My Beautiful Wickedness


Whew. Long day.
November 26, 2007, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It was one of those up at four am days around here. There had been a prediction that we’d get an ice storm and so I woke up around 3:45 hoping that we’d be iced in…but no such luck. School was going to continue on its inexorable way and I had to prep for classes.

Today was one of those intellectual stretch days. In the morning, we were in the 1850s, really digging into the growing violence and polarization that came with the domestic imperial agenda. In the afternoon, I was lecturing about the beginnings of Red Power, from Termination to the Trail of Broken Treaties sit-in. Tomorrow it’s another gradeathon and
some meetings and a lot of organizing for the Women’s Studies Conference.

I really could use a snow day. When I did the “pre-test” (it’s a misnomer, as they have already read the chapter and taken notes on a lecture prior to the eval…it falls between their passive exposure to the materials and their active engagement with the documents), the average was 12/25. Yep. That sucked.

One of my friends asked me if I was going to talk about popular sovereignty in Iraq as a point of comparison. I typically do not do that in my classroom. There’s enough that they don’t know about the past to keep us all busy without trying to make some sort of cheap analogy about contemporary politics, which (lamentably) they also don’t know much about. To me, it sort of compounds the harm. On the other hand, I often wonder if I am robbing students of the opportunity to apply their understanding in a practical and a relevant way. Will it occur to them to think 1854 when they read about Iraqi elections? I’d like to think that most of them are smart enough to draw parallels without me beating them over the head…anyhow, I feel like I’d be abusing classroom power relations to make anyone sit through me talking about Iraq.

My activist agenda in the classroom begins and ends with three things: insisting that they learn to examine why they think what they think and practice that skill; teaching them to ask and answer questions about the credibility of the information they use to form opinions; and explaining the relationship between events, people, places, and things as a way of understanding social, cultural, and political developments (chronology, causality, context). Given the times that we live in and the critical needs of our world, is that a cop-out?

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

First off, I like the moon image and other changes – very nice.

I don’t think it is a cop-out at all. I struggle with the same issue all of the time. I want my students to apply the insights of historical study to their understanding of the present, but I do not want to use my classroom as my own pulpit (except during my semi-annual rant on the subject of Holocaust deniers.)

Still, I think giving them some in class time and allowing THEM to draw and discuss comparisons is useful – whether this is with modern events or just with other historical ones. Not so much “Compare this with Iraq” as “Can you think of similar situations in history or in the modern day? What makes them similar? Where does the analogy begin to break down?” On the other hand, as you already said, the constant problem is time.

Did you read that AHA pamphlet about comparisons in the classroom? I’ve been considering that a lot as I look to next semester and the changes I want to make then.

Comment by Gerald

No, I don’t think I’ve read that title. Which one is it?

Comment by bridgett

Its from a series called “Teaching to Think Historically” that was produced by the AHA and the College Board. The pamphlet is “Historical Comparisons” by Merry Wiesner-Hanks.

Comment by Gerald




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