in Quincy, MA, where John Adams and John Quincy Adams are buried

Ashbrook Teachers tour the United First Parish Church in Quincy, MA, where John Adams and John Quincy Adams are buried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Peter Myers, with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, led the colloquia on “Civil Rights in America” in Atlanta, Georgia. Teachers delved into primary documents that covered topics such as “Civil Rights: the Prologue” “The Turning Point: Brown v Board of Education” “The Civil Rights Movement: Victory and Division” and the “Post Civil Rights Era.”  Participants toured the Center for Civil and Human Rights for several hours.

Ashbrook Teachers outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights

Ashbrook Teachers outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about this program and other available teaching resources, please visit www.TeachingAmericanHistory.org.

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