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One thing I learned during my 34 years as a teacher is to be explicit in providing reading instruction. Don’t assume secondary students know how to tackle difficult textbooks and non-fiction sources. Choose from a variety of reading strategies, model it, and give students lots of reading practice. Let’s start with the ABC’s, reading strategies for the social studies textbook. We may like them or hate them, but most of us use the textbook. So, help your students meet their new textbook by providing a simple  Scavenger Hunt Lesson , introducing your students to the structure of their book. Then help them tackle reading a textbook chapter with a reading strategy ...
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Perhaps you've heard of the "Notorious RBG" or seen one of the documentaries or the feature film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Well-known historian of US women's history, Jane Sherron De Hart has written a big book (500+ pages) on Ginsburg's life that does a wonderful job of weaving women's history, legal and judicial history, and personal story together in this fascinating book (Knopf, 2018). Chapter titles in Part I describe Justice Ginsburg's early years: Celia's Daughter, Cornell and Marty, Learning the Law on Male Turf, Sailing in "Uncharted Waters," The Making of a Feminist Advocate, and Seizing the Moment. Together, these chapters help ...
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In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, by Alfred W. McCoy. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017.  258 pages. $12.00 paper. In a candid moment, the celebrated historian Richard Hofstadter once acknowledged, “I know it is risky, but I still write history out of my engagement with the present.” A similar purpose can be discerned in the long and prolific career of Alfred W. McCoy, whose scholarly work began in the early 1970s in the jungles of Southeast Asia investigating the CIA’s role in the heroin trade during the Vietnam War.  Over the ensuing decades, McCoy’s work centered on the history of American colonialism ...
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As social science teachers, we like to assign writing, but too often we avoid teaching writing. When we don’t instruct our students in the writing process, we are frequently frustrated by what they turn in to us.  Good writing instruction begins with an honest evaluation of our students’ skills. Our lessons should develop from that assessment. To learn about my sophomore’s writing abilities, I assigned a  formative writing assessment on the rise of democrac y, the unit we had just completed. This informational essay was evaluated, but not graded. Students wrote without any instruction from me. I evaluated their efforts on an  informational writing rubric ...
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            Long-time civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, has shone a spotlight on the recent wave of teacher strikes in her commentary in Time magazine’s April 29, 2019 issue on “The 100 Most Influential People.”  Huerta, who earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and who still appears to be going strong at the age of 89, points to Jay O’Neal and Emily Comer of West Virginia as representatives of the “Inspiring Educators” who in the past year “have left an impact well beyond their classrooms, launching a social-justice movement that was impossible to ignore.”  ...
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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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