Monday, March 29, 2010

There's More to Samuel Adams Than Just Beer...

I wrote the following blog post in March, 2006. Enjoy!

Introducing American History to children isn’t always easy. I employ the “take two steps forward, one step back” method. I constantly review. I constantly connect old content to new content.

Over the last several days we have become knee deep into the American Revolution. During our review of taxes, taxes, and more taxes we were making a list of the different ways colonists protested the taxes. As they volunteered I wrote-----boycotts, smuggled goods, letters to Parliament, petitions, and violence. A young man volunteers, “The Sons of Liberty.” Immediately a girl speaks up and says, “Daughters,too----the Daughters of Liberty!” I make separate entries on the board to please the masses.

I say, “I think we have them all. What about important people who spoke out about the taxes?” Students rattle off the following names---James Otis, Mercy Otis Warren, and Patrick Henry. “There’s one more that we’ve talked about, so far,” I prompt.

A voice says hesitantly, “Samuel Adams?”

Another voice counters, “No, John Adams. Sam Adams is the name on my Dad’s beer.” The room erupts in laughter, shouts, and counter-shouts from all corners. I raise my hand----the Harry Wong ‘guaranteed to get them quiet’ way.

I ask the class to turn to the appropriate page in the book where Sam Adams is highlighted. I wait for everyone to come on board. You see, even opening textbooks and finding page numbers can create momentary chaos in a room full of nine and ten year olds.

“Ok,” I finally say. “Samuel Adams’ cousin, John, called Sam “a plain, simple, decent citizen of middling stature, dress, and manners. The Governor of Massachusetts, a loyalist, called him the most dangerous man in Massachusetts.”

Then I continued, “Boys and girls, Sam Adams IS the name of a beer.” Looks of ‘I told ya’ sos’ are flashed around the room. “Our job right this minute is to reread about Sam and figure out what he did to get a beer named after him.”

We learn that after graduating from Harvard in 1740 Samuel Adams studied law, and worked as a clerk and merchant. He managed a brewery before being elected tax collector.

That tidbit of knowledge causes some titters as the realize one of the most important tax protesters actually had collected taxes. We read on and learn more.

As more and more taxes were levied against the colonists Samuel Adams found out he was a good organizer and speaker. He helped to organize Boston’s chapter of the Sons of Liberty. Adams’ main talent was to bring together rich and poor alike. He wrote several pamphlets urging Americans to rebel against the British. One pamphlet called “The Rights of the Colonists” centered on three ideas: the rights of colonists as men, the rights of colonists as Christians (imagine that!), and the rights of colonists as subjects. These same rights are introduced into the founding documents of our nation---the rights of life, liberty, private property, and freedom of religion.

I stop our process of reading and tell students to remember this. I tell them in a few days we will talk about the Declaration of Independence, and I will ask them to remember Sam Adams’ pamphlet.

Samuel Adams played an important role in the first actual battle of the Revolution. The British soldiers began to move against Lexington and Concord because they had information that John Hancock and Sam were there with a store of weapons. Luckily they were warned.

We talk about what we just read and identify the qualifications that could get a beer named after you. We then discuss which is more important, having a beer named after a historical figure or the contributions of that person. We decide the contributions are more important, and we discuss why the beer company would want to have a famous name attached to it. Having completed our review I inform students it’s time to go.
Several hands appear in the air, and one young man asked, “Well, what happened at Lexington and Concord?”

“Oh, young grasshopper,” I say in my pitiful ‘Kung-Fu’ imitation, “that’s a story for another time.”

That’s the secret.

Leave ‘em wanting more.

If you are wondering why I’m republishing past postings see my explanation HERE.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Discovering Questions

The following post first appeared here at History Is Elementary on January 28, 2006. It involves a lesson where I used a series of questions to help students discover new material…..linking old knowledge to new ideas. Read on…..YOU might learn something interesting about history and what goes on in your child’s classroom.

Remember….this is the season of the mulligan here at History Is Elementary (see my explanation post HERE). I’m re-posting some past efforts for your enjoyment while I’m off working on other projects.

Questioning students of any age is a great way to assess and gauge your success, but I like to use questions to guide students to discover information on their own---information that I want and plan for them to discover.

Discovery is an important tool in the classroom. I can provide text pages, notes, and lecture to them all day. They might be able to regurgitate information back at me, but has transfer of knowledge really occurred? Discovery, on the other hand, gives a student ownership of the material and builds motivation because I don’t place the content in the student’s mind. The student logically analyzes information and arrives at a new idea with a group of peers. They own this new idea and discuss it in their own terms. This is true transference. Students take some background knowledge and build on it using logic.

Usually when I question students my goal is to review important bits of information, get them to think differently about a topic, and to lay groundwork for a future unit. Here’s an example of how questioning worked in my classroom this week. EHT refers to me while student refers to various students who joined in on the conversation.

