Monday, March 11, 2019

Why I Don't Use "Teacher Training" to Describe Teacher Education

Above: This is a class picture from when I taught my first social studies methods course as a doctoral student in 2009. Even back then, I would always refer to educating future teachers, rather than training them.

I never use the phrase "teacher training." Those who work with me also know that I try my best to encourage them to stop using it as well. I have been a teacher educator for over 10 years (notice how we do not usually say "teacher trainer"), and I have always had an uneasiness with describing the process where teachers learn (and continue to learn) to teach as "training." I think that it problematically frames teachers' work as overly simplistic, involving little thought and creativity, and something that can be learned in a relatively brief period of time. It does not encapsulate the intellectual flexibility or the crucial problem solving skills that teachers need to do in their work.

This post is my public service announcement on the issue...

What is Training?

Merriam-Webster defines training as:

1: to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient; to form by instruction, discipline, or drill
2: to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill
3: to direct the growth of (a plant) usually by bending, pruning, and tying

These definitions of training can help us break down why it is not the right term to describe the complex process that teachers experience as they are learn (and continue to learn) to teach. Embedded in the definition of training are several problematic ideas that are implicit and are important to unpack.

First, the word training means "to make fit." One interpretation of this is similar to qualified or proficient. However, I would like to instead use "to cause to conform to or suit something." This view of teacher training is the reason why early schools of education were called normal schools, and they were designed to establish a set of norms among all teachers and to standardize their practices (also see how gender played into the whole normal school idea). The second part explains how this "fitting" occurs through "instruction, discipline, or drill." The drill and discipline components clearly imply that repeated behaviors will lead to the intended outcome of becoming a proficient teacher. Additionally, discipline means "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character" (interestingly, it also means "punishment," which all teachers know from their school discipline policies).

The idea that teacher learning is to conform to a singular view of education is problematic. It implies that the best teachers can be molded using some sort of formula and that they "follow the rules." Instead, we know that some of the best teachers go against the grain. We know that they do not always fit in with the instructional or institutional norms around them. We know that they take pedagogical and curricular risks. Moreover, we know that the educational system is not equitable; the best teachers also work against that inequity. They center their work on social justice and ensuring that all their students are challenged and supported. They engage in culturally relevant pedagogy. Teachers need to be agents of change in their classroom around issues of pedagogy and curriculum, as well as fairness and equity more broadly.

Second, the word training means "to prepare" through "exercise" usually for some sort of test (such as an athlete trains for the Olympics). This view of teacher training portrays teaching as not involving intellectual flexibility or continual adaption to changing conditions (granted, teachers are like Olympians in many other ways). I will use the example of a driving license as an example; once a person passes a road test then the state says they have the skills necessary for operating a car. Within this logic, a teacher should be able to pass a test or some other sort of benchmark, and then they will have most of the knowledge necessary for teaching.

The idea that teacher learning can be mastered by repeated practice or that quality teaching can be easily measured is problematic. It implies that we know what certain behaviors teachers need to be effective. Instead, we know that measuring quality teaching is not only very difficult, but even the definition of quality teaching is highly contested. We also know that teacher learning continues to occur well beyond teacher preparation and that it involves continually adapting to new sets of conditions, such as changing students, teaching methods, or curricula. There is no one test or benchmark that says someone has mastered (or is even proficient) in teaching.

Third, the word training means "bending, pruning, and tying"; this is clearly a definition intended for gardening. However, it is still applicable to this argument. If we use the analogy of a tree to describe how a teacher grows, we would want to avoid "training" teachers in this sense as well.

The idea that teacher learning is something that can be forced in a certain way (like the gardening of plants) is problematic. It implies that teachers need to be shaped by others. Instead, teachers are the drivers of their own professional learning. There is evidence that the most meaningful teacher professional development involves learning collectively and collaborating with peers. At the same time, teachers are impacted by the decisions of others. They do not get to control the level of social programs available to their students or the amount of resources available to their schools. In many ways, like trees, teachers may feel as if they are constantly being figuratively bent, pruned, or tied by others in their day-to-day work. I see this with the preservice teachers who I teach, but also among the experienced teachers whom I work work with (I have documented some of this in my longitudinal research on teacher development; see here and here). Many teachers today identify an over-emphasis on standardized test scores, prescribed mandated curriculum, a lack of resources, and schools without dedicated time for social studies, science, art, or music, as stunting their professional growth (similar to how this definition of training influences, perhaps even stunts, the growth of trees).

While there may be some professions where training describes their professional learning (i.e. auto mechanic, athlete), it is not the case for teachers.

What Is Education and Why Make a Distinction?

I am certainly not the first to draw a distinction between training and education. Outside teaching, many people have made this distinction about their fields (see one here from business or one here from the military). In fact, this same argument was made by G. Patrick O'Neill's article in his McGill Journal of Education back in 1986. He argued that education, not training, best depicted the intellectual, emotional, and social development that teachers undergo (and that teacher training and teacher education should no longer be used interchangeably).

My purpose in this post is to raise awareness and hopefully lead teachers and teacher educators to stop using the term "teacher training," and instead use "teacher education" or more specifically "teacher preparation," "teacher development," or "teacher learning" as the terms to describe how teachers learn.

