Monday, December 22, 2014

Immigration Today, Immigration Then

Like many of you, I had the best of intentions during the last week or so, but the holidays, kids, travel plans, etc. all got in the way.

So, I decided to go ahead and post an incomplete post. I will be back with more good things after the New Year. Enjoy the school break and the holiday.

Teaching about Nativism

If you're going to talk about late 19th century immigration to the U.S., you also have to talk about anti-immigration sentiment, or nativism. You won't have any trouble finding current examples of nativism, even if that's not the term we use anymore, so you could start with the present and then look backwards.

But if you prefer to start with the past, one way to teach about nativism is by having students read some primary sources and look at political cartoons to come up with their own definition. I created this document for that purpose. I have followed up this in-class activity up by using some of the political cartoons collected here. See here for more Thomas Nast cartoons, especially on the Chinese Exclusion Act. And here is a google doc presentation I found online with more political cartoons about nativism. Also see this short, readable essay that has good background information for the teacher or older students, including a connection to the post 9/11 surge in anti-immigrant sentiment.

Teaching about Contemporary Immigration

For contemporary statistics and other information on current U.S. immigration:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Biography and History, Rockefeller and Carnegie: Telling Stories to Grapple with Big Questions

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "All history is biography."

Whether or not the above quotation is accurate, it is true that history is about people. As as my Dear Friend and Mentor used to tell me, whenever I came running into his office at 3:04 pm wondering how I should teach Topic X the next day, his response was always, "tell them a story."

Fortunately, for those of us who teach U.S. history there are a lot of good stories. And today, as I ponder how to teach about the rise of big business in the U.S., the obvious personalities are Rockefeller and Carnegie.

One interesting way to begin a lesson on big business in the late nineteenth century might be to to ask students which list of names on the left looks more familiar. Most students will have heard of at least some of the names on the right, while they are likely to be stumped by the presidents. This can be a useful way to introduce the question, where was the center of power in the late nineteenth century? (see the last political cartoon at the end of this post)
And the follow up questions suggests their influence: how do we know these names? (Trust me, they probably don't know them because they learned about them in an earlier U.S. history class.) If they have heard about them, it is because there are still foundations and banks and universities named for them. (Keep in mind the demographics of your students here. It may be more likely for middle to upper class students to know the names on the right than lower income students.)

Whether your students have heard of these businessmen or not, you now have the opportunity to introduce them to some pretty interesting characters.  But how do we use biographical information in class? How should we tell stories? And how do we avoid the problem I like to call "The Problem of Andrew Jackson's horse"? I came up with the name after a series of conversations with a friend who never liked history. He claimed that his teacher tried to make it interesting by telling lots of irrelevant stories which meant he left high school knowing little about history but knew odd bits of random information like the name of Jackson's horse (Sam Patch).

I am likely as guilty as the history teacher in question of peppering lectures with anecdotes in hopes of a good laugh, a smile or to get students' attention by "making it interesting."  If this is all we do with biographical information--throw it into lectures--then yes, it is probably useless.  

But a recent glance through the book, Why Don't Students Like School by education psychologist Daniel T. Willingham stopped me cold at the title of chapter 3, "Why Do Students Remember Everything That's on Television and Forget Everything I Say?" (It reminds me of the all-too-many number of students who, when we get to Vietnam, ask if we can watch the movie, Forrest Gump in class.) According to Willingham, the human mind is especially adept at understanding and remembering stories. He says that psychologists sometimes refer to stories as "psychologically privileged" because our memories actually treat them differently than other types of material. 

I cannot do justice to this chapter here (but if you want to check out other of Willingham's many articles which are useful to teachers, click here. And the book is worth a read.).  But the gist of it is that telling stories helps students remember information. He really means more than just tell a few anecdotes about Carnegie and Rockefeller. The key, he explains memorably, is that we remember what we think about. Sounds so obvious, doesn't it? So if our stories can engage students' attention and get them to think about something, they will remember it.

So how to avoid the problem we've all had: your lesson is chock full of all kinds of important information about -- let's say the rise of big business in the late nineteenth century-- and you sit down to grade your students' essays, and on at least a few of them, you get not a whole lot of substance but they seem to remember the amusing little anecdote you told about how Rockefeller raised turkeys and lent some of the money he raised to a neighbor. The problem is that we have neglected to connect the story to something meaningful. We need to tie the anecdote to something meaningful about Rockefeller and business. What is important is not the turkeys, but the fact that Rockefeller had a eureka moment when he realized the possibility of making money without doing any work at all: through investing.

