I thought maybe this deserved its own index post.
You may use it freely, but please attribute or link back.
I thought maybe this deserved its own index post.
You may use it freely, but please attribute or link back.
The other two parents that I co-school with really liked the topic-based format that I used for the year we studied 19th-century America, so I went with that again for the twentieth century.
There's so much that happens in the twentieth century, it was very hard to narrow down the topics. In the end I let two principles guide me:
(1) Since this is American history, I would stick with a U. S. perspective on global events. I wouldn't, for example, explain what led up to World War One over in Europe. We would cover that material in World History. So instead I would limit my discussion of WWI to the Americans' entry into the Great War and afterward. I applied this same principle to a number of other global events.
(2) I would favor topics that would help explain "how we got where we are today." If something is important in today's news, I wanted to try to give the last hundred years of context for it.
After much fruitful discussion, we came to this arrangement of topics:
Meanwhile, I completed my short list of dates for the kids to memorize, and we did various exercises with the dates all year long. Previously learned memory dates include:
Here's a week-by-week book list. "Hakim" refers to Joy Hakim, A History of US.
Week 1------ MEMORY DATE: 1918, the "Spanish" flu epidemic and the end of World War I.
Week 2 ------
Week 3 ------ MEMORY DATE: 1941, Pearl Harbor attack, U. S. enters WWII.
Week 4 ------ MEMORY DATE: 1945, the first nuclear attack on a city; WWII ends.
Week 5 ------
Week 6 ------
Week 7 ------ MEMORY DATE: 1989, the Berlin Wall is opened.
Week 8 ------ MEMORY DATE: 2001, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
Week 9 ------
Week 10 -------
Week 11 -------
Week 12 ------- MEMORY DATE: 1929, the great stock market crash
Week 13 -------
Week 14 -------
Week 15 -------
Week 16 -------
Week 17 -------
Week 18 -------
Week 19 -------
Week 20 -------
Week 21 -------
Week 22 -------
Week 23 -------
Week 24 -------
Week 25 -------
Week 26 -------
Week 27 -------
Week 29 -------
Week 30 -------
Week 31 -------
Week 32 -------
week 33 -------
Week 34 -------
Week 35 ------- MEMORY DATE: 1991, the World Wide Web opens to the general public
Week 36 ------- final exam.
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:
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:
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.)
Part I, prehistory through 1812, is here.
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The American Civil War is a huge topic.
You could, if you wanted to, spend a whole year of social studies on the Civil War alone. Not only is the topic huge, but -- almost more importantly for my purposes -- there is a lot of really good children's literature out there.
It's also a topic that is necessarily solemn. And that is why I chose to avoid a purely chronological approach to the time period. I had about a hundred years of history to cover in this year, and of course things happen in the 19th-century U.S. that seem to be part of a different world. Soldiers fight in foreign wars. Pioneers cross the Great Plains. The railroad makes its way across the continent. Various inventions transform ordinary lives. But even though these things are all intertwined with the sorry history of chattel slavery and the great purging conflict that burned it away and the aftermath and the scars that still remain, I hated to interrupt the main thrust of the narrative for jaunty little side trips about stagecoaches and electric light bulbs.
So I decided to divide the year into two semesters. In the first semester, I tried to encompass the American Civil War, including some background and also the political and social aftermath through Reconstruction. Within that semester, the approach is chronological, out of necessity -- because it does tell a coherent story, or narrative, of a kind. (With the caveat that the whole history must be simplified drastically for any one person to grasp it as "a" story.) In the second semester, I considered other changes that happened during the nineteenth century, with an approach that was topical, rather than straightforward chronological.
See, I figure that eventually these kids are all going to do a one-year survey of American history. I don't need to do it now while they're little. Right now I need to get them interested in the stories.
Meanwhile, a note about textbooks.
Even with a literature-based approach to history education, I think it's helpful to have a "spine" -- a textbook, to put it bluntly -- that you can draw from to fill in any important gaps in the literature that is available to you. Sometimes you just can't find a "good" book about this or that important topic, and the textbook will have to do. It's also a good reference for what happened when and where.