Merriam Webster defines education as 
1: the action or process of educating or of being educated; the knowledge and development resulting from the process of being educated

Education is a much more applicable term for what teachers experience as they learn (and continue to learn) to teach. It represents a much more complex process. It makes clear that it happens over time (perhaps over a lifetime or career). It is not some that comes from rote memorization or repeated behaviors, but rather development that occurs before and during the practice of teaching.

Of course, all professions involve some level of both training and education. Teaching is no different. However, it requires much more education than training to be successful. For instance, teachers must be trained to use a grade submission web portal, how to search the Internet efficiently for resources, or about their school's procedures for dealing with problematic student behaviors. Yet, these types of trainings are not usually (and should not be) the focus of teacher preparation programs, as they would not prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom and all of the complex variables that teachers need to consider and address.

Problematically, several new teacher preparation programs have actually bought into the assumptions embedded in "teacher training" and have built their courses around the behaviors or repeated practice that they believe make an effective teacher (interestingly, these preparation programs also view the learning of PreK-12 students in a similar way). One of the best example of this is the Relay Graduate School of Education, which NYC principal Carol Burris analyzes quite well here (notice even the author falls into the "teacher training" trap in the title, when I think she means education-as she makes clear throughout the article).

Teaching requires an education that helps develop teachers' critical thinking around how should students be assessed on their learning (or should we even have grades), how to design a well-crafted lesson plans or adapt another person's curricular materials, or understand the complex psychology that underpins students' behaviors and possible ways to support all of their students (including considering if school discipline procedures may be inequitable for certain students).

We cannot not simply train teachers, as if teaching is a simple set of tasks and behaviors. Instead, teachers must understand both the art and science of learning, so they can be continually adjusting their teaching practice and engaging in their work as intellectuals. As one writer analogized it, "Don’t just teach him how to catch a fish. Educate [them] about the art and science of fishing." Teachers must not only be prepared for the basic tasks they must perform in the classroom, but for everything else that happens around those. It is about how a teacher creates and assembles lessons, not memorizing the parts of a lesson plan template. It is about how a teacher challenges their students to think about perspectives or ideas that they have not considered, not using the best method for having students call out answers.

This is certainly not a new debate. Education has long had a division between those who work from behaviorist and constructivist perspectives. Each philosophy has different concepts for how to build an educational system that best educates students. Subsequently, that same debate has also persisted within teacher education. Teacher training is much more aligned with a behaviorist view of learning to teach, while teacher education better describes how constructivist-oriented teacher educators understand their work.

Why Is This Important?

Language is important as it frame how we understand the world. This is especially true for the language that we use to explain teaching and learning. As Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) reminded us, the language often used in education oversimplifies the process of teacher learning and practice. It often frames learning in terms of a basic transmission from teaching to student (which it is not), or in the case of teacher education, from teacher educator to teacher. This has all sorts of negative ramifications on how the general public or politicians (who make laws about teaching and learning) think about education. I find particularly compelling Kevin Kumashiro's argument that these misconceptions about teaching and learning have become so taken-for-granted that they are seen by many as common sense, and that they have been used for political, rather than educational means. For instance, conservative educational thinkers have used these common sense framings to shape the current educational conversation (and ultimately influence the current system) within their view.

As I said at the beginning, this is a PSA. My hope is that I influence a few more more people to stop use teacher training (I know it is an uphill battle), and especially to stop using it simultaneously with teacher education, or teacher preparation, or teacher development. I hope that this can encourage a more important conversation about how we view teacher education, teachers, and, ultimately, the students they work with.
 Above: A recent group of graduates from the BU Social Studies Education Program. I'd like to think we helped educate, not trained, them to be great teachers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Teaching Immigration

Above: The Great Hall and the "pens" at Ellis Island Immigration Station.

"The United States is a country of immigrants." While this statement is only partially accurate (as it does not recognize that many Americans are either ancestors of the first people to inhabit this land or were forced to come here as a result of slavery), it is certainly routinely stated in U.S. history classrooms (and the media). Immigration has long played a prominent and positive role in the quest-for-freedom narrative template of American history (For more on narrative templates, see the work of James Wertsch here, here, and here). Using this narrative template, students (and people) place events within a larger story that the United States was established to help people escape oppression elsewhere and join a nation that is constantly striving to protect individual freedom here (See the Neil Diamond song "America" for a good example of this (video below), past presidential speeches on immigration issues, or most textbook chapters on the topic).

Of course, we know that the American story is much more complex and that for many groups this nation was the vehicle of their oppression. Immigrants have long been used to create hysteria and further certain political goals. Perhaps dating to the United States' founding (including statements by Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton-yes, the guy from "that musical" and an immigrant himself), anti-immigrant propaganda has been spread through the media and politicians have used it as a wedge issue (including in party platforms) Recently, despite large declines in undocumented immigration, reducing immigration became the signature campaign promise of Donald Trump's campaign. As I write this, there is a standoff between the President and Congress over the funding of a Mexican border wall expansion, which has partially closed the federal government (now the longest in history and also widely unpopular with the American people).

