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.
Especially this year. Held in downtown Kansas City, home of the world champion Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL Draft is my spring booster shot that holds me through until August’s preseason.
And I know you’re all locked into the last few weeks of the semester but you need to take a few minutes to explore Project Zero, developed by the Harvard Graduate School Education. Because if you’re looking for next fall’s first round draft pick of resources, the thinking routines you’ll find at Project Zero should be at the top of your list.
Just so you know. Huge March Madness fan. First four days of the tournament rank right up there with the NCSS conference, Fourth of July, and the winter holidays. And the 2023 version did not disappoint. Would have liked KU to have done better but otherwise loving the upsets.
But somewhere in between Princeton knocking off Arizona and Gonzaga surviving TCU, I flashbacked to the American Battlefield Trust’s History Movie Madness Bracket Contest from a couple of years ago. You’ve probably heard of the Trust back when it was called the Civil War Trust. It started as a group dedicated to preserving Civil War battlefield sites. It’s now also working to do the same for Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites. So . . . they’re good people.
I’ve written about my favorite history movies before so having the chance to break down 32 movies to find the all-time best is right up my alley.
The Trust starts off with by claiming somehow that Gods and Generals is the best movie ever. Clearly they’re very confused about what constitutes a quality movie. (Spoiler alert. Gods and Generals didn’t make it out of the first round.) But I love the idea of a movie bracket. I was so in.
I’ll be honest. I hadn’t seen all of the movies in the bracket. But I haven’t seen all 68 teams in the NCAA tournament either. So I was okay faking my way through this bracket the same way I did my basketball one. And the criteria for the winners is about as loose for the movies as it is for the NCAA. Pick your faves based on leading actor or director or time period or most significant event or most historically accurate or well, whatever you decide. My wive’s 5th grade class picked basketball winners based on best mascot so . . . there’s a lot of leeway here. (Gonzaga Zags BTW.)
I’ve posted my entry below. Feel free to troll my picks.
I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of people who work at the Library of Congress. And they’ve all been awesome. I’m sure there’s probably one or two who work over there who are Las Vegas Raiders fans or who will tell you that they don’t like Kansas City Joe’s burnt ends. And other than those one or two, they’re all a pretty amazing group.
(Never visited and need the short version? Chronicling America has almost 200 years worth of digitized primary source newspapers available for scanning, analyzing, downloading, and printing. It’s searchable by keyword. By language. By state. By ethnicity. And it’s free.)
As we all continue finding ways to integrate inquiry-based learning activities into our classrooms, primary sources are the foundation for much of what we’re asking kids to do. Of course, part of the problem is finding primary sources that align with what we want kids to learn. Chronicling America can help.
But after last week? Things just got a whole lot easier. The reason?
“. . . 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.
One way or the other, things will probably get a bit more . . . hmm, interactive in your classrooms over the next few weeks. As final results from this fall’s midterm elections trickle in and mail-in ballots are counted, you will most likely have some students with questions, parents who may have concerns, and admins who’ll worry about all of the above. Possibly making class discussions difficult and uncomfortable.
And that sort of learning can be difficult. I get that. Throw the current anti-teacher atmosphere into the mix and I can’t think of a tougher time to be an educator. And you’re not alone in being concerned about taking on controversial topics.
Education Weeksurvey data gathered back in 2017 suggested that many teachers find it difficult to talk about race, politics, and other controversial topics. Almost 30 percent expressly avoid it completely. Part of the problem is that many of us – 44 percent – don’t feel prepared to lead conversations that will probably get emotional.
So should you even try? And if you do decide to take on that challenge, what’s the best way to deal with those conversations?
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.