We know so little about the enslaved populations of America. Take the enslaved people of Mount Vernon. It is possible to put names on some of the estimated 650 folks we have lost to the institution's impersonal catalog. Mount Vernon has worked hard to tell deeper stories about some of these souls that may lead us to catch glimpses of their faces among the wheat sheaves and on the fishing boats dotting the Potomac of 1799. But so much of the collective human experience will never be known. This is true with the overwhelming and gut wrenching majority of the estimated 12.5 million Africans who were chained to the hulls of boats for four months in order to spend their lives in forced labor. Much of what we know of these people is reduced to empirical data, to numbers on a ledger that we can piece together in an abysmal testament to the potential depravity of humanity. Occasionally, we can present this information in ways that may capture our attention, but data belies the humanity of the issue.
Trying to humanize these people has not been without challenges. This chapter in human history is debated with much anger as it is hard for us to grapple with the practice... one that placed the industrial revolution squarely on the back of African and black bodies, bodies that were bent and broken to fuel demand for a mostly white consumer. (The thesis about the industrial revolution; that it was created by a historical demand for cotton was posited and defended in an amazing book by Edward Baptiste. Sydney Mintz tackles the commodity's predecessor and contemporary, sugar.) This void in the history books is what brought me to Mount Vernon for the George Washington Teacher Institute on Slavery in Washington's World.
Drive around Mount Vernon, and you will run across vestiges of the plantation of George Washington. Quander Road and Quander Road School are named for the Quander family. This family traces their lineage back to Nancy Carter Quander, who was manumitted in 1801 by Martha Washington as directed in George Washington's will. Gum Springs Museum is nearby, which was founded by freedman West Ford and commemorates a dynamic black community that surrounds the former estate. These are connections to the past and present that are easily ignored or missed. The GWTI residential program gave me the opportunity to deeply explore the connections in my neighborhood with some amazing scholars on the topic.
My motivation was simple: as a transplant to the Northern Virginia community, I am dazzled by the historical treasures that leap off the pages off my teacher's text and unfold in my daily travels around the area. It is a little gift. But the community in and around these treasures are changing: the locals who grew up here are hidden from sight to the typical transient commuter who flies by on their way to work and play. The students I have in my classroom look at our region with the eyes of a foreigner: the history seems disconnected and dismembered for most, almost sterilized in a way that leads my students to believe that things have changed completely, that local history has minimal bearing on contemporary local problems, and that they can skip through these profound historical legacies because it is, well... a thing of the past. It seems a minor detour into a time that we can all agree was a bad time... but we don't feel the impact. I think it is because we do not know where to look.
I came to Mount Vernon to make history a visceral experience, and to re-connect my students back to this historic property and the narrative we know of George Washington. In less than a month I will ask my history students to rethink our local history, to ask critical questions about how we have structured space and place, what we are saying when we do or do not spend money on commemorating our past, what our understandings of complex human stories can tell us about who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow. I am going to ask them to be historians of their own community and capture stories like this one and more to curate the past we do and do not know. History crosses all content areas; and helps us connect ourselves into our best selves (I will share my C3 lesson at the end of this review).
Walking through two worlds
The resources and experiences offered at Mount Vernon were so powerful that the work done to honor the enslaved persons on the estate helps students begin to see storylines that my textbook does no justice to. The 317 enslaved persons' lives that were shattered apart at George Washington's death are teased out in so many amazing and varied ways... each allowing kids to examine the complexity of a time period which elicits so many strong emotions. As a person walking through this property, I struggled (and still struggle) with how best to address this sweeping time period in American history. But it is in sharp contrast to the question posed by Richard Josey of the Minnestoa Historical Society... what kind of an ancestor do you want to be? Without minimizing the immorality of slavery in drawing contemporary parallels, there are several issues that we confront today that we (mostly) acknowledge as deeply problematic yet fail to respond to appropriately.
Mount Vernon introduced us to several amazing resources:
I walked out of Mount Vernon with over 3000 pages of documents and several books very high on my reading list. To say that I was blown away by the tenor of the discussions, the ability to ask difficult questions, engage in dialogue to try, and find a way to moderate student inquiry on this topic is minimizing my experience over a four day window.