So yes, by all means provide your students some interesting biographical information about Rockefeller and Carnegie. They are both fascinating characters, very different from each other, and their reach is still felt today. But connect it to something more meaningful.

The classic way to teach the topic meaningfully is to pose the subject as "Robber Barons or Captains of Industry"? (Do a quick Google search and you'll see what I mean; tons of lesson ideas with these terms.) The implicit question is whether or not the big industrialists and businessmen of the late nineteenth century earned their fortunes at the cost of the poor, or did they help develop the U.S. into an economic powerhouse? The answer, of course, includes both perspectives and any good lesson must help students see that.

But another way I have done it, usually after students have also studied the perspective of labor and some of the big strikes of the period, is to pose the question, "Do the ends justify the means?" In other words, do the economic achievements and subsequent philanthropy of these men justify whatever illegal, immoral, or at-great-cost-to-the-workers methods they used to get there? Here, too, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. But there are lots of opportunities here to ask tough questions, engage students in contentious debates, and bring the topic into the present. How? Check out the two resources below.

For grappling with the question of "do the ends justify the means?" 

  • Check out this recent article in the New Yorker, "Was Carnegie Right about Philanthropy?" The article poses the question, "Does philanthropy by the most affluent among us make up for the negative consequences of inequality?" There is a list of the top 50 most generous donors of 2013. Mark Zuckerburg and his wife were #1. The article quotes Peter Buffet, son of Warren Buffet, who describes philanthropy by the super rich as "conscience laundering." Isn't that a fascinating way to put it? If I had the time, I might edit this article to use with students. But I also might simply read aloud a few passages of it as a way to begin a discussion. The article also points out that most philanthropic spending does not directly fight poverty. And check out this really cool ngram viewer from Google that shows the use of the term "new gilded age" in search engines that was linked to in the article.
  • Below is a wonderful, short video that I was introduced to by one of my student teachers last semester. (Thanks!) Ironically, it was created by Evan Klassen who had his own rags-to-riches immigrant story like Carnegie. The video visualizes the income gap in the U.S. and Americans' perceptions of that gap. It is just over 6 minutes and could be shown in class. I think it would work well for middle or high school students, though you may need to pause it and explain a few things for middle schoolers. For more info on income inequality, check out this map and info from the Washington Post about income inequality across the world and how the U.S. compares.

For more info on Carnegie:
For more info on Rockefeller:
For info on J.P. Morgan: The New Tycoons: Morgan

On the industrialists in general:

  • Here is a lesson from edsitement on Edsitement on the classic topic of Robber Baron or Captain of Industry? Even if you don't use the lesson, it has links to useful materials. You can find lots of other lesson plans and resources by entering in "robber barons" and/or "captains of industry" into a search engine. That's how I found this one.
  • Here is a useful in-class assignment that will help students understand how Rockefeller used his power to get rebates and drawbacks from the railroads. I have edited it only slightly from a handout in my files that I think probably came from some textbook company. 
  • Here is a lesson from my files (adapted from work of other teachers) that addresses the inadequacy of government efforts to regulate big business. It is a useful segue to the theme of Progressive reform, when the government actually does reform business. I would use it as an in-class activity to do as a class, or in small groups with full class follow-up. It is designed to go along with a textbook (any U.S. history textbook will do). Students also might also need help with the question about what an attorney general does. And as long as we are talking about telling stories, you can use this as a "cliffhanger" to lead into the next unit--will the government get with the program and actually pass legislation that will limit the power of the trusts? Tune in next week as we look at President Roosevelt, the Trustbuster....
  • Here's a lesson to connect gilded age entrepreneurs to contemporary ones
  • There are some great resources at which presents definitely presents a pro-Captain of Industry look. (The section of the site presents the topic as "The Myth of the Robber Barons.") The website claims to be non-partisan, but a look at the "about us" page does mention an anti-government regulation leaning. But there are some links to primary sources, political cartoons, videos and interesting charts and graphs.
  • For the opposite perspective, you can look at this lesson on the Homestead Strike from the Howard Zinn Education project.

