Saturday, January 31, 2009

Why history?

I don’t see too many students questioning why they should study Psychology, or Sociology, or even Economics and Government. However, a constant question that seems to arise is “why do I have to take history” – or as history teacher Mr. Ryan said to Bill and Ted in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “All you boys seemed to have learned is that Caesar is a ‘salad dressing dude’", and “What you're telling me, essentially, is that Napoleon was a short, dead dude?”

Maybe it’s time to look for an answer.

The AHA (American Historical Association) states: “History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty. There are many ways to discuss the real functions of the subject—as there are many different historical talents and many different paths to historical meaning. All definitions of history's utility, however, rely on two fundamental facts.” Those two facts are: History Helps Us Understand People and Societies and History Helps Us Understand Change and How the Society We Live in Came to Be. For the complete essay, click here.

The History Guide: A Student’s Guide To The Study of History tells us: Well first off, by studying history you can study anything for the simple reason that everything has a history: ideas, wars, numbers, races, windsurfing, coal miners, pencils, motherhood and yes, even toilet-training. I first began to appreciate the study of history as an undergraduate studying political philosophy at Boston University. I was pretty keen on Plato, Aquinas, Dante, Hobbes, Locke, Godwin, Marx, Mill and a host of other "greats." But what I soon discovered was that my lack of understanding of history, i.e. the actual historical context in which these writers conceived and executed their theoretical work, made my understanding of their philosophy one-sided. Sure, I knew what they had to say about liberty, or the proletariat, or monarchy or the franchise. But what was the historical environment that gave rise to their ideas? Ideas are not akin to balloons hanging from the ceiling of Clio's den, waiting to be retrieved by a Marx, a Mill or a Plato. Ideas have a history. They undergo a process of development. They change, are modified, are distributed or are forgotten only to reappear years, decades or perhaps even centuries later. For the complete essay, click here.

Radford University claims “the study of the past helps lead to greater personal insight and comprehension of each person’s place in the grand sweep of the human story.”

Perhaps the most multimedia of answers is found on TeacherTube – a show well worth showing at the start of the semester. For the video, click here.

There are, of course, many other reasons – building concerned and involved citizens, knowing the past leads to not repeating the same mistakes in the future, the law says we have to. Each of those reading this could probably add to the list.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so much ‘why’ study history but ‘how do’ we study history?

Of course, as Ted said in : “Thanks to great leaders, such as Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, and Socratic method . . . the world is full of history.”

Essential Question: How do we express to students the significance of history?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Linking Lincoln

The bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth is rapidly approaching and a number of sites are becoming available to support the celebration of the birth of this American icon. The Internet is proving to be an amazing resource, and a number of blogs are sharing strategies and resources for celebrating the Lincoln bicentennial. Some resources you might want to use:

Our Citrus County Social Studies webpage (find and click on the Lincoln picture) has a growing number of resources.

The American President’s blog has quite a few useful links.

The Smithsonian (Oh, Say Can You See blog) has two online Lincoln exhibits that are useful.

The Speaking of History blog has a podcast and resources on teaching Lincoln with political cartoons.

The Abraham Lincoln blog has a number of entries on Lincoln. Just scroll down for a wealth of resources.

I am sure more resources will become available as we come closer to February 12th. As you notice, a number of the resources were mentioned in some blogs that came to my attention. I encourage each reader to continue to explore the Internet for additional resources, primary materials, photographs, and other items that can be used in the classroom.

Essential Question: How can the resources on the Internet be effectively utilized in the study of a particular topic?

Friday, January 23, 2009

True or False: Political Break-up of the US Imminent?

Another Social Studies coordinator sent this out – something else in our media-rich, news-soaked environment that I missed. It is an article that often times the first thought is ‘no way!’, but after reflection on it for awhile there is some truth in the article.

Igor Panarin (image at right from the Wall Street Journal) is a Doctor of Political Sciences, and works as a Professor of the Diplomatic Academy Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia, and a former KGB analyist. He has authored nine books, numerous articles, and is a voice that is often heard on political discussions on Russian TV on the problems of Russian foreign policy, development of relationships between the US and Russia, and other political, foreign policy issues.