Implementing in the classroom
It goes without saying that I will be using this throughout the year in my history classes. While the content spans throughout the year in my US History classroom, I really see it adding context to a local history project that culminates my student's experiences throughout the year. So much of what was offered by way of historical resources as well as ideas of how to present these ideas was shared. I hope that the content and discussion skills I picked up at GWTI will empower my students to tackle unique issues we experience in our community, and connect them back to the place and space of our history. So much of our history has global implications, so I know that this will generate ideas that come from abroad, too. Tucking our community into the local and global issues at hand will offer my students the ability to share unique stories.
I have collected these ideas and resources into a C3 project template that can be adapted to include the resources of your community. I have yet to roll this out in my classroom, but I am excited to see where my students go with the project and will certainly share when I have projects posted. Take these ideas and adapt them, and definitely check out Mount Vernon. They have several teacher institutes that are guaranteed to please.
There is a magical world on Facebook that, if you are reading this, you may already know about.
I decided it was high time to explain some of the things we do because they are so spectacular. I am going to just get right to it.
There is a lot of talking going on around here. We ask questions about AP Government and Politics and (sometimes) teaching in general. Some of my favorite conversations are very technical conversations on constitutional law. For instance, when Merrick Garland was nominated for the Supreme Court, we talked a lot about what the Constitution says we should do with nominations. We were able to identify the standard operations of nominations, and give some curve ball routes to the Court, too.
We give advice to each other on how to tackle that one unit that is sticky, or how to teach our content in this absolutely bananas election cycle without being too political. These "Dear Abby" conversations are just as important; they are times in which folks ask for help with a certain unit, or sticking their FRQs, or how to deal with teaming in their building. I rarely see a request for advice go unanswered, and usually it is over-answered.
We talk about how to integrate current events and politics into our course. Now, this one is pretty delicate. Talking politics in a community of 1900 governerds can get, well, dicey. You know, we love our country and we love our content. We get the Constitution. We also have to recognize that the Constitution is written in such a way to invite debate, controversy, and "factions."
Therefore, when we talk politics we have developed some norms that help us remember that this group's mission is to support the instruction of AP Government and Politics and not slide backwards into a chat room from 1997.
Those norms, taken from the page itself:
Key among all of these is to preface shared articles with an explanation as to why you are using them. Reason being, having to justify why this article on how Hillary Clinton is running against Bernie Sanders is good for your unit on linkage institutions cuts down on any potential arguing about the sources validity, etc.
Remember, folks are sharing these resources because it may work in some classrooms. That doesn't mean it works in all. Remember that before you respond. It may be easier to scroll past the article.
I say this because we do have a three strikes your out rule. This means that if you offend these rules three times, you are removed from the group and all its resources.
This is the other reason we are here.
There is the share drive. It is an awesome tool. It is functional only in that what has been shared on it is original materials and resources that have been collected by the group. It is cataloged on the share drive, which is only accessible after you apply to be on the share drive.
In order to get access, you have to look at the pinned post. It is sometimes hidden on tablets and smartphones, but it is there. You can see that there are URLs to two separate websites. The first one is to gain access to the share drive. It is a form that you must fill out in its entirety. Incomplete forms decrease your ability to gain access. Yes, we look you up. We do NOT want the public on this website.
Access is granted twice a month, generally on the first and third Wednesday of the month. BE PATIENT. We are all here as volunteers and have jobs as teachers.
Once you have access, you will receive an email to the account you requested. Generally, Schoogle and School email addresses do not tend to do well, so give a personal google account for access. But you will also receive a welcome email with further information on how to use the drive.
The second URL is a google drive link that is where you should upload documents you want to share. DO NOT SHARE ON THE WALL. This makes our jobs very difficult as we have to physically download and then upload and sort your resources. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not share onto the wall. Please. We love your resources and do not want to miss them. Additionally, do not confuse the second URL with the actual share drive. They are two separate entities.
