Thursday, April 28, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Reconstruction

As I said earlier this week, teaching about the Civil War is tough for us.  It is also hard to teach about Reconstruction, which was another non-stellar point in our history.  However, in some ways Reconstruction is even harder because of the paucity of resources, especially compared to all the stuff that is available for the Civil War.

Here are some of the curriculum resources we found useful in covering the Reconstruction with our middle schoolers:

A History of US:  Reconstruction and Reform 1865-1870 by Joy Hakim is a great overview of the specific time of the Reconstruction.  This is a good book for middle schoolers.

Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow  1864-1896 by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier.  This one covers a longer time span and is at a bit higher level, so it would probably be appropriate for high school as well as middle schoolers.

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.:  The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  This is an excellent book that I reviewed last year when it came out; you can read the full review here.  But the short version is that the book describes the evolution of the Ku Klux Klan from its earliest days as sort of a informal frat for ex-Confederates trying to feel better about their defeat to the powerful hate organization it was up through the 1960s, told mostly from first-hand reports.  It is appropriate to both middle and high schoolers.

Black Voices from Reconstruction 1865-1877 by John David Smith.  While not as engaging as the previous book, this one also contains personal and first-hand sources and covers some broader subjects of the time than were left out of the KKK book.  Again, this could be used by middle and higher schoolers.

Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet.  A bit different from the previous titled, this is a fictionalized account of what life might have been like for a small group of freed African Americans, written by an author whose ancestors had been slaves of Robert E. Lee's.    This is a middle school level book.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow is the website for an award-winning educational documentary series that explores segregation from Reconstruction through the modern Civil Rights movement.  I haven't seen the videos themselves, but they sound like they would be really good to watch.  However, on the website, you can view a timeline of major events from Reconstruction up to the mid-20th Century, interact with maps and other online resources, read the stories of some significant black leaders from the Reconstruction on, and access lesson plans for both middle school and high school grades.

As always, if someone has some other good resources to add to this list, please put them in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Curriculum Resource: MBTI Website for Teens/Tweens

One of my more popular posts of 2010 was the one I wrote about how I was teaching a class of middle schoolers and teens about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the leading personality assessment instrument being used today.  I used four experiential exercises to help them understand the four preference continuums on which the MBTI score is based, then had them place themselves where they thought they belonged on each of the scales.  We then tested their self-assessments by taking questionnaires that gave them their MBTI scores.  The students seemed to really enjoy the exercises, and the discussions they generated gave them some great insight not only into themselves, but into their families and friends.

I still advocate that kind of approach for teens and tweens--that is, having them get an experience of the dichotomies of the MBTI scores before getting into their scores and what those are supposed to mean.  That is why I like to teach MBTI in a group, because we are more like to have great examples of both ends of each continuum, which helps personalize it and have it make more sense to the kids (and, really, to most adults as well).

However, if you are working on MBTI with your children and/or students, I recently found a website that I think is helpful.  It is called Typecan, and it was developed by high school and college students (working with adult "mentors") under the auspices of the Center for the Application of Psychological Type, one of the premier organizations offering training and resources on Myers-Briggs.  It is geared to presenting MBTI information in a "teen-friendly" way and helping students to apply it to the situations that they are facing--school stress, teenage relationships, and trying to decide about colleges and careers.

It is really a little more geared to the high school or even college student than middle schoolers, but it could be used with the tween crowd as well.  It's not the best about explaining the 16 MBTI types, so I would cover that first by a class, assessment test, or other basic MBTI website.  But it is the best site I've found so far in showing how understanding MBTI can help students navigate the educational, relationship, and career challenges that occur at this age.

If anyone else has found good resources for working with Myers-Briggs with middle or high schoolers, please add them to the comments below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are We Still Fighting the Civil War? If So, What Do We Teach our Children?

One of my favorite quotes is William Faulkner's unforgettable words that "The past is never dead.  It is not even the past."  Nowhere is this more evident lately than in the educational issues that arise with the Civil War Sesquicentennial--the marking of the fact that earlier this month was the 150th Anniversary of the Southern takeover of Fort Sumter, usually hailed as the official opening of the American Civil War.

But dealing with the Civil War is tough for us as a nation.  To use another iconic quote, I think the American Civil War was truly for us the period in our history where "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  It was a time when our commitment to our founding ideals of freedom and equality were really put the test, and ultimately prevailed.  But it was also a time where we had to face how our country had ignored those ideals for the cause of economic profits, both in the North and in the South.  It was a horribly sad time, destructive of land and of a generation of young people, and still the bloodiest and most deadly war in which the US has ever engaged.  But it also laid the foundations for an American dream that was even broader and more inclusive than the founding fathers ever imagined...even if it has taken decades of progress to achieve it.

I think probably all nations have a civic mythology of their historic greatness that endows them with power and respect (see Hugh Grant's wonderful "England may be a small nation, but we're a great one, too" speech from one of my favorite movies ever, Love Actually, as one example).   Maybe it is because we are such a relatively young nation, and one that was gifted with incredible natural resources, but I think this idea of our past as inherently blessed and outstanding--our historic belief in America as "the city on the hill" and our Manifest Destiny--has an even stronger hold on our civic identity than it does on most countries.

