We the Teachers

How to Talk Politics and Religion in the American History Classroom

In today’s national conversation, which lately seems more like a countrywide schoolyard brawl with citizens hurling insults and memes, it can be challenging to explore complex ideas. Politics and religion, especially, can raise hackles of anger where there should be openness and understanding. Many teachers try to steer clear of these “touchy” topics in the interest of keeping the peace. But there is nothing peaceful about ignoring and avoiding those events that have formed–and continue to shape–our country’s history.

The American History classroom, rather, should be an engaging and robust place to explore these ideas. And when teachers introduce primary sources into the conversation, the dynamic changes dramatically.

When structuring conversations around primary documents, teachers allow students to use their critical thinking skills to draw their own conclusions. While contemporary opinion pieces, satire, and viral social media phenomena can teach us a lot about our culture, foundational historical documents lead us to the roots of our national identity and should be at the core of any student’s education about religion and politics in the United States.

Imagine the impact these primary sources, unfiltered by social media and news outlets, can have on today’s students:

  • Sermons, poetry, and artwork that chronicle the diverse religious experiences of immigrants and religious liberty.
  • Excerpts of colonial law that grapple with the relationship between religious establishment and toleration.
  • Excerpts of founding documents that set the stage for the American political experience with religion.
  • Court cases that document the revolutionary, and often tenuous, separation of church and state.
  • Documents, addresses, and sermons that address the political-religious relationship with morals, evolution, communism, fundamentalism, liberalism, philosophy, education, and the Bible.

By studying primary documents, students will learn that while the United States was founded on the separation of church and state, politics and religion have been closely intertwined. They will also learn that it is not just acceptable to discuss religion and politics in the classroom but appropriate and timely, given our history.

As an instructor, you may feel somewhat ill at ease with addressing these documents, but TeachingAmericanHistory.org offers plenty of support so that you can feel empowered to provide your students with the resources they need to develop informed opinions and grow into thoughtful, engaged citizens.

Register for our Religious Freedom Seminar in July to immerse yourself in this subject or request the 2-Volume Core Documents for adaptation in your classroom. You can also find more resources on Politics and Religion in America at https://religioninamerica.org/.

SYNOPSIS: Using primary documents in your American History classroom lesson plans can help you break through the buzz of fake news and introduce challenging conversations at the heart of politics and religion.

Fourth Volume of Core Documents Collections – World War II Now Available!

The fourth volume of the American History and Government Core Documents Collections – World War II – is now available!

Get your copy on iTunesKindle, and PDFHard copies are also available for $10 each – email dmitchell@tah.org if you would like a copy, or you can buy it on Amazon!

Sign up for early access to each upcoming volume!

This volume begins its story – focused on the experience of the war in America, but not neglecting the experience of Americans who fought – in 1935, as Americans expressed their wariness of involvement in another European war by passing a neutrality act. It recounts the debate over neutrality as conflict approached and then overwhelmed Europe. All such debate ended with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but new issues arose as the war churned on, including internment of Japanese Americans; the treatment of African-Americans in the United States and in its Armed Forces; the role of women in the war effort and how this might change their lives after the war; and the principles that should shape the post-war world. These issues and the two events with which the collection ends – the Nuremberg trials and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – foreshadow the world the war helped bring about.

As in the other volumes, each Core Documents 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 – all united in their commitment to equality and liberty, yet so often divided by their different understandings of these most fundamental American ideas.

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!

Core American Documents – Sign Up for Early Access to New Volumes!

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.

Each Core American Documents 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 – 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. 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.

SIGN UP and receive early access to each volume!

Third Volume of Core Documents Collections – The Constitutional Convention OUT NOW!

The third volume of the American History and Government Core Documents Collections – the Constitutional Convention – is now available on iTunes and PDF. Hard copies are also available for $10 each – email dmitchell@tah.org if you would like a copy, or you can purchase it directly from Amazon.

Sign up for early access to each volume!

