I am a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher at Fair Haven Middle School. During the 2005-2006 school year, I taught United States history and during the upcoming 2006-2007 school year, I will teach a seventh grade world cultures class. Fair Haven is a Title I school, meaning it receives additional federal funding as a high-poverty school. For example, over ninety percent of the students at Fair Haven qualify for free or reduced lunch. Further, most of the students at the school are minorities, predominately Latino, with a remaining number comprised of African-American students. As one might imagine, teaching social studies in this environment can often be a challenge, especially when one considers the primacy given to the role of dead, white men in creating our nation's history. While most social studies textbooks have made strides in better including African Americans and women in their narratives, Latino experiences are still absent
Furthermore, students of middle-school age present their own particular set of problems when it comes to learning, regardless of their ethnic background or socio-economic status. Students at this age still have a healthy amount of curiosity about the outside world. Even though they often see things in a strict black and white view, where something is either completely right or completely wrong, much of their opinions and their thinking have yet to be fully formed. Many educators see this as a benefit of teaching middle school students and I would tend to agree.
Middle school students are also intensely social creatures that love to talk and are usually much more interested in interacting with their peer group than in paying attention in class. This lack of attention to task can be a particularly large obstacle when what is being taught is viewed by the students as having no real connection to their daily lives. While they still have a basic desire to learn more about the world around them, they are mostly concerned with their place in the social structure of the school, or what they largely view as their "world."
This issue of their place in the world often comes up within the context of social studies in the form of identity issues. While strides have been made in creating a history that is more inclusive, particularly of women and African Americans, there is still precious little said in their textbooks about Latinos and their contributions to the narrative. In fact, the exclusion of Latinos from the narrative of American history borders on the criminal. There is an almost wholesale denial, for example, of the reality that Mexicans predate British settlers in the New World and that, because of this, the Spanish language has been spoken for a longer period of time in North America than English
. I feel it is my responsibility as a teacher in a predominately Latino school to help my students learn more about themselves. In a neighborhood that can often seem devoid of positive role models, it is an important part of my job. I also feel that as Latinos become the largest minority group in the United States, and will become the majority in several states, that all of my students will benefit from a deeper understanding of the nuances of Latino culture. Thus, I feel that a unit for my students in which they create their own oral histories documenting the creation of the Latino community in Fair Haven, is particularly important at this moment in time.