So that is why I think it is so hard for us as a country to deal with this time in our history honestly and openly and in an unvarnished way.  It exposes some of our ugliest truths, and few of us like to acknowledge those.  Therefore, both sides like to romanticize their cause.  For the North, it is presented as a fight for the liberation of African Americans.  Except, really, it wasn't.  As Lincoln wrote towards the beginning of the war, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it," (although he personally was in favor of the abolitionist cause).  At least at the beginning, the fight for the North was keeping the country together, not securing rights for black people.  Eventually Lincoln, and other Northern leaders, realized that slavery had to be abolished to secure a united nation, but even so, few Northerners envisioned African Americans being given equal political and economic benefits to white people.

For the South, the argument has grown that it was not really an issue of slavery per se, but rather of states' rights of self determination.  Except, again, really, it wasn' least according to almost all legitimate historians of our times.  The investment in slaves at the time of the Civil War has been estimated to be about $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars.  As a share of the Gross National Product at the time, that would compare to almost $10 TRILLION in modern money.  People had more money invested in slaves than they did in railroads, factories, banks, and ships combined.  The cotton produced by slave labor was the driving economic product for the entire nation, both from cotton-selling states in the South and textile-producing states in the North.  It was not something that South plantation owners, who were the political powerhouses in the South, could even conceive of giving up voluntarily.  And while it is true that the majority of Southerners, especially those who actually fought in the war, owned no slave themselves, most were fueled by their horror and fear of what would happen to their communities if African Americans, whom they believed to be sub-human, were not kept under control via the institution of slavery.

However, we don't like admitting that our greed and economic tunnel vision led us to go against our founding principles and to have treated people as inhumanly as we did.  So not long after the war came to an end, the South began to glorify its role in the Civil War as an advocate for states' rights, lovingly couched as the romantic "Lost Cause," rather than seeing their support for slavery for the morally indefensible position that it truly is.  An article in the April 18th edition of Time magazine entitled "The Civil War: 150 Years After Fort Sumter:  Why We're Still Fighting the Civil War" by David von Drehle does a great job  of explaining how the South sold this vision to the country; you can read the article as a PDF by clicking here.

But though the states' rights argument is largely a face-saving myth, it has been powerfully effective (largely, I believe, because we want to see our 19th century ancestors with the same aura of wisdom and moral vision that we ascribe to our 18th century founders).  A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 48% of people believed that states' rights was the main cause of the Civil War compared to 38% who thought it was mostly about slavery (with 9% saying the two causes were equally important).  A Harris poll confirmed this finding, with 54% responding that states' rights was the primary motivation for the South's split from the US, compared to 46% attributing it to an attempt to preserve slavery.

So it is really interesting to see that the majority of Americans do not know what almost all professional historian agree was the root cause of the American Civil War.    Is that an indication that we are continuing to fight the Civil War--if not with each other, then with our ideals about how we would like our history to be?

A liberal (actually, he's a social democrat) columnist in the Washington Post recently wrote another interesting article about the Civil War still being waged in modern times.  In his April 12 column, "150 years later, we're still fighting," Harold Meyerson argues that the North and the South have continued the labor patterns of the pre-Civil War US, with the South's tradition of low-wage and few or no worker benefits or rights (epitomized by the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart) battling the North's support for organized, unionized, and better paid labor battling for dominance out West (cough cough WISCONSIN cough) and in the nation at large.   I found his article to be interesting reading, and looking over only a few of the 270 comments to date show that it has definitely generated some debate.

Another article I would recommend is an NBC/CNN post on April 11 by John Blake called "Four ways we're still fighting the Civil War."  Blake picks out four ways that today's politics are similar to those of the Civil War era:

  1. A lack of the political center (You agree with us or you are the evil enemy, with no room for compromise)
  2. Arguments over the role of the federal government (Some of the Tea Party leaders sound like antebellum Southerners)
  3. Underestimating the extent of war once begun (Both North and South were convinced the conflict would be over within a few weeks because they underestimated the strength of the opposition....sound familiar?)
  4. Presidents overstepping their bounds (I don't really agree that Obama's support of health care is comparable to Lincoln's suspension of Constitutional rights, but I guess there are some that are arguing that...)

So, like I is not like the Civil War is really over.

But where does that leave us as parents and as educators?  What should we be teaching students when this event that they think of as ancient history is still so much in flux today?

Personally, I think it is a good thing that we are still unsettled as a nation about the meaning, the outcomes, and even the causes of the Civil War.  I think students will find history more interesting when they see it is not something cut and dried and in the past, but a study that is still being debated, still being questioned, still being fleshed, and DEFINITELY still relevant to the choices we are making about our future.  I believe it is wonderful for the students to consider that the Civil War is still not really "done," and that it may be their generation who will be the ones who "settle" it (or not....)

