Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Seneca Falls, the Women's Movement, and Tying It All Together with Essential Questions

What gets me really excited about teaching history is when I flip through my files, notes, and old worksheets and suddenly get an epiphany about how it all connects together. It is not clear who first said, "history is just one damned thing after another," but the quip could not be more apt to describe how history class can seem to our students if we don't do a better job of showing them these connections.

The period of the 1820s through the Civil War can be especially prone to this problem: Andrew Jackson, nullification & states' rights, Indian Removal, the invention of the cotton gin, Clay's American system, the Missouri Compromise, Second Great Awakening, abolitionism, Seneca Falls, and on and on. The content is extensive.




But as I observed a student teacher's lesson on the cotton gin, and then wrote my post on the market economy, and then about slavery, and then Indian removal, and then opened my folder about the women's movement and Seneca Falls convention in 1848, I came across this scribble on some old notes of mine:
shift from colonial economy ----> industrial economy----> concept of "separate spheres"

And I remembered how all these topics fit together and how important it is to SHOW students that. Or ideally, have them figure it out for themselves.

Using essential questions helps. I like to post a "question of the day" on the board every day. If you do this for all your lessons, you can them have students try to link them all together. History will then be more like "one thing leads to another." In other words, we have to explicitly teach students the historian's tool of CAUSE AND EFFECT. (Although the particular example I'm discussing in this post is more relational than causal, I think.)

There is the risk of oversimplifying, of course. What causes something else to happen is a complex process and not always clear. But helping students understand that one event in history can impact another is worth teaching, even at the risk of sometimes oversimplifying.

Let me elaborate on that. It occurred to me the other day that as I use essential questions to shape lessons and units, they can also be used to shape an ENTIRE SEMESTER.  I have a strong commitment to teaching U.S. history as a narrative, even as I work hard to reveal the messiness and complications of the narrative and alternative points of view.  So, when thinking about the first half of U.S. history, the narrative can follow a path of creating a democratic nation, with an emphasis on economic liberty that will be torn apart by Civil War and have to put itself back together again. An oversimplification? Probably. But keeping a central story line can help us avoid the problem of coverage. We cannot cover everything in U.S. history. So if we focus on Big Ideas, a central narrative, essential questions--or whatever you prefer to call it--we can arrange the curriculum in a way that allows students to make these connections.

One teacher I spoke to recently had a little sign that read "Civil War" on it, and all throughout first semester, he occasionally waves it up in the air when something comes up that shows the splintering of North and South. Is this too simplistic? Maybe. Does it overemphasize the "irrepressible conflict" view of the Civil War? Perhaps. But we can't argue with the fact the Civil War DID HAPPEN. So pointing out to students where we can see signs of the Civil War all the way back in the events of the 1770s or 1790s or 1830s can be really effective in helping students see the big picture. Too often they cannot see the forest through the trees.

So how to connect some of the topics of the antebellum period? As a summative exercise after some of these lessons, I might use a drawing like the one below. I think you could use this in a variety of ways. I would NOT hand it out to students. But I might use an old fashioned chalk board and start with one of the circles. And you could pass out index cards to students that had the phrase of the other circles. Other students would be in charge of the arrows. See if the students can create something that looks like this drawing, either on the board, or in their notes. Or on ipads.



So why is this post all about these connections? What about the women's movement and Seneca Falls?

One of the dangers with focusing too much on the Civil War is that we can overemphasize political history and leave out other good stories. But the story of the women's movement is going to continue into second semester. Eventually, you are going to get to the 19th amendment and the 1970s and ERA, right? And how can you teach those things if you don't establish the back story? (Another reason why I love backstoryradio.org! You've got to check this out. I learn so much from these podcasts!)

But the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 fits beautifully into an antebellum unit. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton getting dissed at the World Antislavery Convention in London. The connections between rights for African Americans and women. (Which will come up again and again, right? The connection between the passage of the 15th amendment and the suffrage movement and then again in the 1970s, when the women's movement follows the civil rights movement).

Lesson Ideas and Materials

And then, of course, you have Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. (See this article that claims Lincoln never said that line about the little lady who started the big war. Isn't it a bummer when we find out those great lines were never actually said? e.g., Jackson, "Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it" is another one. Sigh....)