EHT: Where were the Puritans from?
Student: England.
EHT: OK. Somebody else tell me one thing about England’s government.
Student: They have a king.
Student: They have something else too. A P…. A Par…..
EHT: Do you mean Parliament?
Student: Yes.
EHT: Let’s discuss the king for moment. How does the king become the king?

I survey a sea of thoughtful faces. Finally a hand goes up.

Student: The people vote?
EHT: Not quite, but thank you for participating. Do you remember me talking about Queen Elizabeth?

Heads begin to nod. Students begin to speak out without permission. They had enjoyed our discussion a few weeks ago about Elizabeth and how she became queen. I had told them about how she was “married” to England and would not marry Phillip of Spain. This was a good sidebar to the information in their text about the defeat of the Spanish Armada. They enjoyed the fact that Queen Elizabeth had toyed with Phillip and finally told him she would never marry him.

EHT: OK. How did Elizabeth become queen?
Student: She took over after her father died.
EHT: Right. Kings and queens inherit the throne. Does a citizen of England have a say regarding who is king or queen?
Student: No.
EHT: Good. Let’s see where we are so far. We’ve got Pilgrims and Puritans in North America. We have some people in Jamestown. They are English citizens, right?

I get a chorus of “RIGHT”

EHT: Who is our leader today in the United States?
Student: the President.
EHT: How does the President get his power?
Student: From we the people.
Student: People vote.
EHT: Did the Pilgrims, Puritans, or the people at Jamestown elect the king?
Students: NO.
EHT: Do you mean to tell me the English citizens didn’t get to vote for their leader?
Students: No.
EHT: OK. We have English citizens living in North America who have never voted for their leader. They have never experienced the freedom of voting.

I point to the board where I have written Fundamental Orders along with a definition.

Fundamental Orders was the first written plan for government in North America by the English. It detailed the plan of government for the colony of Connecticut. Reverend Thomas Hooker is generally given credit as the founder of Connecticut. He was a disgruntled pastor who found fault with the Puritan theocracy in Massachusetts. Hooker was also a proponent of allowing all white men to vote----not just the wealthy or well-connected.

The Fundamental Orders allowed voting.

As I point to the board I say, “Englishmen haven’t experienced the vote."

I continue, "So what? What’s the big deal?"

I perch on my stool and wait. We have a few false starts and then:

Student: Hooker wanted more freedom----he didn’t think it was fair that only certain people made decisions.

This student simply restated what I had on the board.

Student: People in Connecticut could vote like we do today.

EHT: Hmmmmm……..I wonder how the United States got the idea about voting?

Student: George Washington.
Student: Abraham Lincoln?
Student: There was a whole group of people.
EHT: I believe you are thinking about the “Founding Fathers.” We are going to be learning about them soon.
Student: Did George Washington and those people know about the Fundamental Orders?
EHT: Yes.
Student: They got the idea from Hooker. That’s why we vote.
EHT: Yes. The Founding Fathers did read the Fundamental Orders along with a great many other important documents in history. They studied the past to see what came before, they decided what had worked before and what didn’t, and then they used those bits and pieces to form our government.

I walk about over the board and tap where Fundamental Orders is written and say, “That boys and girls is the so what behind this vocabulary term. That is why it is important enough for you to spend your time learning about it.

Students have now taken the dry and stale vocabulary term, Fundamental Orders, connected it to information they already knew, and have arrived at a new and improved idea that I can draw on as we continue our studies.

In a few weeks when I begin to speak of the Constitutional Convention I will draw students attention back to this moment in order to question them even more.

HERE is the link to the original post… can see the comments that were posted at that time. Feel free to leave new comments below.

Tell me…..did YOU learn anything? :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Need a Mulligan!

It is golf season around my house these days. I’m finding golf tees in the washing machine, golf clubs dumped by the front door and assorted golf gloves thrown into my back seat.

No….Tiger Woods hasn’t been hiding out at my house, and Mr. ElementaryHistoryTeacher has been far too busy at work to be on the golf course himself.


Heavens, no! I’m not the golfer of the family.

The golfer at my house these days is Dear Daughter. This is her second season as a member of her high school’s golf team, and if our weather would warm up and dry out she might actually have a good season.

I’d hate for her to have to ask for a mulligan for the entire season.

A mulligan?

Oh, that’s a golf term – it means to do something over – a second chance to perform a certain move or action. A mulligan is not normally part of official play, but it is an acceptable practice among friends.

You and I……we’re friends, aren’t we?

I hope so because I need my dear readers to grant me a mulligan of sorts.

