We the Teachers

Minnesota Teacher of the Year Constantly Builds Her Content Knowledge

In March, the Minnesota Council of Social Studies named Heather Loeschke 2017 Teacher of the Year. Loeschke, a 2014 graduate of the Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program at Ashland University, has taught for 21 years—since 2001 at Cannon Falls Junior/Senior High School, a rural school 35 miles south of the Twin Cities. For many years a government teacher, she now also covers Advanced Placement US history. We asked her how TAH programs supported her development as a teacher.

Heather Loeschke with the colleague who nominated her for her award, Alan Amdahl of Albany Senior High School. Amdahl’s students have competed with Loeschke’s in “We the People” events that test students’ ability to practically apply their knowledge of the Constitution. “I have seen her kids in action. She does an awfully good job of preparing future citizens,” Amdahl said. “She brings the content of history and government to life.”

What is your philosophy of education?

 I believe education is like life—one never fully achieves knowledge, or finishes learning. Teachers get kids when their knowledge glass is fairly empty, so we provide them with information; but we must also provide them tools to become lifelong learners.

 Why did you enroll in the MAHG program?

 I was a history major in college. Then for many years I taught civics, developing a profound love of that subject—but I felt I needed more content knowledge, especially in history. I would be picking up the APUSH course at my high school when a colleague retired. You can’t fool a kid. If you don’t know the content, they know that you don’t know it, and you lose their attention and focus. Pedagogy is important, but that’s mostly smoke, bells and whistles.

When I was awarded the James Madison Fellowship that would fund my second MA (my first was in education), I called the University of Minnesota and universities in Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Iowa. I found that I could get an MA in history, but in political science, departments offered only PhD programs.

I had been part of a 2006 Teaching American History program, the Presidential Academy, where I met professors who teach in MAHG today. So I knew that MAHG was a serious program. It also fit my schedule and covered the content I needed: both history and government.

How did the MAHG program support your goals as an educator?

The MAHG experience is invaluable. Every single class I took in the program has benefitted me in some way. The course offerings allowed me to choose classes that would make me a stronger teacher in the areas I teach. I use documents we used in MAHG in APUSH, in government classes, and to help kids prepare for the We the People competition. I’ve even had friends I’ve met through MAHG get online and talk through speakerphone to my kids about different subjects.

People ask me, is MAHG a degree in history or a degree in government? I say, it’s a degree in both, but it’s all infused with Constitutional studies. It’s a nice blend.

This spring at our state social studies council meeting, recipients of teacher awards were asked to sit on a panel. We spoke to a standing-room only crowd about our philosophies as educators and about teaching approaches that we’ve found effective. Then we took questions. Teachers asked us, “What practices make you an excellent teacher?” All the other awardees talked about their lesson plans. I said that I’d earned two Masters and whenever possible attended seminars and conferences. I’ve visited historic places, met several Supreme Court justices, visited the White House, talked with Senators and been on the House floor, been in the Pentagon—really interesting places most people never get to visit. Going to conferences, I’ve met some extraordinary people.  I told teachers, “Sign up for a Teaching American History weekend seminar. You’ll read and discuss primary documents with extraordinary professors. You’ll network with other great teachers and see historic places. It will have a profound impact on your teaching.”

Do you need to know American history in order to understand US government?

Yes—and the reverse is also true. In order for our history to make sense, you have to understand our government. A teacher told me, “When I get kids in AP US Government, they have never in their entire lives taken a government class.” In her district, those who don’t take the AP option leave high school without any civics instruction. I asked, “How does your school district justify that?” She said, “They feel they get enough government content in their history classes.” Well, perhaps—if the teacher is well versed in both. We do kids a disservice if we don’t require government. Many problems in politics today arise because voters have never read the Constitution and never taken a look at American history.  Citizens argue the Electoral College should be abolished, not knowing why the Founders created it; or they don’t see that our system of checks and balances is being eroded, as Congress fails to use its Constitutional powers to keep the executive branch in check.

What did you find most challenging in the MAHG program?

We not only had to read documents carefully; we also wrote careful analyses of them. I became a much better writer and a much better reader by going through the MAHG program.