My former colleague (and one of the hardest working teachers I know) Janet Mark was the one who helped our whole U.S. history team do a better job of integrating the study of American women into U.S. history. She introduced me to using an excerpt from chapter 9 of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a way to combine the concept of separate spheres, slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act. I have adapted some of her excellent materials below:

  • In class activity for teaching the concept of separate spheres and the cult of domesticity.
  • See here for questions on UTC you can use with students. I like having them discuss the questions, rather than write them out for homework. To get them to read it ahead of time, I would ask them to turn in at least three examples or underline examples in the text of separate spheres. There are lots of them in this chapter.
  • See here for commentary on chapter 9 of the book from the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.
  • Resources on the cult of domesticity from the National Humanities Center.
  • And don't forget Stowe's famous sister, Catherine Beecher. You can build a fascinating lesson around a discussion comparing Catharine Beecher's views and those of Angela Grimke and the ideas embedded in Elizabeth Cady Stanton's Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Use this document with students. You could spend an entire period on this, as it raises the fundamental question of whether men and women are different from each other. Each author argued deeply in support of women's power and influence, but from a completely different place. Beecher fundamentally believes that women and men are naturally different from men. This argument is a precursor to the Supreme Court's decision in Muller v Oregon in 1907.  And the argument goes a long way towards explaining why the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments was not widely supported, and why women would not get the right to vote until 1920. (For more on this, see the last resource in this post.)


Teacher Materials for Using the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments:



Other places to visit on the web:


  • Not yet a brick-and-mortar museum, the National Women's History Museum has some good resources, though they have had some negative press about their level of scholarship.
  • The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center - has teacher resources, lessons, primary resources, and sponsors a writing competition for students writing on issues of social justice.
  • Stephen Railton, an English professor at the University of Virginia has created a multimedia exhibit about Uncle Tom's Cabin and its place in American Culture. There are some impressive resources to be found here. Check out this page for information about how abolitionism led to the women's movement. And look here for a letter from Angelina Grimke to Catharine Beecher on what was wrong with the idea of colonizing freed slaves in Africa.
  • Indiana and Purdue Universities have created a site devoted to Abolitionism.
  • For a short, readable article about the use of essential questions in the history classroom, see Heather Lattimer, "Challenging History: Essential Questions in the Social Studies Classroom," Social Education, 72, (6) 2008, pp. 326-329. If you are a National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) member, you can access it online in their publication archives.
  • It may be worth a membership to NCSS just to read this article in their publication archives: Dave Neumann, "A Different Way of Viewing History Teaching: Balancing Competing Intellectual Challenges," Social Education, 74 (4), 2010, pp. 184-188. I thought of it because I recall he uses the topic of whether men and women are fundamentally different as a hook in a lesson on women in the antebellum era. But the whole article is worth reading because he discusses three fundamental challenges in the teaching of history. For each of the three, he refers to the antebellum period. The three include (1) the problem of understanding the past in context while making it relevant in the present; (2) the problem of scale: historical trends become significant as part of larger trends, but gain texture and interest when examined in detail; and (3) exceptional individuals shape history in important ways (e.g. Frederick Douglass) but the experiences of most people differ from those exceptional people (e.g. most African Americans in the 19th century).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Challenges of the "Indian Problem" for Andrew Jackson... and for History Teachers



Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

— African proverb



There is nothing quite like the proverb above to bring to the forefront the "problem" of how to teach Indian history in a U.S. history course. The term, "the Indian Problem" is used to describe the difficulties faced by the U.S. goverment (inherited from the colonial era) in dealing with the conflicts between Native Americans on the one hand, and white Americans on the other, particularly on the frontier. But I have always had an "Indian Problem" of my own when trying to responsibly incorporate American Indian history into the U.S. history curriculum.
"Andrew Jackson as the Great Father"
Let us first be clear, that what I am talking about is how to fit Indians into the "mainstream" story of the political history of the United States. That's where we first see the irony of the above proverb. Most U.S. history teachers do not teach much, if anything, about Native Americans themselves. Neither the diversity of Indian groups, nor their individual cultures are typically examined. Even the fact that we refer to the people as "Indians" or "Native Americans" belies a Eurocentric approach. We only talk about specific peoples when they are in direct conflict with white Americans. The Pequot, the Seminole, the Creeks, the Cherokee, the Sioux, the Iroquois, the Sauk, the Nez Perce, the Cheyenne--all these names are familiar to us because they have been on the losing side of the long, painful story of Indians in the United States. And we usually teach these topics from the perspective of white Americans.

