Posts Tagged 'history'

Dear Teachers

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!

By Elie Ortiz

The first eight years of my life were spent in Puerto Rico. It was a place where everybody spoke Spanish. I was comfortable — comfortable talking to my parents, extended family, friends, and teachers. But all of a sudden, my life took a huge turn. I was no longer in Puerto Rico; I was sitting in a classroom where everybody spoke English. At the time, I knew about three words: door, window, pencil.

Social studies was a drag. I was forced to memorize vocabulary words such as “allegiance” and “sovereign.” I might know what they mean now, but when I was a little girl I didn’t, and I was traumatized by my entire social studies experience. All of the kids around me knew what they were talking about; they constructed arguments, they debated, and seemed like experts in the subject. Me? I was struggling to even form a sentence in my head just to ask the teacher about a homework assignment.

By high school, I was fluent in English, but I was definitely not fluent in social studies. I still hated it. It dragged just as much as it did in elementary school. Why? Because social studies was never taught beyond the books. We did not go out to explore our community, there were no guest speakers, and our readings were bland. While we did more inquiry and took informed action, I still had a negative attitude about social studies until college. I never loved social studies until now, all thanks to my amazing professor. As it turns out, social studies is not just about world wars and looking at historical documents. It’s about learning about ourselves, our community, our world — using our knowledge to question the world and take action. It’s about the impact each individual person can have on the world.

***

I am not telling you my story so you can feel sorry for me about my experience with social studies. Rather, it’s to emphasize the importance of teaching our kids to be sociologists, geographers, historians. Students, especially during their younger years, are curious about the world. If we lecture them, have them take notes, then give them tests all of the time, are we really impacting our students? No. We are teaching them what to think, not how to think.

Overall, my thinking about social studies in K-8 classrooms has changed tremendously throughout the semester. At first, I viewed social studies as only boring history facts, but now I see it as a powerful tool to help students not only succeed in school but as human beings as well. The C3 Framework presents the following four Dimensions: Developing questions and planning inquiries; Applying disciplinary concepts and tools; Evaluating sources and using evidence; and Communicating conclusions and taking informed actions. These dimensions can be applied in the classroom and in the real world as well.

For example: Let’s think about poverty. Why are people living in poverty? How is poverty affecting our economic status? What is the data? How many people live in poverty today? What can I do to stop poverty?

As we can see, we can apply what we learn in the classroom into the real world and actually make a difference. As educators, let’s impact our students through social studies. Every single student deserves to learn about how powerful it can be.

 

A Brief History of Butter…

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!

Western-pack-butterBy: Audrey Meyersieck 

While it seems insignificant in our daily lives, butter has a huge impact on the different types of food we eat. Without realizing, I likely consume butter 3–4 times a day. Whether I use it when I’m cooking, spread it on my bread, or even when I eat premade baked goods. Although butter is seemingly a normal, household staple, it actually has an epic history that not many people are aware of. Behind every piece of buttered toast, buttered noodles, or batch of chocolate chip cookies, there is a story. Where did that butter come from, and how did it get into your local grocery store? In first grade social studies we learned that the pilgrims invented butter, and even dressed up at pilgrims to make our own butter in class. But that might not be the case.

In the Desert of ancient Africa around 8000 B.C., a lonely traveler made an accidental discovery. Thirsty from the hot terrain, he reached for the sheepskin pouch attached to his pack animal. However, when he tilted the pouch to take a sip of milk, he was shocked to discover that the milk had turned into a thick mush from churning around on the animals back. Surprisingly, it tasted delicious!

At least that is likely how it happened according to Author Elaine Khosrova in her book, Butter: a Rich History. She writes that butter is like “a historical roadmap of humanity.” While we often get our butter from cows today, early butter came from the milk of yak, sheep and goats. Over the years, butter has taken on different uses. In ancient Rome, butter was used for cosmetics as well as for healing balm; ancient Sumerians offered butter as gifts in temple, and the first student protest was even linked back to butter in 1766 at Harvard after a meal with rancid butter was served to students (Jankowski, 2017).

