ASK A TEACHER: How do you start your school year?

Posted by Mary Hendra on September 9, 2011

As a Facing History teacher, how do you start your school year? Are there key lessons or readings that set the tone for what you will do for the year? Do you explain what Facing History is or that you use this approach? (In this series, we asked a number of Facing History teachers to respond to a common question.)

In all my classes I begin with the concept of agency and personal choice. I tell the students that from their perspective, it is easy to assume that history had to unfold in the manner that it did, that history is somehow a series of inevitable events- but nothing could be further from the truth. I let them know that all year we will look at decisions nations and individuals made along the way and how these shaped the course of events. I tell students that the most important thing they understand is that their choices matter. I let the students know from day one that the class will be extremely interactive and discussion based because I want to reinforce DAILY that their voices matter, their participation is crucial, and their ability to think critically, reason soundly, question thoughtfully, and act ethically are the ONLY things learned in class I can guarantee they will be called upon to use again. (Names and dates of historical events, not so much!)

As for specific readings, I open World Civ II with the letter written by a Principal and Holocaust survivor that is in the preface of Facing History’s Holocaust and Human Behavior book. In the Cultural Diversity course, their very first assignment is the bio-poem activity. After they have a gallery walk of their poems, we read and discuss ‘What Do We Do with a Difference?’ and after a discussion of sterotypes, watch on-line ‘Little Things are Big.’

Stephanie Carrillo teaches World Civilization II, American History, and Cultural Diversity at Crossroads School

I start my U.S. history class by making sure my student’s talk about their identity, their inner vs. outer identity, and their own ‘universe of obligation.’ We will come back to these ideas when we study the Eugenics movement and Little Rock unit. I am lucky that I have my students for 10th and 11th grade. I was able to teach my students Facing History vocabulary in 10th grade through units on the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide so this year they are reviewing some terms. They understand that in my class we examine many perspectives and try to analyze choices that people make.

Maritza Cha currently teaches U.S. History, Government and Peer Counseling at Social Justice Leadership Academy.

As a US History teacher I have always taught my class around the themes of Race, Class, and Gender. A couple of years ago I expanded that to include Sexual Orientation.

My initial lesson is to start with the famous painting ‘Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Christy.’ I ask the students who they see in the painting and what it tells them about who had a voice in the early days of our country. I ask them about the race, class, and gender of those portrayed by Christy and we also talk about education, wealth, religion, property ownership, and marital status. I then show them pictures of the cabinets of selected presidents (for example, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR (first woman), and Kennedy(first black) and discuss the same issues. By the end of this series it has become clear that unless you were an educated, white, protestant, male, with some wealth you did not have access to circles of political power until late in the 20th century, and then it was limited to very few.

Next I go back to the Constitutional Convention and ask the students to tell me which members were gay. The responses are interesting. At first I get silence followed by a chorus of "none are gay." I ask them how do you know? And we discuss why it is that we have no idea who was gay at that time. I then turn back to the pictures of the presidents and ask the same question. At this point the students are a little more cautious and some even will say we do not know for sure, but some want to say well they were married, etc.

This leads to a timeline lesson in which we chart the voice of a number of groups (native Americans, white males, white women, black men, black women, homosexuals among others).

Jim Foley retired from teaching US History at Vista Murrieta High School.

Topics: Critical Thinking, Mentoring

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