Anyways, we hope this helps you understand the general lay of the land in here. We are so glad you are here with us, and can't wait to communicate and collaborate with you! Go #APGovSquad!
I can't believe I am saying this, but I am starting to miss the regular drama of the presidential debates. All of the pivots, hyperbole, and attempts to capture my heart (I mean vote) added more excitement to my fall and winter than maybe I would have admitted a few months ago. I know my students miss cozying up to their TVs with a mug of cocoa and their phones to live tweet responses to what HE or SHE said that night.
Good news is there is a way to recreate the drama of the debates in the classroom. I stumbled on this little gem of a game called The Contender while I was rolling through my Twitter feed one day and thought this would be the perfect way to 'recreate' the debates in my own classroom.
I decided to give it a trial run on Super Tuesday Eve. After a round of mock caucus and voting, my students were handed stacks of the topic and argument cards and given marching orders.
It plays a lot like the game Apples to Apples, or as my kids pointed out, "oh, this is just like Cards Against Humanity!" Each player selects five argument cards that feature attacks, distracts, and facts. Players take turns as the moderator, and start a round by selecting a topic card. The topic card poses a policy question, and candidates (the remaining players not taking a turn as the moderator) answer the questions with the argument cards they hold in their hand. The 'best' answer to the moderator's topic card wins, and is totally subjective.
What is really fun is that the argument cards feature actual comments made during past presidential debates. There is a brief blurb at the bottom of the card that puts the quote in context from its original use.
Does it work in the government classroom?
Student verdict: Fun. Students say The Contender feels a lot like games they already play, but interjects real-world examples of candidate answers. It also helps them understand the point of a pivot in a debate. Students have asked to play again multiple times since our first experience.
Teacher verdict: An instructional innovation. In my content, I am supposed to cover linkage institutions. Parties, the media, and elections are all considered linkage institutions. During debates, these three institutions come together in a very public way. The Contender helps students understand how candidates use pivots (distracts), attacks, and facts to answer questions that are uncomfortable, unanswerable in the time allotted, or not on the agenda of that candidate's platform.
How would I use it? I see using this as a way to teach how debates work. I would introduce the terms "attack," "distract," and "fact" through the game play, and then have my kids watch debates live. It would be great to have the kids live tweet upcoming presidential debates, and have them tweet their favorite attack, distract, and/or fact as the debate unfolds. I am positive it would start great conversations, as well as help with critical thinking skills.
In between debates, I may even take this home and play with some friends over the weekend. Certainly the booster pack from the 2016 debates (coming soon) will be the NSFW addition that my weekend play needs. (Isn't it sad that the debates are marginally NSFW?)
Like much of my person, my preparation for class is constantly evolving. The way in which I access information is so crazy different from when I was a young student in school. In thinking back on my college days, the sources for my own undergraduate dissertation were limited to
Yep. That was it. I wonder how much better my dissertation would have been if I had the resources of today. Wow. Well, such is life. Technology has deepened our potential grasp of all things geography, economics, history, and civics. I cannot change what was going down in 1999, but I can change my instructional goals. I also know this.
I do not want to teach class so that my kids are ready to write a 1999-grade-A undergraduate dissertation.
Figuring out how to do that is the problem. Here is where I am today, contemplating life for the Class of 2016. I have to think of how I will prepare them to write their dissertation four years from now. That means I have to not only use the Internet in my own classroom in ways that anticipates future learning, but I must also gear myself and my own instruction for planning in the same way. After all, I believe in learning by doing.
So, here are my top five commitments to help me help the college graduation class of 2020.
A few weeks back, I introduced a way to compile video files (either feature-length films or video clips) so that government teachers can harvest and then sort these resources and use them as necessary.
I promised a follow up to this idea; one that would replicate the crowd-sourcing of finding resources (both digital and print) and log them so that we collectively can check out what there is to see out there.
Consider this my follow up. Here, you can fill out the form over and over again. It allows you to log the webform and enter the information.