Today, most of the butter we consume is from cows. In order to make it, cream is held at room temperature, it is then aged in an aging tank for about 12–15 hours. After this process is done, the cream is churned and eventually butter granules form and condense; the liquid left over is called buttermilk. Salt is added to improve the taste and shelf life. In the final step, the butter is shaped, packaged into wax paper, and shipped off to the grocery store where it can be purchased for consumption. Butter factories did not come to the United States until the 1860’s, and it soon became a table top staple. Today, Americans consume about 940,000 metric tons of butter per year, and there is an increasing demand.

While butter can be found in a majority of American homes and grocery stores, many of us forget about the long process that it takes to produce it, or the environmental implications that it has on our planet. Through economic thinking, we can analyze the long-term effects and processes of producing different foods, and weigh the costs and benefits of buying certain things from our grocery stores. As social studies teachers, we can encourage our students to dig deeper into where our food comes from, and can provide them with opportunity to explore something of interest to them. They can discover a wealth of information about the culture during the time the food was discovered, and how such products have evolved over time.

Sources

“Overview of the Butter Making Process.” Animals | Causes of Color, 28 Nov. 2018, www.webexhibits.org/butter/process-steps.html.

Patton, Leslie. “Americans Are Eating More Butter Than Ever.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 14 Mar. 2017, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-14/a-fatty-staple-once-public-health-enemy-no-1-makes-a-comeback.

Jankowski, Nicole. “Spread The Word: Butter Has An Epic Backstory.” NPR, NPR, 24 Feb. 2017, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/24/515422661/spread-the-word-butter-has-an-epic-backstory.

To My Teachers of the Past

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!
ross

Retrieved from The Ways, © 2019 Wisconsin Education Communications Board.

By Keanna Ross

Growing up, when my teachers or classmates found out my ethnicity, they treated me either as a foreign creature or as if they knew my entire life story: “You people still exist?” “Do you live in a teepee?” (I live in a sturdy house like the rest of my family and my ancestors actually lived in wigwams.) “You won’t have to work as hard for college because you get to go for free!” (If only they knew that my tribe is so poor, they avoid students’ emails and phone calls in order to avoid giving out an $800–$1,100 grant, which I have yet to receive in my fourth year of college.) Or, my personal favorite, “You’re lucky, you don’t have to ever pay taxes!” (Hahaha, I wish!) As you may be able to assume, I am Native American–well, half anyway. My dad is Ojibwe and Oneida, and our family is from the Bad River reservation in northern Wisconsin.

From childhood to adulthood, I have always been very involved in my culture. Though my mom is German, she was always much more enthusiastic about having my sisters and me know our Native half. She would sit with my grandma, my dad’s mother, and learn about all of the traditions; she took us to powwows religiously, learned how to bead, learned how to make regalia, allowed us to dance. When my mom passed away in the fall of 2015, she requested a traditional Ojibwe service at the Congregation of the Great Spirit, the Native American Catholic Church founded by my family years ago. Because of my mother and grandmother, my sisters and I have always been very involved in our culture and always will be. As you can see from this small backstory, my culture is very important to not only me but also to my entire family. I wear Native pride on my sleeve.

Due to this pride, I openly share my background with everyone. This is not a bad thing when people want to become educated. It is a bad thing when you’re a shy second grader, and your teacher puts you on the spot during November because we are talking about the pilgrims and the ‘Indians,’ and makes you the example ‘Indian’ to represent a whole nation. It is a bad thing when you are a senior in high school and you are told by a classmate, “You should be happy the Europeans came! They made this place better,” without having any knowledge of the cultural genocide that occurred.

Along with a HUGE majority of K-12 students, I have only ever been taught small fragments of the truth. We have been taught only one perspective. Imagine the knowledge being passed down as an animal exhibit at the zoo. As students, we have only been taught what we can see when we grab onto the binoculars. We have been focused on only one tiny part of a truth. If that is all we are taught, that is all we grow to know, because we are never taught to take the binoculars away from our eyes and see the rest of reality around us.

