Sunday, August 2, 2015

History Wars

It has been almost a year since my last post, a product of a very busy year that has left little time to write.  This past school year witnessed the launch of the new AP U.S. History curriculum, in my classroom and throughout the nation.  The newly designed framework has been met with much controversy and enough concern to warrant revisions for the upcoming school year.

Despite Vice President of AP Trevor Parker dismissing the criticisms in a recent letter to all "APUSH" teachers (link), I must respectfully disagree with his characterization of these criticisms as "egregious misrepresentations."  While this particular teacher welcomed the functional changes to the exam and especially its emphasis on the skills of a historian, the concept outline did present a perspective of United States history concerning to some, including me.  Those who subscribe to a Howard Zinn view of history will find nothing wrong in the framework; however, an overemphasis of some topics and a lack of inclusion of others is startling, at least in my opinion. Regardless of the "perspective" of the new curriculum, the new framework does allow for flexibility.  Therefore, it has been my goal over the past
Since writing this blog post while on vacation in
the Carolina Mountains, the College Board has just
released the "updated" version, shown here.
year to provide the appropriate balance of historical interpretation.  As I frequently mention in class, my job is not to teach what to think, but how to think. Simply because I disagree with the emphasis on negative elements of our history does not mean that I ignore those aspects or cover them with less attention.  I believe that our nation's history stands as one of the most remarkable in history and despite our faults, there is much to celebrate about a nation that just in recent decades rid the world of totalitarianism and has done more than any other to promote freedom and democracy around the globe.  However, in celebrating our past, we must come to terms with mistakes and failures.  Historian Paul Johnson (1998) said it best, "America is a great problem-creating country but also a great problem-solving country."  He offers this example: America "created chattel slavery on a scale never before experienced in the world, but it solved it after much time, blood, sweat and tears."  The effects of this are still a work in progress today, but at least we enjoy the freedom to debate and discern how to address problems and resolve controversy.  Not everyone in this world is as fortunate.

The reaction to the new framework also demonstrates the true nature of the field of history.  Our historical understanding is impacted by the context of present day and history is controversial.  The
Carving to Confederate Generals on
Stone Mountain, Georgia
(credit: WSB-TV)
recent debate regarding the Confederate flag illustrates this well.  History can also be reaffirming.  It can serve as a source of patriotism and identity, but also a source of scorn.  History can be personal and it is often when it becomes personal that ordinary people pay more attention.  I have witnessed some passionately defend their ancestry by vehemently arguing that southern secession and slavery were unrelated, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

Mural from the Nathan B. Forrest High School Cafeteria.
The school's name was changed to Westside High for the
2014-2015 school year. (Source:

This is what keeps my job exhilarating.  Students sometimes question why I remain so excited about teaching the "same story" over and over.  The reality is that each of the past eleven years has been different.  Each year offers some new perspective or some new interest based upon a recent book I have read or some new controversy in the news.  The integration of technology and the evolution of how we learn in the classroom also continues to evolve.  I continue to evolve in my own teaching as I release more of the responsibility for learning to the students themselves.  While this may cause concern for some in the profession (oh no, what if they get it wrong?), the results have been truly remarkable.  Just in the past year, I've watched students produce compelling and engaging presentations of historical material, address topics outside the normal curriculum and make learning personal by interviewing family members on their experience with past events and using what they learned to produce moving tributes to their past generation or even specifically to members of their family. 

The study of history deserves - rather, our youth deserve a genuine opportunity to learn history and in doing so, to make their own decisions regarding interpretation.  Gone are the days where students learned simply what a textbook author deemed important.  Students must have the freedom to evaluate the past, good and bad, as well as evaluate the implications of the past on their lives and our society.  I hope that the forthcoming revision to the "revised framework" will restore an appropriate balance to the historical narrative and will return some important topics noticeably absent in its current form.  Regardless of what the College Board decides, in my classroom, we will continue to consider all perspectives and all sides, while also allowing students to offer their own interpretations and interests.  We will engage the historical thinking skills that the new curriculum appropriately requires while challenging all perspectives of the past.