The Russian News Agency in an article released on November 24, 2008, stated:

“MOSCOW, November 24 (RIA Novosti) - A leading Russian political analyst has said the economic turmoil in the United States has confirmed his long-held view that the country is heading for collapse, and will divide into separate parts.

Professor Igor Panarin said in an interview with the respected daily Izvestia published on Monday: "The dollar is not secured by anything. The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche, even though in the early 1980s there was no debt. By 1998, when I first made my prediction, it had exceeded $2 trillion. Now it is more than 11 trillion. This is a pyramid that can only collapse."

The paper said Panarin's dire predictions for the U.S. economy, initially made at an international conference in Australia 10 years ago at a time when the economy appeared strong, have been given more credence by this year's events.

When asked when the U.S. economy would collapse, Panarin said: "It is already collapsing. Due to the financial crisis, three of the largest and oldest five banks on Wall Street have already ceased to exist, and two are barely surviving. Their losses are the biggest in history. Now what we will see is a change in the regulatory system on a global financial scale: America will no longer be the world's financial regulator."

When asked who would replace the U.S. in regulating world markets, he said: "Two countries could assume this role: China, with its vast reserves, and Russia, which could play the role of a regulator in Eurasia."

Asked why he expected the U.S. to break up into separate parts, he said: "A whole range of reasons. Firstly, the financial problems in the U.S. will get worse. Millions of
citizens there have lost their savings. Prices and unemployment are on the rise. General Motors and Ford are on the verge of collapse, and this means that whole cities will be left without work. Governors are already insistently demanding money from the federal center. Dissatisfaction is growing, and at the moment it is only being held back by the elections and the hope that Obama can work miracles. But by spring, it will be clear that there are no miracles."

He also cited the "vulnerable political setup", "lack of unified national laws", and "divisions among the elite, which have become clear in these crisis conditions."

He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.

He even suggested that "we could claim Alaska - it was only granted on lease, after all."

On the fate of the U.S. dollar, he said: "In 2006 a secret agreement was reached between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on a common Amero currency as a new monetary unit. This could signal preparations to replace the dollar. The one-hundred dollar bills that have flooded the world could be simply frozen. Under the pretext, let's say, that terrorists are forging them and they need to be checked."
That is a lot of information to digest and thoughtfully reflect on. The Wall Street Journal printed an article about this, providing a map of the divided United States.

But, this is not a first. There has been discussions on the dividing of America because of its diversified population and interests for years. Newspapers, blogs, and media reports highlight the problems, but not the hopes, of this country. This is a bandwagon that many in the world would rejoice over, and that many Americans could be enticed to.

As Russia Today states in an article:

“As early as autumn 2009 the economic crisis may lead to a civil war in the USA and then to its division into parts. Igor Panarin, doctor of political science, dean of the foreign affairs department at the Diplomacy Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, presented this forecast ten years ago. At that time his forecasts seemed unrealistic, but now many of them are coming true.”
That same article provides additional insightful questions and a video of Professor Panarin.

Still, I can’t but think of President Obama’s inaugural speech, which dealt in a broad sweep with many of the issues brought up by Panarin. Is all of this nonsense or could Panarin be right?

Essential question: How can an article like Panarin's be analyzed and discussed objectively by the average student in a Social Studies classroom?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review: Dawn Like Thunder

Dawn Like Thunder: The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight by Robert Mrazek was a fascinating book on the U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron that suffered grievous loses at Midway, and went on to serve at Guadalcanal. It was perhaps the most decorated air unit of the war.

The book is a compelling story of the men who made up Torpedo Eight, and went on to fight, suffer, die, and finally emerge victorious in two of the turning points of World War II in the Pacific.

While I had read quite a bit about the Battle of Midway before, and knew that “Tex” Gay was one of the few survivors of the squadron there, this book opened a door that gave a clear picture of what it was like flying the Navy’s first torpedo plane – the outmoded, slow ‘Devastator’, pictured below. Only a few of the more advanced TBF Avenger’s were available at Midway – and the survival story of one of these planes, piloted by Bert Earnest, was fantastic.