When you are done, you can see all the sources we have compiled. Keep in mind that this is a spreadsheet, so you can sort the fields as you see fit. Feel free to copy this file and do with it as you see fit... just remember to contribute! The file you will be able to see (but you cannot alter) is a spreadsheet. If you want more help finding movies or anything, hit Ctrl + F on your windows or Apple Cmd + F on Apple products.
Whether you are in need of a movie for a sub day or are looking for shorts to fill into your lecture, video is a must. There are so many movies and videos out there, the problem is staying on top of them.
Thanks to a few hundred of my closest friends, you and I can stay up-to-date on what movie or video file to splice into your lesson.
I have created a video database that both accepts movie entries for movies not already collected as well as displays them with annotations so you know what to expect. To add a movie, click here.
Feel free to peruse (and copy into your Google Drive!) this file... and if you are really motivated, help us catalog appropriate movies and videos. The file you will be able to see (but you cannot alter) is a spreadsheet. If you want more help finding movies or anything, hit Ctrl + F on your windows or Apple Cmd + F on Apple products. Remember, once you copy the file, you can always sort the movies as you wish!
Virginia has so many gems, but I continue to maintain that my favorite among them is James Madison's Montpelier. Specifically, the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution.
It is literally a virtual treasure trove for teachers on the East Coast, as well as now a resource for teachers all over the world.
I have written in the past about their wonderful campus and nearly free in-person courses. I maintain, they are wonderful. You get academic expertise coupled with great accomodations over a weekend to really immerse yourself in your content.
I made connections with amazing teachers in my area, as well as resources that I cherish like Your Weekly Constitutional, hosted by Appalachian School of Law professor Stewart Harris. He has amazing weekly podcasts with subject matter experts like A. E. Dick Howard on the Magna Carta's 800th anniversary.
I have been connected to the nationally-acclaimed We The People community through peers and training, and intend to become one of the thousands of teachers involved in competitive government. The resources alone housed at Montpelier and the summer training course offered by the center and led by Ms. Emily Voss is superb.
Now, the Center has expanded its offerings to reach more educators and students via Internet resources.
ConText, a collaborative effort with the Brookings Institution, picks up where the Comparative Constitution Project's Constitute leaves off. ConText allows students and educators in academia (and heck, the public, too) to read, interpret, and annotate around 550 primary source documents like the Federalist Papers, Magna Carta, and other Constitutions. All for free. I personally like former Madison family slave Paul Jenning's A Colored Man's Reminiscences of James Madison. I was going to buy the book for $10, but it is free online.
If that is not enough for you, how about a suite of self-paced, online courses on topics related to the Constitution with wonderful readings and flipped classroom videos from a cornucopia of Constitutional scholars? Oh, did I mention it is free? And if you want 15 CEUs from James Madison University, you just pay $25 total? Yeah, that one is amazing. I had to double check my notes. Those videos... you can also use them for your own classes! They are fantastic, and of varying lengths.
Right now there are three, but the Center is working on creating more.
I feel like that is a pretty fantastic set of new resources, so make sure you stop by and check them out, either in-person or on-line. I am one of the many happy customers who travels to Center whenever they can squeeze me in to their wonderful seminars!
Okay, this is a bit out of the norm for my typical posts.
As previously mentioned, I am involved in a very amazing digital collaborative team. Our platform for meeting is on Facebook. We have something that is essential to our mission: a share drive.
In fumbling around with the share drive, I realize that some quick and easy tips on how to use a massive share drive is necessary.
It's pretty simple. Talk to people from other countries. See, when kids get in a room with perfect strangers they are allowed to talk to, they start rooting around to find commonalities. But along the way, they find out what differences are embedded in the cultures, too. And I was blown away with what my kids took away from our simple talk.
Wait. I am getting ahead of myself.
This morning on the AP Gov group, Chad told us that he had a thousand dollars to spend on his government course and he was looking for advice. Instantly, the group started salivating at the thought of what could be done with $1,000 for your classroom.
Instead of actually working, I have spent the morning thinking about how I would answer this question.
Thus this blog post. Many of these things I own, but some I do not. And, this is by no means a complete list. You should see my classroom. Looks like the American flag threw up on it. And I LOVE IT!
Swag for the Classroom
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan