Friday, November 28, 2008

Americans Failing Civics

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
- Thomas Jefferson, 1743 - 1826

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has just released the results from its third major study on civics learning among college students. Each year over 14,000 students (Freshmen and Seniors) from 50 colleges participate in the survey. This years' survey was titled Our Fading Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions.

Given the state of civics education in K-12 public schools as well as the lack of attention to civics and/or social studies in America's college and university system, the results of the survey are not surprising. A few items from the report: The average score was 49%. Only .8% had an “A” (90% +) as a result on the survey, while 71% had a failing score of 59% and below. Politicians scored lower on almost every question of the survey than the general public, with an average score of 45%. Fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government.

Another unsurprising discovery:

“ISI examined whether other factors add to or subtract from civic literacy and
how they compare with the impact of college. The survey revealed that in today’s
technological age, all else remaining equal, a person’s test score drops in proportion to the time he or she spends using certain types of passive electronic media. Talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies, and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy.”

From the summary of the ISI report:

“After all the time, effort, and money spent on college, students emerge no
better off in understanding the fundamental features of American
To view the complete report visit Our Fading Heritage

Take a quiz of 33 questions click QUIZ:

By the way: I had 31 correct. How did you do???

Essential question: How do the results of this survey impact what we do in our classrooms?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Historical Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe [1850-1936]

What does Thanksgiving mean to you? It might a chance to travel, meet family and friends; a day off work; a wide array of food that might not ordinarily grace your table; a legitimate reason for an afternoon nap; a day out of school. After all, this is a day proclaimed by Lincoln, adjusted (or an attempted adjustment) by Franklin Roosevelt, the recipient of Presidential Proclamations, and is now an established part of the American culture.

Considering all of the misconceptions on Thanksgiving history, we need to look back through history at the origins of Thanksgiving in the English American colonies. The Pilgrims, an English religious group of dissenters known as the Separatists who had fled to Holland, opted to leave their exile in Holland and to sail to the new lands in America. The reason for the move, as explained in my 1899 US History book (The Greater Republic: A History of the United States by Charles Morris), was that they “decided to make their homes in the New World, where they could worship God as their consciences dictated.” From this group came the Mayflower Compact, the first settlements in what became New England, and an event that we eventually called Thanksgiving.

The Events (the short version):

The Pilgrims arrived in the New World in December 1620. Times were difficult. A bitter cold winter descended on the small band before the settlement homes could be completed. During that first winter of 1620 – 1621, almost half of the settlers died, with many others being sick and weakened by fever and dysentery. Emerging from that grueling winter, the Pilgrims were surprised when an Indian named Samoset approached them and greeted them in their own language, explaining to them that he had learned English from fishermen and traders. A week later, Samoset returned with a friend named Squanto, who had a better command of the English language, having been captured and sold to the Spanish as a young man, then escaped to England, finally returning to his homeland on an English vessel. Squanto would live with the Pilgrims and accept their Christian faith. He taught the Pilgrims much about how to live in the New World, and he and Samoset helped forge a long-lasting peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford described Squanto as “a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . and never left [us] till he died.”

Historian David Barton writes: “That summer, the Pilgrims, still persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, reaped a bountiful harvest. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow (later to become the Governor) affirmed, “God be praised, we had a good increase of corn”; “by the goodness of God, we are far from want.” The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for three days of feasting (which included shellfish, lobsters, turkey, corn bread, berries, deer, and other foods), of play (the young Pilgrim and Wampanoag men engaged in races, wrestling matches, and athletic events), and of prayer. This celebration and its accompanying activities were the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November.”

There are only two primary resource accounts of this first Thanksgiving festival:

Edward Winslow, Mourt's Relation : (In the original 17th century spelling)

"our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that
so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the
fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a
little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst
other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst
us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men,
whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed
five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour,
and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so
plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are
so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our

William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation: (In the original 17th century spelling)

"They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up
their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health
& strenght, and had all things in good plenty; fFor as some were thus
imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd,
& bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every
family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to
come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound
when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids
water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many,
besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a
person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made
many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in
England, which were not fained, but true reports."

The Rest of the Story (from historian David Barton):

“However, while the Pilgrims enjoyed times of prosperity for which they thanked God, they also suffered extreme hardships. In fact, in 1623 they experienced an extended and prolonged drought. Knowing that without a change in the weather there would be no harvest and the winter would be filled with death and starvation, Governor Bradford called the Pilgrims to a time of prayer and fasting to seek God’s direct intervention. Significantly, shortly after that time of prayer – and to the great amazement of the Indian who witnessed the scene – clouds appeared in the sky and a gentle and steady rain began to fall. As Governor Bradford explained:

It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in
abundance, as that ye earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith, which did
so apparently revive and quicken ye decayed corn and other fruits as was
wonderful to see, and made ye Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the
Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather
as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no
small comfort and rejoicing.

The drought had been broken; the fall therefore produced an abundant harvest; there was cause for another thanksgiving. The Pilgrim practice of designating an official time of Thanksgiving spread into neighboring colonies and became an annual tradition.”

Essential questions: What do today’s history books use as the historic interpretation of Thanksgiving? Is the religious heritage of the Pilgrims mentioned, or is it just a ‘thank you’ feast for friendly Indians? How do we, as teaching historians, insure that historical accuracy is being maintained in our classrooms?

Friday, November 21, 2008

What did you think of the training?

Tuesday and Wednesday (11/18 – 11/19) a core group of our Social Studies teachers (Middle and High School) came together for some of the best training they had ever had. George and Carolyn Breaz visited our district to present a two-day training on gathering and using digital primary sources gathered from trusted sites on the web. Our participants ranged from new-to-teaching to really-experienced-veterans (over 30 years).