While there is a lot of technical information in the book, it is woven into the story of the men, and is used to explain the conditions that they fought under. I truly enjoyed the approach the book used, and the in-depth information it shared.

I have to admit, when I first saw the title Dawn Like Thunder, my mind went back to a book I’d read years ago, Dawn Like Thunder: The Barbary Wars and the Birth of the US Navy. I really enjoyed that book – and used the information in class – just as I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, focused on the personalities and capabilities of the men and machines that fought in World War II.

It’s a good read. If the opportunity presents itself, pick up a copy over the summer. The public library might have a copy available by then! I'm planning on donating my copy!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Getting Students to Read Historical Novels

Literacy and Social Studies should go hand-in-hand. It’s a natural blending of two powerful forces that can enhance the learning and understanding of our students.

Literacy can take several forms, from understanding the organizational methods used by a textbook to deciphering a population graph to comparing historical maps to…. reading nonfiction as well as fictional books with a historical basis. This isn't just limited to history: any of the social studies -geography, economics, psychology, government, etc. - fall into this realm.

There are many advantages to using these written resources – especially fictional – in the Social Studies classroom. It can add color and character to otherwise dry places and figures. It can add a depth of reasoning as to why people did what they did, and often fiction can do this in a way that nonfiction cannot.

Many Social Studies teachers hesitate to encourage their student to read ‘historical fiction’ because, well, it’s fiction! But, with a good selection of material and a process to help the students gain a true understanding of history, historical fiction can be a very useful resource.

One of the blogs that I follow is Speaking of History, created by Eric Langhorst from Liberty, MO. In his blog, Langhorst provided a list of books, a form to use with students to enable them to get the most out of the reading, as well as a podcast describing the process. It’s a worthwhile thing to read and listen to. Click on Speaking of History to go to the blog entry.

Essential question: Is historical fiction a valuable tool to use in our Social Studies classrooms to enhance the understanding of the students?

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Post-American World

What Presidents read give an insight to their manner of thought and influences on their lives.

A picture has been floating around the Internet with the inference that Obama is planning on the destruction of the nation as we know it because of a book he was reading The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria.

Now, whether or not Obama is planning on destroying or altering beyond recognition the US, I have no idea. However, I decided that I wanted to read the book. If a book is powerful enough to be of potential influence on a President, and I want to be a responsible individual – which I view as a special burden and responsibility of a social studies teacher – then I need to be aware first-hand of the material.

Actually, the book was very interesting, and I found that I could agree with the logic and foresight found in his basic theme. Sites listing professional reviews of the book are at the end of this blog entry.

While I admit that I’ve not been in the habit of ‘Presidential reading’ before, it was because I didn’t know what they read. Now the Internet has opened the door for investigating what Presidents read, allowing us a glimpse into their world and mind. Apparently Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Harry Truman were the most recognized and prolific ‘readers’ of the twentieth century Presidents.

While a preliminary search doesn’t reveal all of the presidential favorites, I’d like to share a few discoveries that cover the last 50 years, from JFK to Obama as far as books of interest and influence on the President's life and/or administration:

A list of John F. Kennedy’s favorites were released by the JFK Library. He gave a copy of Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August to his Secretary of the Army, commenting that he wanted every officer in the army to read it. It’s interesting to see his interest in history. He also enjoyed Ian Fleming’s books about superspy James Bond.

Lyndon Johnson’s favorite books included Barbara Ward’s The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations which perhaps explains in part his Great Society dream.

Richard Nixon liked Tolstoy’s War and Peace (as did Jimmy Carter and others), Whittaker Chamber’s Witness, and La Follette’s Autobiography

Gerald Ford grew up liking books by Horatio Alger. Alger’s stories of success inspired Ford to do his best in academics and sports while growing up.

An article in Time Magazine in 1976 when Carter was a candidate for President indicated that he enjoyed biographies. In an interview Carter stated that his favorite book was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, about living in Alabama during the Great Depression.

Nation magazine published a 1984 indicating that Reagan’s favorite reading was The Third World War, August 1985; and George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty

George H.W. Bush has been influenced by Martin Gilbert's book The Second World War; Tolstoy’s War and Peace; J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye; and Laura Z. Hobson’s Gentleman's Agreement.