You see for the last several week’s I’ve tried to keep the blogging thing going while attempting to finish a book. The working title for the book is 1620 Days: My Walk Through an American Classroom. The book includes history, classroom situations, and education reform issues. Many of the situations discussed have not previously been published here at History Is Elementary. My intention is for it be an open and honest look at my classroom over a period of nine years.

The process of bouncing back from two major hospital stays within six months, writing the book, and keeping the blogs alive with fresh material has been a wee bit challenging. I’ve finally had to accept that I can’t keep doing both.

Who knew? I’m not superwoman.

In order to get the book finished I’m going to declare this season of spring as the season of the mulligan here at History Is Elementary as well as my other two blogs….Georgia on My Mind and Got Bible?.

For the next few weeks I will be re-posting some of my past efforts at all three of my blogs for your reading pleasure. I hope that you enjoy rereading old favorites or find new material you missed the first time around.

I just hope my season of mulligan posts don’t turn out to be finnegans – another golf term where the do-over shot is worse than the first attempt.

I’m off to write, and write, and write, but I’ll check in often, and I’ll keep you advised on the book’s progress.....and if you are a book publisher or literary agent you are more than welcome to contact me regarding my book. :)

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pactomania, Brinkmanship, and Covert Ops...Oh My!

When I was a little girl my mother always shopped for the week’s groceries at the same location – the Kroger grocery store located in the Jamestown Shopping Center in College Park, Georgia. Mother was a slow and methodical shopper and inevitably she’d see someone she knew and would stand in the middle of the aisle talking for what seemed to me to be forever. The topics didn’t interest me at the time…..who was sick, who was well, who had divorced, the next impending PTA project, a church social….blah, blah, blah.

I hated those trips….I was always attempting to find something to occupy my time. I would mosey over to the front corner of store where the plywood magazine rack was located. Someone had painted it Columbia blue so it was easy on the eyes, and the bottom area of the shelf was deep enough for a young kid like me to actually sit on a stack of magazines and lean against the side of the rack perusing issues of Archie comics, Disney Digest, and later on a few issues of Tiger Beat, Seventeen, Glamour and the more racy Cosmopolitan.

Prior to wading into the sea of magazines and comics at the front of the store, I always performed a quick walk thru the produce department. My goal was a Chiquita banana sticker. Once I located a sticker I promptly removed it and placed it on my forehead or cheek where it would stay for an undetermined length of time.


I don’t know…it just seemed like the thing to do, and it seemed to agitate my mother to no end, so…..

Fastforward several years and it’s just another day in my fifth grade classroom. Students are at lunch and I have a few scant minutes to look over my afternoon lesson plans, slurp down a cup of soup and visit the restroom for the first time since six a.m. that morning. Yes, that twenty minutes of “lunch” that was bestowed upon me was jammed with more than eating and it was precious time for me.

As I rushed out to pick up my class I grabbed a simple envelope I had crammed with homemade stickers the night before.

Yes, you guessed it….Chiquita banana stickers. I had found the design online and using a Xyron sticker machine I had created a Chiquita label for each and every student, and of course, one for me.

Now think about it…I’m dedicated to my job. I’m dedicated to drawing kids into a lesson , but there was no way I was going to wade through the entire bin of bananas at my local Kroger and pull off every sticker I could find until I had enough for my kids. I didn’t think the produce manager would appreciate me stealing 28-30 stickers either.

As the kids put their tray up and got in line I stopped and visited with each one as was my normal custom…..chit-chatting along the way, reminding those with retainers to make sure they didn’t throw them away, and keeping the more unruly kids from losing total control of their gangly arms and legs that seemed to always make contact with another student “by accident.”
This day as I advanced down the line I asked each child, “Forehead or cheek?” As they answered I used the palm of my hand to jam a sticker in the indicated spot. When the last child had been “stickered” I went to the front of the line and placed a sticker on my forehead as well, and we began the trek back to our classroom.

We stopped along the way to visit the restrooms and as they waited some of the kids peppered me with questions about the stickers, others examined the sticker on their friend’s cheek or forehead. I merely smiled and kept my finger to my lips as a reminder to students that we don’t talk in the hallway.

Once we were all back in the classroom I took my place at the front of the room and began to relate my childhood affection for Chiquita banana stickers and told students ElementaryHistoryTeacher never does anything without a purpose and there was a purpose behind the stickers.

Chiquita Brands, the company that brings us Chiquita bananas began in 1899 as United Fruit Company, an American company, that not only traded in bananas but pineapples, too. Through the 1900s, United Fruit became very powerful in third world countries…..mainly in Latin America….where they operated huge plantations, held huge tracts of undeveloped land, and owned the very roads and railroads that moved their produce to the ports. In most areas United Fruit contained such a tight hold on the banana market it had the ear of local and national governments. From this the term Banana Republic was born….