How should teachers approach immigration during these troubling times for immigrants? Without a doubt, the current president's rhetoric and action has made teaching this part of the American story much more complex. Unlike previous presidents, Trump does not describe this debate as part of our ethos as nation of immigrants ("but also laws," which they always add) and within that time-honored quest-for-freedom narrative template, as Clinton, Bush, or Obama did. He does not present the experiences of present day immigrants as their attempt to seek freedom here from oppression elsewhere (interestingly, as Trump's own ancestors did, when they immigrated from Germany and Scotland to the United States).

Considering this historical and political context, in this post, I explore possible ways that teachers might present immigrants and immigration, so that it helps students have a more complex understanding of the nation's past and how that influences the present.

Above: Downtown Framingham, which has long been an immigrant community.

However, I should note that this topic is very personal for me. For most of my career as a high school social studies teacher, I taught in Framingham, Massachusetts (above). Framingham is a former factory town and historical hub for immigrants. First, it was the English (who settled on Nipmuc land), then the Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans, migrants from Puerto Rico, and today it is home to many newcomers from Brazil, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Every year when I taught U.S. history, I attempted to present a story of migration that began with the Indigenous people and then eventually waves outsiders in different periods that continued to the present day. The overarching question that I wanted my students to answer was, has the United States been a nation of freedom for migrants/immigrants (and, if so, for whom and when)?

Above: (Left) My great grandfather (with hat; as a child standing behind his tenement in Holyoke, Mass.), whose family immigrated from Québec in Canada and (Right) my great grandmother (on right, in an family portrait taken in Chicopee, Mass.), whose family immigrated from Galicia in Poland.

I also approach this topic as a descendant of immigrants. My ancestors came to Massachusetts from Québec (and before that from France) and Poland. Whether it was taking trains south from Montréal to work in the paper mills of Holyoke or taking a boat and arriving at Ellis Island to later join relatives working in the factories of Ludlow and Springfield, my ancestors bought into the quest-for-freedom narrative. They benefited from the United States. They found stable work and housing (as they were barely surviving as farmers in Québec and Poland at the turn of the 20th century). However, they were also discriminated against because of their ethnicity and language once they came here (I have found numerous examples of family members who were listed in census records as child laborers; my relatives were often told in Canada and the U.S. to "speak White," which meant speak English). At the same time, especially for my French Canadian ancestors, they were settlers and colonizers who took land and killed Native people (which is an important part of the story that must also be acknowledged). As a White American, it is essential that I examine the positive and negative impacts of my family's journey here.

Based on my experiences as a teacher (and teacher educator) working in immigrant communities, and descendant of immigrants myself, I argue that teachers should consider three important ideas when teaching immigration in their social studies classrooms.

1. Migration/Immigration Should Be Taught Across the U.S. History Curriculum

While immigration occurred throughout much of American history, the topic is often studied by students only during units on antebellum and postbellem industrialism (and this is reinforced by state standards). While those periods were certainly important (and when many White Americans, as well as some Asian and Latinas/os trace their family's first journeys here), it is only one of the major waves of immigration. By only studying immigration in those periods, it neglects a longer historical arc of immigration.

Above: Migrants/immigrants not from the turn of the 20th century; (above) a painting of the Mayflower, which brought English immigrants, and (below) a plane bringing maids from Puerto Rico to New York.

It is essential that teachers portray the people who came as the result of English (Spanish, French, Dutch, etc.) colonization as immigrants. Otherwise, students may consider these groups as the original people here (erasing the millenniums of Native history before them). It is also important to incorporate the history of forced migrants from Africa into the larger narrative of immigration and make clear ways that enslaved peoples' experiences contrasted to those of immigrants (as the two are rarely presented this way, it may even lead some to see their experiences as tantamount, as we have seen written in some textbooks or described in politicians' speeches). It also prevents students from seeing that forced migrants' and immigrants' experiences were related. While plantation owners forced enslaved people (and later exploited their ancestors through sharecropping) to produce raw materials in the South, factory owners exploited immigrants in the factories that made finished products from those same materials.

2. Migration/Immigration is Not Only in the Past

While immigration is often taught as a historical topic, it is less likely to be taught as a current day political, economic, or geographic one. However, immigration has a strong impact on our current and future society. The nation relies on immigration economically and socially. Immigrants have influenced American culture (including our music, art, and sciences) and how we understand our political system. For many Americans, our identities are often closely related to our ancestors' origins. Unlike other nations were the vast majority of people share the same ethnicity, our cultural diversity is at the heart of who we are as a nation. Yet, teaching immigration as an event of the past may leave students with a sense that historical immigration is in no way connected to the people who come today and the people who will come in the future.

Above: A picture of the Rally for Immigrants, Washington, D.C. in 2013.

It is important for teachers to make regular connections between past and present immigration and immigrant groups. First, it helps students see that immigrants faced some similar experiences, yet it can also help them see how not all eras of immigration were the same. They will be able to see that certain immigrant groups may have had more or less political and social power depending on their group and the period (for instance, English settlers in colonial New England had a very different experience (were able to take Native land and establish their own governments and communities) than Latina/o immigrants today (who are dramatically underrepresented in the local or national governments). Second, it may allow some students to develop a sense of empathy or solidarity with present immigrant groups based on their families' or ancestors' immigrant experiences. My first teaching job was at a Catholic high school in Boston, where a large percentage of students were of Irish descent. There was clearly a significant amount of Irish pride within the student body and I was often able to engage the students in immigration studies by having them compare and contrast the Irish immigrant experience with the experiences of other immigrant groups. Within this, it is also important to continually bring in the role of race, class, and gender in the immigrant experience, by helping students see that immigrants often face intersecting oppression depending on who they are and where they came from.

This would also be an important place for teachers to discuss the differences between migrants and immigrants. While migration is a broad term that describes any group that moves from one place to another (it can include the ancestors of present day Native people, people who were forced to come to the United States through the slave trade, or Central American refugees fleeing crime or violence in their homeland), immigration implies migration withe specific intent on settling in a new place. Immigration often implies voluntary and with the expectation that is will most likely be permanent.

3. Make Migration/Immigration Personal for Students

People researching their own genealogy is possibly more popular than ever. With the digitizing of government records, it is now easier than ever to trace your family's records (See U.S. Census records, Ellis Island passenger records, slavery records, Freedman Bureau records, Japanese American WWII relocation and incarceration records,, and Mormon Church ancestry records). Since many of these records are free, it is easier now to have students investigate their family's histories in school. Moreover, students can benefit from assignments that have them interview family members about their family histories and their relatives experiences during certain historical events. For most Americans, genealogy research will expose immigrant or migrant histories; it can help them learn when and how their relatives came here from Asia or Europe, or trace their migration from Black communities in the South to the North and their ancestors slave or freedom status.

Teachers should consider engaging their students in critical family histories, which research their immigration stories, but also their ancestors forced migration (through slavery and Indian reservation and board school records) or involvement in colonization. This is the best way to help students realize their personal and family connections to the immigrant experience and the role that discrimination or privilege may have played into it. Christine Sleeter has described critical family histories as an attempt to situate your individual family stories within a wider analysis of social power relationships and culture.

My hope is that if we better have students examine a much more complex story of immigration, then as citizens, they will be better informed around the immigration-related issues that arise. It is difficult to understand the present, without understanding the past. This is especially true when it related to the topic of immigration.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Teaching About White Supremacy in the Trump Era

Over the past year and a half, I was quite busy creating an elementary social studies curriculum and was on hiatus from blogging. I return to blogging about social studies and education with this post related to the events from last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, and teaching about White supremacy (and the upcoming "Unite the Right 2" event in Washington, D.C.).

Before becoming a Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandies wrote, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” While this related to his views of corporate transparency, I find this quote particularly helpful in framing the teaching of White supremacy and racism in the classroom. There may be a worry among some teachers or parents that students are not ready to learn about White supremacy (or racism more broadly), or that by teaching about White supremacy, it may actually lead to more racism. Yet, sunlight is the best disinfectant in regard to racism and White supremacy. By learning about White supremacy in the past and present, how it functions, and ways to work against it, students will be better prepared for a world where it has control over so many social factors. At the same time, I also argue that in our current era, it may be more difficult than before for teachers to teach about White supremacy.

Over the past two years, there have been several high profile events that have exposed White supremacy to many Americans who were previously unaware of it. As a private citizen and later a candidate, Donald Trump routinely used racist rhetoric (including his negative portrayal of African Americans, Mexicans, Central Americans, and Muslims), which appeared part of his political strategy and was likely a major factor in his electoral victory. As a president, he has continued this rhetoric and attempted to enact certain racist policies (such as this, this, and this), which may influence his ongoing support by some groups of Whites). While some may argue that Trump’s language and actions are unusual for an American president, I would argue that he is simply illuminating the White supremacy that has long permeated American society, including its government (he may simply be expressing what many politicians, including some past presidents, thought, but did not express publicly for fear of the political ramifications). Concurrently, there has been the rise of the Alt-Right, which is an attempt to unite a series of far right ideologies under a core belief of White nationalism. Alt-Right groups were responsible for the "United the Right" event in Charlottesville that included a nighttime White supremacist rally that used Tiki torches to imitate Nazi rallies of the past and an attack where a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people. Finally, there has been a dramatic increase in reported hate crimes, with many specifically targeting Latino/a and Muslim Americans (which has been labeled by some as the Trump effect), over the past two years.

These events have presented some very difficult issues for social studies teachers (and teachers in general) who routinely make current events a focus of their classrooms. Many teachers have a fear that if they ask students to critically evaluate the words and actions of Trump (in the same way that they did for Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Bill Clinton before him), they may now incite emotional (and possibly uncontrollable) discussions in their classrooms, or worse, be labeled as trying to politically indoctrinate their students. Yet, if teachers are not engaging their students in civil discussions and critical analyses of Trump’s words and actions (the same discussions that all democratic citizens should be having), then they are missing an important opportunity to help their students make sense of the current political climate and its implications for our country (and its future).

