I teach an exploratory survey of American history to 8th graders at Troup Magnet Academy in New Haven. In the first marking period we focus a great deal on the
Age of Exploration
and investigate the background and effects of the
. The impact of Spanish exploration on the new world is central to this study. In the second marking period, we end our study of the American Revolution and the Constitution with a jump to the 20th century and an investigation of civil rights and minority rights issues in America; third quarter we study the growth of the territorial US and the Civil War period and in the fourth, we investigate immigration and labor. With Hispanic enrollment increasing in our school, I realize that just as our African-American students need the opportunity to appreciate and understand their cultural background, so do their Latino classmates. A broad survey of American history requires a curriculum that integrates the contributions of Hispanic, African-American and other diverse groups and highlights their impact on the shaping of the United States. The textbook makes little reference to Latino contributions to American history - and our chapters on immigration deal solely with European and Chinese waves of movement.
Usually in November if the snow days are few and the class has been moving along at an even pace, my 8th grade classes finish studying the American Revolution and the founding of the new nation. At this point, as in all good social studies classes, it's time for a project! We're not in elementary school anymore, so no dioramas or collages or soap-carved replicas of the Mayflower. My students will research a topic in civil rights history and apply what they have learned about the Constitution to answer an essential question -
how does a document written in the past touch the lives of people in the present?
Since an essential question is open-ended, in social studies the students are directed to use what they have learned about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, but in other academic classes, the question could lead students to think about the impact of other significant texts. In language arts, an obvious choice would be Shakespeare; in science, students could use Darwin and what a debate they might have! For this unit however, I want the students to think historically about the past and the present and to see that the American Constitution and the Amendments provide a plan for how government protects "the people."