Shortly after I began the MAHG program, they offered the final comprehensive exam as an alternative to a thesis or capstone. I thought, “There’s no way I’m doing that! How can I retain all the information implied in the word ‘comprehensive’”? Yet when it came down to it, I realized the exam would allow me to develop my ideas in smaller chunks, even though I would do as much writing for the exam as I would for a thesis. Also, opting for the exam meant that I would take three more classes. When I say that, people look incredulous. I explain, “I got to go back to campus, be immersed in that world, be with professors I enjoy and friends I love being with.”

How did writing for the MAHG degree benefit your teaching?

When I took over the APUSH course, it was being dramatically overhauled by the College Board to incorporate a lot more writing. My MAHG experience helped me teach the LEQ (long essay questions) as well as DBQs (document-based questions). Everything that we wrote for MAHG was a document-based question: our essays reflected on the readings we’d been discussing all week.

In order to become a good writer, you really have to practice. You also have to read lots of good writing—and all the documents we read are well written.

What is the most important thing your students need to learn in order to become participating citizens in our democratic republic?

They need to learn how government works and how it affects them. I tell students, “Government will affect your life whether you learn about it or not. But whether it is a positive or negative impact is entirely up to you. If you don’t know the right questions or whom to ask, the wheels of government will roll right over you.” In class, I refer to the words of statesmen I read in the MAHG program. I quote Madison, who said in Federalist 51 that the Constitutional provisions for checks and balances can only go so far; ultimately, “Our dependence is upon the people.” Citizens must thoughtfully exercise their right to vote.

Summer 2017 History and Literature Seminar 

This July, TAH.org introduces a new program for teachers of American history and American literature. Our three-day History & Literature seminars will examine key themes in American history through study of both historical documents and literary texts. Each cross-curricular seminar is open to both social studies and English/language arts teachers at any level, and each will be co-taught by a literary scholar and a historian or political scientist.

The program addresses two needs spoken of by teachers in our programs: the social studies teacher’s need of fiction and poetry to bring historical issues alive; and the language arts teacher’s need to understand the historical context of fiction and verse. Since we are hearing that secondary schools increasingly use cross-curricular methods, even pairing social studies and language arts teachers in related courses, we hope to encourage conversation between the two disciplines. Part of that dialogue necessarily includes teaching strategies. Hence, two high school teachers experienced in integrating history and government content with literature will help to facilitate our first course in the interdisciplinary program.

Our first course in the series is:

Equality and Liberty in American History & Literature

Tuesday evening, July 11, 2017 to Friday, July 14, 2017

 Lucas Morel, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University in Virginia will co-teach the seminar with Kathleen Pfeiffer, Professor of English at Oakland University in Michigan.  Morel, a long-time Visiting Professor in the Master of Arts in American History and Government program at Ashland University, specializes in American government, political theory, Abraham Lincoln, and black American politics. His publications include Lincoln’s Sacred Effort: Defining Religion’s Role in American Self-Government as well as Ralph Ellison and the Raft of Hope: A Political Companion to Invisible Man. Pfeiffer teaches and researches African-American literature (especially that of the Harlem Renaissance), as well as the biography as a genre. Her publications include Brother Mine: The Correspondence of Jean Toomer and Waldo Frank and Race Passing and American Individualism

This seminar will be held on the campus of Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. For information on fees, on-campus room and board, and to register for the course, please visit our website.

To show how a thoughtful political theorist can shed light on a literary text, we offer an interview with Lucas Morel, speaking about the novel that last month won the Pulitzer: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Morel has already taught the novel at Washington and Lee.

Lucas Morel on Teaching Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”

Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad, which won the 2016 National Book Award for fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, presents teachers of American history and literature an opportunity to immerse students in the harsh reality of slavery, but it also presents pedagogical challenges. The Pulitzer committee called the novel “a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.” Not an ordinary historical novel—some have called it an example of “magical realism”—it aims at symbolic rather than literal historical truth. Whitehead invents an actual subterranean railroad, with a variety of trains, train stops, and conductors, to dramatize the varied and threatening social terrain an escaping slave had to cross before attaining freedom. This is only one of many liberties Whitehead takes with history as he tells the story of Cora, a young woman fleeing a Georgia plantation with a savagely cruel owner.

Professor Lucas Morel taught the novel to students at Washington and Lee last fall. We asked him about guiding students through the fantasy aspects of the novel toward the historical reality it depicts.

  1. We expect historical novelists to vividly evoke a time period. Whitehead seems to lift incidents and trends from across three centuries and transplant them all into one decade. Why does Whitehead depart from fact in this way?