And don't forget to use some of these classic political cartoons with your students:

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to Handle the Post-Civil War/Reconstruction Period

A few years into my first job teaching U.S. History, our department made a unanimous decision to switch our semester "cut-off" to roughly 1900 in order to allow for more time for the twentieth century. Our school calendar was similar to most: students took finals a couple of weeks after winter break. This meant we had an awkward two-week break in the middle of our "Industrial America" unit. The challenge was to accommodate the calendar and final exams on the one hand, and create a logical unit of study on the other.

Below is an example of what we came up with (ours was a very collaborative department in the best sense).  I will use this year's calendar dates as an example, (which allows me to see how behind I am in my blogging!) Please keep in mind that our school was on a kind of mixed block schedule, so some of the topics below were taught on "block days" which meant that we had 80 minute periods. So it's not quite as condensed as it looks.

Mon. Dec 8 - Railroads, the West and Industrial Revolution
Tues. Dec 9 - continued (I usually included some specifics about Chicago)
Wed. Dec 10 - Big Business (here's where we'd look at Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.)
Thurs. Dec 11 - continued
Fri. Dec  12- Social Darwinism

Mon. Dec 15 - Immigration
Tues. Dec 16. - Anti-Immigration: The Nativist Response
Wed. Dec 17 - Labor and the New Industrial Working Class
Thurs. Dec 18 - Labor vs. the Capitalists (here's where I might do a simulation or debate activity centered around the Pullman strike. I like to use the Pullman strike as an example here in the Chicago area. But of course, there were lots of other strikes.)
Fri. Dec 19 - continued

Mon. Jan 5 - The "End of the Frontier" and the Indian Wars
Tues. Jan 6 - The Indian Reservation System
Wed. Jan 7 - Farm Problems and Protest
Thurs. Jan 8 - Government Regulation in the "Gilded Age"
Fri. Jan 9 - Populism and the Election of 1896

Mon. Jan 12 - Fri. Jan 16  This would be the week of exams, which would mean I'd probably do a day or two of review, and then the three days of exams.  Obviously, middle school teachers don't have this problem, though they usually seem to lose more days due to special assemblies and testing. 

I can't tell you how painful it is to put this into print-- I have left out so much. How can I do justice to Rockefeller and Carnegie in just 2 days?? How can students learn half of what there is to know about the immigrant experience and prejudice against them in just 2?? Is there time to discuss Obama and his recent executive order during those 2 days, or would I have to add a 3rd? What about other contemporary concerns about immigration reform? What if half my class is of immigrant or 2nd generation background? Wouldn't I want to spend more time comparing historic immigration to their experiences?

And while it sort of makes sense to segue from immigrants to labor to strikes, it also makes sense to discuss Indian policy right after the railroads and the West.  But then I would have to move labor to post-winter break, separating it from big business. Or move immigration to post-break, separating it from labor. And what activity will work well on the Friday before winter break? How many students will even be here? When/how/should I include a test in this unit? Do I really want to have students studying for a test right before winter break? Right after? Right before finals? How do I connect the Indians to the problems of the farmers? Do I really want to end my semester with the Populists? (Do I really want to teach the Populists at all?) Maybe that would be a better way to begin next semester's unit on the Progressives? 

Does anyone share my pain?

Even if your unit on this period doesn't start until second semester--as many teachers do--you will still have the "coverage problem" and the problem of what order to use.

But enough moaning. After all, this is one of favorite time periods. I joked about the Populists, but really, William Jennings Bryan is such a character. He can even make the Populists fun.

So time for some suggestions to help you in your unit planning. Just a few in this post, and I will include more in the next.

The key to both the coverage problem and the what-order-to-use problem is to develop your unit around a FEW BIG IDEAS/QUESTIONS and MAKE CONNECTIONS. As I mentioned above, how does the development of the railroads lead to big business and the wars with the Indians? How do the problems of how to assimilate the Indians compare to the situation of immigrants coming to the U.S.? How do those immigrants help fuel the labor demands of big business? If you can tell yourself the story about why you are moving from topic A to topic B to topic C, but how topic C also connects to topic A, then you are in business.

I like to use clips from episode 5 of Ken Burns's series, The West.  Click here for an interesting analysis of the series from the American Historical Association's Perspectives on History. Episode 6 is good for the Indian Wars. You could assign students a short essay or a few paragraphs that would answer the question, how did the railroad change the United States? Make sure they consider both positive and negative aspects. Probably your textbook has additional information they could use. This will force them to consider how a variety of things connect: buffalo, Chinese immigrants, Indians, women and the vote, Mormons, growth of a national economy, the role of the government, etc.

