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NCHE Session II – Picturing America and the Common Core

A few years ago, I posted a few things here and here about the very cool Picturing America program from the National Endowment for the Humanities and EDSITEment. This session is discussing how to use art, specifically the Picturing America collection, to help meet Common Core literacy standards.

Robert Dytell from Queens College in New Your,  starts with Grant Wood’s 1931 painting of Paul Revere’s ride. We need to ask our kids some questions:

What do you see in here? Where does your eye go first? Where? When? What? What clues do you see? How do you know? What can you infer?

Is this what a New England town actually looked like? Should we accept art as actual fact? Did this event really happen?

What was the context of the time period in which the painting was created? Where was the painter from? Who was the intended audience? Why did Woods select this topic?

Dytell then gives kids a copy of Longfellow’s traditional poem – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. And like with the painting, we need to train our kids to “source” the text. What most Americans know about Revere’s ride comes from this poem. Of course, the poem is not necessarily very accurate.

Dytell then highlights a nice article from the New York Times that highlights how the poem was really writing against slavery, not documenting Revere’s ride.

Together with the painting, these two pieces of text gives us the chance to ask kids to do stuff that the Common Core wants us to do – which is to ask great questions. Kids can begin to see how history is not cut and dried, not cookie cutter – that history is complex and nuanced and hard and awesome and engaging and cool and we’re lucky to be able to study it.

He then shared the photograph of the Civil Rights marchers in Selma by James Karales.

One way to start with this photo, is to compare it to Washington crossing the Delaware.

But also discussed how to tie it in with the texts relating to the Civil Rights movement and the Brown v. Board of Education case. An engaging oral history piece from one of the Little Rock Nine is another nice way to grab the attention of your kids. (You’ll want to chunk this out to make it a bit smaller – highlighting perhaps just the parts of of Melba’s first day at Central HS.)

Dytell then shared President Eisenhower’s TV speech addressing the Little Rock situation. There is an especially interesting piece towards the end of the speech

Our enemies are gloating over this incident and using it everywhere to misrepresent our whole nation. We are portrayed as a violator of those standards of conduct which the peoples of the world united to proclaim in the Charter of the United Nations.

A last quick discussion on Norman Rockwell’s painting titled New Kids in the Neighborhood. Same idea as with Revere’s ride and the Little Rock stuff.

Use these information sources to focus on the social studies process standards that are embedded within the Common Core. Great teachers have always done these sorts of things. The Common Core encourages all of us to do them.

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