Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Keeping History Alive

Today The Atlantic has a fascinating article on the decline of social studies in US schools. "Bring Back Social Studies" makes the argument that our national fixation with math and science began in fear (as do most questionable endeavors) following Russia's successful launch of Sputnik. Amerians took this as a sign that we were falling behind and quickly poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the expansion of the hard sciences. Social science, the collective term for history, geography, and civics or government studies did not seem to suffer a reduction in face of the expansion of math and science until the implementation of No Child Left Behind. With school funding now tied to achievements in math and English, the social sciences took a direct hit. Now students spend only 7.6% of their time on social science! 

The Atlantic goes on to speak about the civic cost of this reduction.  "study from the Carnegie Corporation of New York found that students who receive effective education in social studies are more likely to vote, four times more likely to volunteer and work on community issues, and are generally more confident in their ability to communicate ideas with their elected representatives." Additionally, the reduction in social sciences disproportionately affects low-income schools as teachers at these schools focus more and more on tested subjects in order to maintain funding, history and geography become more and more neglected. This results in the unintended consequence of effectively disenfranchising these students as they never become educated in how our government works and how they can participate. "According to data from Associate Professor Meira Levinson of Harvard University, people living in families with incomes under $15,000 voted at just over half the rate of those living in families with incomes over $75,000."

In the face of these discouraging trends, it does my heart good to see our customers instilling a love of history and geography in their students. Recently several families have posted blogs featuring their work on BFB studies. 

The Story family has just finished up their unit on the Jamestown in our Early American History for Primary Grades. While reading through Pocahontas and Jamestown, New World Adventure, the Storys supplemented their notebook work and discussions with fun activities like building a Lego model of Jamestown! 
They discussed the differences between the gentlemen and laborers in Jamestown and how the unwillingness of the gentlemen was key to the near starving conditions in the settlement.

Additionally, the Story children figured out a sort of currency system based on the English settlers using beads to pay the Natives for land and other things. 
Making jewelry using Italian glass beads like those the settlers would have used to trade with the Indians. And check out their notebook work:

Another family is using our U.S. and World History Study Guide for high school. The first title read in the study is Uncle Tom's Cabin. This book is extremely challenging but worth the effort. In light of this there are some assignments in the study guide that simply have you read a chapter or two. During one of these lighter assignments, Ginger thought it would be a great idea to have her students, Bear and Artist, engage with the text in a personal way. In Chapter X, Uncle Tom is sold and forced to leave behind his family. Ginger had her children write a letter from Tom to his wife and children. What a wonderful way to create empathy and allow readers to reflect upon the story in a meaningful way. Here are the letters they wrote:

Here is Bear's letter

Chloe and Children
Its now time for me to say Goodbye to ya'll. Befar I leave I want to give you these last few words of advice. First off trust in God for if it is His will we will all be togather agin and if not in this world then in the next.
Boys mind your manners and tawk with respect to your betters especially your Mother and Masters and pray for me and them always. Also be kind to one another and help each other and grow up to be good men. Don't eat all the chicken that's cooked an help your ma all you can.
Chloe take good care of all the children and see they mind. Don't warry about me for one day we will both be with God. If possible I will try to come back to yall so as we can all be together again. 
Love yall and hope to see you again.

And Artist's letter

Dear Chloe and Chilrun,
I suppose now I must leave you and the boys. I know not where to I go, but I am in God's hands always.
Boys listen to your mother. Obey her and potect her. Try to remember what I've told you. Let your guiding principles be truth, justice, fairness, and honesty. Be strong, be men. I will remember you forever. Make me proud as you grow up. Perhaps in this life I shall see you, perhaps not. But if I don't I shall surely see you in heaven if you are Christians, which I believe you are.
Chloe, take care of childrun. Help them learn and make them mind you, I shall remember you too always. I love all of you and wish you would cope with your tragic loss of me well.
Uncle Tom

In the letters both Bear and Artist tried to use the dialect that Harriet Beecher Stowe used in the novel and I think they did a great job! They also paid close attention to Tom's character and were able to express thoughts he very well may have wanted to communicate to his children and wife. 

This family has also written about their experiences of notebooking through Island of the Blue Dolphins from our California History Study Guide and I would recommend checking that out here

I find all of this so inspiring and encouraging. It's wonderful to see students engaging with history and learning about those who came before us. An education in history, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the noble equips a student to be a well-rounded adult and engaged citizen. Learning how governments and nations are formed, about the ills that government sanctioned evil like slavery can inflict on an entire race of people, how people fought to change their nation for the better, and so much more is why we study history. While some students are not being given this education, the families above are part of the movement to preserve this knowledge and pass it on to another generation. And having fun doing it! 

If you would like to share your family's experience using BFB, please email me at rebecca (@) bfbooks (.) com. I would love to see your work! And if you have questions about teaching history using the best literature, click here.
And if you're waiting to place your order for this new school year, we're offering free shipping for all orders over $50.00 for a limited time only! Use the code "FREESHIP" when you check out.

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