Monday, September 1, 2014

The Journey Ahead

Demetree Learning Commons at
Bishop Kenny High School
Photo Credit: Mr. Tim Yocum

Another busy summer has passed and already, the new school year is in full swing.  This new year brings a lot of excitement and anticipation as Bishop Kenny launches its second year as a 1:1 iPad learning environment, along with the grand opening of the new Demetree Learning Commons - a collaborative, multimedia workspace for teachers and students.  Of course, every year I enjoy welcoming a new group of students into my classroom and I look forward to teaching each day.  However, this year's students have already impressed me with their inquisitiveness, intellectual curiosity and unique personalities.  If the past two weeks are any indication, this is going to be an outstanding school year.

At the beginning of each new year, I ask students to complete an opening survey regarding their interest and knowledge of history.  Here are the results:

This is a promising start!  As I tell my students, I did not like history until my sophomore year when I had an amazing history teacher at Bishop Kenny.  Maybe I'll change a few minds?  Even if students do not like studying history by the end of the course, I hope that they will still gain an appreciation of our nation's past and at least, enjoy the class.

World War II always ranks as a favorite time period of students!  I'm glad to see the American Revolution making a comeback.

Given that we live in a technology-driven world and the school is on its second year of iPads in the hands of every teacher and student, the comfort level is increasing.  This is a good sign as we hope to develop a digital skill set within students that adequately prepares them for the real world.

I also ask students to name historic sites or places that they have visited recently.  St. Augustine and Washington, DC top the list.

This year also begins the new College Board Curriculum Framework for AP U.S. History.  This new framework represents the largest change to "APUSH" in forty years and brings with it some notable controversy.

Some of the headlines:
The old curriculum included a simple, bullet-point outline of names, dates and facts.  The new framework is much more descriptive and whenever a change is made from a list of history to descriptions of history, interpretations will vary regardless of the authors. If you are reading this far into my post, you may be curious what I think.  Is the new framework slanted?  Of course - and given recent trends in academia, we shouldn't be surprised.  Examining the nine historical time periods paints a history of the United States that is often dark, critical of American society and ideals and encompasses a heavy balance of race, class and gender topics while only briefly mentioning other foundational concepts in our nation's history (see the links above for other criticisms).  However, that certainly doesn't mean that my students are limited to this point of view.  I encourage my students to challenge all interpretations of the past.  If the new framework presents one point of view on a particular event or time period, in class we will discuss other points of view.  My job as the teacher is to provide the balance.  Too often it is easy to just follow one narrative, usually the narrative of a single textbook.  This year, instead of a single textbook, my AP students will be reading a collection of articles that present various points of view and they will be challenged to find others.  As a teacher, it is my solemn duty to teach them how to think, not what to think.  This also represents what I find exhilarating about the study of history - the work is never finished.  To truly study history is to consume countless pieces of evidence, multiple interpretations and various debates with the intent of deriving one's own argument of the past.  As one poster in my classroom reads, "History is an argument about the past."

I look forward to the journey ahead with all of my students!

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