Note: McPherson is one of the most respected historians in the field today

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!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Creation, Curation and Collaboration: The iPad and the History Classroom

Student presenting a Google Map from his
iPad using AirServer
This year, Bishop Kenny High School embarked on a bold 1:1 iPad initiative with 1,200 mobile devices now in the hands of teachers and students.  This initiative aimed to fundamentally transform teaching and learning at Bishop Kenny by providing the means for developing a digital skill set where both teachers and students could easily "create, curate and collaborate" in the learning environment.  Of course, launching devices on such a large scale did present some challenges with bandwidth, resources and student use of the device.  However, from my perspective as a teacher, this inaugural year has been an overwhelming success.  Sure, the iPad can be a device of distraction, but the potential of having a device readily available for each student far outweighs the temporary distractions.  It also affords students an opportunity to learn not only a digital skill set, but also some self-control and discipline.  Devices are becoming much more prevalent in our society and in the workplace - everyone, young people and adults, must develop the digital etiquette of knowing when to power up and when to power down.

Looking back at this school year, I've noticed that students are much more engaged in their learning than ever before.  I'm not sure all students fully realize how far they have come since August, but as a teacher, it is amazing to see how launching the iPad really has transformed the way we learn at BK.  It is gratifying to watch students helping other students and students helping teachers learn new skills and develop new ways of interacting with academic subjects.  I would like to share some examples from my own classroom this year and of course, take the opportunity to brag about the incredible 126 juniors that I had the distinct honor and privilege to teach and to learn from this year.  Below are a few examples of activities we conducted using the iPad:

Bringing documents to life using DocsTeach from the National Archives:

Reading primary sources is an essential skill for historians and can be a challenge, especially when the documents are handwritten.  Prior to the iPad, I had to book a computer lab to examine original documents or just rely on text translations of the documents photocopied for classroom use.  This year, we were able to carefully examine original manuscripts and artifacts using the DocsTeach app.  Reading original, handwritten documents was challenging for students, but it did help them focus on every word.  It is also very neat to inspect the real artifacts!

Getting away from "PowerPoint" and finding new ways to collaborate and present historical information:

RWT Timeline App
This year, students collaborated on various topics in history using a variety of apps and tools, rather than just making (boring) PowerPoint slides.  When I first began assigning presentations years ago, I would have to book a lab and spend 15-20 minutes explaining to students exactly how to complete the assignment.  Now with an interactive device in the hands of every student, they have taught me new ways of curating materials and how to create compelling presentations of history.  Linked below are some examples with the names of the apps used:
Playing trivia games with QuizUp:

For years, I gave a "Presidents Quiz" where students created a chart of all the Presidents and then used that chart on a skills quiz.  While the grades on this quiz were always okay, this year, my students inspired me to try something different.  Students taught me how to play QuizUp and the game has a category for the Presidents.  Instead of the traditional paper chart and quiz, students earned a quiz grade by reaching Level 10 in QuizUp.  The assignment is linked here for teachers interested in trying this activity.  I loved when students played me in the app and it was really gratifying when a student beat me in a history trivia game!  I think he was surprised that I was so excited about losing to a student.

Collaborating to create history movies:

Two years ago, I started an annual project where students would create a video on an event, topic or person in U.S. history.  This year's project exceeded my highest expectations.  While most groups used Windows Movie Maker on laptops, they also used their iPads to gather music, images and write captions.  A couple groups decided to experiment with iMovie for iPad instead of using the laptops.  The final products were absolutely remarkable and completed in only four class days!  By this point in the year, students were pros at how to quickly create, curate and collaborate using their devices - certainly a skill that will pay dividends in the future.

I encourage you to check out these videos!  Every one is amazing and compelling, covering a wide range of diverse topics (and chosen by the students):

One of the advantages of moving to digital learning is that now students have many different ways to communicate with me and with each other.  We collaborated on study guides throughout each unit using Google Drive and extended our class discussion online through Schoology.  Students were able to stay up-to-date with class assignments, activities and due dates using Schoology.  Also, when I left to attend conferences in St. Louis and Orlando this year, I could still keep in touch with the class and answer questions from virtually anywhere!

What's exciting is that this is only the beginning!  I can't wait to see what students will teach me next year!