In my first year, I used the materials from Seton, which worked pretty well from my perspective because they provided material about the Catholic heritage that's often missing in the Pilgrim-o-centric materials that are usually available on the colonial period. But I've never been particularly impressed with the literary quality of the Seton textbooks. Still, I was happy to use them as a supplement.
Between the first year and the second I discovered Joy Hakim's multivolume American history entitled The History of US. I switched to Hakim's books for the spine after that. (Also, by the end of the first year, I was co-schooling more heavily, and as a result, teaching children who are being raised in non-Catholic faiths. So while I continued to make sure that the material we used wasn't exclusively WASP-centered -- and it prompted me to take more pains to talk about the historical importance of Quakers and Mormons, both of which are pretty significant -- I wasn't looking for religious content in a reference spine anymore.) I mention this to explain that I didn't ditch Seton because I thought it was bad or anything, although I do prefer the tone and style of Hakim's books. Tone and style of a textbook are much less important when it's being used as a supplement than when it's basically the only book you're using. I imagine that Seton's materials will work very well as reference spines for Catholic families. Hakim was the better choice for our co-schooling situation.
So what did we use? In this post I'll write about the Civil War material, and I'll save the second semester for another post.
SEMESTER I: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Hakim Vol 4 on Missouri Compromise
Hakim Vol 5, chapters 32, 33, 34
Swain G, Dred and Harriet Scott: A Family's Struggle for Freedom (first half). I prefer telling specific stories to generalities. It's true that Dred and Harriet Scott led unusual lives and aren't representative of slaves in general; but don't we all lead unique lives? None of us are "representative." Truth is in the specifics. Anyway, some points that this book gets across: (1) Slavery screwed up people's family lives. (2) Slavery happened in the North as well as the South, and Northerners as well as Southerners owned slaves. (3) Slaves were not devoid of agency and could and did use the legal system to exert what rights they did have.
Continue with Swain G. Dred and Harriet Scott
Kent Z., The Story of John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry
John Brown's speech upon being sentenced to death
Much fruitful discussion can be had about John Brown. I won't presume to tell other people which aspects of his story to emphasize.
Douglass F, adapted by McCurdy. Escape from Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglass (This is a children's adaptation of Frederick Douglass's autobiography. You could work with the original rather than the adaptation if the children are older. This particular adaptation is well done.)
Winter J., Follow the Drinking Gourd (We included some discussion of the legends about the Underground Railroad that are fairly unsupported by data. People love a good story about secret messages encoded in quilt blocks or laundry hanging on the line, but not all the stories seem really to have happened.)
Field trip to Fort Snelling Historical Site: Civil War Days (Depending on where you live in the U. S., there may be some very cool historical sites near you. I live near Fort Snelling, which is notable because Dred Scott lived and worked there, and his time there, enslaved outside "slave states," formed part of the basis for his lawsuit. Although annoyingly, the reenactors running "Civil War Days" seemed not to know much about it. They were more into battlefield amputations and Morse code.)
Kamma A., If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America
Levine E., Henry's Freedom Box (The story of Henry Brown, who mailed himself north)
Chapter 1 of A Separate Battle: Women in the Civil War (about abolitionists H. B. Stowe, A. Grimke, S. Truth)
"Ain't I a Woman?" speech by Sojourner Truth
Here we start some biographies. Lincoln is a necessity. Robert E. Lee is also worth getting to know. He raises the question: What use is being an honorable person if you exert your honor on behalf of evil?
St. George, J., Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln
Material from several different books about the life of Robert E. Lee (I couldn't find one single biography that I liked enough to use exclusively)
parts of James Daugherty's Abraham Lincoln
Here we start discussing the Civil War itself. I preferred to cover only a few battles, but to really spend time on them, with maps and showing the movement of troops and stuff. I wanted to give the kids a taste of genuine military history.
Rapaport D., Freedom Ship (About Captain Robert Smalls, a slave who seized the Confederate ship he piloted and delivered it to the Union Army)
parts of Foster, G. Abraham Lincoln's World (election/inauguration; Scott, Lee)
DuPuy, The Military History of Civil War Land Battles (introduction)
Use DuPuy to learn the symbols and vocabulary of battle maps (artillery, cavalry, infantry, flank, etc.)