This cycle is still happening. Children are being taught a single perspective. This is not only a problem with Native American history being accurately represented but also African American history, Japanese American history (which I have yet to formally learn about), Mexican/American history… world history! As a sophomore in college I took an African history course, taught by an extremely knowledgeable and sweet man from Nigeria. You wouldn’t believe how many times he had to correct students when they referred to Africa as a COUNTRY, or implied that it was tiny, not modernized, or that they felt sorry for Africans. People do not know how huge the CONTINENT of Africa is; they do not know how many diverse countries are in Africa. This professor would always tell us stories about how people would ask– because he was from a country in Africa– if he knew their friend who was located on the opposite side of the continent! This is sad because this is all a result of inaccurate education.

In American schools, we are only taught about the slave trade and of Africans being “primitive;” we only learn about the dehumanizing of these people. When I learned about Egypt in sixth grade, I was never taught that it was a country in Africa; it was never even mentioned. When learning about Native American history, we were taught that the pilgrims and ‘Indians’ had Thanksgiving and that the stealing of homes was consensual. We were told that the Europeans helped the natives. We were taught about the Trail of Tears in high school, but this only consisted of a section of a chapter which was not its focal point. We were not taught that it was wrong of the Europeans; we did not mourn the deaths of millions of indigenous people (not only in what we call America, but also Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, what is now known as Mexico, and also Canada, along with South America, Hawaii, and many many more).

***

If I could suggest anything to my teachers of the past, it would be to take into account all of your students. Stop teaching the dominant narrative of colored people being less intelligent and less capable. It does not matter what your background is, you can teach history with a broader perspective. You can represent ALL of your students, truthfully. Be open to, not only, learning from your students, but also changing how you teach. Understand that history textbooks were made by white Americans who create them to appeal to a certain audience. Learn with your students, because what you were taught is not coming from a point of multiple perspectives. Becoming the difference in your students’ lives is educating them on different people. It is allowing yourself to stray from tradition. Be the one who helps develop humans who are knowledgeable about the world, instead of the one who contributes to stereotypes.

As an educator you should care about how you are shaping the future. Let’s take the binoculars off and see the entire reality and truth.

 

  We Better Listen to the Kids

Dreamer of Dreams, by Joe Brusky/Overpass Light Brigade. Retrieved from Flickr for Creative Commons use.

As part of Dr. Melissa Gibson’s class Teaching Middle Secondary Social Science, students are asked to think about social studies in a new light — and throughout the course, their perceptions do shift. Through their blogging during the semester, we can see these changes in the students’ own words. Read on to learn along with our students!By Cynthia Zuñiga

The goal for any teacher is to not only educate their students, but to make sure students are able to use the knowledge we share and apply it to their daily lives. Personally, I strive towards this goal, but I also hope what I teach my students will help them become great citizens and create a stronger society than the one I grew up in. I have only recently learned that the version of history I was taught when I was in elementary and high school was based on half-truths. A lot of the important information in social studies classrooms is sugar coated or swept completely under the rug. This is something that I do not want for my classroom. I want my students to know the real society that they live in, so that they may not be as shocked as I was once they get older.

Thankfully, some teachers are already striving for this social change. They are igniting a flame in their students to take action and create change. A great example of this is the Milwaukee organization called Y.E.S. (Youth Empowered in the Struggle) that was founded through Voces De La Frontera (Voices of the Border). This is an organization that has been connecting with various high schools around the Milwaukee area to create “chapters.” Students learn about the social issues that are occurring within their area and nationwide. They create plans to get the community together in order to help them face these issues that are effecting their families, neighbors, teachers, etc.