It may be instructive to compare the challenges of teaching about race and the place of African Americans in U.S. history to that of Native Americans. As a teacher and a student, the problem of slavery is, in a weird and ironic way, easier to wrestle with because we know that--no matter what problems still exist surrounding racial equality for blacks--at least slavery has been abolished. So even when we have to encounter the brutality of slavery and Jim Crow, we can feel better because we know that slavery will be abolished and legal segregation will end. But the story of Native Americans has a much different outcome. And the most challenging part, I think, is that even when students register emotions of empathy with Indians, and outrage over U.S. policy, none of them are advocating that Georgia "give back" land to the Cherokee. We are moved by Chief Joseph's poignant speech in which he says he will fight no more forever. But no one is suggesting the Pacific Northwest be returned to the Nez Perce.

So I find the proverb above somewhat discomfiting. There really is no way around the fact that the success of the United States resulted in the significant defeat and decimation of Native Americans. I am not leaping to the inaccurate conclusion that Indians do not still exist. Bringing the story up to the present is important. And, depending on where you live and who your students are, you may have Native Americans in your class. Those of us who live and work in communities with significant Indian populations will have unique issues to address. But I have found that even in the Chicago area where Indians are not nearly as visible as they were when I taught in Wisconsin, students still have questions about things like Indian-run casinos and reservations today.

So, keeping all of the above in mind, how would one go about teaching the history of Indian Removal and the policies of Andrew Jackson?

There are quite a few lesson plans and ideas out there in the internet. Some approaches try to get students to see things from the perspective of the Indians, some from the perspective of Jackson, some from both. I like to focus on the perspective of Jackson and conclude with looking at the effects from the perspective of the Indians, recognizing that my approach does put more emphasis on the perspective of the winners.

My operating premise for the lesson includes the following key ideas:
  1. President Jackson's views must be understood in the context of the time in which he lived. 
  2. Jackson's views were complicated. It is not simply a matter of being anti-Indian or sympathetic to Indians.
  3. His choices were circumscribed by a variety of factors, leading to #4 below.
  4. At the end of the day, the U.S. was in a position of making a bad choice for the Indians and a worse choice. In other words, given the 200 plus years of history preceding, there was not going to be an option that would be ideal for the Indians who were removed. 
Each of the four points above inform my approach, but I do not share these with students all at once, particularly the last two. The last two should be understood by students as a result of the lesson, not up front. And I admit, up front, that this lesson presents a definite point of view: that removal was Jackson's only viable choice. (I do NOT, however, try to argue that this was the morally correct choice.) Despite the flaws of this approach, I think it helps students understand a key point about history: that choices made in the past have consequences for the future. I like to emphasize that point at the end of the lesson.

This is how I have taught Indian removal (in one 80 minute lesson when I taught on a block, or 2 periods if not):

Part I: Students need some background information, which could take the form of a reading they do in advance, a reading in class, a brief lecture, or a film clip. Some of the things that should be included in this background are listed below. You could spend forever on these points, or 5-10 minutes. Opt for 5-10 minutes.

  • background or reminders about previous white/Indian encounters - Blackhawk war, Seminole wars, and in general what has happened to Indians in North America?
  • westward expansion, particularly in the South after the invention of the cotton gin. (I once employed a little "fun and games" at the beginning of class, using a "mystery box." Students had 20 questions to ask to figure out what was in the box (a ball of cotton with seeds). Their only clue was it had something to do with a lesson from earlier in the week that connected to today's lesson on Indian Removal). Trying to figure out the connection was a good "aha" moment for students.
  • background on Andrew Jackson's previous encounters with Indians, e.g. Seminole wars
  • background on the situation in Georgia with the Cherokee.
Part II: Go over 4 options that Jackson had for dealing with the problem with the Cherokee in Georgia. Again, this can be done briefly--5-10 minutes. Or can be handled with a brief handout given in advance; perhaps students come into class already having picked one? Or can have brief descriptions that students read in class. Another alternative that I have not tried, would be to simply put students into groups and see if they could come up with options on their own. 
  1. Assimilation of Indians into white society: the federal government could commit to a policy of integrating Indians into white society. Setting up schools, breaking up tribal arrangements, etc. (This, of course, will become a later policy in the 1880s).
  2. Destruction of Indians: This option could take one of two forms. One, some Americans clearly supported outright war with Indians and saw deliberate extermination of the Indian population as a viable option. But destruction could also result from a policy of not doing anything. If the state or federal government did nothing, aggressive white settlers might take matters into their own hands. If there are 100,000 Indians and 13 million white settlers....
  3. Protection: The federal government could send the military to protect Indians on their land against white settlers. (At some point, you might want to mention to students what was going on in South Carolina with the nullifcation/tariff issue and why Jackson would not want to try this approach at this time. This raises another key point about history: sometimes certain choices are not viable because of unrelated issues that are going on at the same time. The great example of this, of course, is what might have happened to Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" and the Civil Rights Movement had the nation not been faced with Vietnam at the same time.)
  4. Removal: Move the Indians onto land that was not wanted by white settlers.
Part III: Students choose which option they think Jackson should choose. This can be done either by having students physically get up and go to a corner of the room representing their choice (label each corner with a sheet of paper).  Or students can get up and post a sticky note with their name on it on one of 4 pieces of paper labeled with the choice (either in a corner or on the board at the front). Either way, students get to stand up and move around for a second. 