Using Socrative to review for the AP Exam

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Capital Tour, #BKinDC

With such a busy semester, it has been quite some time since my last blog post.  However, an hour and a half flight from Washington to Jacksonville gives me an opportunity to share with you the most memorable teaching experience I have had in my career.  This week, I had the privilege to take six students from our school to Washington, DC for a four-day tour of the capital and surrounding areas.

As a teacher, my ultimate goal is to inspire a passion for learning in all of my students and as a history teacher especially, to give my students an understanding and appreciation of the past and help form them into responsible citizens.  While I strive to do this everyday in the classroom, this trip to Washington really gave me the chance to see that passion for learning come to life.  Throughout a very packed four day tour, I had the opportunity to witness these six students be genuinely engaged in learning and take an interest in all the sites and exhibits we visited.  They listened intently to all of the lessons given by our outstanding tour director, Monica Martucci.  They stopped to read exhibits, to take a closer look at historical artifacts, to ask questions and really take in the sites.  Of course, they also stopped to take multiple photos and selfies!  Who can resist a selfie with George Washington or a perfectly posed shot holding up the White House?  Nothing can be more exciting as a teacher than to see your students huddled around a historic document, carefully examining the text and reading all of the surrounding information.

This is what learning is all about - not memorization, not random facts, but real experiences that expand horizons and create lasting memories.  I am thankful that these students had such a great trip and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience Washington with them.

I am thankful for EF Explore America and our consultant, Christine Moore, for expertly planning all of the logistics for this tour.  I am also appreciative of the Bishop Kenny administration for allowing this venture and especially my wonderful wife for being so supportive of me and allowing me to be away from home for four days of Spring break.

Parents, thank you for making this opportunity possible for your children and most importantly, thank you Anna, Kelvy, Sarah, Emily, Caitlyn and Maribeth for an amazing adventure!

If interested, check out our pictures on Twitter or Instagram: @michaelbroach or #BKinDC

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Constructing Reconstruction

The process of reuniting the states after four years of a bloody civil war proved to be a daunting task.  First, re-admitting southern states was challenging.  Since secession was viewed as illegal by Lincoln and the United States government, what legal process should the country follow to bring back seceding states?  How long should the military occupy the South?  Should ex-Confederates be prosecuted?  How would the South be re-built, and who would pay for it?  These questions marked the first of many battleground issues for Reconstruction.

Furthermore, with slavery now abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment, how would former slaves be integrated into free society?  What role would they play in this process?  Would African-Americans receive the right to vote?  These questions became more challenging to address as bitter political debates turned into vigilante violence in the South.  Though Radical Republicans entered the Reconstruction process with the lofty goals of racial equality, when Reconstruction ended in the mid-1870s, race relations were worse, not better.

The effects of Reconstruction lingered on well into the twentieth century.  

For this important topic, my students gathered as groups to write blog posts on various topics related to Reconstruction.  I would like to feature a few of these as guest bloggers here.

- Mr. Michael Broach

The Vision of Radical Republicans at the End of the Civil War:
See this nicely formatted document, including a fake Facebook wall made for Radical Republicans linked here.
Guest Bloggers (E mod): Emily, Margaret, Julie, Reagan, Kathryn

Race Relations during Reconstruction:

Guest Bloggers (C mod): Kayla, Elizabeth, Janel, Mariam, Kennedy; Primary Source Team: Victor, Danny, Reagan, Philip, Javier

"Ole missus used tu read de good book tu us, black 'uns, on Sunday evenin's, but she mostly read dem places whar it says, 'Sarvints obey your masters,' an' didn't stop tu splane it like de teachers; an' now we is free, dar's heaps o' tings in dat ole book, we is jes' sufferin' tu larn."

Race relations were extremely tense during the period of Reconstruction. The South still considered the blacks their property and had a hard time adjusting to life without slavery. In order to reinvent a South without slavery, Southern states enacted "Black Codes" that limited black freedoms and regulated many aspects of their lives.Angry Southerners also founded the Klu Klux Klan in order to scare the blacks into abandoning their new participation in politics and government. Though the blacks struggled with the KKK and black codes, they did succeed in their personal lives through schooling and the development of their own communities. The Freedmen's Bureau was developed by black sympathizers in order to provide them with schools and education. Blacks were also able to develop their own community in the South, expanding on the cultures that they had developed during their enslavement.