To make clear, when teaching White supremacy in the age of Trump, it is important to draw careful distinctions between the larger ideological movement and the president. While Trump's language and actions are certainly guided by White supremacy (including his defense of White supremacists in Charlotteville as "very fine people on both sides" and his re-Tweeting of White supremacist anti-Muslim videos from Britain), to simply conflate the two would be a mistake; it would not only alienate some conservative students, but also possibly prevent any productive classroom discussions or inquiries on the topic. In fact, this should not be a partisan issue (and numerous members of Trump's own political party have condemned his stances on a number of occasions when he used racist language and or engaged in racist actions; see here and here).

So, how should teachers help students understand White supremacy and its role in history and present day? I suggest teachers focus on three things when addressing issues of White supremacy in their classrooms.

1. Place White supremacy within a historical context, but also connect the history of White supremacy to the present day.

It is essential for teachers to help students place White supremacy within the much larger historical context of the country (i.e. European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, race in the colonial era, slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the War on Drugs, the L.A. Riots, Hurricane Katrina), but also connect that history to the present day. This is to help students see that White supremacy, as an ideology, has existed across U.S. history and was not ended during the civil rights movements or as a result of Barack Obama's election (as some people have suggested), but persists in our current society.

I recommend explicitly teaching about both overt and covert White supremacy. It is helpful to provide examples. For instance, rallies like "Unite the Right," spray painted swastikas, or the Charleston Church Shooting are all examples of overt White supremacy. The perpetrators of White supremacy are very clear that racial hate motivates them. However, there is also covert White supremacy. This is where White supremacy is much more nuanced or hidden. It may be perpetrated in a way that does not make racial hate as obvious. For instance, the 1998 Willie Horton political advertisement is a good example, as it intentionally used race to convince a group of White voters (through their racial fear) to vote for a specific political candidate. Or, it can be carried out by people who are not even aware of their White supremacy. For example, numerous studies have been done on implicit bias, which are unconscious and automatic features of prejudiced judgment, or microaggressions, behaviors or statements that do not necessarily reflect malicious intent but can inflict insult or injury. This may impact how White police officers react to certain situations involving people of color or how a person of color may be routinely overlooked for job interviews. This type of White supremacy is far more systemic and structural. It means that people of color must routinely justify their abilities or even their existence to Whites. While students may be much more familiar with overt than covert White supremacy, it is important that they are provided with examples of both. Covert White supremacy leads many White Americans to support racist actions or policies (without even recognizing the underlying White supremacy). It presents a "less ugly” racism and often frames White supremacy using “common sense” language (for instance, in arguments opposing affirmative action, you may hear, "if you support fairness, why would you support something that gives a preference to some groups over others?" It re-frames a program that is meant to support groups disadvantaged by racism as actually disadvantaging the dominant group). For some, this covert White supremacy can eventually becomes overt (See this piece on the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville).

2. Allow practice using critical media literacy on past and present racist images and writings.

It is also important for teachers to have students practice using critical media literacy to analyze racist images from the past and present (I recently gave a presentation at the New-York Historical Society about this, which include some examples of how race is presented in the media and how young learners may experience it-within a larger discussion of teaching difficult history at the elementary-level). It is important for students to not only be able to critically evaluate the media in their own world, but also cases of White supremacy from the past. For instance, Malcolm Cawthorne and Kathryn Leslie have used an interview with a White nationalists in their class at Brookline (Massachusetts) High School to help students see how people in our current time may hold overt White supremacist ideas. Or, Jeffrey Morgan, an English teacher, had students analyze White supremacist propaganda found on the Internet. However, these teachers also connected the present day to a long history of White supremacy in the United States. Whether it be overt White supremacy, such as when 30,000 Ku Klux Klan members marching on Washington, D.C. in 1925, or covert White supremacy, like how most White people in the American South accepted and supported Jim Crow Laws in their daily life. Teachers might have students analyze political cartoons about immigrants in the early 20th century or racial depictions of the Japanese during World War II, but then ask students to look for similar examples in the media of their current world, such as in the news media or how certain groups are portrayed on social media posts. It is important to show that there were-and are-people who engaged in purposeful acts of White supremacy, but also people who were-and are-complicit in a system that allows it to continue.

3. Provide students with possible ways to work against White supremacy. 

Finally, it is important to avoid fostering in students a fatalism around White supremacy (or a belief that it cannot be changed; that Whites will always hold prejudice toward others and maintain a racist system). The best way to do this is to provide tangible ways to work against White supremacy. Without tangible ways to reduce White supremacy, students may be left thinking "there is nothing that I can do."  One way teachers can do this is to expose students to the many different resources for anti-racist understanding and action, both covert, such as Harvard's Project Implicit, the Weldon Cooper Center's Racial Dot Maps, or the Mapping Police Violence Project, and overt, such as the many organizations that keep track of hate groups, including the SPLC's Hate Watch and Hate Map, and the Anti-Defamation League's Hate Crimes List. The final step it to help students (and your fellow colleagues) access possible ways to take that knowledge and work for change. This included community resources, like the Southern Poverty Law Center's Community Response Guide to Hate, articles and books on doing anti-racism work, and professional development from groups like Teaching Tolerance on teaching about anti-racism. The United States has long struggled with its White supremacy past and it will take education and action to work against it in the future.

