In Part II-a, I wrote about why I divided the second year of American history into two semesters and treated the Civil War all by itself, and I gave the syllabus I used for that first semester on the Civil War.
In the second semester, that serious business being out of the way, we moved on to other topics for the rest of the year. They don't really arrange themselves chronologically very neatly, so I took the nineteenth century (roughly; I went from "the end of the war of 1812" to "the U. S. entry into the Great War") as a single chunk, and then covered several different topics. I would go on to use that same approach with the twentieth century the next year (more on that in another post, natch.)
The flow of topics went like this:
- Pre-Civil War foreign policy and conflicts
- Monroe Doctrine (dealings with Europe)
- dealings with Indian nations, such as Seminole War, Trail of Tears, etc., Jackson
- dealings with Mexico/Texas
- All that pioneer stuff - Western expansion
- Midwest/Great Plains settlement
- Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Mormon Trail, etc.
- Relations with Indian nations during the Western expansion period
- Growth of cities
- Midcentury wave of European immigration
- Working conditions
- Political/social movements
- Labor unions
- Urban social welfare
- Women's suffrage
- Everyday life
- On the frontier
- Children's schooling
- National parks
- New technologies
- Post-Civil War politics
- Spanish-American War
Point one: selection.
If it all seems a little haphazard, that's because it is. If it seems that something very important has been left out, that's because it probably was. There are only eighteen weeks in which to do it, after all. The only way to cover everything is to cover nothing in depth.
Point two: This is not a neutral list.
Some of my choices betray my own values (as I hope they should)! For example, I made a point of including the establishment of national parks as an important historical and cultural mark. That's because it's something that distinguishes the U. S. -- other countries haven't done nearly as well in setting aside land in a more-or-less natural state for public use. If there is such a thing as an "American character," I think our relationship with our lands is something worth exploring in depth. It's not all gold-digging and monoculture, you know; Americans have a strong naturalist and conservationist tradition as well. Also because our family enjoys outdoor activities, often in national and state parkland, and I wanted the kids to understand and appreciate why we have national parks to go to.
(Love of country may be out of style these days, but when I list my reasons to be grateful that I am an American, I don't have trouble coming up with items; and national parks are one.)
Point three: How I deal with teaching controversial topics to middle schoolers.
Remember, I'm working with middle schoolers -- I had two 4th-graders and one 6th-grader for this year. At this age, I think, they are only just beginning to be ready to stake a position and defend it. So I never asked them to do this. I avoided putting them on the spot with "What do you think is the right choice? Do you think this was a good law or a bad one? Do you think such and such a person acted rightly or wrongly?"
Instead I tried to introduce at least two different points of view and make sure that the kids all understand two concepts that are sadly lacking in our public discourse:
- Reasonable people can come down on different sides of most controversial issues.
- Members of distinctly visible groups -- like "workers," "black Americans," "women" -- don't always line up on the same side of political questions.
So, instead of telling me what their position was, I required the kids to list reasonable arguments and philosophies held by people on different sides of a position. For example, I'd want them to be able to tell me why some 19th-century people would think a law establishing a minimum wage was good for workers, business owners, and the American public; and then to come back and tell me why establishing a legally enforced minimum wage might, in the views of others, be bad for workers, business owners, and the American public. (Note my refusal to frame the question as "Why did workers support a minimum wage and business owners fight against it?")
Being able to competently and accurately explain a position -- whether you hold it or not -- is a prerequisite for defending and promoting a position you do hold. The former, being a more fundamental skill, is what I emphasized.
Preliminaries aside: what did we read?
Dangerfield G., Defiance to the Old World (explains the historical world context of the Monroe Doctrine). First part of the book up to where Andrew Jackson comes in.
Begin learning the names of the first 16 presidents in order.
