That big, white FedEx box. People who apply for things like college, jobs, awards, and other opportunities know what the thick box means when it arrives on your doorstep. No denial of opportunity is going to result in the mailing of a significant mass. A big envelope, or in this case, a FedEx box, means amazing things. When this box arrived at my house, it brought much excitement, a little bit of nervousness, and a life-changing opportunity. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Meet the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation
A few years ago, I was hanging out at James Madison's Montpelier... the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution to be exact. (SPOILER: The Robert H. Smith Center at James Madison's Montpelier is not the same organization as the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, though both are out of Virginia.) It was a sweet little weekend retreat where teachers would gather to talk about the Constitution. I met a bunch of really fun and dedicated teachers, and through them I learned about a whole bunch of really amazing things (like the We The People Competitions).
Anyways, we made friends on Facebook and a few months later one of these people was awarded the JMMFF Fellowship for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The JMMFF is a competitive scholarship program for teachers or teachers in training to complete a Master's in either American History or Political Science, with a strong focus on studying the Constitution. My friend posted a picture of his FedEx box, and he received a ton of congrats from some other JMMFF recipients. I was flabbergasted that there was an organization out there investing in the education of America's civics educators. In this case it was Congress. The JMMFF was created in 1986 through a bill introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy in order to commemorate the bicentennial of the US Constitution. Signed into law on October 30th, 1986 by Ronald Reagan as PL 99-591, this executive agency's mission is to administer a foundation that encourages social studies teachers to study the Constitution as a graduate student. Fun fact! This program is fully funded today because of that one-time federal investment back in the 80s, and continual outside donations from civically-minded investors.
I was incredibly intrigued at the prospect of going back to graduate school - I have always dreamed of getting my Masters, possibly my PhD in Political Science. I did some more research into the organization. In a nutshell, JMMFF awards fellowships of $24K to one teacher per state (and sometimes two, depending on the nature of donations). There are fellowships for experienced teachers and individuals who want to get into the profession. The fellowships are given exchange for service in education. You must teach for as many years as you accept monies from JMMFF. The fellowship cover Master's in American History or Political Science, but you must take 12 credits that examine the Constitution. Of these twelve credits, recipients MUST attend a one-month, 6 credit course at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (Yeah, if you can't do this, I would avoid signing up until you can.)
I applied. Twice. It took several tries because this is a competitive fellowship. The first year I did not get it, I was pretty crushed. I thought I was a strong candidate, I had the knowledge and gusto to finish this awesome program. In retrospect, there were some flaws in my application. Here is what I would suggest:
Getting that award!
When that FedEx box comes in the mail in April, it's pretty exciting. You know before you open it that you got the award. It's pretty exciting, but also unnerving. I was a bit stressed about committing to JMMF. I was scared that I would not finish (I have three kids who are school age and incredibly active, as well as an awesome husband who is supportive, but man... back to graduate school? My first Masters was a stresser for he and I, and I did not have kids at the time. And my first Masters was in education, which is NOT the same thing as this program.) And yes, if you do not finish your program, you MUST pay back JMMFF. They really do not like when this happens, because who would want it to happen? You do have to finish in five years, so you have to know yourself and your ability to commit.
There are so many things to consider...
Long story short! I still did it!
In the end, I signed on the dotted line. I have been thrilled thus far, and have enjoyed so much of my experience. In a short period of time, I narrowed my school selection down to Virginia Tech's online Masters in Political Science. I love the flexibility and the rigor of the courses, and I am obsessed with studying Political Science. With small kids, I decided I did not want to be away from home on week nights. I spend my Saturdays and Sundays at Starbucks doing school work. I have a thesis, but it is a challenge I have accepted. I did look at Ashland University's MAHG program, but decided against it after talking to a local University, as I may want to finish my PhD. That local university said they would not accept credits from Ashland. My understanding is that fellows on the PhD track have successfully transferred after completing their Masters at Ashland. It just did not work in my case. More than half of the fellows in my class are from Ashland, I was so impressed with their knowledge. It is a fabulous institution - I do recommend checking it out.
The Summer Institute was amazing. We did so much more than the above pictures show. Yes, we were in class for six hours a day. Yes, you should read before you arrive (There were like six big books to read, they were intense!) But we were on C-Span due to Dr. Jeffry Morrison's lecture on Religion and the American Revolution lecture went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Montpelier, Monticello, Gunston Hall, and Mount Vernon. We toured the Supreme Court and met Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Former Secretary of Education John King, Senators Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dr. Jack Warren of the Society of the Cincinnati, Dr. Stephen Knott, Dr. Gordon Lloyd, Justice Royce Lambert, Dr. Rosemary Zagarri, and the wonderful instructional staff of Drs. Kevin Hardwick, Terri Halperin, Jeffry Morrison, and Daniel Dreisbach. The staff is amazing and the opportunity is astounding.
At the end of the day, I am so very happy I did this. It is a lot of effort, but I can tell you that my instruction in my classroom has improved exponentially. The community of fellows that you come to know is comprised by incredibly passionate, giving, and wise educational leaders from all over our country... We have such diverse experiences and goals, and stay in contact. It's humbling in the presence of these wise, passionate, and dedicated people who want to play a leadership role in American History and Civics education.
Personally, I know so much more about the Constitution and political science because of this experience. It is exciting to both instruct and create knowledge, and the opportunities offered to my students, my community, and myself since my acceptance of the JMMFF are incredible. I believe it is a gift, and love sharing my experience and enthusiasm with others! It is a lot of work and dedication, but well worth it if you are willing to push yourself.
Trayvon Martin’s death five years ago ripped through my classroom. My sociology and government students were completely baffled; they could not understand how a kid who seemed like a student they may encounter in our schools’ hallways could be murdered for walking home alone. My students’ frustration and yearning for context and understanding started a personal dedication in my own classroom. At the end of each year, after all other instruction is over I devote the final month and a half to the study of race relations in America. Key to this unit is a detailed analysis of American history and politics that requires students to examine their conceptions of democratic values such as majority rule, minority rights, rule of law, limited government, equality, and liberty.
Because the discussions of race and class in America today is transectional and relevant, this unit is necessary. I have experienced my own struggles in doing the research, writing, and sometimes even being white and teaching this when I have no relevant life experiences to inform my instruction. I know what I know through text and talk... and talking to my own students (of all races, religions, classes, genders, etc.) has been instructive for myself. These experiences, in turn, influence the unit.
As the narrative has evolved over the past five years, my unit has grown. Originally it examined just the fallout from events like Trayvon and Michael Brown. Responding to my own students’ questions and reflecting on their own level of understanding, I decided to broaden the scope to examine the entirety of identity politics in America. In the summer of 2015, I was introduced to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and Common Core C3 Framework and Inquiry Arc. The framework requirements, particularly the requirement for informed action – and the opportunity for students to share their experiences with the community – was the perfect design for this unit.
I want to start by thanking Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald for their uncompromising dedication to giving the NSA violations air time and transparency. I wanted to share some of the most important things I have learned from this book bef...
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
by Bill Bishop
tagged: nerdcation and to-read
I lovgov. LOVE IT! I love teaching government, learning about it, debating, discussing, asking questions about government. And not the standard boiler plate questions, but the hard ones that are NOT in the books.