Additional Resources:

Below are a few additional resources that can help teachers in their approach to White supremacy in the classroom.

An article from The Atlantic on how teachers are addressing issues related to the Alt-Right in the classrooms:

Strategies for teaching about Charlottesville from the Anti-Defamation League:

A lesson plan from PBS Learning Media on understanding White supremacy:

A lesson plan from AFT Share My Lesson on Charlottesville and White supremacy:

An article from Nikki Brown in the Washington Post:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

I’m Back... With A New Elementary Social Studies Curriculum

Over a year ago, I started building an inquiry-based elementary social studies curriculum for the Kenny Elementary School in the Boston Public Schools (with the help of my fantastic BU colleague Jenn Bryson). Since then, I have not had the time to regularly update my blog with my usual posts about social studies and education more broadly. I am excited to announce the first version of the curriculum is finally fully developed and we are ready to share it with the world. I am also happy to announce that I should be able to return to occasionally sharing my thoughts on this blog.

The name of our new elementary curriculum is "Understanding Our World." It is named this because it is based on the idea that children should get social studies starting in the early grades and that it should be, as Rudine Sims Bishop described, both "mirrors" and "windows" for themselves. The mirrors represent opportunities for students to learn about their (and their families' and ancestors') histories, social identities, and ways to civically engage in their communities, and the windows represent how their historical and present-day experiences relate to others. While this curriculum was designed for one school and is rooted in the local history, civics, geography, and economics of its community (Dorchester, which is a neighborhood in the city of Boston), this curriculum is open source and can be adapted for any school or district.

When we were designing this curriculum, we specifically wanted it to be open-source (so teachers can make modifications for their students and their communities), so you will see that it can be downloaded in both PDF form and an editable Word document. We also wanted it to be a curriculum that can serve as a stand alone during a teacher's social studies time or embedded within literacy instruction (for teachers in schools where there may be no dedicated time for social studies). Lastly, and most importantly, we wanted it to focus on issues of equity and social justice and help students at at an early age think about fairness.  

Finally, this curriculum is still under construction (we expect a Version 2.0 to be unveiled in the summer of 2018). We are in the process of continually improving it, making it more culturally relevant, and ensuring that the perspectives of various people and groups being studied are accurate and authentic. If you have any suggestions on how we can do this or general improvements, please e-mail them to me at or take this anonymous feedback survey.

You can read more about this "Understanding Our World" curriculum and download at its website:

(One final note: the bandwidth of the curriculum website is not very large, so please do not stream the videos. Instead, you can download them to a desktop and play them from there.)


Monday, July 3, 2017

On Hiatus... Returning Soon with Elementary Social Studies Curriculum

Due to several projects (including an elementary social studies curriculum that I am developing), I have been on a blogging hiatus. I expect to return in spring 2018, when I release the new curriculum and return to this blog...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Teaching Protest Movements: The Women's March in Historical Context

Last Saturday, at least 3.2 million Americans participated in the Women's March (including my family here in Boston), which made it the largest political protest in U.S. history. Several news outlets have compiled aerial photos to help us understand the enormity of this protest, including CNN and USA Today. Led by women, these rallies were a reaction to the rhetoric (and now actions) of President Donald Trump and the organizers described them as, "stand[ing] together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families - recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country."

The most obvious historical connection to this protest would be the 1913 Suffragette Procession, where thousands of women gathered to demand a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote (held the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration) and the Silent Sentinels protests outside the White House in 1917. Both of these protests were led by Alice Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association and later the National Women's Party (a NAWSA break-off group). 

Top: The 2017 Women's March in D.C. Bottom: The 1913 Suffragette Procession in D.C.

As a long-time government teacher and now teacher educator, I have often heard students say that they do not feel that their vote "counts." Having experienced two incredibly close elections in my life (2000 and 2016, where the winner of the Electoral College did not win the popular vote), not to mention many close state and local elections, there seems to be evidence that every vote does count. Yet, I can understand the apathy, especially with the amount of influence that large donors have on the political system. However, my reactions to these students' comments have always been, "Voting is the lowest form of democratic participation. Democracy is really what happens between elections, when citizens must engage in signing petitions, wearing political buttons/having political bumper stickers, writing to elected officials, campaigning for and contributing money to candidates, engaging in civil disobedience, lobbying for a special interest, running for office, and demonstrating through forms of protest" (the Center for Civic Education has a nice list of ways to participate in democracy here). The last one, demonstrations, is particularly important. In fact, there is a long history of political protests influencing U.S. history.

Compared to citizens in other nations (especially Europe and Latin America), Americans rarely protest. When I have taught the right to assemble, many of my students have confessed that they would "never do that." They say that they do not think protests make a difference or that they don't feel comfortable taking their political views to the streets. However, when conditions become so poor or people become so afraid that the basic tenets of democracy may be at risk (i.e. the Boston Tea Party, the Depression, the Vietnam War), the average person may decide there is no alternative than to march. I imagine many of the marchers this past weekend participated in their first political protest. As a social studies educator, the marches last weekend make me feel hopeful for our democracy.