Historical novelists face a problem. The closer the history depicted is to the facts, the greater the challenge to keep the reader suspended in his disbelief and to let the plot, characters and dialogue do their work. Instead of just following the story, the reader wonders if this or that episode really happened.  (Just as with Spielberg’s Lincoln movie, in which Daniel Day Lewis acted his way to a record 3rd Academy award for Best Actor, every historian is asked, “Did Lincoln really say that?”)  The reader begins to treat the novel as a documentary rather than a tale that uses a mixture of fact and fiction to tell a larger truth. Colson Whitehead actually has a character say, “Sometimes a useful delusion is better than a useless truth.” No clearer statement of the grand aim of his novel could be made!  This remark occurs near the end of the book, as if to answer an objection in the mind of the reader who knows the story has played fast and loose with American history. It’s just one of several heavy-handed statements put in the mouths of characters to make sure the reader gets a lesson Whitehead wants them to learn. These statements depart from the usual rule of fiction-writing: “Show, don’t tell.” Still, Whitehead’s novel—even though I disagree with some of its teachings—raises questions about such important issues in American history and political development that I believe it’s worth reading.

Regarding his compression into a decade historical events and incidents that actually took place across a few centuries, I’m guessing Whitehead wanted to deal with race and America in one fell literary swoop.  Race still matters, still infects how Americans relate to one other socially and especially politically, even after the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th-15th Amendments, not to mention the achievements of the modern Civil Rights Movement and the election (and re-election) of a black president. Whitehead must think that it needs to remain a subject of discussion that extends beyond the domain of politicians.  He does present events of which most Americans are probably not aware.  One wonders whether his readers will be shocked more by his depictions of these events or by the subsequent discovery that they actually occurred!

Does this work as a story?  For the most part, yes.  That’s due to Whitehead’s craft, e.g., the way he gets the reader to invest in his protagonist, Cora, who attempts to escape from a plantation through an actual underground railroad—the greatest conceit of the book, but one I also believe works.  It invites discussion and reflection upon the nature of the American regime and how an individual or society can move from expressing mere will, self-interest, and force to pursuing justice, self-government, and civilization.  The great political question of right versus might is a central theme of the novel.  Although I disagree with Whitehead’s rendering of the meaning and significance of America and her development as a nation, he does prompt readers to ponder these things.

  1. How might teachers deal with the historical background of the novel?

In interviews, Whitehead indicates he researched extensively American slavery and the slave trade. He wouldn’t need to draw much from outside the long American experience with slavery and accounts of what the worst enslavers and overseers did to maintain control over large numbers of slaves.  One particularly garish event of torture in the beginning of the novel struck me as almost beyond credulity. But perhaps the author meant to convey that, because the law and social practice sided with the enslaving class, there was little that a master could not do when it came to enforcing his will. It’s true that slave owners occasionally set ghastly examples to ensure the strict obedience of the rest of their slaves. Whitehead depicts a contest between the brutalization of human beings and the spirit of freedom, showing how the humanity of the enslaved expressed itself in the most trying situations, even in the pecking order slaves imposed upon themselves—a semblance of culture—and in Cora’s resistance to injustice even in the slaves’ internal affairs.

Whitehead gives the devil his due, that’s for sure, but he also shows the tremendous ingenuity, improvisation, and agency of human beings subject to the near-absolute control of legal masters.  Here he has learned from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which illustrates how those treated as second-class citizens and considered inferior by nature display their humanity in ways that are misunderstood or simply overlooked by those in power. For example, Ellison’s invisible man is able to power 1,369 light bulbs in his apartment without the Monopolated Light and Power Company tracing that current drain to his hole in the ground! In a very similar way, Whitehead shows us an incredible underground railroad, an engineering feat accomplished apparently by the black slaves themselves. In this Whitehead asks the question, “Has this country been built by hands and minds that we don’t have a clue about—or deliberately left out of our histories?” And this work is heroic. As free human beings, they risked their lives to build something they themselves may never have gotten the chance to use.

The novel should motivate those unfamiliar with the history of race in America to learn more about its role in our social and political development. In classrooms using the book, students might research and report on incidents in the novel that appear historical. It would take a student only about 8 seconds on the Internet to discover that the Underground Railroad was not a literal railroad, and then he could research what it actually was. Other students might research incidents that did occur in our past yet not in such a short space of time.  A reminder at the outset that Whitehead’s novel is a work of fiction would be in order, and that by working upon our imaginations, the author seeks to engage us in important questions regarding the human condition—and how our founding and development as a nation may have reflected, improved, or retarded that condition.