Kent Z., The Battle of Bull Run
Discuss graphic in Hakim comparing the assets and populations of the Union and the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War
Pratt F., The Monitor and the Merrimac (first half, up through the Battle of Hampton Roads). I cannot praise this book enough. We only had time to read half of it, but later my 10-year-old finished it in his spare time.
Week 10 -- Life on the battlefield.
Make hardtack for snack
Polacco P., Pink and Say
Murphy J., The Boys' War, parts about drummer boys, camp life, food, sutlers, supply issues and how they differ as the war lengthens
parts of Daugherty's Abraham Lincoln about Second Bull Run; replacing General McClellan; the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation; Antietam
Part of DuPuy, The Military History of Civil War Land Battles, about Antietam and how McClellan failed to drive Lee back
Text of the Emancipation Proclamation; discuss its meaning. Why did Lincoln free slaves only in the rebellious parts of the country?
Watch DVD "Battle of Stones River" (Murfreesboro) (We picked this up at the interpretive center at Murfreesboro when we happened to be in Tennessee for a family wedding that year.)
The Gettysburg Address (picture book illustrated by McCurdy)
Dupuy, The Military History of Civil War Land Battles, about the battle of Gettysburg
Elish, book about Gettysburg
Discuss battle maps and troop movements at Gettysburg
A Separate Battle: Women in the Civil War, chapters on hospital duty and suffering on the home front
Daugherty's Abraham Lincoln, parts on draft riots, Lincoln's pardoning of deserters, the "Bixby letter," and the Gettysburg address
Kent Z., Sherman's March to the Sea
Discuss concept of "total war" and looting
Kantor, M., Lee and Grant at Appomattox (first half). This book is great for a couple of reasons. First of all, it paints fine portraits of Lee and Grant. Second, it includes a fairly exciting story of notes passed back and forth across battle lines as Lee tries to figure out how he's going to surrender. Third, the terms of surrender are described in great detail, in a way that leaves the reader impressed by both men's characters. It's a novel-length treatment of a subject that gets only a paragraph in most kids' textbooks.
Kantor, M., Lee and Grant at Appomattox (second half)
Kent, Z., Ford's Theater and the Death of Lincoln
Notice all the books by Z. Kent? These are from the "Cornerstones of Freedom" series, all of which are good sources.
Harness, C., biography of George Washington Carver (parts that fit into the post-civil-war time period). This biography gives us a good chance to talk about life for African Americans in the post civil war south.
Discuss Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and legally enforced segregation
Joy Hakim, Volume 7, chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 about Reconstruction, Andrew Johnson, "Presidential Reconstruction," and the concept of states' rights
Knowing that next year I have the Civil Rights movement to cover, I wanted to show the basic dichotomy of philosophy that appears here in the persons of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois. Two threads of "conservative" and "progressive" black America appear vividly here and can be carried forward into the twentieth century. Caveat about "it's really much more complicated than that," etc. My main point: There isn't just one way to think about the African-American experience.
Harness, C. continue the biography of G. W. Carver, up through 1914 or so
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington -- selections from Chapter II, "Boyhood Days;" III, "The Struggle for an Education;" entire chapter V, "The Reconstruction Period;" VII "Early Days at Tuskegee;" X "A Harder Task than Making Bricks Without Straw"
Discuss B. T. Washington's philosophy of self-reliance and disdain for superficial success
Discuss appropriate terminology for ethnic groups as used in Booker T. Washington's 1901 writings and as is considered appropriate today
Hakim, volume 7, chapter 32 on Jim Crow laws
Discussion of Plessy v. Ferguson (this is absolutely necessary for comprehending Brown v. Board of Education next year, so we looked at the Supreme Court decision in detail)
Freedman, S., Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Anti-Lynching Crusade
Discuss the poem, "Booker T. and W. E. B." by D. Randall. We discussed whether we thought the poet had fairly characterized Booker T. Washington's philosophy. The poem served as a transition from Booker T. to W. E. B.