Looking for a way to connect Andrew Carnegie and the topic of immigration? This excerpt from Carnegie's autobiography describes his own immigrant experience.

Looking for Ellis Island info? Check out the National Park Service's info on Ellis Island and The Liberty Ellis Foundation (which is privately funded).

Don't forget to teach about Asian immigration during the late 19th century! The Library of Congress has a complete unit on Chinese immigration. Check out the Angel Island website. On the home page, there is a virtual tour. And under the Education tab they have a curriculum guide for teachers, a photo gallery, book and film recommendations, and lots more. Also check out books by Ronald Takaki, including his A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America.

How to connect immigrants and Indians to what you discussed in Reconstruction about African Americans? I created this chart for that very purpose. You can use it by having students brainstorm first on their own or in groups, and then fill in the gaps as you discuss the other groups. I have included at least some of the "answers" on the second page. You can follow up by having students write a compare/contrast paper or have a discussion. A caveat: you can find yourself in murky waters when you make some of these comparisons. The goal is NOT to decide "who had it the worst." It is not up to us to judge whether or not someone's experience of witnessing a beloved family member die from lynching or in a war was "worse." Avoid comparisons of personal pain and suffering.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Reconstruction, continued

Lesson Ideas, Links, Documents & Essential Questions for Reconstruction Unit

Note: this is my second post about teaching Reconstruction. See the first one here.

1. Have your students define what we mean by freedom. Whether or not you go into a lot of depth about the passage of the 13th amendment, certainly the central fact of Reconstruction is the freedom of the slaves. But freedom is a broad concept. So the question is, what did freedom mean for the newly freed slaves? What did it mean for their former masters? And how did it play out during this period? In what ways was freedom limited? Does freedom include economic opportunity? Suffrage? The ability to run for office? To live where one wants? Get an education? Go to school wherever one wants? The list could go on.... Have your students discuss this. Make lists. Make a group list. Refer to it often as you move through the unit.

2. My student teachers sometimes struggle with alternatives to lecture. While there is nothing wrong with a good lecture, it is a technique that is often overused by history teachers. There are some topics that are conducive to a brainstorm approach, in which students can figure out certain content material on their own without any sort of lecture or even a reading. The problems the nation faced after the Civil War is just one example of this. What student couldn't figure out on his or her own at least one example of a problem the nation (and you can specify North, South or both) had after the war? They all know that in wars, people die and property is destroyed. And they know that the slaves have, sort of anyway, been freed. So ask them to elaborate on that. Then you, the teacher, can add to their information.

So have students explore the scenarios below:
A. The Civil War has ended. In your groups, you have the following task. Brainstorm a list of the problems faced in the rebuilding process after the Civil War. Be specific.
  1. Categorize the problems. It is up to you to decide how to categorize them, e.g. economic, structural/rebuilding, political, etc.
  2. Rank the problems in order, most serious to least serious. You should rank each problem within each category. A problem in one category could be the most serious, followed by another problem in a different category. A problem in one category could be the most serious, followed by another problem in a different category.
B. You are a former slave in the South. You have four options:
  1. move North
  2. move West
  3. move elsewhere in the South
  4. stay put  
Then, in groups or as a class, discuss what option they might choose. What are the pros and cons of each option? How would their choice depend on whatever their specific circumstances are, e.g. if they were male or female, young or old, a parent, a child, on a large plantation, small farm, in the city, etc. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of the options? How would a former slave make him or herself aware of the options? Would he or she have to be able to read?
In both scenarios above, you now have the option to fill in the gaps during a discussion. You can point out how being illiterate might have hampered a former slave's ability to move, or the impact of the Homestead Act. (The latter scenario I adapted from a lesson in an excellent book for teachers, United States History: Eyes on the Economy). It is available for purchase online, and some lessons have been reproduced online. Pointing out economic costs and benefits can be a useful way to understand this period.