So, how can social studies teachers help better prepare citizens who are more likely to participate in political demonstrations? I would suggest there are three problematic ways that political protests are presented in the social studies curriculum that contribute to this reluctance of Americans to exercise a right to assemble and, by challenging these views of protests, we can better help foster engaged citizens:

(1) Protests are usually presented as being led by a charismatic individual (i.e. Sam Adams leading the Boston Tea Party, Martin Luther King leading the March on Washington). Yet, most protests (including those two aforementioned protests from the 18th and 20th centuries) were not led or organized by individuals, but instead collective movements of people. This "individual leader" view sends the message to students that you need a captivating figure to organize protests (however, the Women's Marches are a clear example helping dispel this, since they had no one person leading them).

(2) Protests are presented as comprised of radicals, rather than "regular" citizens. While it is true that radicals often advocate for swifter change than the population as a whole and may be the first to protest, without regular citizens most protests would not have been very effective. A prime example of this is the Vietnam War era protests. While there were protests as early as 1963, it wasn't until a mass of "regular" students began protesting that the media and government started to pay attention. This "radicals only" view discourages citizens from regularly participating in protests.

(3) Protests are presented as one-time events, rather than a part of long-term movements. Most protests are part of movements extending years or decades, rather than a single event. In fact, protest movements often converge. For instance, in the mid-1800s there was substantial overlap between the participants of the women's rights and abolitionist movements. Today, the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement have some convergence with recent women's rights, immigrants' rights, and gay rights movements. The "one-time events" view discourages sustained political protests. Yet, sustained political protests are more likely to force the government to establish reforms leading to lasting change (for instance, the abolitionist movement had decades of political protests, in the form of newspapers, marches, rallies, lawsuits, and ultimately war before their goal of ending slavery was realized).

To help students better understand this nation's long history of protests, I suggest teachers have students engage in inquiry around the Women's Marches and three lesser-known political protests. After students compare and contrast the four movements' objectives and methods, a good inquiry question might be: "After examining the evidence from the Women's Marches and these three other events from U.S. history, which movement had the most effective methods of protest?" By using these protests, instead of some of the more well-known, students will be able to see examples that defy the above problematic depictions of protests.

1. Shay's Rebellion: In 1786-87, farmers in Western Massachusetts protested against economic inequity. This would ultimately lead to the Constitutional Convention. Howard Zinn had an excellent chapter on this in his book "A People's History of the United States." Here is a link to primary sources from Shay's Rebellion.

2. Anti-Nuclear Protests: In the late 1950s into the 1960s, across the United States, Americans protested for nuclear disarmament. This movement eventually influenced a series of agreements between the U.S. and Soviet Union to reduce their nuclear arms stockpiles (and actually gave us the peace symbol). Here is a link to primary sources from the nuclear disarmament movement between 1957 and 1985.

3. Anti-Globalization Protests: In the late 1990s, environmentalists and workers rights activist engaged in several worldwide protests of globalization, including the 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization Meeting in Seattle. The movement highlighted several growing concerns related to globalization, including the devastating effects of free trade on humans and the environment, and in many ways these early protests have framed the major economic and political debate over the past 20 years. Here is a link to primary sources form the 1999 WTO Protest in Seattle.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Using “Columbus Day” to Teach American Indian Activism and Resistance Today

Above: Who is a hero? Columbus (from a painting in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda-notice the depiction on the right of the Native people) and Lakota Chief Sitting Bull

Across the United States, there has been a growing movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including in the states of South Dakota (which celebrates Native Americans' Day) and Vermont, and the cities of Berkeley, Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Anchorage, Cambridge, Portland, among others. I teach in Massachusetts, where Indigenous people first held the National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving 1970 to protest the genocide, land theft, and cultural destruction of Native peoples (which continues to be held here each year). While some dismiss these movements as "political correctness," I argue that they instead challenge all of us to critically evaluate the impact of Columbus' voyage on the Americas and its first nations (for more on this, perhaps no one has expressed it better than Wamsutta Frank B. James in his Suppressed Thanksgiving Speech). In the spirit of Indigenous Peoples' Day, I begin this post with two anecdotes from my teaching, followed by ways that we can use the Columbus Day holiday to teach modern day American Indian activism and resistance.

Almost ten years ago, when I was a high school social studies teacher, I was teaching about the westward expansion of Whites (perhaps better described as an invasion from the east) in my U.S. history class. The students were learning about forced reservations, the Dawes Act, and Indian boarding schools (including the notorious Carlisle Indian Industrial School). A student raised her hand and asked, "Why are there no longer Indians in America?" I paused for a second, and just before I began to speak, a classmate of hers said, "There are still Indians. My dad is a member of the Wampanoag tribe." I added that they hold a pow wow every year in Cape Cod and suggested the student attend to learn more about the first people of Massachusetts.

More recently, I was teaching a history methods course to future social studies teachers (many of whom are earning or have earned bachelor degrees in history). My students were participating in a lesson where we critically evaluate chapters on the "Closing the Frontier," which are typical in U.S. history textbooks. I then introduced an activity that they could use with their students to rewrite the textbook. At the conclusion of the activity, I told my students about the time that one of my students asked why there were no longer Indians in the United States and her classmate's response. I then asked students where in the U.S. history curriculum they stopped learning about Indigenous people. Most responded that it ended with the Battle of Wounded Knee (what is most appropriately called the Wounded Knee Massacre). I then asked how many students had heard of the American Indian Movement, the Occupation of Alcatraz, the protests at Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II, the Second Battle at Wounded Knee, or the Longest March. Very few hands went up.