Other than that, I say that we need to tell them the truth.  I was raised in the "Great Man" presentation of history, where all these wonderful things happened thanks to our national demi-Gods like George Washington and company.  But I don't think that really serves our students.  First of all, it isn't true.    Not to disparage our Founding Fathers and other major figures of history, but sometimes....maybe a lot of the time...they were able to accomplish what they did because they were lucky, or happened to be in the right place at the right time, or were merely the manifestation of the mores of their times rather than the causal agent.  Secondly, when we set up these figures on a pedestal, how can our children ever hope to emulate them?   Showing them as humans, flawed with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us, is, I believe, a more powerful place to develop our heroes and leaders of the future.  Third, we hate to look at our failings and our ugly parts and the times we didn't live up to our ideals.  But without truth, there can not be forgiveness and redemption and ultimately, reconciliation.

And if there is anything we need in our political sphere these days, I think reconciliation is way up there. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Earth Day Blog Hop

In addition to the book giveaway and webinar on teaching hands-on science that I am holding in honor of Earth Day 2011, I've decided to extend our celebration of Earth Day by hosting my first blog hop.  If you aren't familiar with a blog hop, it is a group blogging event in which a number of different blogs all agree to do posts on the same theme or topic.  Each blog posts not only its blog post on the subject, but also the list of the other blogs who are participating as well.  The idea is that each blog's set of readers can check out the posts of the other blogs as well, getting different perspectives on the theme as well as being introduced to some new blogs.

If you are a blogger and would like to participate, here is what you need to do:

1.  Between now and Earth Day 2011, which is April 22, create a post relating to Earth Day on your blog.  It should be a post that discusses Earth Day from the regular perspective of your blog.  So, for example, if you have an artistic blog, it could be an Earth Day art piece; if you write a current events or political blog, it could be news about Earth Day; and if you work or parent preschoolers, it could be about how your little ones are celebrating Earth Day.

2.  Once you have created your post, add it to the Linky Tools list at the bottom of this page.  Linky Tools is a great piece of software that makes your link appear not only on my page, but it will also update the list on any other blog that has copied the code onto their site.

3.  So, after you have added your link, you need to copy the list to your blog so that your readers can see all the other Earth Day posts.  The following are the instructions about how to do that.

To add the links to your blog, copy this code for Blogger blogs:

<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>

Or this one for free WordPress blogs:

<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>

and paste into your blog, using the Edit HTML tool.

4. Finally, you get to add this lovely button to your blog to indicate you are participating in the Earth Day Blog Hop.

Copy and paste the following code into your HTML editor in order to have the button appear on your website:

<a href=""> <img src="" />

And that's it!  You will be an official member of the Earth Day Blog Hop.

We have a few people already lined up for this blog hop, including Maria of Natural Math and Michelle of Homeschool Literature and Pandahoneybee's Homeschooling Adventure.  But we would love to have lots more bloggers join us!  Let's focus some blogging attention on Earth Day to remind us all of ways we can do more to appreciate and protect our planet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Curriculum Resource: History Teachers Music Videos, or History a la Gaga

This is a wonderful learning resource I got from my friend Michelle, who maintains two great web presences:  she runs the website Homeschool Literature, which reviews books with protagonists who homeschool, as well as blogs on her own homeschooling experience at Pandahoneybee's Homeschooling Adventure.

Anyway, Michelle turned me on to the series of YouTube videos being done on the Historyteachers channel called History for Music Lovers.  In these videos, actual teachers dress up in cheesy wigs and costumes and change the lyrics to popular pop or rock songs to teach actual history content.  But lead vocalist and actress Amy Burvall is a good singer, and looks like she is have a lot of fun while actually conveying historical information.  She's like a real life Holly Holiday, the Gwyneth Paltrow character on Glee, except that she sings about her subject matter instead of her students' love lives!

To get an idea of her work, check out this video on the French Revolution, set to Lady Gaga's song, Bad Romance:

And just like everyone remembers that "In 1400 and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," so no modern middle schooler will ever forget the year of the Norman Invasion after watching this version of the story of William the Conqueror set to Justin Timberlake's Sexyback:

She has a lot of videos set to songs from the 80s, such as this hilarious one about Charlemagne, based on Blondie's Call Me:"

But some go back to the 60s, including several Beatles' songs and this classic by the Mamas and the Papas (except this time it is about The Canterbury Tales):

I also love the way that Burvall tries to incorporate some of the look or dance moves of the original artist in addition to all the historic content.  But in addition to how much fun they are, and how well they incorporate some key facts and figures about the subject of each video, what is really remarkable about these is that Burvall wrote and recorded many of them while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.  However, when her hair fell out, it gave her an excuse to go buy more wigs, and she used the insomnia produced by the cancer drugs as an opportunity to write more songs.

So kudos to Amy Burvall and her video partner, fellow teacher Herb Mahelona, for creating some wonderful educational videos IN their spare time after a full day of teaching and (in Burvall's case) while deal with a baby and breast cancer (thankfully, Burvall has been in remission now for about four years).   All in all, they've made about 52 videos on all sort of subjects in world history, particularly ancient history.  It's a great testimony to the wonderfully creative ways to approach their subjects that outstanding teachers take...that is, when all of their time and energy isn't tied up taking standardized tests.