3. For teaching about the Freedmen's Bureau, some of the problems the newly freed slaves had, and the efforts of the government to help solve those problems, you can use this student-ready handout in groups. And here is a more middle-school friendly version of the document. I'm not sure where I got the original version of this document, but you can find more information/documents on the Freedmen's Bureau at the sites below.
4. What to do about Andrew Johnson? A few miscellaneous ideas:

  • Use the political cartoon above. It's a useful introduction to his problem. You can find additional political cartoons by Thomas Nast here.
  • Use the three essential questions below to demonstrate the political problem of Reconstruction that led to his impeachment. Pointing out that Andrew Johnson and Congress had very different answers to each of the three are part of the explanation for impeachment.
  1. Should the South be punished or pardoned?
  2. Should the federal government take responsibility for the social, economic and political well-being of the slaves?
  3. Who should be in charge of Reconstruction, Congress or the President? 
  • You can have a trial, debate, discussion, etc. in which students take a position. I was going to include the one I have used, but looking back at it, it needs some serious revision. So, in the interest of finishing this blog post before everyone who is reading it has long since finished their Reconstruction units (if you haven't already), I have decided not to include mine.
4. Here is my version of a DBQ I have put together for classroom use. And a few suggestions about DBQs:

  • There are so many ready-made DBQs out there, collected in books and online. (See for example, the high-quality DBQ Project. But I think it is really important to tailor even the best of them (including mine that I linked to above) to your students. You may need to edit some of the documents, eliminate some, add others, replace one, add different instructions, etc. 
  • I always tell students the question in advance. Unless you are trying to prepare students for the AP test and want to give them practice with blind DBQs, I feel that knowing the question in advance gives students something to focus on when they study. No one writes a paper without knowing the topic in advance, so I always like to tell students essay questions and DBQ questions in advance even if I am using them as a test or final assessment. Sometimes I give them the exact wording. Sometimes I just tell them the overall topic. This is assuming you are using a DBQ as an in-class activity. It is also entirely possible to have students work on the DBQ over the course of several days or completely on their own at home, or a combination of the two.
  • I usually use a combination of documents they have already seen in class and some new ones they have not. For example, I really like using this document in class which is from a chapter by Eric Foner in a collection of essays on Reconstruction. In light of Ferguson, I am finding it particularly compelling. I use it without the paragraph by Foner (but included it here so teachers have a reference). I have used it by having students make a simple t-chart in their notes, and then think about what is positive in this document (e.g. see the points that Foner makes, such as that the author feels empowered to write to the governor, author can write) and what is negative (e.g. author's writing is full of errors, the incident itself). And then you can point out whatever students didn't figure out on their own and/or quote a bit from Foner's interpretation.
  • Ideally, I also like to use at least a few visuals: photos or political cartoons or drawings. A chart or graph is also nice.  And I like to use at least one or two secondary sources, too. Often, I will use a passage from their textbook. I have not included that in this DBQ, but you can easily add a passage from the textbook you use.
  • Another option for this DBQ would be to include a chart of Reconstruction legislation or to allow students to bring in one that they completed in class or for homework. This rewards them for having taken notes from the textbook, if you use one, or from another source. I also have been moving further and further away from having students memorize lots of information (only to forget it). Being familiar with Reconstruction legislation and the big ideas are what I am aiming for, so including details on the DBQ helps students recall information they have learned or read about without having to memorize them in order to refer to them in their essay.
  • At this point in the school year, your students may already have some experience with DBQs. Whether they do or not, I think it is always useful to give students suggestions and practice. You can even have them work on their thesis statements as an in-class activity in advance of the DBQ.

Next post: how to handle the content-overload of the period 1865-1900 (minus Reconstruction).

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No Villain, No Idiot, No Saint: Thinking about Ferguson and Teaching Reconstruction

The title for this post comes from a quotation by W.E.B. DuBois in his book, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.
One reads the truer deeper facts of Reconstruction with a great despair. It is at once so simple and human, and yet so futile. There is no villain, no idiot, no saint. There are just men; men who crave ease and power, men who know want and hunger, men who have crawled. They all dream and strive with ecstasy of fear and strain of effort, balked of hope and hate. Yet the rich world is wide enough for all, wants all, needs all. So slight a gesture, a word, might set the strife in order, not with full content, but with growing dawn of fulfillment. Instead roars the crash of hell...”  
For a variety of reasons, Reconstruction can be a difficult period to teach.  And with troubling news coming out of Ferguson daily, this year it may be even more challenging.

So one way to begin a unit on Reconstruction could be by starting with the present. While reading about Ferguson in the paper yesterday morning, I was reminded of William Faulkner's famous quotation:
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
It came to mind when I saw this editorial cartoon by Walt Handelsman:

Wouldn't that be an interesting way to start off a unit on Reconstruction? I cannot imagine that the subject of what is going on in Ferguson wouldn't come up at some point in a unit on Reconstruction. As a friend just recently put it, "Isn't it sad that the most 'teachable moments' arise from the most egregious acts of human indecency?"