This collection of documents on the Constitutional Convention is part of our extended series of document collections covering major periods, themes, and institutions in American history and government. This is the second of four volumes that will cover the Founding of the United States. The American Founding, already published, is the capstone of the four. The others – this collection, and volumes on the ratification of the constitution and the Bill of Rights, which will follow it – tell aspects of the founding story in more detail.

The documents in this collection explain why the constitutional convention was held and illustrate the ideas of government and politics that the delegates carried with them to Philadelphia, ideas wrung from their reading and, more important, from the extensive experience of self-government the colonists had enjoyed. Its pages recount the Convention’s critical debates over the purpose and powers of government, the nature of representation, and the relation between the states and the central government. They recount as well the way that slavery and the interests of the various states shaped those debates. Together, the four volumes on the Founding provide the essentials for understanding the Founding as the Founders understood it.

As in the other volumes, each Core Documents 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 – all united in their commitment to equality and liberty, yet so often divided by their different understandings of these most fundamental American ideas.

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!

Second Volume of Core Documents Collections Now Available – The Great Depression and the New Deal!

Recently, TeachingAmericanHistory.org launched the first volume in the new 35-volume document collection.

The second volume of the American History and Government Core Document Collections – the Great Depression and the New Deal – is now available on iTunes, Kindle, and PDFHard copies are also available for $10 each – email dmitchell@tah.org if you would like a copy, or you can purchase it directly from Amazon.

Sign up for early access to each volume!

This collection of documents on the Depression and New Deal is the second volume in an extended series of document collections from the Ashbrook Center that will cover major periods, themes, and institutions in American history and government. The series began with a collection on the Founding. This volume follows appropriately, because it makes clear the reasons why and the degree to which Franklin Roosevelt intended the New Deal to be a re-founding of the American republic. In presenting the words that Roosevelt spoke, the collection shows us not only his arguments but his masterful rhetoric, which presented the New Deal as only an updating of the Founding. The collection presents as well the arguments of those who opposed the New Deal — Democrats as well as Republicans — and those who thought it did not go far enough. Taken together, the documents in the collection are an enlightening guide to one of the most consequential periods in American history.

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.

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!

TAH.org Feature Change: Standards Search Tool

For the last few years, TAH.org has incorporated a search tool into our documents library that has enabled teachers to search for documents based on state academic standards, or identify documents related to their standards. With changes to many states’ standards over the time, and the move away from the Common Core ELA standards in many states, we have decided to take a different route to helping teachers meet their standards-based lesson needs, and in so doing will end support for this website function by the end of December, 2017.

In a few months we will roll out a series of new website features and functions that will make the work of finding documents for your lessons easier and more accurate.

In the meantime, take a look at our American History Toolkits, which combine Essential Documents lists with curated website resources on several must-teach topics in American history and government.

Find Free Resources for Your American History Classroom!

If you’re like most teachers, you can’t help but put your students first. In fact, during lean budgetary times, you may even make sacrifices with your wallet. According to AdoptaClassroom.com’s 2015-2016 survey of 1,800 teachers, the average teacher spent $600 of their own money on supplies. When expenditures extend beyond pens and pencils to cover books and resources, that amount can easily go into the thousands. Many new teachers are told that if they want their students to be fully engaged with the curriculum, they’ll be spending personal money (and countless hours).

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Teachers of American History can cut their resource spending by 100% by accessing free resources that also happen to be the best for their students.

The Power of Primary Documents

TeachingAmericanHistory.org believes in the power of our country’s rich heritage of original documents–declarations, speeches, letters, and other materials that tell the complex story of the United States better than any textbook or worksheet. While these public domain works can always be searched and accessed for free, TAH saves you much more time and money by curating the documents for you, writing associated guiding questions, and providing multimedia resources in American History Toolkits that can be taught as self-contained units:

  • The American Founding
  • Expansion & Sectionalism
  • Civil War & Reconstruction
  • The Progressive Era
  • The Great Depression & World War 2
  • Civil Rights

What’s more, you can align your free curriculum to state and Common Core standards by using a simple Standards Search Tool that allows you to search from standard to document or document to standard, ensuring that your resources are not only engaging, but on target for your instructional requirements and goals.