The novel prompts us to ask: what would it take for Cora not simply to flee from oppression but also to find safety, security, and prosperity for herself and those she loves? Is true community possible? What are its requirements, and what are obstacles to it? And can these thrive generation over generation?  Lincoln addressed these questions pretty much throughout his public career, from his Lyceum Address of 1838 to his most famous speech at Gettysburg.

  1. By the end of Whitehead’s novel, Cora seems the lone survivor of the many who sought freedom and the few who tried to help them gain it. Does Whitehead think you have to be a person of extraordinary character and will to free yourself from an unjust political and social system?

Only a small percentage of slaves attempted to escape, and fewer were successful in the attempt. (Resistance most likely took other forms.) Whitehead illustrates the tremendous difficulty of escape, especially for those furthest from a free state border. In part, he’s countering those who, imagining that they themselves would never have allowed themselves to become enslaved or to remain in slavery, claim that African American slaves were somehow content with their misery (this seems a veiled form of white supremacy, analogous to those who wonder why Jews did not do more to avoid or escape their plight under Nazi Germany, a question Hannah Arendt discussed in her controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil).

Still, I think Whitehead fails to offer a completely honest account of America.  While illustrating the ways slavery contradicts America’s highest principles, he gives short shrift to the power of those principles and the individuals of various races who struggled—ultimately successfully—to bring those principles to bear on America’s development as a nation, both politically and socially.

I keep using the word “development” because America is and remains a work in progress—and this not because its principles are flawed or its people any more deficient or vicious than those of any other nation.  As President Bill Clinton remarked in his First Inaugural Address, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” Yet for Whitehead, the distinctive aspects of America are its flaws. The character Lander, an orator, writer, and escaped slave residing on Valentine Farm in Indiana (a former slave state), seems to speak for Whitehead in observing that “America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. . . . This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty.”  He then adds, “Yet here we are,” suggesting that good happens despite America, not because of it.

For me, the most redeeming feature of America is the clearest expression of its noblest ideals and aspirations: the Declaration of Independence.  This document appears twice in the novel, first as the memorized speech of a slave (Michael) who gets trotted out to amuse the guests of the vicious slave-owner Terrance Randall. Later, a more favorable rendering of the Declaration’s principles occurs on the Valentine Farm, where Cora finds sanctuary.  But even here, its principal truths, declared to be “self-evident,” are not taken as such, but rather likened to “a map”: “You trust that it’s right, but you only know by going out and testing it yourself.”  In the end, Whitehead seems to say that freedom is what you make of it. President Obama liked to say, “that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing” and “while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”

But what test does Whitehead envision to prove the truth of the Declaration’s claims?  How would one refute the argument made by Ridgeway, the novel’s slave-catcher par excellence and Cora’s nemesis, that freedom is simply the will of the stronger?  “The American imperative,” Ridgeway calls it, declaring, “If the white man wasn’t destined to take this new world, he wouldn’t own it now. Here was the true Great Spirit, the divine thread connecting all human endeavor—if you can keep it, it is yours. Your property, slave or continent.”

  1. Would you say Ridgeway represents one pole of American thinking about liberty: that it resides in a particular people’s “manifest destiny”or that free government is simply a matter of “popular sovereignty”?

That view has been maintained by Stephen Douglass and by Southern Confederates, but it is not the view expressed at our founding. I see equality and liberty as in a way the same thing. According to the Declaration, to speak of liberty is to speak of that which we possess equally. I have no more and no less liberty than you do—that’s the meaning of American equality. The potential conflict is between equality and consent. We possess equality and liberty by endowment from our Creator, or by nature. What we are not given is the security to enjoy and exercise them. That’s where human beings have to do their work. It’s as if God says, “Here’s liberty; good luck with that!” Jefferson reflects the Lockean view: people first understand what they have by God’s endowment or by nature, then they realize they are vulnerable without a way to protect this. That’s why it is also self-evident “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from consent of the governed.”