Scott, Memorial Day
Discuss why we have memorials for veterans and for those who fall in war
Parts of McKissack, P., biography of W. E. B. DuBois: chapters 1,2 about early life, chapters about Booker T. Washington, chapters about his book The Souls of Black Folk
Discuss the differences between the backgrounds of DuBois and Washington
Discuss how the differences between their backgrounds influenced their differing philosophies
Short excerpt from The Souls of Black Folk to get a sense for the difference in writing style between DuBois and Washington.
(It's a little tough to teach Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois equally to middle schoolers, because BTW writes much more approachably, in my opinion. DuBois's writing is more high-flown and abstract and difficult to get. I would say that BTW's work is high school level -- so it can be carefully selected and presented to interested middle schoolers -- but DuBois's work is college level, and I don't think the middle schoolers can grasp it. But they can, I think, grasp a comparison and contrast of the two men's philosophy, and see where they can be reconciled and where they can't, and understand why both philosophies continue to be appealing today.)
OK, on that note, I'll save the second semester (roughly, "The nineteenth century, but not the Civil War parts") for another post.
The weather is gorgeous, and it's the first real week of summer vacation, but I have one seven-year-old with pneumonia, and so we're all more or less stuck around the house this week.
I guess the timing isn't too bad, since I have a number of things I want to do to put the school year properly to bed. I'm writing up a little summary of the year for the two older kids -- sort of a report card -- and trying to put together a final summary of my three-year literature-based American History survey, which I finished just a couple of weeks ago.
There's another place where the timing is good. I'm going to be starting all over again in the fall teaching "Prehistory through 1812" to another crop of children.
Anyway, I've posted on this before, but I thought I'd share my American history curriculum choices. This is the first year: Pre-history through 1812. I've provided some links to other posts I've written. Incidentally, beside what's here, we also used appropriate pages in a good history encyclopedia -- Usborne has one, for example.
I should note that I used a couple of materials from Seton in order to supplement the program with some Catholic heritage (such as, for example, the notion that converting Mexico to Christianity was on balance a good thing). When I started this program I was not working with any other families on it -- so I still have to run the Catholic materials by the parents of the other children I'm teaching, who are not Catholics, in order to find out whether I should use them with their children, or save them for use just in our own family. I will likely draw heavily, too, from Joy Hakim's The History of US, which I didn't discover till I was doing the second year.
So here goes...
American History I
Unit 1. First Immigrants and Native Peoples (4 weeks). More detail in this post.
Unit 2. Europeans Get Interested In The Americas 4 weeks. More detail here. Particularly if you want to know how I handled the "Columbus problem."
Unit 3. The Spanish, French, Dutch, and English Settlers (4 weeks). More detail here. Including what I decided not to use, and why.
Unit 4. Colonial Expansion and the Western Frontier 2 weeks.
Here's more detail, including a discussion of the surprisingly balanced treatment that Daugherty gives the Shawnee.
Unit 5. Life in Colonial America (4 weeks)
Unit 6. The French and Indian War (1 week)
Unit 7. Setup of the American Revolution (5 weeks)
More detail here including some discussion of other good books that I didn't use for one reason or another.
Unit 8. The American Revolutionary War (4 weeks)
Unit 9. How the Government Began (3 weeks)
Unit 10. Early U. S. Expansion and War (4 weeks)
Postscript: The American Legend and overview 1 week
I like the last book because it's Jean Fritz, of course, but also because it's the story of how historical facts got distorted into a myth and a local legend. Something to keep in mind as they continue to encounter historical information!
So, you'll recall that I have been teaching history and Latin to two families besides my own, right?
I wrapped up my three-year American history program (more on that again later) with a few weeks' study of mass communication in the twentieth century, and finished that off with a discussion of social media and email.
Why did I put this in the context of history class? Well, for starters, for our family anyway, the timing is just about right. My ten-year-old is ready to have his own email address and to be a little bit freer to use and find things on the Web -- and you know, before you send them out in the world you have to have "the talk," right?
It's also something that is very different for these young people than it was for us. I didn't have to rely very much on books here, because Hannah and I could be the primary sources. We sat down and told them what it was like to read and contribute to Usenet groups, or to look for information using Gopher, or how hard it was to filter out the irrelevant junk before Google revolutionized the search engine.
Anyway, I ran the "Internet safety" lesson as a sort of discussion group. I thought I'd provide the outline here.
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Part I: The part that fits neatly into an American History context
A. Definition of social media: "Places" on the internet where people can virtually meet and communicate with each other.
B. How do people communicate using social media?
1) By sending files to each other
--files can be messages (long or short), documents, photographs, audio files, video files
2) Or by storing such files where they can be accessed by others
3) Or by playing games with each other which they access through various websites
4) Or by real-time chat or videoconference
C. Imagine a metaphor of a big room with lots of bulletin boards where messages may be left behind for all to see. I used this to emphasize the lack of real privacy.
D. Discussion question: How does the advent of easy, cheap social media change American culture?
(Looking for concepts like: people can make friends they've never met in person; people can form associations based on common interest regardless of geographical location; more international interaction; people may be more connected to "strangers" than to their own families; changes family culture; people can get addicted to being on line; business models change; people expect to connect to the internet everywhere so free time changes; advertisers have new ways to reach people; it's much easier to find information; etc.)
Extension: Watch the 90-minute PBS documentary Frontline: Digital Nation (available streaming through Netflix or here for free).
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Part II. New risks to be aware of because of social media.
Kinds of risks, ranked from the most dangerous to the most benign (in my opinion).
1) The risk of being physically harmed in "real life." Someone who wants to harm you for fun -- an online predator -- might try to use the computer to find kids like you, to trick you into telling him where you can be found, or to trick you into meeting him in person.
(2) Harming you non-physically via computer communication. Another kind of online predator might try to harm you, for fun, even without actually meeting you in person. A person can do this by sending you harmful messages or videos, or just putting it where you'll see it.
(2a) Some things may be harmful to you even though the person who made them available did not intend to hurt anyone. What kinds of things are these? (material that's meant for adults but not appropriate for children; incorrect facts)
(3) Stealing your identity or your parents' identity. If a thief can successfully pretend to be me, she could gain access to a lot of my stuff. What kinds of things could such a person gain access to?
Could such a person also break the law and get me in trouble for it? (yes)
Could they borrow money and then I would have to pay it back? (yes)
Could they send nasty messages that look like they came from me and then I might get in trouble or lose my reputation? (yes)
Discuss: What kind of information can be used to steal your identity or your parents' identity?
(4) Spreading things that you wanted to keep secret or private. Suppose you had a secret that you wanted to share with one close friend and nobody else. You told the secret to your friend and made her swear that she would never tell anyone. But suppose that this friend wasn't as trustworthy as you thought she was. She told your secret to one other person. And then that friend told another person. And before you know it, everyone you know knows your secret. How would you feel? Could some secrets even put you or your family in danger?
There is nothing new about this. Secrets have gotten out for as long as people have been keeping secrets from each other. But secrets that are passed around by computer can be a problem in a new and particularly dangerous way. Do you know why?
Discussion question: How can you protect yourself against online spreading of secrets or secret pictures or secret videos?
(5) Harming your computer. Computer viruses can infect your computer. Any file that you download from the internet may contain a virus or a piece of malware. How can you protect your parents' computer against unwanted programs?
(6) Selling you stuff you don't want. There are many advertisements on websites. You need to be cautious about the things that advertisements on the internet say, just as you need to be cautious about claims made on TV. Some of it is there to trick you into spending your money.
(7) Gathering information about you so they can figure out what stuff to try to sell you. You know that when you type words and numbers into a form on a website, or when you send an email, some information leaves your computer and goes out into the world where someone can get it. On many websites, information can be gathered just from a mouse-click. Some companies gather information about what you like to read or look at, and they use this information to send you advertisements that they think you will respond to.
General Discussion and Assessment:
What risks are there in each of these places? What precautions should you take?
I taught a fun 20th-century U.S. History session to the 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds today: the legal history of homeschooling.
We just finished a unit on civil rights movements of the 20th century, a unit that encompassed the school segregation cases, the larger civil rights movements, women's suffrage, and the disability rights movement. A lot of our emphasis had been on the particular legal means by which various forms of institutional discrimination were ended or mitigated. So, for example, we watched the TV miniseries Separate but Equal, which is like a courtroom drama centered on Brown v. Board of Education. We talked about the passage of the constitutional amendment that enshrined women's right to vote. We talked about how the Americans with Disabilities Act -- a piece of congressional legislation -- was fought for and passed, and how its interpretation continues to be refined by the courts.
Having spent a fair amount of time on constitutional law, I was looking for a sort of a "capstone" lesson that would talk about one issue that's concrete to them as kids. I found that a number of children's and teens' books about government and civics cover the "students' rights" cases, presumably because adolescents in public schools are interested in their own free speech and privacy rights with respect to the government entity that's most closely intertwined with their lives -- the government school itself.
But since our kids aren't in a government school, or an institutional school of any kind, I didn't think that would be quite so interesting to them. So instead I decided to teach them about the legal status of homeschooling, and how that right was won in the twentieth century. It took me a couple of hours of Internet research, and skimming through one or two books, to find the information I needed to lead the discussion. I hardly counted the cost, because it was interesting to me personally anyway.
I began by writing on a white board a series of dates that the kids have memorized, keyed to particular events we've studied:
I asked them to tell me about where on the timeline the first public school in America was founded. They correctly guessed, "Between 1492 and 1776" (for the record, it was Boston Latin School, and it was founded in 1635). Then I asked, "About when did it become common for most kids in the U. S. to attend some kind of an 'away school?'" (I accepted "around the turn of the century.") We talked about when compulsory education laws became commonplace (a little bit later than that) and then when enforcement became stricter (still later, possibly not till the forties, and not uniform across states). And then I asked, "So when were parents educating their own children at home?" Correct answer: all along, although for a period of time -- between maybe 1900 and 1980 -- they would be breaking the law in some set of states.
(In retrospect I should have stuck to Minnesota for the timeline of compulsory education laws, because I did a lot of hand-waving and talking about "most states" and "many states" and the like. Every state has its own timeline here and the overlap is not neat and tidy. If you adapt this lesson, I think it's probably a good idea to stick to your own state.)
So then I gave a short explanation of three landmark U. S. Supreme Court cases that set important precedents:
Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), which established that there are limits on the state's power to regulate how children are educated. (Specifically, it struck down a xenophobic -- mainly German-phobic -- Nebraska law banning foreign language education.)
Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), which established that a state cannot require that all children attend government-run schools; the right of private schools to operate, and of parents to fulfill compulsory-education obligations by sending children to private schools, was established.
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the most significant "Amish school case," which established that certain applications of a state's power to compel attendance at schools may impermissibly violate parents' right to direct the religious upbringing of their children. (After I finished reading The Yoder Case by Peters -- to myself, not to the kids -- I decided that Yoder is actually pretty complicated to grasp. I tried to keep it simple for the kids, and get the point across that there's a tension between compulsory education laws and religious freedom, and in this case the Court came down on the side of religious freedom.)
The children enjoyed discussing the legal principles of the cases, so we spent some time just talking about the details. For example, they were utterly amazed that a state would decide it was dangerous to teach children a foreign language. (Direct quote from the Nebraska decision that upheld Meyer's conviction before it went to the U. S. Supreme Court: "Other citizens, in their selection of studies, except perhaps in rare instances, have never deemed it of importance to teach their children foreign languages before such children have reached the eighth grade.") As for Yoder, I would have really loved to delve into the personal stories of the people behind the case; I wish there was a children's book about the Yoder case. It would make a really great picture book. Seriously.
I wanted to make it clear that homeschooling still comes under legal attack from time to time, so I shared with them two 2008 articles from Time magazine's archives: "Criminalizing Homeschoolers" and "A Homeschooling Win in California."
Then I explained how the Minnesota compulsory education law used to go. This is from Esbeck, Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1986), pp. 211-240:
The Minnesota compulsory education statute required students not attending public schools to be taught by "teachers whose qualifications are essentially equivalent to the minimum standards for public school teachers of the same grades or subjects."
