Archive for the ‘social studies’ Tag

Fraser.TheLandOfSteadyHabits.pdf

The title of this post is the file name for a book that I recently scanned and added to my digital collection. Written by the late Bruce Fraser in 1988, Land of Steady Habits: A Brief History of Connecticut is an important work in the Connecticut history literary cadre.  According to the Publisher’s Note, The Connecticut Historical Commission produced this booklet claiming that it “provides the essence of Connecticut.” At the time of publication, the Commission hoped that Land of Steady Habits would stimulate further study and “provide a wider public appreciation” for the states historical heritage.  This work does all of the above and should be a standard in every history classroom across the state.

Fraser’s Land of Steady Habits is especially accessible to middle and high school grades because of its concise nature.  The entire booklet is eighty pages including title page, table of contents, postscript, timeline, images, and a four page listing of CT’s national historic land marks.  The body of the essay is fifty-two pages broken in 15 sections.  This is the equivalent of 3.4 pages per chapter, very manageable for readers at any level.  Although Mr. Fraser’s work is short, it is packed with not only the story of Connecticut, but also connections to the national historical themes.  Classroom history and social studies teachers could use this work to teach history through the lens of the local story from the time “before the Europeans” to the social unrest of the 1960s.  The basic premise behind this book is that the history of Connecticut is important, a message that we need to teach to the youth of the state.

One of the perennial concerns for Connecticut for the last several decades is the lack of local attachment. It is evident in the disjointed nature of the cities and towns and most prominent in the capital city.  Go to downtown Hartford on a weekend day and it is a ghost town.  People come in to work and they leave to their towns in the suburbs and beyond.  This scenario was just as true at the time of Land of Steady Habits publication as it is today.  Fraser and others, myself included, would accredit this lack of connection to suburban crawl and white-flight of the post-War period.  Nutmeggers now have their own enclaves a world apart from the deteriorating and increasingly diverse cities that they left behind. They lost their connection with the culture and history of their surroundings and they are unattached.

Raising our state’s future generations with knowledge and experiences of local culture and history is needed to create attachment to the region.  Students who are exposed to the culture of the state today will contribute to the local community tomorrow.  If we teach about the history and take students to experience Connecticut culture at places like the Wadsworth, Goodspeed, or Peabody and historical sites such as the Old State House, the Soldier and Sailors Memorial Arch, and Tapping Reeve House and Law School, then they are more likely to participate in cultural offerings when they reach adulthood.  Remarkably,  I am seeing a rise in interest in both state history and local connections.  This may be the time for institutions to market themselves to education institutions to increase their presence in the classroom and curriculum.  I am not talking about marketing to schools so you can charge $6 per person to offer a writing program.  Cultural institutions should look at schools as a way to market to future consumers or customers.  The more exposure the better.  Maybe these institutions should take the advice of the Connecticut Historical Commission and work to “provide a wider public appreciation” for the culture of CT…for the future of CT.

*Please note that my mentioning of cultural and historical centers in this article are not an endorsement of any institution or a discredit to those not listed.

Wadsworth image credit: Wikipedia.

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The Connecticut River.

Having lived in Connecticut Valley for most of my life, I have always had an affinity for the Connecticut River.  My ties to the river date back to my days living in a town on it’s Western bank.  Every time I rode with my father from my hometown we would literally go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.  Since I was young, I have crossed the river a countless number of times, utilizing the various bridges.  As a youngster, I would typically cross at Windsor Locks/East Windsor or Suffield/Enfield.  As a grew older, I usually crossed via Interstate 291 on my way to Manchester.  Now that I am grown, and live in Hartford, I typically cross either on the Bulkeley or Founder’s bridge.