In 2003 Bill Clinton released the names of his ‘favorite 21’ books, coinciding with the opening of the Clinton library, books including Living History by Hillary Clinton. Many of Clinton’s books are related to civil rights, and many were left/liberal in orientation.

US News reported that George W. Bush’s reading was heavy in biographies and baseball. Bush has a running contest with his advisor Karl Rove to see who can read the most books, and after three years (2005 – 2008)Rove was ahead 250 – 186. During the three-year period, many of Bush’s books spanned the political spectrum, conservative to liberal.
One awareness that I arrived at through all of this was that our Presidents read. They read as children, as adults, on the campaign trail, and in office.

Hum. I wonder what other world leaders are reading? Or Vice President Joe Biden???
Some good news: Our local libraries have many of these books on the shelves. Check them out!

Essential question: Should Social Studies teachers be interested and/or imitative in Presidential reading - and why?
Professional Book Reviews of The Post-American World

Fareed Zakaria (author's homepage)
Newsweek Review
New York Times Review
Islam Online
Washington Post

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago – 1909. How the world has changed since then. It’s always fun to look back at some basic information on an era and extrapolate reasons and thoughts about why things were like they were. The following is some information about life in 1909 that you might be able to utilize in the classroom. The primary resource used was my hardbound copy of the Statistical Abstract of the United States (1978). Any accurate information you can add to this entry would be appreciated, and perhaps useful by our staff.

The US population was a whooping 90,490,000, of which 46,545,000 were male and 43,945,000 were female.
The US was made up of 46 states. New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii had not yet joined the Union.
Average life expectance: 52.1 years, with males averaging 50.5 years and women averaging 53.8 years.
There were 751,786 immigrants, with Italy being the largest single contributor: 183,218.
Our military was 141,000 strong. That included the Navy, Army, Marines, Coast Guard... and a fledgling air corps - the first contract with the military was signed by the Wright brothers in 1909.
41.9% of our population lived on farms, with the average farm size 147 acres.
Average pay: 25 cents an hour, with an average of 56.8 hours of work a week (no overtime). This breaks down to $14/week; $56/month; $672/year.
Average yearly income for: farmers ($302); factory workers ($571); skilled manufacturers ($699). The President of the U.S. received a raise: his salary went up to $75,000 annually. It would remain the same until 1949.
School: 79.1% of eligible students were enrolled, age 5 – 17. The average school year was 155 days, of which the average student attended 112 days. Latin was the most popular foreign language (49,000 enrolled) followed by German (23,700) and Spanish (700). More females graduated (84%) than males (57%). There were 3.4 female teachers to 1 male teacher. The average teacher salary (public school) was $450 annually - a little more than farmers, but less than the average factory worker.


First Class Postage: 2 cents. The price had remained constant since at least 1885, though it would increase a whooping 50% - to 3 cents - in 1917.
Sugar: 4 cents/lb.
Flour: 5 cents/lb
Pork chops: 7 cents/lb
Eggs: 29 cents/dozen
Butter: 32 cents/lb
Milk, delivered to your doorstep in ½ gallon bottles: 16 cents
Bacon: 22 cents/lb
A pair of shoes for a dollar and a half
A dozen work shirts for four-fifty.
A top-of-the-line gramophone cost $45. It played the new disc records. The older Edison cylinder machines were cheaper. It was hand cranked for a reason: most homes had no electricity


The average person consumed:
Ice cream: 1.6 lb
Eggs: 293
Coffee: 9 lbs
Chicken: 14.7 lb
Beef: 81 lb.
Pork: 67 lb.

Odds and Ends:

The 1909 Ford Model T featured a then-novel ‘left hand’ steering wheel placement.
Speaking of Ford: On June 23, 1909, a Ford automobile arrives in Seattle from New York City in 23 days flat, completing the first transcontinental automobile race across North America. (picture at top of this blog.) This Model T Ford arrives first but is disqualified because the drivers changed the engine during the race. The winner (the second to arrive) is a Shawmut. The race is part of Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (A-Y-P). Initially as many as 35 autos were going to enter the race, but when the race started in New York City on June 1, 1909 at 3:00 p.m., the exact moment that President Taft officially opened the AYP, only six vehicles crossed the start line. They were an Itala, Shawmut, Acme, Stearns, and two Model T Fords.