Luckily for teachers, there are a lot of folks out there who have been thinking about this. There is a twitter hashtag, #fergusonsyllabus that is pretty active. In fact, there is a #PTchat (Parent/Teacher) conversation tonight on Twitter at 9:00 pm Eastern time with Marcia Chatelein, a professor of African-American history at Georgetown University who started #fergusonsyllabus back in August. You can read about that here. You can find a lot more on Twitter. Here are just a few sites I found online that I think would be helpful, keeping in mind that some of these are from August and don't reflect recent events:

Moving on, but still thinking backwards, I remember the DBQ (documents-based question) I used last spring with 8th graders to conclude our unit on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This is the question I used:

What were the goals of the Civil Rights Movement and was the movement successful?

Students had to first define what they meant by "success," and they understood that a good answer to the above question had to take into account some of the areas in which the movement fell short. The documents included things like the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, quotations from Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X and some current statistics on income and education.

So when I pulled out my file on the Reconstruction and found the old DBQ I used in that unit, I was struck by the similarities. Here is the question for this DBQ:

To what extent could freed African-Americans regard Reconstruction as a failure?

And then a pile of my notes discussing successes and failures. Both periods--nearly 100 years apart--are so marked with both successes and failures. It is also interesting to me to see how I worded the two questions. The wording seems to suggest that Reconstruction is best understood as a failure, while Civil Rights is better understood as a success. The wording may suggest that, but surely the historic record is surely more complicated.

Either way you look at it, I don't think we can understand the modern civil rights era without first understanding Reconstruction. Frankly, I don't think we can understand race relations in the U.S. today without understanding both.

So how to plan a unit on Reconstructions? A few key issues to consider:

1. What are your dates? 

Do you end with 1877? Or do you also cover the "nadir" period and go on through Plessy v. Ferguson (Ferguson again!)? Both are possibilities. Depends on how you handle the late 19th century. Personally, I like to go up through Plessy v. Ferguson in my Reconstruction unit, and pick the story up again and devote time to the African American experience through the 1910s and 1920s.

2. The corollary to the above, is how much time to you want to devote to the present? 

At one high school I know, U.S. history is taught thematically, so historical issues are always brought up to the present. While I still prefer an overall chronological approach, there is considerable merit to at least referencing the present when we discuss the past. (Wouldn't that be one of the main points for teaching history?)

3. How much depth should you go into about Andrew Johnson's impeachment? 

The year of Clinton's impeachment I spent a LOT of time on impeachment. Certainly, in years where there is a lot of partisan bickering (sigh, is there ever a time when there's not?) it makes sense to devote some time to this and connect it to the larger concept of partisan politics. But always remember that you cannot cover everything. However you decide to teach the impeachment (and I will include some materials for doing an in-class trial), it is worthwhile to allow students to see the texture of the debate. Remember that the lens of partisan politics is not the only way to consider the impeachment.

For background information for you, see this brief article from about how historians have understood Johnson's impeachment. For another view, and background info on Johnson himself, check out the University of Virginia Miller Center's website. (Also check out the Presidential Classroom page, which will lead you to online exhibits and lesson plans. It seems to be especially rich on resources on Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson).

4. How much detail to go into about the horrors of lynching and racial discrimination? 

We cannot ignore the injustice and brutality of life during Jim Crow, but one can err on the other side too. I know, because one year I crossed the line and saw it on my students' faces. I had been reading aloud an excerpt from Leon Litwack's book, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow. I had already decided to skip a part that I felt was too graphic and violent. But as I was reading, I saw how upsetting the part I had chosen was -- at least for some of them. I don't mean to suggest that we cannot teach things that are upsetting. (How would that even be possible?) History is full of things that are upsetting. But it is important to think carefully about our pedagogical choices. (For a good resource on this, see the U.S. Holocaust museum's guidelines for teachers. While geared to thinking about the Holocaust, the issues they point out--about contextualizing history, avoiding comparisons of pain, etc.--are wise considerations for teaching about many painful subjects. Definitely work a look.) And of course, it is important to consider the age, experiences and background of your students.

Next post, I will provide some more specific lesson ideas, including some sample documents for the DBQ I mentioned above and for teaching about Johnson's impeachment.

