Tuesday, October 25, 2011

American History

Our new block for my 8th and 9th graders is United States History. Over the years we have studied different epochs in history, through mythology, legends and then history resources, but this will be our first concentrated effort on US history as a whole. We've studied European history, Asian history, African history and our local and state history. It's a funny thing, what kids learn that you don't realize they are learning, and what they don't know that you  are sure you've been over a number of times...or they should have read somewhere...or you had pounded into your head for so many years that you assume they know too. 

History is an excellent example of this. Aragorn and Lily DO know a lot, but the sources of when and why they learned are so odd and interesting. They remember who made the first American flag, because we saw the house of Betsy Ross in Baltimore.
They know about the War of 1812 because we spent a day walking around the grounds and fort of Fort McHenry. They know a whole bunch of facts, 100 to be exact, about the major events of history in the US and the procedures of our government. These we learned as we listened to the CD that all citizenship candidates need to memorize for their test in the months preceding my husband's immigration interview, about a hundred times.

But bring up, say, the Stamp Act, and one of them will know the answer, while the other might say that the young American nation was sick of putting stamps on everything the British sold them. Yeah, well, the name of that act always felt misleading to me too. This year we are out to soak up and take an interest in this country's history in as many interesting ways as we can. We are reading Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," not exactly a touchy-feely, happy version of events, but nonetheless a good presentation of "the other side of the story." 

We are exploring history through art. One fabulous local resource that we have is the Figge Museum of Art, and as I was looking into how I could include a visit or two here in our program, I came across just the ticket! They have docent-led tours, we've been on a few over the years, but one in particular will be perfect. It is called; "Learning About America Through Art." The description: "students will discover how American artists have documented the people, land, events and values that shaped the United States." Of course, there are also tours on The Midwest and The Innovators that I can't wait to look into as well.

Each week they are choosing a biography of a figure from US history as well. We had some trouble defining "historical figure" with Aragorn. "How about Dave Mustaine?" For the rest of you who may be as unenlightened as I am, he was one of the founding members of the group "Metallica." My response; "how about someone from history?" "Does he have to be dead?" "Yes, dead would be a start." He then rattled off a number of other musicians that have recently died, mostly in suspicious circumstances. "Older!" We compromised on Harry Houdini for this week and Lily chose Mark Twain. I had pulled a pile of potential biographies for them to look through and of these I kept Anne Hutchinson for myself. 

Aragorn is very interested in the Civil War era. We have forts and cemeteries of that era, all over Arsenal Island, so they will make great field trips as well. A day or a week with Civil War rations may be a project he will undertake, or he may come up with other ideas. Lily may choose something about transportation by boat for her own project. Life on the Mississippi River is still filled with the every day reminders of the practical aspects of our past. (Like barges that need to pass through, opening the bridge span of the lock and dam, leaving you stranded on the wrong side of the Mississippi when you're running late for a class.)

I love the beginning of a new unit, ripe with possibilities and fresh ideas. What new wonders is your autumn affording?

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