Recent news articles are highlighting a request to ban access by Florida elementary students to Amanda Gorman’s poem A Hill We Climb. The reason for the request? “it is not educational and have indirectly hate messages.”
The specific passage that “have indirectly hate messages”?
“We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, And the norms and notions of what ‘just is’ Isn’t always justice.
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”
The ban request also lists the author / publisher as Oprah Winfrey and claims that the function of the poem is to “cause confusion.”
I’ve always been a fan of using a variety of resources to teach social studies, including non-fiction, literature, and poetry. And this poem by Gorman has a particularly powerful potential for encouraging and supporting historical thinking. So . . . to support the use of poetry as part of your instruction and specifically The Hill We Climb, today is Wayback Wednesday with a post from January 2021.
“. . . a history class should not be arguing about the facts of history – the most important argument we should be having is how do we interpret the facts. The discussions should focus on questions about meaning, not questions about facts. “
His book talks about the ways that experts interpret facts and question meaning. Sam suggests that we need to train our kids to argue meaning and to think historically. Of course, his suggestion relies on the idea that facts are facts. That we don’t spend time in our classrooms “arguing about the facts” but instead what those facts mean.
But a problem begins to emerge when the facts themselves are questioned and when people twist facts, or worse, when they discount the facts completely because the facts fail to support their beliefs.
I was reminded of the problem while reading through Leonard Pitts’ weekly column this morning. A writer for the Miami Herald, Pitts starts his column with
I got an email the other day that depressed me.
Pitts had written about a young African American soldier named Henry Johnson who, after singlehandedly fighting off a series of attacks by a group of German soldiers in May 1918, was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government. Of course, these facts didn’t sit well with at least one reader named Ken Thompson who wrote Pitts. Pitts quotes Thompson verbatim:
Hate to tell you that blacks were not allowed into combat intell 1947, that fact. World War II ended in 1945. So all that feel good, one black man killing two dozen Nazi, is just that, PC bull.
Never mind that black soldiers have fought in every war in US history, that Nazis didn’t exist in World War One, that Thompson can’t keep his I and II straight, and that Johnson’s exploits have been well documented in books by Lerone Bennett Jr and Rayford Logan.
A Pitt’s assistant took the time to write Thompson back and referenced a site honoring Johnson maintained by the Arlington National Cemetery. These facts also didn’t sit well with Thompson:
There is no race on headstones and they didn’t come up with the story in tell 2002.
Mmmm . . . “a history class should not be arguing about the facts of history – the most important argument we should be having is how do we interpret the facts.”
Pitts suggests that Thompson is “not just some isolated eccentric”:
To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.
All of this solidifies for me the importance of high quality social studies instruction, of the need to train our kids to think and argue with facts, not feelings. Of the incredibly important place that social studies has in creating truly reflective citizens in a democracy.
It was helpful for me to go back to the American Historical Association article “Why Study History.”
When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness.
Apparently, Ken Thompson somehow missed those skills while in school. And as social studies and history teachers, we need to take responsibility for that. We need to do a better job of creating informed, open-minded citizens.
So. What can that look like?
Simply put, our classroom instruction needs to focus on inquiry-based learning activities. We need to train our kids to examine primary and secondary evidence. We need to be asking our kids to use that evidence to address authentic and complex compelling questions. We need to help kids to make evidence-based claims and to share those claims with others. Simply put . . . it’s not that simple. But it’s important. Because we all need engaged, knowledgeable, and informed citizens in the world.
I’m spending the next several days with some amazing teachers. We’re all part of the Kansas Department of Education’s work on tweaking and revising the rubric used for scoring the state mandated social studies assessment.
We’ve chatted before about the state standards and the very cool state assessment. But in a nutshell? The standards focus on discipline specific skills and process rather than just rote memorization of facts. The state assessment, which the department calls a Classroom-Based Assessment, allows local districts and classroom teachers to design their own inquiry based assessment activity specific to their students and content.
These locally designed assessments are scored with a generic rubric created by KSDE and a select group of teachers. After a year of field testing, we’re coming back together to fix some issues with the rubric that teachers have noticed.
As part of that process, we’ve had the opportunity to look at a wide variety of student created products that address the tasks outlined in the CBAs developed by teachers. And we’ve noticed a few things about these tasks.
The goal of the CBA is simple. Measure how well students can make claims and support those claims using evidence and reasoning. And, well . . . this requires the use of evidence, specifically the use of primary sources. What have we noticed? Not all of the CBA tasks are . . . hmm, high quality. So it’s difficult to determine, using the rubric, whether kids can actually make claims using evidence because the task is poorly designed. A lot of the design issues involve the integration of primary sources.