In order to control the freed Blacks, many Southern states passed Black Codes, laws aimed at keeping the Black population in submission and workers in the fields; some were harsh, others were not as harsh. The Black Codes aimed to ensure a stable and subservient labor force for the freed black. The codes also sought to restore as nearly as possible the pre-emancipation system of race relations. Freedom was legally recognized, as were some other privileges, such as the right to marry. forbade Blacks from serving on a jury and some even barred Blacks from renting or leasing land, and Blacks could be punished for “idleness” by being subjected to working on a chain gang. Nowhere were blacks allowed to vote.

As racial tensions began increase due to African Americans gaining political office, many secret anti-black societies started to emerge. The most notorious of these societies was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). These white southern men wanted to rid the American political system of blacks. They ultimately hoped that the social system would revert to pre-Civil War standards. In efforts to remove these blacks, the members of the KKK would impose violence. They would first try and scare the blacks. If this did not work, they would employ force which could potentially lead to the death of blacks.

The Freedmen's bureau was intended to help the welfare of African Americans. It was to provide food, clothing, medicine, and education to freedman and white refugees. Its greatest achievement was in the education department, which enticed some to become more religiously educated.

However, even with the limitations being faced by freedmen during reconstruction, African Americans strived to develop their own societies and express their newly found freedom.  They were able to develop their own churches and organizations that helped support their communities.  In addition, they were made capable of forming their own businesses, which allowed them to develop a sense of economic independence.

Northern Reactions and Why Give Up on Reconstruction?

By the mid-1870s, many moderates and average Americans in both the North and West were ready to give up on Reconstruction.  Just as Lincoln faced opposition to emancipation during the war, many were tired of dealing with the costs, political debates and effects of Reconstruction by Grant's second term.

For this topic, a group of students in one class creatively made a Twitter account for Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate for President in 1876.  What would "Moderate Sam" tweet?  Check out his Twitter profile here: 

Guest Bloggers (B mod): Angela, Maddie and Blythe

While many people think of Reconstruction from a viewpoint of African Americans or radicals forcing everyone to get along and be accepting, the Northern moderates were much more realistic. They knew other important things were going on at the time, such as the Panic of 1873, political corruption, and the Industrial Revolution. Northern Moderates were becoming frustrated with the lack of progress being made with Reconstruction and played a major role in ending the push for Reconstruction. If Samuel Tilden, a northern moderate had a twitter in 1870, these would be his tweets.

This was a fun project and I enjoyed the creativity and collaboration of all of my students as they discussed this important topic in U.S. History.  This was certainly an #eduwin!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lincoln, Kennedy and the Field of History

This week, the nation commemorated the anniversary of two important and monumental events in American History - the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.  These two events - and the national discussion this week - illustrate how history impacts each of us and is relevant to us today.  I am writing this post from the National Council of the Social Studies Annual Conference in St. Louis. These two commemorations have been the subject of several sessions this week and certainly a hot topic among historians and history educators.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address redefined the meaning of the Civil War.  Lincoln gave this speech months after the epic battle and even though it had been months, there were still bodies left to be collected on the battlefield.  A celebrated speaker of the day spoke for two hours, Lincoln followed him with a speech of only two and a half minutes.  His brief yet eloquent remarks defined the Civil War as a "test" to see whether this nation, built as a constitutional republic of "the people," would survive.  As Joy Hakim, author of Freedom: A History of US, remarked in her presentation yesterday, Lincoln's short speech illustrated how the presidency had transformed him and how he became the great moral leader of the nation, even if he did not recognize it.  As I have mentioned in class and written here before, Lincoln's greatest strengths in guiding the nation through the trauma of this war rests in his incredible vision to see the conflict through, his ability to unite or at least manage his political rivals for the common cause of union and his astounding ability to phrase powerful messages in so few of words.  Lincoln was passionate at saving the nation and preserving the entire union, as well as achieving a peace that finally put slavery to rest yet ensured the future harmony of the republic.  Of course, Lincoln's vision evolved as the office transformed him and he transformed the office.  The Gettysburg Address illustrates this transformation and demonstrates Lincoln's deep, reflective intelligence shaped by the traumatic events of the war and the sadness in his personal life.  In this regard, Lincoln and Kennedy share some similarities towards the end of their lives.

The Kennedy Assassination a century later also demonstrates an important turning point in American history.  The decade of the sixties represents another upheaval in our nation's history where Americans were challenged by the fears of the Cold War, the pursuit of equality in the civil rights movement, a dramatic change in American culture and the trauma of the Vietnam War.  The Kennedy Assassination leaves us with many questions.  Was Oswald the lone assassin or part of a wider conspiracy?  How would the 1960s have been different if Kennedy had lived?  What is the true legacy of the Kennedy presidency?  These and other questions have been the subject of several sessions here in St. Louis and of course, in the national media this week.  In addition to the presentations here and the television coverage, several historical organizations and news sites have been posting a minute-by-minute account of the Kennedy assassination on Twitter using the hashtag #JFK50.  Even though I was born in 1980 and not alive for the event, I have been able to re-live those days through social media.

Both of these events demonstrate how history also evokes controversy.  The Gettysburg anniversary may have passed with a national discussion focused solely on Lincoln and the Civil War.  However, President Obama not attending the event in Gettysburg and then, dropping the phrase "under God" from his re-reading of the speech in a video message set off a political firestorm where the focus shifted away from the event of 150 years ago to a discussion of more recent politics.  

Yesterday, I attended a session with film director Oliver Stone (JFK, Born on the Fourth of July) and Dr. Peter Kuznick, authors of The Untold History of the United States.  When the session began with a remark on how terrible our nation had become under George W. Bush, I knew immediately where this one was headed.  At the end of the session, Oliver Stone recommended that education and the nation would be better if we could get "those damn Republicans" out of office.  Will that evoke controversy? Yes, but it brings up an important lesson.  Learning history is exhilarating.  What do we really know about the past?  Who writes history?  Why are the events of the past so relevant to us today?  Where do we stand on the controversial event and/or controversial interpretations of history?  The other lesson is to always recognize that everyone has a bias.  Tread carefully.

In yesterday's presentation, we heard Oliver Stone's perspective on the Kennedy assassination as a major conspiracy.  In fact, government involvement - maybe even Lyndon Johnson himself - was implied, or at least Stone raised the question.  Today, I listened to David Keck who has spent years researching the event who disagrees with many of the key points of Stone's speech and the JFK film.  What does this tell us?  This is what makes learning history so compelling. 

To understand history is not to learn a chain of events or a particular interpretation of history.  When we simply study stories of history in a classroom, we only learn one interpretation - the interpretation of the one choosing the stories.  My challenge as a history teacher is to teach the skills of historical inquiry, to teach students to think like historians and sometimes not like historians - to question what we know.  These anniversaries and related controversies illustrate the need for good historical inquiry, grounded on factual evidence.  Students, help me to be this teacher - ask questions, challenge what we learn.

Post note: Tonight, I will be listening to Harold Holzer and "The Making of Steven Speilberg's Lincoln."  Tomorrow, we plan to attend Mass at the Old Cathedral, visit museums and then make the journey home.  I will post pictures of St. Louis later in the week.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Dream

As readers of my blog recognize, I love milestone anniversaries of historic events.  These public anniversaries bring the conversations of history out of the typical academic settings and into the forefront of mainstream, public discussion.  They engage Americans in our shared past.

Today marks the 50th anniversary since the famous March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.  Fifty years later, we are now at a tipping point where less Americans are old enough to have directly experienced the civil rights movement.  For the masses of younger Americans who did not experience this time period first-hand, we are the beneficiaries of this era.  But as we assess Dr. King's speech, we must ask: Is the dream fulfilled?  Does American society today reflect what this speech envisions?  If the answer is no, then why not and what must change?  These are just a few challenging questions that important historical anniversaries raise and important questions to raise as we shape the future of our great nation.


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