As many students realize over time, the society that they live in is not perfect. Through a variety of social studies lessons, they learn the message that nothing in society will change if effort isn’t given. One helpful lesson would be studying the Civil Rights Movement and how the marches on the streets ensured people that their voices were heard. Another example is when Cesar Chavez began a boycott to help the United Farmworkers to make sure that others would realize the difficulties society would have without farmers. History can never changed by just watching on the sidelines; this is what is being taught to the students that are involved in the Y.E.S. program. You can watch this video of the annual May Day march held in Milwaukee. On this day, May 1st, all Latinx, immigrants, and refugees are encouraged to not attend their school, job, or any other responsibility. It is a day to demonstrate what life would be like without these people. It is a day to bring awareness while also gathering the community together.

When students organize and actually “do” social studies, they are able to use their freedom of speech to stand up for their beliefs and make a change. It allows them to apply historical knowledge of how others before them were able to stand their ground and make an impact. In addition, by organizing and attending these marches, the students become aware of social issue events that are happening within their immediate community and nationwide. Their perspectives on different cultures also change because they become more aware that oppression is not only placed on the Latinx and Black communities, but on other groups as well.

* * *

Another example of students engaging in social studies on a national level is the National Walkout, when individual expressed their perspectives on gun laws and human rights. These students, like the Y.E.S. members, studied history and realized it had been repeated over and over, but that there had been little positive change. By participating in the National Walkout, these students took matters into their own hands to make sure that the government knew they were ready to fight for change. One quote that I heard repeatedly during the time of the walkout was “I think we better listen to the kids”; this quote is one hundred percent correct. Our students can change the world, and they are the ones who often have a clearer perspective than most adults.

The students, like those who participated in the walkout, are hungry for change, and they will not be satisfied until justice and reform have been accomplished. By participating activities such as the National Walkout, students are able to “do” social studies; by using their freedom of speech and applying their knowledge of human rights, they are able to learn and connect more about how the government works — specifically on the topic of guns. When students become politically active, they gain a variety of perspectives and then have the ability to branch out and stand up for many human rights issues.

* * *

It is clear that more students are standing up for their rights and using their voice to be heard by those in power. Examples such as these are needed in the classroom when teachers discuss civic and informed action. Students will come to realize that when they see something with which they do not agree, they have the opportunity to educate themselves and fight back. Once students are equipped with that knowledge, teachers can then focus on the Amendments and other laws that protect them when they decide to speak their mind.

Proactive teachers can also use these examples to teach students the reasons why, historically, these groups of people have fought back and demanded change. Engaging in modern day movements can help students reflect back to the civil rights movement, and it can help them understand how minorities are still being neglected and treated poorly. Ultimately, as educators, we must focus our students’ attention on the differences in the lives of those who are privileged and those who are not. We must help them realize that not everyone has the same social, economic and educational opportunities. When they have such understandings, they will be better equipped to enter the real word and make big things occur. The children are our future, and I am ready to listen to what they have to say.

Social Studies Classes are SOOOOOOO Boring

history-998337_960_720.jpgBy Bill Waychunas – Here we go again. Without fail, each and every year, more than one parent will turn a parent-teacher conference into a confessional. Usually, it happens when a parent asks me to explain what my course (Civics) is all about. Sometimes, it comes after they tell me a story about how their child had really enjoyed one of the topics we had learned about and talked their parent’s ear off at home. On occasion, I’m completely blindsided by it, but usually it starts off something like this:

“I used to hate my history classes when I was in high school.”

Then comes my favorite part.

“It was just so boring.”

Great. This is going well. Then comes the curveball.

“But now I just love history stuff.”

Huh?

Astounding. As a younger teacher, I thought the the adults who had this mindset or the students that weren’t particularly engaged by history just needed time to “come around” to history, as if it was an acquired taste.

Now, I believe that it has more to do with the way that the vast majority of social studies classes are taught. Just this week, I was riding in an Uber chatting with the driver and upon finding out that I was a social studies teacher, he said:”I always liked history classes. I’m good at memorizing things.” There lies the problem. Instead of teaching students to read, think, discuss, and write, we social studies teachers are focused on parading through as much content as possible. We can’t “cover” everything in our classes, yet when we try to, we are creating the “boring” class that’s just all about memorizing facts.

As more schools are shifting the emphasis of reading instruction into social studies classes, we have a great opportunity to teach less, teach it better, and teach social studies skills that will truly serve our students in their futures.

To renew my license this past year, I needed to take an additional course in reading instruction. So, I frantically enrolled in a course at a local public college and could only get into a Friday night course called Foundations of Reading Instruction. So, there I sat, the only secondary teacher in a class of future kindergarten and 1st grade teachers, learning about how to teach kids their alphabet and phonics. While I dreaded the class at first, I ended up learning more than just reading instruction.

To start each class, the professor would ask the class the seemingly simple question, “What is reading?” to which someone in the class would respond, “It is the interaction between the text, the reader, and their prior knowledge.” This is a powerful and important concept that has shaped my teaching of reading in my classroom but also has a related parallel to the work of social studies teachers.

If education and the study of social studies is about creating capable and engaged citizens and setting the foundation for a thriving democracy, then I would ask the question, “What is democracy?” Well, to borrow from my past professor, democracy is “the interaction between the real world, the citizen, and their social studies knowledge.” History and social studies are our “prior knowledge” which enables us to interact with and understand the world around us. Without background knowledge, students cannot use higher-level critical thinking skills that make history useful or relevant to their everyday lives. The problem that happens in most social studies classrooms is that we focus on cramming as much prior knowledge into our students brains as possible without ever showing them how to use it or why it matters.

I believe that this is exactly the reason why so many people are drawn to history as they become older; the success of the History Channel can’t be completely attributed to Duck Dynasty, after all. When asked to describe their high school history experience in one word, most people chose the words “boring” or “irrelevant.” How is it possible that history-centered entertainment continuously tops the charts of best sellers and blockbuster movies, like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States or Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln? Clearly, there is an untapped wellspring of interest and value in history that has been unfortunately overlooked or simply underutilized by social studies teachers for generations.

Students today are growing up in a much different world than the vast majority of their teachers, which is why we must adjust the way that we teach social studies. In the past, factual recall and content knowledge was perhaps generally more useful due to the effort and time needed to look something up. For students today, anything that they could possibly want to know is available at their fingertips through smartphones and the internet. The old-fashioned way of memorizing dates, names, events, and other facts needs to be “history.” Instead, what we should be doing is teaching students how to take on the truly massive amounts of information available in the world today by comprehending it, evaluating it, discussing it, and coming to rational conclusions about it.

This is why I’m imploring my fellow social studies teachers to ditch their textbooks (maybe not completely) and venture into the dangerous, exciting, and relevant world of controversy in the curriculum. As adults, we must navigate the treacherous waters of uncertainty, face down conflicting information, and grapple with varying points of view. Why aren’t we asking our students to do the same? By bringing controversy into our curriculum we allow student to practice their skills of interpreting information, considering the views of others, and evaluating arguments and evidence to come to reasoned judgements about a wide range of issues ranging from raising the minimum wage to whether or not 16 year olds should be allowed to vote.

In a history class, why not present students with some of the many mysteries of history where there is conflicting opinion about what actually happened? These are real world issues that are both relevant and interesting to students. Best of all, they give students the opportunity to engage and practice the skills they will need to support and thrive in a democracy before they are released into the world of adulthood. Each year that I teach, I find myself teaching less and less content while more deeply diving into a select number of topics.

But what about the mandated curriculum? What if student opinions get out of control and go beyond disagreements into full-out arguing or bullying of other students? These are valid fears. Teaching “by the (text)book” is certainly the easier and safer route to take. A big part of this is practicality, as going chapter-by-chapter through a book is efficient in terms of the teacher’s expenditures of time and energy. There is little thinking or preparing that needs to be done by the teacher, or by the students. Stepping outside of a textbook can also expose a teacher to possible conflict with students, parents, or administration if they don’t agree with the teacher’s particular presentation of a controversial topic. Staying within the lines of appropriateness isn’t always easy for a teacher to do, but should always be a large consideration when moving away from a standard, textbook curriculum.