We figured this would happen and that ongoing professional development would be needed along the way. Teachers across the state (and across the country) are still wrapping their heads around what inquiry-based instruction and assessment can look like. So, in addition to tweaking the rubric, we’ve also started thinking about and planning for next year’s professional learning opportunities around the design of not just the CBA but the integration of evidence in instructional activities.
Part of that planning is providing teachers with primary sources and how to integrate them into a inquiry-based activity. So . . . today? Five hacks for using primary sources as part of your everyday activities. Read more
It’s as American as apple pie. We’ve been finding ways to re-organize voting districts to our advantage for years. Heck, the Kansas legislature just did it.
But I don’t think we spend enough time having kids explore the whole gerrymandering thing as part of our government / civics engagement instruction. And I don’t think enough of us or our students truly understand the power that redistricting can have on the democratic process.
“As a mapmaker, I can have more impact on an election than a campaign. More of an impact than a candidate. When, I as a mapmaker, have more of an impact on an election than the voters, the system is out of whack.”
David Winston Republican redistricting consultant following 1990 Census
Quick primer. Gerrymandering is the legislative act of creating voting maps that favor your particular political party. And according to a Wired article from a few years ago, it usually involves one of two different tools:
Earlier this week, I flashed back to a semi-obscure movie called Conspiracy Theory. Two sentence summary? The main character is freaked out because she keeps seeing this guy, meeting him in elevators, or jumping into a cab before realizing that he’s the driver. She begins to believe that this guy is out to get her but he eventually ends up saving her life, because spoiler alert, there really is a conspiracy.
I don’t think my life is in any danger but my brain jumped back to that movie because over the weekend, my news feed kept sending me to multiple articles that featured headlines like “Teaching Practices to Leave Behind” or “4 Reading Strategies to Retire this Year” or “Stuff We Know Doesn’t Work” and “Why You Shouldn’t Use These Activities in Your Class Because They Will Ruin Your Students and They’ll End up in a Movie with Mel Gibson.”
A search engine conspiracy based on something I may have said out loud within earshot of Alexa? Oh, absolutely. But I took it as a sign and it got me thinking about strategies that I used to use in the classroom and about things I still see teachers doing. Strategies that research tells us really didn’t work.
And the list got pretty big. There are a lot of things we do as teachers that we do . . . well, just because. (And full disclosure? I used almost all of them at some point.) Not because they’re research based or because we have any evidence to suggest they work. We do them perhaps because we saw someone else use them or we experienced them ourselves as students.
I’m so lucky. Four times a year with the Essdack SS PLC, I get the chance to sit around, drink as much Diet Pepsi as I want, talk to super smart social studies teachers, and walk away smarter.
We started meeting after our last Teaching American History grant ended because we couldn’t imagine not getting together anymore. Over the last ten years or so, the group has changed but the goal is still the same:
sit around, drink Diet Pepsi, talk to super smart social studies teachers, walk away smarter.
Last week was no different. Jill Weber shared some claim / evidence / reasoning magic. We explored the brand new African Americans in the Midwest website, and Laura McFarren walked us through something she calls Masterpiece Matchup.
Laura teaches middle school US History in Derby and is always on the lookout for ways to engage her kids with primary sources. Cause . . . like for most of us, that’s always a struggle. But in a perfect example of teachers helping teachers, Laura ran across an idea from Amanda Sandoval called Masterpiece Matchup. (FYI – Amanda is amazing. And, yes, you should be following her. If for no other reason than to see how she has her learning environment arranged.)
Laura took Amanda’s original idea, mashed it up with a SHEG Structured Academic Controversy that focuses on the Lewis and Clark expedition, tried it in her 8th grade classroom, and shared it with the group. And it was awesome. As the A-Team’s Hannibal Smith used to say:
Glenn Wiebe – social studies nerd, consultant, tech guy
Thanks for dropping by! As a curriculum consultant for ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas, History Tech is my chance to rattle on about social studies and technology. Feel free to poke around.
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Evidence Analysis Window Frames and Tools for Teaching & Learning
At ESSDACK, we want to offer tools and products that encourage you to learn and work when and where you want. Check out these handy products that can be used as instructional tools and professional learning opportunities in ways that work best for you.
The very cool Evidence Analysis Window Frame that scaffolds historical thinking skills and helps kids make sense of primary sources.
But you'll also find C4 Cards and 25 Days of History Tech Tools to help you grow professionally.