I read that quote to the children and explained, "If the parent didn't have the right qualifications, the superintendent could tell them they had to send their kids to a school or at least to a teacher who did. If the parent refused, they could be charged with a crime." I let that sink in and then asked, "Okay, so how could a parent become qualified to teach her children at home?"
They made me read it again and then guessed... "They have to be a teacher." "They have to have gone to college." "If they're teaching, say, the second grade, then they have to at least have done second grade."
"It isn't obvious, is it?" And then I went on to explain about Minnesota v. Newstrom, the 1985 case that struck down the existing compulsory education law as "impermissibly vague" and overturned homeschooler Jeanne Newstrom's criminal conviction. After that, the Minnesota legislature crafted clear guidelines outlining how an ordinary person could fulfill Minnesota's compulsory education law through home education. (Those guidelines survive today with minimal changes in MN Statute 120A.22.)
Then they wanted to know how we qualified to be teachers, so we gave them a quick summary of the rules, including the list of subjects we have to teach and our reporting requirements. After that I asked them some questions:
Interestingly enough, the kids all seemed to be supportive of heavy regulation! I think this is because at the ages of 10-12, kids are far more concerned with fairness than they are with freedom, and they think it is only fair that our homeschools should be held to the same standards as kids in institutional schools.
Also, they've never really had to deal with paperwork. It's easy to support heavy regulation when you don't have a grasp of the cost of enforcement.
When they were discussing how "qualified" a teacher should be to teach a subject, I asked these kids, whom I also instruct in Latin: "So how much Latin do you think I learned in school?" That trap didn't work, since they already knew that the answer was "zero." But I pressed them: "I don't have any qualifications in Latin. But I'm not doing a bad job, right? How is it that I'm able to teach you adequately without any qualifications?"
My 10-year-old: "Duh! You have a teacher's manual."
I like to think that it takes more than that, but it made both Hannah and me smile.
On my post about explaining abortion to kids in the context of American history education, in which I wrote that I would treat the subject as part of a unit on the changing experience of American childhood, I received a good question from "emma" in the combox. Here it is:
The other day Hannah and I sat down over our after-school tea and hashed out a problem we'd been having with the oldest kids' school. We needed to try a "new thing" and after tossing out a few scenarios and undergoing some careful self-examination, we thought of a different thing to try. We aren't sure it will "work" (oh these poor guinea pigs oldest children) but we can at least feel confident that what we'll try will teach somebody something.
And afterwards, we agreed that it's really convenient to have a co-worker. (This presumes that one gets along with one's co-workers. We're not living in a Dilbert cartoon, thankfully.)
I know you're interested, if you are a homeschooler, so I'll explain the problem and our solution. Some time ago, we wanted to start nudging the oldest kids (at the time, 9, 9, 11 years old) towards independently reading and discussing their World History lessons (we use the Story of the World textbook, though not the activity guide).
Today I tried a new thing: I delegated.
"Today you will each have a job," I informed them. They looked at each other and made faces.
"The first person will be the Reader. Can you guess what the Reader's job will be?"
"Um, to read the book?" "I want to be the first Reader!" "No, me!"
"The Reader's job is to read the book, slowly and clearly, so that everyone can hear. And if someone asks, 'What did you say?' the Reader has to repeat it."
"Is the other person the Writer?"
"Wait, I'm getting to that part. The second person is called the Story-Hearer. That person's job is --"
"The Story-Hearer's job is to pay close attention to the events that happen in the story, and remember what happened in what order. The Story-Hearer should be able to tell the story back at the end."
"Do they have to write down what they hear?"
"No, just listen. The third job --"
"I know, the third person's job is the Go Get A Glass of Water And A Snack-er!"
"The third job is the Important-Thing-Noticer. The Noticer --"
"Has to notice important things?"
"Important details. Like the names of people and countries. Dates. Lists."
"Do they write it down?"
"Uh, maybe. We're going to try it a couple of different ways first."
This worked okay, but never very smoothly. The distinctions between the Story-Hearer and the Important-Thing-Noticer were a bit muddied, and they would sometimes argue about whose fault it was that something was missed. The Important-Thing-Noticer would interrupt the Reader to ask how to spell a name, and that would slow everyone down. And crucially, when we asked them afterwards to summarize the chapter, we learned that they had often not identified the same "important details" that Hannah and I would have identified... something like, they would remember Kaiser Friedrich and not Kaiser Wilhelm.