The alternative is to stick too closely with the read the textbook, take notes, memorize, and assess cycle that has plagued many social studies classrooms. If we choose not to bring our social studies curricula and teaching closer to what is valuable and interesting to students through controversy and emphasizing the skills truly needed for positive participation in society, we’re not only cheating our students but we will forever be the teachers of just another “boring” course.

Sites of Memory: Lessons in History & Culture

Voortrekker Monument

Voortrekker Monument

By Jes Lothman — I have just returned from a long weekend in Johannesburg, more affectionately called Jozi, and Pretoria, the government’s legislative capital.  Interesting trivia fact, South Africa has three capitals: Bloemfontein, Cape Town and Pretoria.  Imagine those bureaucratic logistics…

In any case, this trip was part of a cultural program for the Stanford students enrolled in a 2-credit course titled: “Sites of Memory”.  The curriculum is comprised of a series of field trips in and around Cape Town as well as this weekend’s excursion.  At each site, lectures challenge students to critically analyze how society remembers and portrays their history and how it might affect people from different backgrounds visiting the site.

South Africa has 11 official languages, 9 provinces, and only 17 years as a democracy.  Prior to its inclusive government and liberal constitution, South Africa was ruled by Apartheid law that strategically separated the Black, White, Coloured, and Indian populations and created deliberate economic gaps between them.  That long history of separatist rule still influences contemporary society–historical monuments and museums are no exception–and all reflect both the past and present of South Africa.

We started the weekend at Constitutional Hill—a former prison that once housed unjustly arrested Freedom Fighters

Constitutional Hill

during the struggle for liberation.  Continue reading ‘Sites of Memory: Lessons in History & Culture’

From South Africa: Witnessing History

By  Jes Lothman —Over the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to witness two significant events at the University of Western Cape—the opening of a new science building and a series of student protests.   Both will surely register as milestones for the University, but more importantly will impact both current and future UWC students.  For me, the juxtaposition of the two events warrants reflection.

Student Union ProtestOn August 11th, UWC opened the new $71.5 million science building with much pride as it shines as a beacon for UWC’s future as a prominent institution of learning for ALL.  Filled with cutting-edge technology, it makes a statement that UWC is ready for the 21st century.  This celebration was short lived as student protests the following week demonstrated that the past is as present as the future.

Episodic protests continue to disrupt classes, causing damage to property and closing down key buildings such as the library and administration.  Imagine Zilber Hall and Raynor Library being out of commission for an entire day, let alone throughout mid-semester exams.  A vocal enclave of students want their frustrations to be heard and addressed while other students quietly observe as they bemoan the disruption to their studies.

To fully understand the events, one must consider the history of this institution. As UWC currently celebrates its 50th anniversary, its past is all too present.  UWC was established during the Apartheid era to provide technical training to Coloured students.  My advisor explained to me that educating this population at all was contentious and so the campus was built away from the city, behind bush with relatively short buildings so that it was hidden from public sight.  This did not hinder the faculty or the students from being heard.  Fighting for liberation and change, they often utilized protests as a means for forcing change—sometimes with great success.

Rise to the ChallengeToday, however, the context of the fight has changed. Students are no longer fighting with faculty against an ideology, rather they are misdirecting their frustration towards the administration fighting against poverty.  As evidenced by the tall science building purposely placed along the main road to campus, the University has made great strides towards competing with institutions like the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University—both have longer histories and greater endowments.  Students, unfortunately, have not been able to change their mentality as rapidly as basic needs such as food and housing are unmet.

As I write this blog, I can hear the students rumbling from the library stairs as I listen to perplexed administrators trying to discuss how to address this in a way that addresses the students’ developmental needs.  How can this be a learning opportunity to help the students grow as citizens?

As a future administrator, this first hand experience has reinforced the principle that institutional history, environment and culture contextualize and influence the student experience.  All facets must be considered when developing policies and programs, because an institution is not a collection of physical structures, rather it is a living creature comprised of many stakeholders, of which the students comprise the majority.  Without nourishing the students physically, developmentally and intellectually, the University cannot move forward into the future, but will continue to be tangled in its past.


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