Editors Note: This post was originally published on Catherine’s blog on Medium.
DO NOW: What is Whiteness?
After taking out their supplies and getting ready to engage, my students reacted to the question I’d written on the board as their “DO NOW.”
Some students giggled. Others made faces – perplexed, overwhelmed, entertained. A few began to chat with classmates. Some looked at me hoping for guidance. My co-teacher, having just entered the room, said, “That’s a great question!”
After giving my students time to react, I told them I knew it was a difficult question, but I wanted them to think about it. I told them there were no right answers, but they should draw upon their lived and learned experiences — and that I expected them to try to respond.
See Matt’s Video on Teaching Channel: Encouraging Students to Take Action
In order for students to take powerful and meaningful steps toward addressing problems in our society, I believe they need to consider the root causes of those problems and the role individuals and social systems play in creating and perpetuating them. Considering the dynamic nature of individual and systemic responsibility for problems in our society is challenging intellectual work, but ultimately I think it’s necessary to help students break down a problem and begin to plan approaches to solving it. I approach this work in my classroom using a mix of discussion, analysis of a memoir and documentary film clips, and a critical thinking framework called “structured academic controversy.”
Revolution, independence, the founding of our nation — this was my favorite era to teach. I have more creative, exciting lessons for this period than for any other, no matter the course or content.
Fascinated by the often fortuitous folly of the Founding Fathers, I made it a point to show my students that this nation was created by a group of brilliant but imperfect men — and women.
As a U.S. History teacher at the middle-school level, I keep an eye out for resources, tools, and ideas for lessons that allow my students to work with the content of my courses in a lab-type format. Zoom In, a new, free online platform to help teach U.S. History through inquiry using primary- and secondary-source documents, has proven to be a great match for my overall teaching philosophy: Get students involved and working with real historical documents and they will be engaged, interested, and — best of all — remember what they’re learning.
I realize this is a bit different than the traditional role that social studies courses have taken on in the past. (Remember the days of memorizing dates, names, and facts and Jeopardy-style learning?)