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I grew up in a household where the great events of the day were regularly discussed at our kitchen table.  I learned the art of conversation and the back and forth of debate at the family meal each evening with my parents. I learned a lot from those kitchen table conversations, and so I’ve tried to make discussion a regular part of my classroom.   In his book,  Academic Conversations , Jeff Zwier explains three essential ingredients for effective classroom discussions. First, academic conversations should be structured. Second, they should include small groups where each student has an opportunity to speak.  Third, in whole class debriefing teachers should ...
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Caption Image courtesy of Associated Press    “Iran is playing with fire--they don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!” -President Donald Trump via Twitter February 3, 2017 The current relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran could justly be characterized as one of tension and distrust. Disputes over rights to develop nuclear weapons, territorial claims, and regional balance of power with U.S. allies Israel and the Saudi Kingdom, have all been recently used to explain why these nations view each other with such antipathy. Aggravated rhetoric has even escalated tensions to include talk ...
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I recently saw a powerful documentary on World War 1.  They Shall Not Grow Old  made me want to come out of retirement from my history classroom, so I could share this stunning film with students. This film will give teachers lots of chances to teach about World War 1, and also to get their students talking about the meaning of war more universally. Teachers would do well to add this powerful new documentary into the mix of posters, poems and photographs, literature and web resources they already use to bring this century old conflict alive. Filmmaker Peter Jackson, of  Lord of the Rings  fame, tells the story of British soldiers ...
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February 2019 I’ve lived in three states in the last eight years (New Jersey, Iowa, Michigan), and will move to my fourth (California) this summer. In many ways, it’s been an interesting sojourn for a lifelong student of American history and culture. Such geographic shifts provide potent reminders of the importance of regional culture and the imprint of federalism on our governmental arrangements, especially pertaining to states' authority over voting.   The elections of 2016 and 2018, in particular, shone a spotlight on two contemporary challenges to democracy in this country--gerrymandering and voter suppression. These baneful practices have long ...
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Nothing is better than a good social studies project. Students get a chance to choose a topic of interest, providing motivation for in-depth learning. They cooperate with classmates, often acquiring new technology skills. Project presentations showcase student talents, enhancing social science content for the entire class in the process. Oral history projects are powerful ways for students to become historians, learning about the past first hand. Students conduct interviews with family or community members. They document history close to home, the stories of parents who have fought in wars, relatives who escaped persecution, and senior citizens who survived ...
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Civic education in schools serves to teach students the knowledge and skills for citizenship in a democracy. Promoted since the founding of the United States, civic education is getting renewed attention in recent years. Commonly referenced civic behaviors are voting, paying taxes, and advocating for important issues in the political process. On the other hand, soft skills have become the new word for another old concept – civil behavior. Both terms describe skills such as polite and effective communication, collaboration, as well as respect for others, integrity, timeliness, dependability, and worth ethic. While civic behavior describes our obligations ...
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             I spent much of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day reading Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic: Atheists in American Public Life , by R. Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018).  I highly recommend this readable, brief, enlightening, and challenging book to those teaching U.S. history and/or Civics.  Moore and Kramnick provide an introduction to some of the more prominent atheists and agnostics in U.S. history (Thomas Paine, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie, the less-well-remembered Robert Ingersoll, and several others), and they then survey some of the First Amendment court cases as they relate to the ...
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“A picture is worth a thousand words,” as the saying goes. It is so true, especially for social studies teachers. A single image can be a powerful way to introduce a lesson, serving as a doorway into a historical event. Photo analysis can aid in student writing. And through studying photographs students can to learn empathy for others, even take steps toward civic engagement. During my unit on the Civil War I use the famous photograph of an escaped slave, “ Private Gordon ", to begin the discussion of the role of African American soldiers in the Union Army. My  Private Gordon Lesson  starts with students making inferences and discussing the photo. Then students ...
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As a newly hired, tenure track assistant professor of Social Studies Education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, I was excited to attend and present my research at the NCSS (National Council of the Social Studies) Annual Conference in San Diego Nov 30-Dec. 2, 2007.  At some conferences, education attendees often leave early to keep within a particular travel budget (no Saturday night stay, cheaper weekend airfare). But, the auditorium at the San Diego Convention Center was packed.  Everyone stood and applauded the keynote speaker, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, as she rose to the podium. Justice O'Connor shared her story ...
