On the Benefits of Similar Sources

The following post is the third in a series about Kyle Jenkins’ project to create curriculum around the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project that can be used in the high school classroom.

The success of the Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed video game series, if nothing else, proves that history can’t be considered universally boring. Otherwise, why would someone bother spending their precious free time romping about 1940s Philippines or Renaissance-era Italy? And yes, an obvious answer would be, “because you get to shoot people and level up.” But there is definitely some other factor involved, something about the allure of forgotten time periods that make people want to explore them for all their worth. As a history teacher, the challenge not only becomes finding those time periods, but those nuggets of information that make a student’s eyes light up. Teaching the theory behind Andrew Jackson’s spoils system is always going to be a tough sell. However, talking about the President’s swearing parrot that had to be removed from his funeral service is not. Engaging students with unexpected sources and stories can be accomplished in many ways, two of which I will share from this week’s research.

In reading about how immigrant Catholics changed and adapted to their urban settings, a constant thread of “us and them” becomes increasingly apparent. During the labor unrest of the 1870-80s, the attempted religious revivals of Protestant and Catholic believers ran head first into the demands of socialist, irreligious city dwellers. Preachers saw a problem not with so much with the anarchistic element of these protestors, but rather their atheism. As noted in Bruce C. Nelson’s article “Revival and Upheaval: Religion, Irreligion, and Chicago’s Working Class in 1886,” sometimes the bishop’s sermons took a dark turn. One, in particular, told his congregation,

“’whenever you see an enemy of God, point right at him and shoot him on the spot, but don’t hit him in the knee; if you hit him anywhere but here (the heart) apologize to him and tell him you meant to send a side shot.” (page 244)

That alone would stir some level of interest among students. It’s not every day a leader of men, especially one from a major religion, openly advocates for violence. What’s more, you can’t mince words; this is drawn from a real speech, not another person’s summary of the events where artistic liberty can take over. To be honest an entire lesson could be based around this source alone, with proper context of course. But to really seal the one-two historical punch, you can then throw in this Pinkerton Flyer:

Pinkerton Picture Number 3

While the two sources don’t match word for word, their sentiments are frighteningly similar: deviate from what’s expected or break the rules, and you’re dead. Plain and simple. This isn’t just death, it’s officially sanctioned death. The difference is this isn’t someone’s Call of Duty, such speeches and posters could be found within Chicago’s city limits, not the Pacific Islands during wartime! And this is where you pose the discussion questions in class: in this environment would you feel concerned meeting a foreigner? discussing someone’s religious beliefs or weekend plans? even walking outside?

Opinions in class are a dime a dozen: ask any room what they think about certain facts, and there’s an 80% chance you’ll get a room full of blank stares. Though I find the comparison between these two sources extremely interesting, a run-of-the-mill history student may just be counting the minutes till class ends. Because the analytical piece is so essential to history, some historians have thought of a simple yet endlessly entertaining solution: put students directly in the past. No, we cannot physically go back to the future (or past), but we can use certain tactics to force students to consider what life would be like if they were in a particular time period, and how their actions and opinions would fit in with the social landscape. Outlined by Meg Gorzycki and Linda Elder, the concept of “historical thinking” can be as simple as asking students to write a diary entry from the point of view of an Irish immigrant who stumbles across a sermon like the one listed above, or as complex as asking students to develop a proposal to the city council about a new diversionary poster for the Pinkertons to use in their war on crime.

HT Number 3

From A Thinker’s Guide to Historical Thinking, p.19

It seems too easy to just say “think like they would think,” but this allows for a whole range of creative responses. Since it is all based in the facts, sources, and context of a particular time period, students can think rationally as opposed to strictly academically. They can respond organically, tackle new challenges, and consider alternatives better than a textbook can provide. What’s more, this can serve as a basis for projects, essays, or other products that the C3 Framework of last week calls for. Students are intimately involved, and are skillfully “communicating and critiquing conclusions.” It’s these kind of lessons I hope to have, that engage students beyond grades and get to true Assassin’s Creed levels of interest. And with the outlining done, it’s time to find more sources like the Pinkerton Flyer that are able to spark that interest. On to the next week of research!

Works referenced in this post:

Gorzycki, Meg and Linda Elder. A Thinker’s Guide to Historical Thinking: Bringing Critical Thinking Explicitly to the Heart of Historical Study. Tomales: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2011

Nelson, Bruce C. “Revival and Upheaval: Religion, Irreligion, and Chicago’s Working Class in 1886.” Journal of Social History 25, no. 2 (1991): 233-249.