Jefferson’s slaves had the same amount of liberties naturally as he did, yet they were being deprived by law and practice of the free exercise of it. The question is, did the Founders set us on a course where the structures of society, as well as the ideals, could work together so that over time, as Lincoln said, we could press into reality that which was true but wasn’t being respected? American political development is a long effort to get people to channel their consent to the equal protection of what we all possess.


Apply for July National Seminar for High School Educators

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) invites you to apply for the 2017 National Seminar for High School Educators on July 16-18 and July 19-21 in Washington, DC.

The 24-hour professional development program is free to middle school and high school educators interested in teaching about the history of communism and its collectivist legacy.

Registration is open to all educators currently teaching at the middle school and high school levels. Lunch is provided all three days; there is a reception on the first evening, and a dinner on the second evening. There is no cost to attend the seminars. Teachers, however, are responsible for their transportation to and accommodations in Washington, DC, and may apply for scholarship support of up to $1,000 to offset travel expenses.

The applications for the program and scholarships are available at the link below. Early registration is encouraged, as remaining spaces are limited.


If you have additional questions, please contact murray.bessette@victimsofcommunism.org or 202.629.9500.


Coming Summer 2017: American History Toolkits

Beginning in early August, TAH.org will add a series of American History Toolkits, which are topically-focused collections, each made up of resources from around the site, and organized to provide for easy access to a variety of materials for teachers. Our initial collection is made up of the following topics, which address some of the major eras and issues in American history and government.

  • The American Founding – trace the development of the American Idea of government from the years leading up to the Revolution through George Washington’s terms as president
  • Expansion & Sectionalism– the country grew swiftly during the first half of the 19th Century, and with that growth came opportunities, challenges, and eventually problems that drove the country to turn on itself.
  • Civil War & Reconstruction – 1861-1877, some of the most pivotal in America’s history, as faction tried to tear the country apart, and attempts to build a new sociopolitical order after military victory yielded mixed results.
  • The Progressive Era– more dramatic change, economic and social, motivated Americans to seek equally dramatic political changes, in search of solutions to problems not only new to Americans, but novel in world history.
  • The Great Depression and World War 2– another pair of potentially existential challenges to America and its system of government, addressed and resolved by American means.
  • Civil Rights– MLK and others sought to cash the check written by the Founders, and their work changed the political, economic, legal, and social status of millions of American minorities, all the while bringing America closer to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

Each Toolkit will include:

  • Guiding Questions for the topic as a whole, with criteria for good answers
  • A curated list of 10 essential documents from our Library
  • WebinarsPodcasts, and YouTube videos
  • Other documents-based resources from around TAH.org
  • Lesson Plans that complement the documents and other resources

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.

Teacher’s Volunteer Work Gives her Students Opportunity to Work with Shoah Foundation

Kelly Eddy, a 2015 graduate of Ashland University’s Master of Arts in American History and Government degree program, teaches Advanced Placement US history at Winston Churchill High School in Livonia, Michigan, a western suburb of Detroit. Since the 2008 recession, the school’s performing arts magnet program has attracted students from underfunded schools in Detroit, as well as immigrant Chinese and Middle Eastern students. Eddy, who has demanded students’ best efforts during her 20 years at Churchill, has had to adapt her teaching style.

Ambitious students are now taking AP classes they are not ready for. “They need extra support. With many parents working an extra job, the students are alone more. So I have to explain: ‘Here is what you must do to be successful.’”

Last year Eddy seized a chance to give several students a push. The Henry Ford Museum—where Eddy researched her Master’s thesis on the founder of the auto company—asked her to bring four students to a workshop offered by the Shoah Foundation. Eddy drove four bright students to Dearborn, Michigan, where they participated in an “IWitness” event. They watched filmed interviews of Holocaust survivors and constructed “found poems” from these elderly witnesses’ moving words. As an TAH-educated teacher, Eddy had prepared her students to deal with primary sources. They responded thoughtfully to the films.

Kelly Eddy, a 2015 graduate of Ashland's Master of Arts in American History and Government, was named 2012 Michigan History Teacher of Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

Kelly Eddy, a 2015 graduate of Ashland’s Master of Arts in American History and Government, was named 2012 Michigan History Teacher of Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

“High school kids spending a day of summer going to school—that’s impressive,” Eddy thought, as she and her students were leaving. “Then a Shoah Foundation filmmaker asked if my students would stay to be interviewed.” They stayed.