Finish Defiance to the Old World
Discuss Monroe Doctrine
Hakim volume 4, chapters 18, 20, 24, 25, 26 about Jackson, the trail of tears, the 2nd Seminole War; chapter 33 on the series of presidents
Worksheet putting the first 16 presidents in order
Downey, Texas and the War With Mexico (parts)
Downey, Texas and the War with Mexico (about the Alamo)
Cousins, M., We Were There at the Battle of the Alamo (fiction)
Discuss the Texas Republic
Havighurst, First Book of Pioneers (first part. This book deals with the settlement of Southwestern Ohio, where my kids' grandparents live. If you live in or have ties to another part of the Midwest or Great Plains, it might be good to pick something else specific to that locale)
Havighurst, First Book of Pioneers (finish)
Tunis, Frontier Living, chapter 13 "The Harried Saints" (about the Mormon trail. Because one of the children I teach is a member of the LDS church, it was very important to me to find a source that treated the people who participated in the Mormon migration positively or at least neutrally; many books, especially older ones, are surprisingly dismissive or hostile towards them. At the same time, I didn't want to use material produced by LDS organizations. This chapter fit the bill very nicely, not getting into details about religious differences, but positively appraising the hard work and endurance of the people who followed the Mormon trail. And all the books by E. Tunis are very cool for other reasons. If I had discovered him in time I would have used his book on the Colonial period in the previous year.)
Draw the Mormon trail on the US Map
Label Mississippi R., Platte R., Missouri R., Great Salt Lake; Nauvoo, IL; Salt Lake City, UT; Council Bluffs, IA
Freedman, The Life of Crazy Horse (begin.) I decided to use a biography of Crazy Horse as our entry point for discussing the encounters between the Indian nations of the Great Plains and settlers from the East. This bio is long and I had to stretch the reading over several weeks, but it's well-written, interesting, and attractively illustrated.
Trace the Oregon Trail on the map from Week 24
Tunis, Frontier Living, "The Bitter Road to Oregon"
Freedman, The Life of Crazy Horse (continued)
Freedman, The Life of Crazy Horse (continued)
Discuss Sand Creek massacre
Wells, R. Streets of Gold (this is a picture book drawn from an immigrant's autobiography)
Sandin J., The Long Way to a New Land (an easy reader, again about immigration)
Heaps, W. A., The Story of Ellis Island (parts; this is an extremely cool book, with lots of details about what it was like for people who came through the Ellis Island bureaucracy, and I would have used more of it except it is written at too high a level for these kids)
Discuss immigration in mid-to-late 1800s from Europe
Littlefield H., Fire at the Triangle Factory (an easy reader)
McCully E. A., The Bobbin Girl (pretty good picture book about one of those paternalistic factories that employed many young women and provided housing; gives an entry point into the idea of unions and strikes, and also into women's economic situations)
Hakim vol. 8, ch 16, "Harvest at Haymarket." Discuss: maximum workday; minimum wage; minimum working age; safety regulations; tension between the economic costs and benefits of these rules. Discuss strikes and unions.
Began memorizing important dates: 1492, 1776, 1860, 1865
Week 28 (two sessions this week)
Klingel, C., Clara Barton: Founder of the American Red Cross
Wooldridge, When Esther Morris Headed West: Women, Wyoming, and the Right to Vote
Fritz, J. You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?
Everyday life in the 19th century:
Tunis, Frontier Living, about oxen, canal locks, Iowa squatters
Hakim vol 5, ch. 19
Bial R., One Room School
Discuss how schooling has changed since then
Douglas W. O., Muir of the Mountains (biography of John Muir. Oh I love this book. John Muir is a fascinating figure.)
Discuss extinction of passenger pigeon; modern management of natural resources; Muir's motivation for abandoning his career in engineering and turning to the outdoors
Finish reading Muir of the Mountains
off this week -- we made it up in advance in Week 28
Levine, I. E. Inventive Wizard: George Westinghouse (first part). Why do yet another Thomas Edison biography when instead you can read about George Westinghouse?
Levine, I. E. Inventive Wizard: George Westinghouse (continued)
Levine, I. E. Inventive Wizard: George Westinghouse (finish)
Fritz, J. Bully for you, Teddy Roosevelt! (begin)
Fritz, J. Bully for you, Teddy Roosevelt! (finish)
Discuss Panama canal, the vice presidential succession to the presidency
Memorize that McKinley was president in 1900 (just a milestone for the turn of the century to help remember dates)
Hunter V., Stagecoach Days (this really belonged earlier in the semester, but it was late coming from the library.)