Professional Development That Won’t Break the Bank

Think you have to spend your own money on classes and professional development, too? TAH.org believes in providing American History teachers with free opportunities to learn, grow, and get inspired. We offer seminars to K-12 teachers in public, independent, parochial, and charter schools. These half and full-day events, offered at no cost to the participant, model sound and engaging teaching by using primary documents as the foundation for learning. At the end of the program, you will receive certificate for the hours you spend with us for the day. You also have the option to earn one graduate credit from attending a seminar and creating your lesson plan based on documents and ideas discussed in the program. Provided in partnership with Ashland University, this option costs just $200.

Good teachers don’t have to empty their personal bank accounts in order to engage their students. With TAH resources, you can work smarter, not harder, and spend nothing in the process.

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.

Join TAH.org at NCSS in San Francisco!

Representatives from TAH.org will be at NCSS in San Francisco, November 17th and 18th, 2017. Jeremy Gypton, Michelle Hubenschmidt, and Chris Pascarella will be on the exhibitor floor with information about our teacher programs, Master’s programs, and online resources. Additionally, Michelle will be meeting with various national and state-level Social Studies leaders throughout the conference, so if you’re attending the Council of State Social Studies Specialists (CS4) meetings you might see her. Jeremy is taking part in a panel session with other members of the Civics Renewal Network (CRN), detailed below.

Session #761: Civics is Cool Again: Debating Our Constitution
Friday, November 17, 10:00 – 11:00 am
Room: 2020, Moscone Center West

Webinars for 2017-18

TAH.org is excited to announce two 10-episode webinars series for the 2017-18 school year. Both series are free to attend, feature live, documents-based discussions between scholars with questions taken from a national audience of teachers, and all attendees to the live shows will receive a downloadable certificate worth 2 hours of continuing education time.

Saturday Webinars: Our flagship series, going into its fourth full season, these 75-minute programs each focus on a single topic, event, person, or idea. For the 17-18 school year, TAH.org presents “Moments of Crisis” – 10 events in American history and politics that challenged our people, systems, and traditions. All episodes air at 11am EST on their show date. Register for Saturday Webinars here.

Documents in Detail: Our new series, going into its first full season, these 60-minute programs take place typically on the third Wednesday of each month, at 7pm EST. Each episode will focus on one document, this year drawn from our collection of 50 Core American Documents. Spanning American history from 1776 to 1964, each episode is a deep-dive into a single document, exploring its historical context, ideas, language, and impact on politics, law, and culture. Register for Documents in Detail here.

New Resource on TAH.org

Incorporating the Federalist Papers into American Government and American History courses is both important and challenging, given the complexity of the language. Doing the same with Anti-Federalist writings is compounded by the vast and varied collection of essays, speeches, and articles that can be categorized as fitting under that heading. This is further complicated bythe fact that most Antifederalist writings are barely mentioned by name in contemporary history and government texts.

TAH.org has added a resource to the Federalist-Antifederalist Debates exhibit that aims to make it easier for teachers to use the words of the Federalists and Antifederalists to help get to the root of the major differences between those broad camps: those who supported the Constitution and those, for whatever reasons, did not.

Take a look at the Purpose, Structure, and Powers of government and you’ll find a list of key issues from 1787-1788, with essential Federalist and Antifederalist writings chosen for each. For example, if you would like to learn about the two sides’ positions on the role of the executive, it is suggested that you read Federalist 71 and An Olde Whig V.

Use this new resource to help your students read Founding era documents for a purpose, and to help them understand the ideas that animated the debates between Americans at the Founding, and how many of these issues are still being debated today.

Pennsylvania Teacher Testifies to Benjamin Franklin’s Wonderful Life

Talk with teachers participating in TAH.org’s programs, and you learn that many have cultivated a deep knowledge of the history of their states, counties, and towns. Local history it is not emphasized in most school curricula. Yet teachers find that pointing students toward this history can help students make connections between past and present. It also encourages civic-mindedness, helping students to understand American government as a federal system, in which citizens take responsibility for local and state government.