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Many years ago, around our familily dinner table, we were discussing the first day of school with our children (now all out of their respective university programs and into their professional careers). When my youngest child was asked how his first day of middle school was, he breathed a sigh and said “oh, it was like every first day in every class; we just made rules and went over a syllabus.” I have not begun a first day of my class by setting rules or explaining a syllabus since. Rather I begin by engaging students in our first “timeline,” saying a few words about the class (essentially I give them my three guarantees; you will explore a lot of history ...
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The Joys of Summer Reading  One of the pleasures of summertime for me has been the chance to read fiction. It may be a stretch to call these social studies but all of them are either political or sociological in orientation. Daniel Silva’s “The Other Woman”: I’m a big fan of Silva’s stories about the Israeli spy Gabriel Allon. I’ve probably read 7 or 8 or these books. Despite their length (typically 400 pages or so), the excitement of the story makes the reading go quickly. Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance”: Tyler is a very good writer, some of whose other works I’ve also read. This one wasn’t my favorite, but the stories she tells always include intriguing ...
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Over the last several months, I read two books that any teacher of US History should be aware of: "The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery," edited by Rochelle Riley, with a foreword by Nikole Hannah-Jones, and "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America," by Richard Rothstein. The first book is a set of shorter and longer essays by a range of authors on topics such as Black women and the "legacies of defiance;" a military family descended from slaves; "sports industries as plantations;"  "everyday rebellions;" and civil rights and schools, among other topics. All of these essays are compelling; some ...
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The Lynching Museum

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They hung in reverend silence, those slabs of steel stained with orange, gold, sienna, burnt umber, chocolate, ebony identified by county and etched with names and dates – sometimes “Unknown” and the date. There were hundreds of slabs in staggered rows, a memorial to the 4000 victims of lynchings all over the southeast. It was somber and serious, yet peaceful and serene. It was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Memorial Park now open in Montgomery, Alabama. Racial terror lynchings were not restricted to the South but the 20 states identified in the park had the largest number. They included Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, ...
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The venerable “American Experience” series on PBS on May 29, 2018 aired a 2-hour documentary on “The Chinese Exclusion Act.”  The directors were Ric Burns (brother and sometime collaborator of Ken) and Li-Shin Yu, and it featured an impressive cast of historians discussing this seminal episode of American racism.  All social studies teachers and those seriously interested in U.S. history should see the documentary, which is available for streaming (at least for now) at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/chinese-exclusion-act/ . It is also available for sale as a dvd or as an iTunes download, and material about the documentary, and selected clips, ...
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With the issue of chemical weapons recently in the news, students might find this of interest, especially since little is known of the success of this convention in destroying stockpiles of this weapon of mass destruction. Links are included for further research. Toxic weapons made of chemicals are nothing new. They’ve been around for thousands of years as poisoned arrows, lethal smoke or noxious fumes, but -- following their use-- they were eventually considered too cruel and unfair for ‘civilized battle’, and efforts were made to ban them. Nevertheless during World War I toxic chemicals such as chlorine or mustard gas were released causing over 90,000 deaths ...
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Recent reports about the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2017, 2018 and in the UK in 2018 (an apparent assassination attempt with a nerve agent) and the international responses help demonstrate the way that international law works. A treaty to ban the use of chemical weapons officially became international law in 1997 when the minimum number of countries (a number designated in the treaty itself) ratified the treaty in their own ratification process. Following ratification, each country is then expected to integrate the conditions of the treaty into their own domestic legal system and enforce it. As others signed on, and support grew internationally for ...
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Words come and go and meanings change over time. Exploring the history behind unknown words in primary source texts illustrates changes technology, daily life, and social behavior over time. Learning the origins of a word is something usually associated with vocabulary lessons or English classes. Etymology also has an important place in the study of history and social studies classrooms. Tracing the origins of words is especially important when reading primary source texts. Students may think they know the meaning of a word; when in fact they only know the modern definition. Or, they encounter words that have fallen out of usage. Archaic words such as cordwainer, ...
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In addition to violence from firearms, we all face a risk from nuclear war. Like the proliferation of guns in the United States, the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the globe, and threats about their possible use, have increased the risk to the public generally.  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns in 2018 that the danger of that global disaster is "obvious and imminent."  The online newsletter TSSP has posted some resources on how to teach about  preventing nuclear war as well as on gun violence .  In tribute to the current efforts by Parkland students and their initiatives to address gun reform in our country, by way of a "book ...
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