It was the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, and Congress approved the coinage of a one-cent piece bearing his likeness. He became the first real person – as well as the first American president – to have his face appear on a regular-issue American coin.

Citrus County:
For a map of Citrus County in 1909 visit here.

Essentail Question: How can we use information from 100 years ago to create understanding on the part of the students on how people lived then, and to draw conclusions on how people live today?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Four Freedoms Speech

68 years ago this coming Tuesday (Jan. 6), President Franklin Roosevelt gave his State of the Union speech to Congress assembled. That speech has become known as the Four Freedoms speech.

What were the world conditions at the time of this speech?

Much of Western Europe lay under the domination of Nazi Germany. North Africa was threatened; U-boats did their destructive work relative unscathed. Russia was still allied with Germany. Asia was in turmoil: China was continuing its struggle against Japanese invasion, with the resultant loss of thousands of lives, and the Japanese were eyeing the French, Dutch, and English colonial possessions – and the economic benefit they would bring the Japanese Empire. In 1940 Japan marched into Indochina, and the French Vichy had been forced to agree to the Japanese move. The United States had remained neutral, and the isolationist movement was still a strong and influential force in the nation. President Roosevelt had just been elected to an unprecedented third term in office and the nation was still in the lingering throes of the Great Depression. We had completed a bases for destroyers deal with the British, and had passed a Selective Service act, proposed Lend Lease, and had called ourselves an Arsenal for Democracy. American were pilots in the RAF, and the Flying Tigers were active in China.

What were the four freedoms? From the speech:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want -- which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear -- which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor-- anywhere in the world.

Norman Rockwell, famed illustrator and artist, transferred the concepts of the Four Freedoms into four posters in which each freedom was reflected in a scene from American life. When the government initially rejected Rockwell’s offer to do the Four Freedoms series of paintings, the Saturday Evening Post commissioned and circulated them. They were immensely popular, and were eventually the centerpiece for a war bond drive.

What has been the influence of this concept of four freedoms in the course of the past 68 years?

The Four Freedoms – the statements made at the end of the pivotal State of the Union speech on January 6, 1941, became a huge motivator to the American public. It was a force that, prior to our active entry into the war at the end of 1941, would move the nation in a path that directly and forcibly opposed fascism and totalitarianism. It gave Americans a higher vision and goal as we struggled with the last vestiges of the Great Depression and were on the verge of entering into a violent conflict that our nation would be involved in for almost four years – with all of the personal and economic sacrifice that went into a total war. It became the cornerstone of American foreign policy in a post-war world as we faced the rising specter of Communism, and its precepts were broadcast to a world that really didn’t understand them. It gave us a superior moral purpose in a world gone mad.

Essential question: Do we teach the four freedoms during the continuum of our courses – or do we believe in them today?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Creating a Calendar

The Lincoln Bicentennial - celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12, 1809, is happily progressing in our District, and I'm very excited about it. We are using Web 2.0 technology to create our own bicentennial celebration, coordinated between our 21 schools.

When I become excited, I tend to (sometimes) get carried away - little things like buying a Lincoln Centennial pin on Ebay, getting a book of Lincoln quotes to use in our celebration - as well as a book on antedotes about Lincoln, both of which were out of print.

Then, of course, you need a calendar focused on Lincoln to properly celebrate the bicentennial! An Internet search revealed no such animal - though I did find one with Lincoln statues, another with a man portraying Lincoln sitting with animals, etc. Not quite what I wanted. Enter in the excellent training we had on the National Archives and Library of Congress! I downloaded pictures, went to an online publisher (Zazzle) and created a calendar using their template, with pictures of Lincoln arranged chronologically. Paid the bill, and now the calendar is happily hanging in my office at work, admired (?) by all! There is not another one like it!

Now, about that Lincoln necktie....