And here again, you have choices. Students can spend time with others who agree, and come up with some arguments. You can divide groups into subgroups. In their groups, students can first discuss with each other the rationale for their decision. You could also give students some of the primary sources given below to work with during this part of the lesson, asking them to use the documents as support for their position, or to come up with arguments against the ones in the documents. (See the links from Digital History, below).

You can, and probably should, lead a whole class discussion. Whatever you decide, I think it's important to emphasize some of the lessons of history I have highlighted above.  For example, if protecting the Indians in Georgia meant risking rebellion of the state of Georgia against the United States (thinking about the nullification crisis in South Carolina), how would that influence Jackson's decision. You could also discuss whether or not the thesis I have proposed is accurate: was the option that Jackson actually chose a choice between "a bad choice and a worse choice?" And when we--students today--evaluate this decision, do we evaluate it in the context of the times, or with the knowledge of the aftermath (Part IV below) or the morality?

Part IV: I don't think you should ever teach a lesson on Indian removal without providing students with the perspectives of those who experienced it. You will find excellent resources that describe what the Trail of Tears was like at the Digital History website (more from this website below). You can find another good account from the Cherokee perspective at the very last page of this pdf lesson (there are some other good ideas and resources, but the beginning of the lesson asks students to think about what home means to them and what they would take with them if they had to suddenly leave and that really rubs me the wrong way, as I explained at the beginning of this earlier post.) And you might--depending on how you time everything--try to put this part of the lesson in before you discuss some of the issues I mentioned in Part III, above.

And one final thought....I've always liked to use this quotation, attributed to a colonel from Georgia (sorry I can't find the source):
"I fought through the Civil War and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by the thousands. But the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew."
I might use this quotation as a conclusion and ask students whether or not anything could have been done to prevent this tragedy. It occurs to me that while there may be a depressing inevitability about the decision to remove the Cherokee, the way it was handled-- the Trail of Tears--was not inevitable. And so even if Jackson was caught between a rock and a hard place, his way out might have been handled with greater attention to the way in which that removal was carried out.  

Below are some additional resources:
  • Listen to the segment about the Trail of Tears in a recent podcast from BackStory Radio with the American History Guys.  In it, Jackson's removal policy is discussed in the context of the history of American interventions for humanitarian purposes. It considers the fact that Jackson himself thought he was doing the right thing in order to save the Indians. Jackson was well aware that many of the Indians that were not removed (i.e. from the Northeast) no longer existed. Daniel Feller, a historian and Andrew Jackson scholar at the University of Tennessee makes the intriguing point that humanitarianism is in the eye of the beholder. He says, "One person's humanitarianism is another's cultural genocide." What an interesting perspective to revisit when you teach about the reservation schools and the policies of the 1880s!
  • See the Digital History Project for additional primary sources and teaching activities related to Indian Removal. They include some excellent political cartoons (including the one below), excerpts from Jackson's speeches about his policy, and a letter from Cherokee Chief John Ross. There are also other pages that will direct you to resources on past Indian policies of Jefferson, Monroe, and how the Cherokees were quite acculturated to American society. Also, see here for their "teacher-ready" excerpt to use with students that includes 4 short documents (1 from Jackson, 1 from Cherokees, 1 from John Marshall's Supreme Court decision and 1 from the governor of Georgia). Using some of these resources in Part III of the lesson I have suggested above will make your lesson longer, but richer.



  • I am quite aware that most of my above lesson ideas revolve around the perspective of whites and the U.S. government. For more information about how the Cherokees responded, click here for the Digital History's collection about resistance to removal from the Cherokees.
  • Other lesson ideas and resources can be found here.
  • Worried that you are not using the Common Core standards? Worry no more: standards numbers 6, 7, 8 and 9 can all be easily incorporated into this lesson. (The link I've included is to the 9-10th grade standards, but similar ones exist for 6-8th grades and 11-12th).

Here are a few books that might be useful. I have not read the first three, but decided to go ahead and list them anyway:
And ones that I have read:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ebola and U.S. History

I caught just a few minutes this morning of Terry Gross on Fresh Air interviewing Helene Cooper, who is a Liberian-born American journalist (currently Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times.) And immediately I remembered my recent post on slavery, and that I neglected an opportunity to bring in current events.

The current news about Ebola in West Africa offers an opportunity to teach students a
little something about the history of Liberia, Sierra Leone and the American Colonization Society.

Even as a history teacher, I am guilty--like most Americans--of knowing far too little about the history of Africa. But I do know that the Liberian flag bears a striking resemblance to our own.

And the Liberian capital, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe, who supported the colonization of Liberia. And "Liberia" comes from "Liberty." And that it was settled by a group of former American slaves and aided by the American Colonization Society.

It is unfortunate that it takes a terrible epidemic to remind me about this important connection. Ebola or no ebola, we ought to familiarize our students with Liberia and Sierra Leone. Whenever I taught about the American Colonization Society in the past, I did at least mention these facts above. And students were really amazed and surprised that they had never heard this before. Discussing the American Colonization Society opens up a Pandora's box of questions about race in America. It is always eye-opening, if uncomfortable, for students to recognize that white abolitionists might be opposed to slavery for racist reasons.


For more information, check out the websites below.  The Library of Congress, especially, has some good resources.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Market Revolution: Moving towards an Industrial Economy

As I was going through my files for my unit on the New Republic, I found this handy little lesson on the changes from the colonial economy to an early industrial economy. Economics is not my strong suit, but it is important for students to understand broad strokes in the economy and see how the United States moved from a primarily agricultural nation to the one we are today. The lesson described below is the first step.

What I like about this classroom activity is its simplicity and that it gives students the opportunity to literally manipulate data. I have been continually surprised by how well the very low-tech technique of changing the format of information away from 81/2 X 11 sheets of paper onto small cards works. I suppose one could turn it into some kind of app, but I suspect that for today's youth, they might find index cards novel and the ipad...well, less so. Or maybe I'm just making excuses for my old lesson plans.

I'm pretty sure I got the idea for this lesson after reading Charles Seller's The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 in grad school. But I also might have gotten some of it from one of my colleagues, or adapted it from another lesson plan.

So here is the main activity of the lesson:

(Ideally you would need some sort of introduction.) I'm constantly haranguing my student teachers that all good lessons should have a beginning, a middle and an end. This is just the middle.)

Copy the chart below onto cardstock. You will need one for each group or pair of students. Small groups or pairs are best. Cut up all the cards and stick each set (mix 'em up) in an envelope.

Have the students first find the cards that say "Colonial Economy" and "Market Economy" and put those at the top. Then have them sort all the cards into one pile for colonial, one for market. They will find it easiest if they FIRST find pairs (e.g. find both national wealth cards). Do one or two with them as an example if you like. This should work well with middle or high school students.  You can eliminate some of the cards if you have less time.

Here's the first page of the chart (you can click here for a google doc version that has BOTH pages):


Then, depending on timing, you can either go over it as a class, or check their pairs and columns as they work. You can have them either write up a paragraph summarizing the main difference, using a few specific examples. Or ask them to write ONE good sentence that makes an overall generalization. You could also have students transferring them to an organizer like this one as an activity before writing any of the above ideas. Alternatively, you can have a brief discussion about the effects on individuals, families and communities (e.g. values, lifestyles, customs, daily life).

I like to conclude by reminding students about the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson. Do the changes in the economy seem more Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian? And then you can refer to Jefferson's famous comments about manufacturing vs. agriculture from his Notes on the State of Virginia. 

"Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people...."

and
"Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."

You can find the complete text here.


Other resources:


  • If you haven't already found them, you should check out John Green's Crash Courses on YouTube. They move pretty fast: there is A LOT of content crammed into videos of 10-15 minutes in length. Because of that, they are probably more suitable to high school level, but you can show parts of them and that would work for middle schoolers. His YouTube video below on the Market Revolution could be used as an intro or conclusion to this lesson. In the 8th minute, Green goes on to explain the connection of the market revolution to other historical trends, such as westward expansion, manifest destiny, immigration, women's work and the "dehuminization" that occurs as a result of industrialization. He concludes with an interesting point about Herman Melville's famous story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," which would be an interesting tie-in to literature. But you could also just show the first 8 minutes of this video, if you wanted to keep your lesson more focused on the market economy. (However, you could also include your lesson with a really interesting philosophical discussion of the implications of industrialization.)