A statue of Benjamin Franklin stands near the original site of Fort Allen (photo by Mike Feifel).

A statue of Benjamin Franklin stands near the original site of Fort Allen (photo by Mike Feifel).

Teachers who bring knowledge of their specific region to Ashbrook Masters seminars sometimes instruct the faculty. Professor Christopher Flannery speaks of a remarkable moment in a class he taught on the writings of Benjamin Franklin. In his Autobiography, Franklin mentions his brief military service during the French and Indian War. A seminar student – Mike Feifel, a teacher at Lehighton Area High School, near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – offered Flannery and classmates an in-depth account of this episode.

Feifel explained that at the outset of the war, Franklin, as Pennsylvania representative to the continental Albany Congress, had attempted to organize a united governing council and militia for the colonies. The royal governor had not accepted his plan, and the threat posed by French-allied native American tribes to settlers along the frontier persisted.

Some of these settlers were Moravian missionaries who had founded a settlement called New Gnadenhutten – at the site of present-day Lehighton – for British-allied Indians, members of the Lenni Lenape tribe. Considered traitors by the Indians now fighting alongside the French to oust the British settlers, the Lenni Lenape had been hounded from their traditional hunting grounds.  The Moravians offered these native Americans their “Huts of Mercy” settlement, providing instruction in the gospel along with a stable community. They helped the Lenni Lenape build homes, while living themselves in one mission house just across the Lehigh River.

On November 24, 1755, the Moravians were eating dinner when a party of hostile Indians attacked. The Moravians were pacifists. Those not immediately killed fled to the attic, dying when the Indians set fire to the house.

“I pass by the site every day on my way to school,” Feifel said. The spot is marked with a marble burial stone and an historical placard that tells the story of the massacre.

The mass grave of the victims of the Gnadenhutten massacre (photo by Mike Feifel).

The mass grave of the victims of the Gnadenhutten massacre (photo by Mike Feifel).

The alarm caused by the massacre and a failed retaliation forced Deputy Governor Robert Morris to act. He gave Franklin the title of Colonel and put him in charge of frontier defense. A highly capable administrator and communicator, Franklin recounts in his autobiography how he had raised supplies from Pennsylvania farmers for British General Bratton’s earlier disastrous venture to retake Fort Duquesne. However, he says, “I had not so good an opinion of my military Abilities as [Governor Morris] professed to have.”

“Franklin had not spent a day of his life in a military campaign,” said Feifel, who’s done independent research in Franklin’s letters. Yet Franklin traveled to the frontier settlement of Bethlehem, mustered troops, and planned an attack on the tribe who had destroyed the Gnadenhutten settlement. “On the morning of his 50th birthday, Franklin was about to set out when he got word that muskets he had brought and supplied settlers with had failed to fire during another Indian attack.” American muskets required gunpowder that didn’t ignite in wet weather. “Franklin set out anyway, but then, as his soldiers marched through a narrow, wooded gorge, he saw they were vulnerable to hidden attackers.” He ordered a retreat.

Instead of going to meet the foe, Franklin resolved to build forts. These became Fort Allen, Fort Franklin, and Fort Norris, and offered strongholds to which settlers could run when attacked. “It was a huge advance for the undefended area,” Feifel told his classmates.

“In 1758, the Treaty of Easton brought a truce between British settlers and the hostile tribes. The last Indian massacre in the area occurred in 1763,” as the French and Indian War neared conclusion. Feifel credits Franklin’s initiative and leadership with securing the Pennsylvania frontier.

He pointed out to the seminar that this region would be critical to the nation’s industrialization. Here, anthracite coal would be discovered, and Josiah White would build canal to take coal to Philadelphia. Coal would later fuel the steel industry that grew up around Bethlehem. The area would also become the birthplace of organized labor, where the “Molly Maguires” first organized.

White would donate some of his profits from Lehigh River navigation to found schools for Native Americans. One of these, Carlisle Industrial Indian School (now Carlisle College), educated the great athlete Jim Thorpe.

“All of this happened because of what Franklin did,” Feifel told fellow students in Flannery’s Ashbrook seminar.

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

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