Hannah and I realized we had been taking too many things for granted. When we adults read a historical passage, we apply all our skills honed over years in high school, college, and much postgraduate reading. Not only that, but we already have in place filters that help us recognize "which people are important." We know Kaiser Wilhelm is important because we have seen that name before. And we also recognize style cues the writer puts in the story. The kids don't know how to do that yet. We have to teach them how to do that.
At first we thought we might look for a "study skills" curriculum, one that would teach specific skills of summarizing and skimming and note-taking. I pulled down a large homeschooling supply catalog and flipped through it. But after reading the reviews, we suspected that most of these curricula were readers supplying texts to practice on, rather than content telling how to read for information.
We realized we needed to ask ourselves some questions.
How do WE do it? How do we read for information? How do we know which details are important and which can be left out of a summary?
I asked Hannah to think how she would read a chapter in SOTW about something she was unfamiliar with. Next week's lesson is to be on Japan's Meiji Restoration, so that would do. She slowly paged through the section, and spoke carefully about her thoughts. We think there are two ways we identify "important details:"
---- First, by applying facts we already know from our previous education. When we see a name we recognize from, say, college history classes, we think "Aha! That is a Historical Figure!" and we take note of it. When we see anything happening in, say, Europe between 1914 and 1918, we think "Aha! This is probably related to World War I in some way!" and we take note of it.
---- Second, by recognizing certain patterns of narrative that appear in history books. Such-and-such a leader made a series of reforms, and the reforms are numbered 1, 2, 3, ... and the reforms had such-and-such a result. This group gained power and that group lost power, and here are 1, 2, 3 ways it happened. The population suffered this, that, and the other problem caused by bad government and so they revolted . You see. We recognize the pattern, and then we know that the Important Things are the facts in the story that fit the pattern. (It's a simplified model, but we're dealing with a simplified history here, too.)
Can we expect children of ages 10, 10, and 12 to be able to do it the same way we do?
---- We definitely can't expect them to recognize very much in the way of facts, figures, names, and dates. They have picked up some of this, of course, but most of the details they are seeing for the first time.
---- We can't expect them to recognize the narrative patterns very quickly. But maybe if we tell them the patterns ("In this story, a leader made three reforms, and something happened as a result"), they will be able to pick out the details ("As you read, write down the leader's name, a list of three reforms, and the result"). And perhaps over time, we can teach them to recognize the patterns.
What, exactly, are we wanting them to be able to do? Can we clearly articulate that to ourselves?
---- We want them to read the chapter through once, understanding the story.
---- Then we want them to read the chapter again, writing down the Important Things. After some discussion, we unhappily concluded that, by "Important Things," we mean neither more nor less than "the things that WE think are the important things." Perhaps we can work on that one.
---- Then we want them to put the notes away till the next day, and then, to be able to use the notes (and not the original text) to write a summary paragraph or to answer questions about the story.
That should do it.
So how to proceed? We decided we'd continue dividing up the jobs of Reader, Story-Hearer, and Important-Thing-Noticer, with two crucial differences:
-- The kids would read the same text twice, with a different Reader each time.
-- The first time through, both other children would "be Story-hearers." The second time through, both other children would "be Thing-Noticers."
Happily, by dividing up the jobs previously, we have already taught them how to be Reader, Story-hearer, and Thing-Noticer.
In between the two readings, we'll supply them with a Pattern that the chapter follows. There's always a background section, and there's always a concluding sentence or two, and we'll tell them where those begin and end. We'll give them the road signs to watch for in the middle part: "In this chapter, one group was struggling for power with another group, and they each try several different things to gain power." Then we'll tell them that, as they read through the second time, we want them to do these three things:
- write a sentence to summarize the background section
- write a list of facts that fit the pattern we gave them
- write a sentence to summarize the conclusion.
I think this is worth a try. Will let you know how it turns out.
Neither of us would ever have come up with this approach on our own. Like I said: it's nice to have co-workers.