Later, Eddy and her students were invited to a Shoah Foundation gala at the Ford museum, where philanthropist Bill Ford would be honored. Students donned their best clothes and climbed in a limo that whisked them back to Dearborn. They were in a private room, reviewing their poems from the summer workshop, when “in walked filmmaker Steven Spielberg, founder of the Shoah organization, who sat and talked with them.”

“Then the students mingled with the VIP guests, talking about their experience with IWitness. I watched as they met actors Steve Carell and Halle Berry.” At dinner, a promotional video was shown, and Eddy was surprised to find her students the stars of the film.

Later, the Foundation emailed Eddy about their student ambassador program. Eddy urged Brandon, a gifted student who’d been featured prominently in the video to apply. First she warned him: “If you’re not going to take this seriously, don’t do it. Brandon was a natural leader who at times goofed off. But he was selected as an ambassador, one of four students outside the state of California.” Through the program, he interviewed several Detroit area Holocaust survivors and one survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Eddy watched Brandon change. “He gained empathy—he began standing up for others—plus self-esteem and a sense of responsibility. He realized it wasn’t just his name on the line, it was mine, also.” The student now studies at Central Michigan University.

The TAH Master’s program helped Eddy enlarge her expectations of students. “In every MAHG class, teachers discuss and interpret primary sources. Now I put those documents in students’ hands: to teach critical thinking skills and to allow them to learn directly from the past.”

“The way the TAH professors teach through discussion changed my own approach. I lecture less now,” Eddy says, admitting this involves risk. TAH Teachers prepare well for MAHG classes, and discussions are rich. But in high school, “if the kids haven’t done the reading, discussion will fall flat. Then I say, ‘Well, we’ve lost the chance to discuss this. You’re still responsible for it on the test, but we’re moving on to something else.’ The AP curriculum doesn’t allow us to slow down. But students can learn from mistakes as well as triumphs.”

You can view the video featuring Eddy’s students at the link below. The student who reads his poem near the beginning of the film, Brandon Bartley, was selected as a student ambassador for the Shoah Foundation.


A Scholar of the Presidency Discusses the 2016 Election

The 2016 presidential election highlighted strong divisions among American voters, while the outcome defied the predictions of pollsters. We asked Professor Marc Landy, a highly respected instructor in Ashland’s Master’s program for secondary school teachers, to talk about what the election means. Landy is Professor of Political Science at Boston College and Edward and Louise Peterson Professor of American History and Government at Ashland University. He researches political parties, the presidency, and American political development. With Jeremy Bailey of the University of Houston, Landy co-teaches a two-part historical survey of the presidency in our summer residential MAHG program.

Marc Landy

Marc Landy

Landy has written several studies of public policy, including Creating Competitive Markets: The Politics and Economics of Regulatory Reform (2007) and Seeking the Center: Politics and Policymaking at the New Century (2001). With Sidney Milkis, he has authored Presidential Greatness (2000) and a textbook, American Government: Enduring Principles, Critical Choices, now in its third edition (2014).

  1. Professor Landy, is it accurate to call the Trump campaign a populist movement? If so, how does it resemble or differ from other populist movements we have seen in the US?

If we agree on the definition of populism as a movement of voters very disaffected with the establishment, with the way the “elites” are governing, then certainly this is a populist movement. Two such movements readily come to mind: the Jacksonians in the 1830s and the Populist Party of the 1880s and 1890s. But those movements had very different goals. Jackson was fighting for the decentralization of government. He felt the common man needed a government closer to him than the elites who were governing at the national level. With Bryan, it was a specific set of economic questions that were affecting the farmers.

With Trump, it’s a much broader set of questions: the abandonment of industry in the rustbelt, plus the resentment of those who feel their values are being denigrated by the liberal cultural elite. It’s a very different movement, with more diffused motives.

  1. Do you feel a “realignment” of the electorate has occurred, favoring the Republican Party? In 2008, some thought that Obama triggered a realignment in favor of the Democratic Party.

You can’t tell. Realigning elections don’t happen when the new political leader first takes power; they happen when that person wins re-election. A great example is FDR. The realignment didn’t occur in 1932; it happened in 1936, when you knew popular support for Roosevelt was real. The same goes for Jackson. It didn’t happen when he was first elected in 1828. The re-election solidifies the new direction.