I’ve never come up with a really good title (that would translate into an acronym that I could remember, so we just call it National Archives training, or Primary Resources training. The Breaz’s trained our participants on the processes, resources, and various classroom uses for the materials gathered, culminating with an activity where the participants made lesson plans using the resources. These plans and resources will be shared between the participants and will provide further enhancement for our students. A lot of eye-opening and mind-expanding classroom strategies to involve students with primary resources were also presented. The Breaz’s have a wealth of experience in education, and were a true pleasure to have visit our district.

This training is incredible. All of the participants walked out with their head filled with information and online resources to use that contained the outline of what we did. They were very excited. If anyone outside of Citrus County are reading this blog and would like to contact the Breaz’s, just email me.

The essential question, of course, for our participants is: How effective was this training when translated into classroom use?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Follow-up to the Primary Resource Training

It has been and exciting and enlightening time for our Citrus County Social Studies teachers with George and Carolyn Breaz, our trainers for the Primary Resource training we are engaged in. At the end of the two day session you will need to meet the follow-up requirement for our trainings.

This is fairly simple: you are going to make a blog entry.

Each participant will be required to submit one blog entry. The criteria for this post is:

1. Target date for delivery to either your staff or students

2. Links to resources you are going to use

3. Comment on outcome of your presentation with reflection that could mention:

  • problems that occurred;
  • what you did well;
  • didn’t do well;
  • and/or what you might change.

You need to both present your lesson and make your blog entry prior to Christmas break.

In order to successfully post, you might need to register with the blog. It's simple, easy, and safe to do. You will have to register on googleblog. Last name, first initial is usually a good way to go.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Geography Awareness Week

"Next to the knowledge of ourselves, the knowledge of the world is essentially necessary, which can only be acquired by the pleasing study of Geography."
-George Alexander Cooke

This is Geography Awareness Week – an opportunity for all of our teachers (especially our Social Studies teachers) to teach some aspect of geography to their students. The general lack of knowledge of geography is widely published. Take the opportunity to look at some aspect of the geography of North America during this week and relate it to your course of instruction.

Teaching Math? Asking students how long would it take to walk across America… or any one of a dozen questions that could be asked on that topic alone that would involve mathematical computations. Teaching English? Teach the vocabulary of the geography of Alaska through reading stories about that bush pilots . Teaching science? Physical geography is a natural!

There are many different online tools to help teach during this week, incluidng National Geographic. A number of others are listed on our Social Studies website under the ‘recognition events’ icon.

If nothing else, how about an online game to identify the states… a challenge for students and – perhaps – teachers.

Our responsibility as educators is not limited to a single field or discipline. In today’s world, understanding others is an important aspect of education and in our global economy, understanding others is an important part of economic survival. Let’s all work together to emphasize some aspect of geography during this week.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Living History and Veterans in the Classroom

It is my privilege to be the Veterans in the Classroom contact for our District. This provides me with the opportunity to meet and talk with living history – our Veterans from World War II through Operation Iraqi Freedom. These veterans bring their sense of duty, their experiences, their patriotism, and their sense of character into our classrooms, K – 12. Some of these individuals are still on active duty – usually in the National Guard.

What a wonderful opportunity it is for our children to see these men and women – from all five branches of our armed services – and to hear them relate personal stories of sacrifice in all parts of the world, serving this nation. Some were drafted, some volunteered. Some made a career of the armed services; some went back into civilian live as soon as their commitment to Uncle Sam was over. But all are willing to share their experiences with our young folks – a much more accurate story than the media usually portrays.

Best of all, the kids get to honor the veterans, to thank them for service done to preserve this nation and its fundamental liberties that we all should appreciate. Over 150 classrooms were visited in our District by veterans during the first two weeks of November. There was also coverage in a newspaper.

My high point of this two-week exercise came yesterday when I visited the classroom of a teacher at one of our middle schools invited a young Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran into her classroom to speak to all six of her classes. I was able to watch only a few minutes of the presentation by this young man, but was able to see the connections being made between the kids and the soldier. With artifacts, souvenirs, pictures, and words, he described the events that he saw in Iraq – from the boredom of guard duty, to the sandstorms and 140 degree heat, through the privations, and the danger of convoy duty. The students were attentive, questioning, understanding, and appreciative, and – when the class bell rang for dismissal – could be heard telling the incoming class that ‘they have a good speaker that’s funny’ – setting the stage for the next session.

This veteran – who is also my #2 son – did his duty in Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division, and continues to do so here at home in the National Guard. Thank you, Carol, for inviting him to your class and for giving him time to share with your students.
Question of the day: Were you able to recognize the veterans in any way in your classrooms, whether you had speakers or not?

Monday, November 10, 2008

A New Adventure

To our Citrus County Social Studies teachers:

Egads and gadzooks~! A blog! This is an attempt to enhance communications between the Social Studies teachers in our district. There are a lot of changes coming to our discipline, and we need to work together to turn the changes into positive results for our profession, our students - and ourselves. This blog is designed to encourage comments and conversations between our Social Studies teachers. What an opportunity to 'get together' and share. We have the best Social Studies crew in the state, but I firmly believe that learning from others needs to be a continual process.

Topics for the blog are unlimited, and could include comments/questions about the upcoming standards, technology in our classrooms, information from the District, methods of meeting state mandates, results of an activity in the classroom - the list can be quite extensive and, to be perfectly honest with you - I have no real idea as to the final direction this will take us, or all we can do with it.

At this point, I can only look to what Robert Frost wrote:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two roads diverged in a wood

And I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference.