Saturday, March 21, 2009

Planning, Part 1

I love planning lessons.

It's like detective work and the Superbowl and To Sir With Love and a Marine Corps obstacle course for the brain and theater and so much more!

But this week I have to delve deep into slavery. Every year I am overwhelmed at the task, at the painful legacy, at the materials I can draw upon, and somewhat stymied by constraints of time and the vicissitudes of middle school. I am stalling the planning right now, because slavery is something every kid knows about, and no kid knows about, at the same time. I don't think our American minds can wrap around slavery. Austrian Josef Fritzl was sentenced this week for the way he abused his daughter for 24 years, and it is unthinkable. But one hundred fifty years ago, his behavior in the context of slavery would have been LEGAL. How can I hope to honor the memory of those who endured the unendurable? (Dear God, I need You to help me, because this is overwhelming.)

OK, so planning. Here is Ground Zero.

1) Figure out what you need them to know.
But good luck with this! The starting place in California public schools is THE ALMIGHTY STATE STANDARDS. Fancy committee people somewhere boiled down our nation's history into 69 topics (
when you examine them more closely, way over 200 more separate teaching points--see for yourself: But they weren't fancy enough to be specific---oh no!

Look at Standard 8.2.1: "Discuss the significance of the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and the Mayflower Compact." Wow--does that mean a kid needs to know what these bad boys say and imply? Or just that all three formed the springboard for self-government? VAGUE, baby, VAGUE. And the painfully funny thing is that each California kid takes a test at the end of April that may (or may not) include a question about this standard, and the question will be SPECIFIC.

So just how DO we teach about these docs? Have you taken a look at them? The shortest--only two sentences-- and most uniquely American of these is the Mayflower Compact. Take a gander:

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."

OK, so one of the sentences was quite the doozy. But this is what California tells me to teach eighth graders--so that they can "discuss the significance" of it!!

I picked a hard one on purpose to make you feel sorry for me :-). Well, there are plenty of hard ones. This week, here are the my "starting point standards":

8.6.4 Study the lives of black Americans who gained freedom in the North and founded schools and churches to advance their rights and communities. (note: I will rely on the text for information about these people. "Study" is annoyingly vague, too; do the kids need to know any specific people? What exactly do they need to remember about what they study?)

8.7.2 Trace the origins and development of slavery (did this already); its effects on black Americans and on the region's political, social, religious, economic, and cultural development (dang! Is that broad and vague enough for you?); and identify the strategies that were tried to both overturn and preserve it (e.g., through the writings and historical documents on Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey). (ok, so we will look at Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey's rebellions, and we will look at Frederick Douglass's writings, and the pro-slavery writings of Solon Robinson. You can see they expect the teacher to determine which writings to use, and that, my friends, takes time, and again the question of the CST hangs over the teacher's head ).

8.7.4 Compare the lives of and opportunities for free blacks in the North with those of free blacks in the South (I'll be using the text, and God bless Al Gore for creating the internet; and we will use a T-chart to compare and contrast. Much less vague!).

8.9.1 Describe the leaders of the movement (e.g., John Quincy Adams and his proposed constitutional amendment, John Brown and the armed resistance, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Weld, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass) (Ah, specificity at last! There are seven people listed here. We don't have time to teach all seven, and we'll learn more about John Brown later on, so this week we will focus on Tubman, Garrison, and Douglass.)

8.9.6 Describe the lives of free blacks and the laws that limited their freedom and economic opportunities (back to vague again).

Enough stalling. It's time for me to move on to the second part of planning. Tune in!

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