Of course, just zooming over the river is not the only connection I have to what native Americans called ”the long tidal river.”  On one occasion, my father and I canoed from Enfield, CT to Middletown.  This trip opened my eyes to many things that I did not realize about the river and its uses.  First, in Northern CT the river is more shallow and has some rapids.  To make passage easier, Hartford citizens constructed the Enfield canal for ferries and ships.  Once you make down to the Windsor area, and especially Hartford, the river is very deep and slow moving.  For years, Hartford was a port city and the river, in many areas, was dredged out for easier travel of steam powered vessels.  South of Hartford, the canoe trip turned from a meandering sightseeing tour of low, flat farmlands to an all out struggle to row ourselves to Middletown before sunset.  As mentioned earlier, the river was very deep and slow moving and we had to use mostly our own strength to push the canoe to our destination.

While growing up on the banks of the Connecticut river, my family and I rode our bikes on what is now Windsor Locks Canal State Park.  This canal was originally built in the 19th century to aid ships and ferries traveling to points North of Windsor.  This canal, which was built following the Erie Canal, but has long since been abandoned with the advent of rail and highways.  In fact, the river itself is not the shipping lane that it once was.  Instead people have turned to the the highways and interstates that in many areas travel adjacent to the Connecticut River due to the low, flat lands created by a glacier that carved the valley many millenia ago.

I now know that the Connecticut River has an important role in the history of CT.  Beginning with geological foundations of the region, to settlement, industrialization, urban flight, and now, the reawakening of interest in living in the Capital city.  What many may not realize is that Connecticut, especially Hartford, history is directly tied to the river.  One cannot fully understand the essence of local history without recognizing the importance of the Connecticut River.  Although the people, landscape, land use, and even the river itself has changed over time, one things stands true, the Connecticut River has always and possibly will always have a profound effect on the residents of the region.  But, do Connecticut citizens realize its importance?  Hopefully, we can educate our youth to understand and respect the river so future generations can have as deep of a connection to the Connecticut River as I do.

The Home Stretch

As of late I have been working towards getting my students ready for the end of the year.  This may seem easy enough, but there is a lot involved.  Primarily, I have been concentrating on specific skills that students have been developing since I started this longterm substitute assignment.  Some of these skills include organizing and writing essays, analyzing primary sources, reading for information and note taking.  Each of these skills are important not only because they will be utilized on the final exam, but they also can be used in any social studies class as well as in the “real world.”  Students who are able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information become well-informed, successful citizens in our democratic society.

Along with skills, I have been referencing course guidelines to ensure that content is introduced in a meaningful way.  I am trying to avoid a top-down march through dates, names and events, however I did give my US History class a PowerPoint presentation on the timeline of the Cold War from 1954-1970.  In this class activity, the students took notes on key events of the time period, some of which we had already discussed in the Vietnam Unit (e.g. My Lai Massacre, Tet Offensive).  Other material presented was important for students to know, but was not essential to their understanding of the course material.

Just this past weekend, I put together an outline for each final exam; three exams total.  This is my second time administering final exams.  For the most part, I think that the process of preparing for exams and administering exams are relatively easy.  The true challenge comes when it is time to grade.  Of course, there are those people out there that will say, “don’t make the test so hard to grade and you will be fine.”  Well, quite frankly, I don’t agree with that statement.  Finals are an important capstone to the semester.  The process is tedious not because of the length of time it takes to grade one paper, but all of the exams combined.

Overall, this is a time-honored tradition, but maybe it is time for a change.  The issue that I have with the typical final exam is the emphasis on memorization of facts.  Many of the finals that I have seen are a large portion multiple choice answers, identifying, matching, or true false.  I don’t see enough skills being tested/evaluated on these types of assessments.  One example of a different type of assessment would be an encompassing project looking at the themes covered in one year.  For instance, my US History class recently completed a project on the Vietnam War.  In this assignment the students had to analyze songs, political cartoons, or images and determine how they showcase a specific theme we have been studying, US democratic principles.  I haven’t graded the assignments yet, but I am already impressed by the amount of effort and creativity the students put into their work.  This assignment focused on higher order thinking, the crown jewel in education theory.  Wouldn’t you agree that would be nice to see some more evidence of higher order thinking on end of the year finals?