The problem is that we teach American Indian history in a way that makes non-Indigenous students think Indigenous people ceased to exist after 1890 (the date of the Wounded Knee Massacre). As social studies teachers, we need to re-position American Indians as modern day activists and resistors. We need to use culturally sustaining pedagogy (for what that may look like in a Native context, see here) and we need to bring the teaching of Native history into the 21st century (and frankly, the 20th century).

Below are five ways that teachers can use this week to highlight present day Indigenous activism and resistance. They position Native people as freedom fighters, rather than victims, and highlight the important present day contributions of the first people.

1. Native Voters and the 2016 Election

Above: A Bernie Sanders campaign event at the Meskwaki Nation Settlement near Tama, Iowa.

Several news outlets have highlighted that with new swing states emerging in the 2016 election (i.e. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa), that Native voters may receive more attention from the presidential candidates. NPR recently ran this story about politics among members of the Navajo nation. In the primaries, Bernie Sanders campaigned on numerous reservations. Teachers should consider using stories like these to help students learn what issues are most important for American Indians living on and off (only 22% of American Indians/Native Alaskans live on reservations, with 60% living in metropolitan areas) the reservation today.

2. Indian Mascots Protests 

Above and Below: Images from recent Indian mascot protests in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. and a political cartoon on the topic.

Over the past decades, there have been several attempts to get professional, collegiate, and high school sports teams to stop using Indians as their mascots. This includes campaigns against the Cleveland Indians Washington Redskins, and Atlanta Braves, who may have the most offensive logos, names, and chants (i.e. the tomahawk chop) of any sports teams (take a look at this video of a dispute between a fan and protester that made national news or this comedic commentary from the Daily Show). In 2005, the NCAA, which governs collegiate sports issued a policy banning offensive nicknames with particular concern for Native American mascots. However, professional sports leagues and many statewide high school athletic associations have not adopted similar policies. For instance, here in Massachusetts, 40 high schools still have Indian mascots. Teachers should consider using the Indian mascot controversies, as a way to help students critically evaluate depictions of Native people in the media. While sports teams may be a starting point, the best lessons would also examine the depiction of Native culture and people in consumer products and Hollywood films.

3. Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

Above and Below: Images from the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

The recent Dakota Access Pipeline Protests have joined American Indian and environmental activists. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has been involved in a legal battle with the company building a crude oil pipeline near their reservation. Thousands of Native people have come from across the country to support the protest, which is attempting to prevent the disturbance of burial grounds and prevent the pollution of the reservation's water sources. Teachers should consider using this current events issue to teach not only about Indian land rights, the history of the U.S. government breaking treaties with Native people, but also the taking of land for government use via eminent domain.

4. Politically Conscious Native Hip Hop 

Above: Hip hop artist Tall Paul

While hip hop has its roots in African American culture, in many ways it transcends race and has become a global music phenomenon. Moreover, hip hop has long been a medium to express political arguments. There are numerous Native hip hop artists who are using politically conscious lyrics to raise awareness of complex social issues faced by Indigenous people. Teachers should consider using Native hip hop to teach students about important issues on and off the reservation, including the preservation of Native languages, drug and alcohol abuse, and youth violence. Here are my five favorite artists:

Tall Paul (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
Prayers in a Song: 

Naát'áaníí Nez Means (Navajo and Oglala Lakota)
The Radical:

Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota)

Drezus (Plains Cree)

Supaman (Apsaalooke Crow)

5. Pow Wows
Above and Below: The Mashpee Wamponoag Pow Wow, held every July in Falmouth, Massachusetts; The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Pow wows have deep cultural importance within many Native communities. They are spaces for Indigenous people to honor their culture through a social gathering of dance and music. They often involve hundreds or even thousands of dancers, drummers, and singers (for more, the University of Washington offers a pow wow primer here). In Massachusetts, one of the largest is the Mashpee Wampanoag Pow Wow on Fourth of July weekend. The Gathering of Nations is the largest pow wow nationwide, with thousands of people attending each April in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Teachers should consider introducing students to the modern pow wow to help students unfamiliar with Indigenous culture see an important way that American Indians are preserving and teaching their Native heritage to the next generations, which may also help non-Native students draw comparisons between this cultural celebration and some of their own.

While teaching cultural traditions, like the pow wow, it is especially important that social studies teachers acknowledge the diversity of the Native people of the Americas. American Indians, Native Hawaiians, and Native Alaskans come from over 500 different nations with diverse languages and cultures. Imagine teaching about European historical events, such as the French Revolution or World War II, and only using "Europeans" to describe the people involved. Teaching Native people as monolithic is tantamount to that, removing important distinctions, including histories and cultural differences, between this continent's Indigenous peoples.

For more teaching resources on American Indian history, check out the PBS American Experience documentary and companion website: We Shall Remain