Category Archives: Teaching

Are You Teaching Social Justice?

I came across the following post at Chris Wehner’s Blog4History site.  We’ve had our share of run-ins in the past, but Chris is a fellow APUS History teacher and somehow he managed to write a regimental history and teach at the same time.  That’s quite a feat.  Chris is a public school teacher and is worried about the influence of left wing ideologues shaping our history curriculum and influencing how our children think about themselves and their relationship to government.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with this.

On the other hand, Wehner’s most recent post on the push to turn classrooms into labs for the teaching of social justice seems to me to be a case of serious hyperbole.  The US Social Forum sounds like a wonderful opportunity for those who are interested in bringing about a certain kind of change to American politics, but it’s definitely not my cup of tea and as far as I am concerned it has no place in the classroom.  Wehner would have us believe, however, that this kind of agenda is infiltrating our public schools.  Now keep in mind that I am a private school teacher so he may be in a much better position to judge this program’s popularity among teachers.  In his post, Wehner claims the following:

This is called teaching for Social Justice and it is not about truth or honesty, it is about radicalism, indoctrination, and propaganda in our schools. And we wonder why our public schools are failing us? There is little learning going on and instead, lots of indoctrination.

They are teaching educators about radicalism and revolution, and they in turn will teach the children!

This is just more data that our educational system is being hijacked by a movement that seeks to do nothing more than fundamentally change this country into something it was never intended to be!

Now, perhaps I need to go back and browse the website more carefully, but where does it suggest that this conference is being marketed to history teachers or any teachers for that matter?  More importantly, how many school districts actually implement programs that fall in line with this agenda?  Wehner fails to provide any facts that would back up his claims.  One thing that is clear is that these conferences are marketed to America’s youth, but that should come as no surprise.  I suspect that I could just as easily find organizations on the conservative side that are engaged in exactly the same thing.  And I have no doubt that I can find accompanying texts for their programs that are equivalent to what William Ayers does in his book on the teaching of Social Justice.   In the end, however, I am still left wondering just how influential any of this is.  For example, how many history teachers actually implemented the curriculum outlined in the History Channel/Howard Zinn collaboration, “The People Speak”?  I’ve seen a few online clips of the show and concluded that it was a complete waste of time.  If the barbarians are actually at the gates than show it.

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Seats Are Still Available

One of the challenges that I faced this past year as head of the history department was filling one final vacancy.  You would think that with this economy we would have had no problem finding the right individual.  Well, think again.  Private schools face a number of challenges in the hiring department.  We are looking for folks that excel at teaching, work well with students, have an interest in coaching, and in our case, living in the dormitory.  This year we were flooded with resumes.

For the department we were looking to bring someone in with an interest in non-western history and International Studies.  It’s important for us to be able to offer courses that challenge our students to think globally.  We want them to be able to build on their understanding of world history in the 9th and 10th grades with a thorough understanding of global politics and culture in the modern world.  As April wore on I was worried that we were not going to find the right person, but thankfully on one of the last visits we hit the jackpot.  This means that we are going to be able to offer a slate of new courses next year and I couldn’t be happier with what our new teacher came up with.  Below you will find short course descriptions.  Please keep in mind that these are rough sketches that will be revised for the course catalog.  That said, I think you will get a sense of what each course will involve.  Given the excitement surrounding the World Cup I couldn’t be more excited about the first offering.  I probably should anticipate some brain drain from my own electives once students get wind of these.  I am also excited about a pilot program that we are offering in American Studies as well as an elective on Government and Politics that will prepare students for the AP test in that subject area.

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Some Thoughts For the Class of 2010

This year I was honored to have been asked by the Class of 2010 to deliver the final chapel sermon on the day of graduation.  I can’t say that this was the easiest talk I’ve had to prepare, but I am fairly pleased with the final result.  The best advice I received was to write a sermon that I would have wanted to hear at my graduation.

I want to begin by thanking the Class of 2010 for this honor.  After having to listen to me in the classroom as well as other settings for the past four years I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised that you’ve chosen to give me one more opportunity to speak with you.  I hope my brief remarks prove worthy of your trust even if they stray a bit from the standard graduation day talk.

As I struggled to find a way to begin I kept coming back to that final scene in the movie, “Cast Away.”  As many of you know the movie tells the story of Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks), who ends up stranded on a deserted island for 4 years after his FedEx plane crashes in the ocean.  The movie follows Noland as he learns to survive both physically and psychologically on the island as well as his eventual reintegration into modern society.  My favorite scene in the movie comes at the very end after Noland delivers one of the packages that washed up on shore and perhaps served as a continual reminder of a life and career that he hoped one day to return to.  In that final scene Noland stands at the crossroads not knowing which way to go, but with the complete freedom to choose.  The camera moves in and Noland, who stares back, confronts the viewer.  It’s Noland’s expression, which I think is worth considering for a moment.  It may be tempting simply to speculate about the choice that he will make or perhaps the choice that we hope he will make.  However, the more I consider it the more I am convinced that his little smirk is meant for us.  In other words, I believe that the audience is the focus of that particular moment and not Noland.

So, what might Noland be asking of us?  Perhaps he is challenging the viewer to step back and reflect on her own life.  What questions did we ask and what decisions did we make when standing at the crossroads?  There may be a certain amount of anxiety for those of us looking back on our lives when confronted by such a challenge, but for those of you who sit in these seats for the final time with a bright-eyed optimism for the future I sometimes wonder whether you have the tough questions at hand for just these moments.

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Why I Use Twitter and You Should Too

The other day I posted tweet no. 3,000 and thought I might take a few minutes to talk about what I find so valuable about this particular tool.  Twitter is by far my favorite social networking site.  While I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, and it’s a place where I can have some fun, I use Twitter overwhelmingly for professional purposes.  Admittedly, it is not easy to get started on Twitter.  In fact, it’s downright counter-intuitive.  Why exactly do I only get 140 characters to work with and what the hell am I supposed to say?  Probably like most people I initially set up my account, posted a few tweets and then forgot about it for a time.

Like I said, getting started can be frustrating, but let me suggest why it may be worth it.  The first thing you need to do is understand is why you are using it.  Twitter is much more than simply responding to the question: “What’s Happening?”  I use it primarily to share information related to historical research,  the teaching of history, and other online sites that I come across that others may find interesting.  It’s one of the most efficient ways I’ve found to share information that matters to me with individuals who have similar interests.  Who, are these folks that I am sharing information with?  Well, they are people that have chosen to “Follow” my Twitter stream.  I, in turn, follow folks who are posting information that I find relevant.  As of the date of this post I am following 153 fellow tweeters and there are currently 424 individuals who follow my stream.  There is a practice or courtesy – sometimes referred to as “Reciprocal Following – that essentially returns the favor in response to the addition of a new member of your community.  As you can see I do not make this a practice.  I am very conscious of maintaining a Twitter stream that contains information that I find valuable.  The more attention you give to who you follow determines the quality of information you receive and how much you get out of the overall experience.  What it comes down to is that I now have an additional 153 pairs of eyes that I can count on to share quality information with me, information that I probably would never have come across on my own.  Once that tweet (usually including a hyperlink) comes across my stream I can do any number of things with it, including “Retweeting” it for my readers, emailing it to a friend, saving it to my Delicious Bookmarks, etc.  Finally, I enjoy the short conversations on Twitter.  The character limit forces users to keep it brief and to the point.  That said, I am continually amazed at the quality of the dialog that is possible with the various shortcuts that you will learn in a brief period of time.

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