Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Slavery and the Declaration of Independence

In the spirit of our seminar on the Declaration of Independence, and our reading of the book Friends of Liberty, I decided to run an activity in my classroom about the absence of slavery in the Declaration of Independence. I would begin with a simple question:

What did Jefferson really mean by “All men are created equal?” How was he able to write this while simultaneously owning slaves?

Student opinions will vary, but the class discussion should center around the idea that even if some people supported freedom from slavery, they did not support equal opportunity for all people. In fact, Jefferson privately thought that the Africans may need to be sent back to Africa. Next I would present the paragraph about slavery that Jefferson had actually written into the Declaration of Independence.

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemispere, or to incure miserable death in their transportation hither. this piratical warfare, the opprobium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. [determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold,] he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [determining to keep open a market where MEN should be bought and sold]: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he had deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

I would have the class break up into small groups to generate answers to the following questions.

1. How does Jefferson blame slavery on the King?

2. Why would he think it was politically advantageous to do so?

3. Why was this section removed from the published Declaration?

4. Why would Northern delegates who had no love for slavery allow the Southern states to remove this section?

The class would wrap up by striking an important chord: Slavery was put on the back burner because Independence was considered the more important of the two issues. This became a trend in US History, with future failures to address slavery in the name of compromise. I would end class by stating that although Jefferson did not truly mean “All men are created equal,” his word did leave the door open for future generations to gain the long lost sense of equality.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Battle Lines: War Letters and Teaching American History

I love to blog with my students. I think it is a fantastic forum for homework, polls, idea sharing, and classwork management. Truthfully, unless there is a random October snowstorm that causes widespread week-long power outages, I think it is one of the best ways to communicate with students. I believe it is an important part of the future of teaching.

Being a blogging history teacher, I am constantly on the lookout for good online databases of primary sources. I recently discovered a new go-to source for war letters that spans American history, The Gilder Lehrman Institute: Battle Lines.

I intend to use this site for my unit on World War I. The letters from George Shisholm, Lawrence Hopkins, and Edward and Goldie Marcellus are featured from this conflict. They are digitized, read, and translated into typed text. They share stories from the WWI fighters home to loved ones. They are user friendly and perfect for high school history students.

I intend to direct my students to this site and have them analyze the three letters. I want them to study the letters for connections to course content, common themes, and interesting details. They will have to describe the letters, explain what they indicate about WWI from an American perspective, and write a fictional response to one of them from the perspective of the recipient. These responses will appear on our class blog so other students can read what their peers wrote.

I'm looking forward to using yet another great Gilder Lehrman tool with my classes. This site will be a perfect companion to last years War and Society themed TAH lessons and materials.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A New Year in History Connected!

On October 27, year 3 of the History Connected TAH grant began with a great school day seminar that covered varied topics from Lincoln and the wider world to curriculum realignment to an update on Common Core Standards. This was a great start to a promising year for the grant.

After our annual pre-test in the Reading Computer Labs, Professor David Quigley from Boston College gave a riveting lecture on Lincoln and the greater world. This was a great way to start the year because his ability to put the Civil War in a global context was fascinating. I know I have always taught this topic from an American perspective, but Professor Quigley used a series of primary sources from Lincoln to put the Civil War in a much larger Atlantic context. One source of note was Lincoln's eulogy of Henry Clay - a source I know I will use regularly in the future.

In addition to the academic lecture, the Reading history department led a presentation on the realignment of their curriculum to teaching U.S. history in a global context. Additionally, Professor Pat Fontaine from UMass Lowell presented on the Common Core Standards. Both of these presentations brought to light major changes happening in the teaching of history in public schools at the national, state, and local levels. It was great to hear about a local district like Reading realigning their curriculum to a system that reduces redundancies, allows for a technology-supported version of co-teaching, and a logical progression of change over time, historical themes, and a global context.

Professor Fontaine supported the ideas behind this realignment with her explanation of the Common Core Standards with an explanation of their connection to Race to the Top funds and a new teacher evaluation tool. All of these topics indicate great changes to how we, as history teachers, will do out jobs. There are going to be great changes to our profession because of federal, state, and local mandates and it is exciting to consider being leaders in these changes instead of the recipients of them. Professor Fontaine emphasized the role of writing in the history classroom. A website of note from the day is www.bubbl.us. This is a great online tool for creating graphic organizers that I am excited to use on my blog for upcoming writing assignments.

I am very excited to explore ways to teach American history from a global context. It's going to be a great year in History Connected!!!