Follow the Framework!

The following post is the second in a series about Kyle Jenkins’ project to create curriculum around the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project that can be used in the high school classroom.

I now find myself early on in the project, but quite far into the school year for Loyola. By the middle of the first semester (or end of the first quarter, if that makes more sense), I am still plowing through secondary sources and background information for this project. This isn’t to say I haven’t done other work as well. I just did too much other work. See, after spending three years creating lesson plans, writing history essays, and essentially living in the library during finals week, I thought I had this project in the bag, as it were. But as my last post noted, this subject is entirely new to me. So when I began looking at diaries of immigrants and objects from their journey, I felt completely lost.  Who even is this? What were they talking about? Why were they talking about it? All questions I should have asked and answered in the beginning stages of my research. Thankfully, I have managed to get back on the right track, and I am diligently creating rough outlines for each facet of urban Catholic life to be covered in this project. Ambition drove me to take on this challenge, and by golly I won’t let it sink me.

This was a harsh lesson for me to learn, and oddly enough, one that students who engage with the material will probably have to learn as well. In this beautiful Age of Google, it is all too easy to forget to check if one’s source is reliable, or worth looking through, or even related to your topic at hand from reading a brief one-and-a-half blurb found beneath a hyperlink. The undercurrent of library research methods in these lesson plans will hopefully address that problem head on. It is better to get practice researching reliable sources now than the night before a massive essay is due (again, from personal experience, but that’s a story for another blog post).

I have also experienced a distinct change in my researching procedure. While taking notes, I now focus less on how certain facts or sections would fit into an essay, and more on what kind of lessons could help others best learn those facts. Early in my collegiate career it seemed easy. “Just let kids read the paper, and then discuss it! How hard can that be?” In a perfect world, yes, it would be just that easy. But when you need to account for different reading levels, worksheets to guide learning, relevance to tests (both school-wide, state-wide, and national), what standards it would fulfill, and even interest levels, it becomes a lot less easy. So what’s a history/education double major to do? Easy! Follow the framework.

The emergence of Common Core State Standards, no matter how controversial, represent a change in the basic process of planning for educators. Where before, they may have been required to devote X amount of time on Y subject, now they are held accountable for historical skills. They run the gamut of sophistication; they are as complex as proper primary/secondary source analysis, and as simple as knowing word definitions in context. And yes, U.S. History teachers are all probably going to teach Christopher Columbus, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and World War II. But to what extent they cover each facet, or whether they place more emphasis on battles or homelife is up to the teacher. And rightfully so! It focuses more on knowledge of students in their classroom and less on adhering to uniform goals, when it’s known full-well that students aren’t uniform.

CCSS Standards Blog Post 2

Common Core Standards

The Common Core doesn’t provide a framework of how to meet said standards. Everyone wants students to be able to churn out research papers and presentations like Facebook posts, but how to get from point A to point B can be quite confusing. Many methods exist, but the one I prefer, and will use for this project, is the C3 Framework. Developed in 2010 by a wide array of social studies teachers, professionals, and state leaders, it highlights the importance of College, Career, and Civic-minded education. It starts by forcing students to ask questions about the content and topics at hand, or tackling teacher-developed question. Wherever they come from, they represent the crux of the issue, and by answering it one can understand some of the complexities inherent with the subject matter. Much like Common Core standards, they can be as simple as “Was the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement a success?” or as complex as “Why are there rules?”

C3 Framework

C3 Framework

By then focusing on one or multiple subjects within the social sciences, namely economics, geography, civics, and/or history, teachers can plan units that slowly build up content knowledge and skills in a way that answers that question. Anyone can learn who George Washington was, but it takes careful planning to ask and answer whether or not his American Revolution was actually revolutionary. And by ending with a tangible product, either with a report that summarizes a student’s answer and own spin on the question, or a move to physically act and get involved in an ongoing version of the issue (say through a unit on immigration), the lesson reaches a full conclusion. The student’s experience isn’t one of rote memorization, but rather full involvement with the subject matter. These “inquiry arcs,” as the C3 Framework calls them, are exactly the kind of classroom I want to run as a teacher, and I feel are exactly the kind of framework that will best inspire students to learn more about this subject matter.