  1. What does the election of 2016 teach us about our current primary system? Do you view this system as more “democratic” than earlier processes for selecting candidates? Does the fact that state primaries occur throughout several months, rather than all on the same day, undercut the “democratic” impulse behind the primary system?

Our primary system is dreadful. The idea that there should be a preliminary election before the general election, in order to give the people a decent choice—that seems very wrong-headed. Political parties are a very good idea. Inherent in the party system is the idea that those within the party have more in common than they do with those outside of the party. What the primary system does is to disrupt that feeling of party cohesion, loyalty and commonality.

As for staggering the primaries over a series of months in different states, it’s hard to know how else you could do it. The only other way would be for the party leaders in each state to select delegates who were committed to them, who would meet to hammer out who the candidate would be. But that can’t be done in today’s political climate. So we have to figure out another way to winnow out the candidates. On the Republican side, the fact that we had so many candidates was a disaster. But I don’t know how you could devise rules to limit that possibility.

Some dreadful things just can’t be undone. Right now, I fear that any effort to tinker with the primaries would lead to accusations of election rigging.

  1. Given that Clinton won the popular vote, many people are again questioning the Electoral College. Does that institution still serve a useful purpose?

I love the Electoral College! It’s a way of affirming that we elect our president via fifty state elections. That reinforces our notion of American federalism, which is very important. Second, it gives a part of the country that otherwise would probably be neglected more prominence. But the essential thing is that presidents are elected by the states; this ensures that the states remain a part of our system of government.

  1. This election seemed to turn on questions about the character of the candidates more than any other recent presidential election. Is this an accurate historical perspective? If so, why do you think this occurred?

I think we see it in an extreme form in this election. There have been character issues raised in other times: with Nixon, for example. But to have serious character issues raised with both candidates is highly unusual. This again points to the danger of the primary system. Up to now, we’ve been very lucky. We have had few unfortunate choices since the primaries took hold, in the late sixties and seventies. In every case since 1972 (I don’t think McGovern could have succeeded as president) the losing candidate could have governed the country.  But this time, the primary system resulted in very unhappy choices.

Clinton would have had as much trouble unifying the country under her leadership as Trump will have. Had Hillary won, her term would have been dominated by investigations of her conduct while Secretary of State. With Trump, we know so little about how he plans to govern, that we cannot predict how he might succeed. Certain things that served him very well during the campaign, emphasizing his outsider status, now make him look unprepared to assume the role.

  1. Are Congress and the executive likely to cooperate during the next four years? If so, what sort of mandate will Republicans in Congress believe the election gave them?

The initial signs suggest cooperation. The choice of Priebus as chief of staff is excellent, and Priebus as a bridge between Trump and Ryan is promising.

The election does suggest a mandate to do something serious about Obamacare. Trump campaigned hard on it, and Congressional Republicans have made it a high priority over a number of years. The word “repeal” is very misleading; they can repeal the law, but they would have to put something in its place.

  1. Do you see the American electorate as more divided than ever before? To put the question another way, are the divided sides in this election less tolerant of each other’s views than ever before?

We’re divided in different ways. Today the arm of the federal government reaches further into people’s lives. And the media really penetrates. People in remote areas may be even more affected by the major media outlets than those who live in urban areas, where there are a diversity of news sources.

Many observers discounted the grievances of those in the rustbelt and southern states: their terrible economic insecurity and their resentment of “political correctness.”

It was not so much that people lost jobs; rather, they lost the high-paying factory jobs they once had. They’re working for $15 an hour instead of $20 or $30. Then, people objected to points of view being imposed on them. It’s not that they all object to homosexual or transgender behavior, but they don’t like being forced into positions that they think defy common sense, such as allowing a person who appears to be a male to use a female bathroom. The demonstrations in Ferguson, which challenged people’s notions of law and order, troubled them also. These are serious issues, and the fact that many people felt they were not allowed to discuss them in a reasonable way hurt the Democrats.


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.

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


Five Teachers Compare Student Attitudes Toward Civil War

In this post, we report on five teachers’ project to assign a common book probing American understanding of the Civil War. Five Madison Fellows from five states, four of them in the MAHG program, required all their American history students to read the same historical text, Apostles of Disunion, which makes a compelling argument against a long-standing theme of historiography on the American Civil War. 

Five Teachers Compare Student Attitudes in North and South Toward the Civil War

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


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.

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

Access Now

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)