Social Studies Standards

The following is a summation of the “History Wars” as described in Nash, Crabtree, and Dunn’s book History On Trial.  Although the book was written over ten years ago, the root of the issue surrounding present day topics such as Texas’ standards, standardized testing, and NCLB.

Summary as follows:

Essentially, the wars that are raging over history being taught in the classroom boil down to two sides of the argument.  On one side are traditionalists that believe that history is based on a set of facts that are not open to new interpretations.  Opposed to the traditionalists are so-called “revisionists” who look at history as an ever evolving practice where new perspectives and interpretations of the past are the basis for sound historical research.  The battle over history education was raging in and around the same time as the controversy surrounding the Enola Gay exhibit.  Overall, the history wars, as described by Pat Buchanan, was a “war for the soul of America.”  History, in many respects, is increasingly controversial because it provides so much of the substance for the way a society defines itself and considers what it wants to be.

The idea of “history-as-facts” is not simply uneducated, it is an ideological position of traditionalists and political Right.  This group believes that particular facts, traditions and heroic personalities untainted by “interpretation” represent the true and objective history that citizens ought to know.  Also, traditionalists are upset because new faces are crowding onto the stage and ruining the security of older versions of the past.  Traditionalists further believe that promotion of fact-history will create loyal, proud Americans.  Many historians, however, believe that interpretation—based on carefully on information sifted from many sources—is the heart of historical inquiry.

The revisionist notion of alternative explanations and multiple perspectives is anathema to the traditionalist history-as-fact, history-as-it-has-always-been school.  Those opposing the traditionalist position believe that exposing grim history is essential to create informed, responsible citizens.  In fact, most critique the past to improve the future.  Revisionism is not new in America as it began shortly after the Revolution.  People debated the character, meaning, and legacy of the independence movement.  Other divisive topics include the Civil War and slavery.  Important works of history and new schools of scholarly inquiry have repeatedly triggered controversy.  As Plato said, “Those who tell the stories also hold the power.”  The dilemma seems to boil down to whether recognizing powerless groups (women, blacks, workers, etc.) is political correctness; or a recognition of the link between a democratic society and a more historically complete and accurate rendering of the past.

Teaching with newspapers.

As of late I am constructing a digital archive of Civil War Hartford. Although it is obvious that no military battles were fought in the city, it is clear that the political battles were hot and heavy. The biggest problem I am facing is presenting Connecticut’s ideological struggles to my intended audience.

This project is intended to be a resource for teacher’s to incorporate into the social studies classroom. In Connecticut, the social studies curriculum framework places the study of the Civil War in eighth grade. Although students are excited to learn about Social Studies at this grade level, their ability to comprehend the language used in 19th century newspaper articles is limited.

If you look at the three major papers in Hartford during the Civil War, it is clear that The Hartford Daily Times was a conservative paper representing Democratic ideology, The Hartford Courant was more of a moderate-Republican paper, and The Hartford Evening Press was certainly a voice for the radical Republicans. The problem lies in the vocabulary and discussion of sophisticated ideas such as republicanism (intentional small “r”), Constitutional theory, and Human Rights (abolitionism).

What it really boils down to is that the students can comprehend the ideas flaming the political and military battles of Civil War America, but many (if not most or all) will not have the ability to analyze these primary sources effectively. I wonder if it would be better to compose more of a secondary source where the students could read about the political leanings of each paper and then read shorter, more readable selections of articles to illustrate the papers’ political ideology. I guess it would be sort of like an encyclopedia entry with direct quotes illustrating a papers stance on important political issues such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Connecticut’s 1863 gubernatorial election.

It is important for students to look at the ideological differences that Hartford’s Civil War newspapers to get a true sense of the political ideologies of everyday Nutmeggers during the War for the Union. Students will see that Connecticut had many people who viewed the Civil War as an unjust act of despotism over state sovereignty. From these stark contrasts in perspectives social studies students will learn that there is no one prescribed American history. Through the study of history students must be exposed to the many narratives that exist and draw their own conclusions based on well rounded unbiased presentation of the past.