Moving forward I plan on building up the project in a number of different ways. First and foremost I will organize the sources with full citations and brief abstracts to be used by anyone looking for a killer resource in class. Next, for the teacher interested in specific topics related to nineteenth-century Catholic Chicago, I will be developing around 3-5 lessons around such lessons as “Processes of Immigration,” “School Debates,” “Urban Life,” and others. Finally, I will construct an inquiry arc from the various topic lessons. Students will have a goal in mind, a question to spark their interest, and the sources to get them there. Next on my list is to finish planning those topic lesson plans. See ya in a week!

Want to learn more?

If you want to read more from the educational planning materials in this blog post, there are a number of resources you can access. The Common Core State Standards for History can be found at this website, broken into 9th/10th grade standards and 11th/ 12th grade standards. Here you can find the skills that students are supposed to have at particular benchmarks, and the focus of teachers when planning lessons, units, and the like. The C3 Framework Method can be downloaded and viewed as a PDF here, which details one of a number of methods teachers use for structuring unit plans. And if you want a more in-depth look at pedagogy itself, I highly recommend Jack Zevin’s book Social Studies for the Twenty-First Century: Methods and Materials for Teaching in Middle and Secondary Schools (New York: Routledge, 2007). The first two chapters in particular deal with the struggles of defining social studies and the benefits of cross-disciplinary activities.

How to Navigate in a Field of Ignorance

The following post is written by senior Kyle Jenkins, one of this semester’s interns. It is the first in a series about Kyle’s project to create curriculum around the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project that can be used in the high school classroom. This is an exciting new venture aimed at expanding the audience for the Provenance Project!

Even though the demands of student teaching kept me from enrolling in the 2015 Ramonat Seminar, I am working closely with the same documents and subject matter – Catholic immigrants in nineteenth-century Chicago – as part of my directed study this semester. My mission, as it were, is not to write a massive essay that changes the field of study. I’m not that lucky (see also: I’m actually that lucky). Rather, I will be creating a series of lesson plans around the topic for use in high schools, incorporating a whole host of primary source documents drawn from the JLPP, Newberry Library, and other Chicago institutions. Since much of the curricular instruction for this age group on the nineteenth-century U.S. is devoted to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Progressive Era (for good reason, I might add), the lesson plans I am designing will serve a dual purpose of introducing students to a too little discussed facet of U.S. history, as well as providing an opportunity for important lessons in library research.

As a double major in History and Education, it stands to reason that I would have at least been exposed to this time period. Well, this is the one case where reason fails us, because much of what I am learning is completely new. My past experience with history projects were with subjects I had just taken a class about (the Civil War) or had a personal connection to (blues music). While it is an uphill climb to stay on track with the other Ramonat Scholars, I am extremely excited to do so. I hope I will be exposed to a host of other disciplines and opportunities through this project, just like the students that will eventually be taught these lessons. But enough about that, let’s get to the good stuff.

I know the first unit will be on immigration, specifically how and why primarily Irish and German Catholic immigrants flooded Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century. In my first trip to the Newberry, I began searching through the Immigration Laws of the United States (State and National) compiled by William C. Endicott, and published in 1887. Not only did it list a variety of reason that made the U.S. a prime destination for immigrants, like the Irish potato famine, the California Gold Rush, and European political upheaval, but, as the title suggests, it broke down the policies of each state. It was done for two reasons: to clear up procedures on Southern states who recently rejoined the Union following the Civil War, and to give due diligence to New York, whose policies “[could] make a volume in itself” (p.1975). Certain states, like New York, go into meticulous detail. Others, like Alabama, list ways that immigration could be encouraged, such as through reports on land availability and quality. And still others, like Nebraska below, have no rules:

Nebraska Immigration Laws SM

That’s it. One paragraph for Nebraska saying “Yep, there’s no rules here, do whatever you want.” This is striking because it shows how vastly different the experience of immigrants could be depending on where they settled. Yes, you can’t sail a ship to Nebraska, but you can move there. Which makes Chicago that much more appealing. As an eventual transit hub to the West, with a connection to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes canals, and with the appeal of big city life, Chicago must have seemed like prime placement for immigrants of any background. Oddly enough Illinois wasn’t listed in this volume, so I will have to track down its immigration laws, but it’s exciting to start down this road with no preconceived notions as to what I will find. I’ll be going through the same process as future students, which is pretty awesome to think about.