Monday, December 1, 2014

On to the Civil War...

It has been a busy couple of weeks at my house, and I have gotten behind where I wanted to be by Thanksgiving. To me, Thanksgiving has always meant time for the Civil War. (In the classroom, not at the family Thanksgiving table, thankfully.) So, I am going to wrap up the Antebellum period with this post by offering a random assortment of lesson ideas from my "archives," (a.k.a. the boxes of manilla file folders that I keep tripping on in my office).

I am not going to do any posts on the Civil War itself. There are so many fantastic resources on the internet that can do far above my poor power to add or detract (brownie points if you get the reference. Check out Ken Burns's efforts to get Americans to learn the Gettysburg Address. And check out this fun youtube video that has famous people reciting it.) For a great place to start, check out Kevin M. Levin's Civil War blog I mentioned in an earlier post. In particular, see this post where he lists his nominations for the top 10 Civil War blogs. And see the end of this post for a few thoughts on the Emancipation Proclamation.

For the Politics of Slavery: 

Here is a useful activity to do in groups to review all the confusing ways to handle the Congressional slavery problem. Students have to categorize different ideas, people, terms and places as to how they relate to the politics of deciding the slavery question in the years leading up to the Civil War. This one came from deep in my files--surely handed down to me from past teachers.

This can be a confusing period for students. I once had a from a student which made realize some students weren't fully understanding the politics behind the slavery question. I don't remember the exact question, but it made it clear that not everyone was understanding (1) why the numbers of slave and free states had to be even in the first place. If you lived on your plantation full of slaves in Louisiana, and you weren't planning on moving, why would you care whether or not the new territory gained from Mexico was slave or not? and (2) So if the number of free and slave states were even, why would there still be an issue for Southerners? The chart below answers what can be an essential question for a lesson on the Compromise of 1850:
Why was it such a big deal to Southerners about whether or not there would be slavery in the new territories in the Mexican War?
I might, though, phrase it this way (see below), as an interesting point of discussion to begin a lesson. Have students think about it before showing them the "answer" in the chart below.

Why would an Alabama slaveowner care about whether or not there would be slavery in New Mexico?

The chart below shows clearly that that, over time, the South was losing national political power in the House, even if it was to keep power in the Senate.

For Teaching about the Overland Trail:

Here is another example of using a primary source in class which will look familiar to those of you who attended my session at the ICSS Conference in October. This one is about the experiences of the Overland Trail, specifically from the viewpoint of women who made the journey.
This link is for the one that has directions for students and possible "answers" for teachers.
Here is the link for just the document. I believe I got most of the excerpts from Lillian Schlissel's book, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey. You can find other excerpts here. I also may have used John Mack Faragher's, Women and Men on the Overland Trail.

This will address Common Core Standards 1, below, but also possibly 2 and 6 (use this link.)

Teaching about Dred Scott:

Another one I used at the ICSS conference in October. Here is the document I use for teaching the Dred Scott decision  It has key excerpts from the decision, along with questions that help students work through the argument, making it easier for them to understand. A good in-class activity that, at the conference, I used to demonstrate using Common Core standards 5 and 8, shown below.

And lastly, if you have already gotten to the Civil War and looking for a way to teach the emancipation, check out this version of the Emancipation Proclamation that I adapted from an old handout I have. Some teachers, understandably, are hesitant to go over the document itself with students (especially middle schoolers) because it is written in such "legalese." But I think it is (ironically, perhaps) easier for students to understand what the Emancipation Proclamation did and did not do if they actually read it. Or, even better, if you read it aloud to them. This is one of those times when it is probably better for you to read it rather than have them read it themselves or have a student read it. Hearing it read aloud as they follow along really helps it make sense. And the questions I have included to break up the text helps them figure out what the Proclamation did and why Lincoln relied on his power as Commander in Chief and used such legal language. They key point for students to understand is that the Emancipation Proclamation is a POLITICAL TOOL.

I usually precede the Emancipation Proclamation document with a look at Horace Greeley's letter to Lincoln and Lincoln's response. I would summarize the Greeley letter, but have students look carefully at Lincoln's response. It is a very succinct and clear statement of his view on what power he has regarding slavery and the purpose of the war. And it sets up perfectly what he is about to explain in his preliminary proclamation issued just one month later.

Next post will move on to Reconstruction...Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving and remembered to tell your students that it was Lincoln who set the future date for our Thanksgiving holiday!