O. Henry ( William Sydney Porter ), first referred to Latin American countries as Banana Republics in his collection of stories titled Cabbages and Kings, …… Yes, in case you are wondering that is the same O. Henry we remember as the master of the ironic twist from literature class.

O. Henry had fled to Honduras for one year in 1896 regarding a pesky charge of embezzlement by United States Federal authorities. O. Henry was concerned by the “servile dictatorship” that existed due to a corrupt relationship between foreign companies like United Fruit and the government of Latin American nations.

Now hold on because we are fast-forwarding again to the 1950s….the time of Eisenhower and the time period my fifth graders were exploring. The fabulous fifties….the perfect family, rock and roll, the Slinky, and Pactomania.

Yes, Pactomania. Hold on….I’ll explain that in a bit.

….and the fabulous Fifties was the time when the CIA began to use covert operations sanctioned by the White House to manipulate the world into a landscape that fit America’s position in the Cold War.

In March, 1951 Jacabo Arbenz Guzmin came to power in Guatemala in what was touted to be the second-ever universal suffrage election for the small nation and the first peaceful transition of power in their history. His campaign promises included making Guatemala economically independent and he wanted to extend voting and labor rights. Guzmin pushed for Decree 900, a law that would expropriate (eminent domain), uncultivated land belonging to large plantations transferring it to the people for their use.

Unfortunately, Guzmin’s promises were seen as threats by the elite population and by those that controlled foreign business interests like United Fruit. Guzman’s promises were also seen as threats to American interests by the Eisenhower administration. It also didn’t help that Guzmin seemed to have tolerance and sympathies with Guatemalan’s Party of Labour.

Suddenly the Eisenhower administration was taking a long hard look at Guzmin and events surrounding the country because it appeared that the situation there was sliding down the Communist slope rather quickly.

John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, acted aggressively against Communism and saw it as a real threat to the American way of life calling it “godless terrorism”. Under his watch he built up NATO and was a pioneer of massive retaliation and brinkmanship – the willingness to go to war in order to force the other side to back down – a very dangerous game of chicken. Dulles also argued that it was easy for Latin American countries to succumb to Communist influence since the lower classes in those countries blamed European imperialism and American capitalism for their problems. He also engaged in what has been termed Pactomania. During his tenure as Secretary of State he secured alliances with 42 separate nations and had treaty relations with over 100 nations.

The Secretary of State’s brother, Allen Dulles, was director of the CIA and a former member of the Board of Directors for United Fruit Company.

Because it seemed that Guzmin had Communist sympathies and because the Dulles brothers were so hell bent on ousting Guzmin, President Eisenhower gave approval for the very first clandestine military action in Latin America by the CIA. Their operation received the codename PBSUCCESS, and its goal was to depose Guzmin in favor of a politician selected by the Eisenhower administration…someone more amiable to the wants and desires of the United States. A side goal to Operation PBSUCCESS was to send a message to the Soviets that the American government would not tolerate the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere.
Since Eisenhower would not supply directly involve the U.S. military the CIA trained an opposition army at secret camps in Nicaragua and Honduras

The CIA also masterminded an extensive propaganda campaign in Guatemala to convince citizens the opposition army was a force to be reckoned with as well as a psychological campaign against Guzmin supporters. Threatening calls were made in the middle of the night promising bodily harm and even death.

United Fruit also began a propaganda campaign of their own conducted by Edward Louis Bernays, the father of the public relations concept. It was Bernay’s job to smear Guzmin in the American press as a Communist. Bernays relied on the concept of “engineered consent” – the belief that the American public is generally undisciplined, ignorant, and has no moral principles and could therefore be manipulated by linking products and ideas to their unconscious desires.


Ten days after opposition forces crossed the border into Guatemala on June 18, 1954 Guzmin resigned and fled to Mexico.

Days later Allen Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, along with met with President Eisenhower to provide an assessment of the situation in Guatemala. Unfortunately, the President was not given the entire story. He was told one man had been killed when it had actually been 48. From that point on covert operations were accepted as an inexpensive and safe method of fighting Communisim in Latin America.

It was also within a few days of the coup d’ etat the CIA began Operation PBHISTORY which was an attempt to secure of 150,000 documents from the Guzmin administration. Subsequent examination of those documents found no links between Guzmin and independent Communist within the borders of Guatemala.

Guatemala has remained unstable and prone to civil war ever since, and it can be argued the whole episode was for naught.

…..and I bet you thought I was going to open my lesson with that cheesy Chiquita Banana Song, didn’t you?

Shows what YOU know…..ElementaryHistoryTeacher doesn’t DO Carmen Miranda, but it would be a spectacular show! :)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Value of Historical Racism

It’s true that I have used this blog in the past to wish happy birthday to my children or my husband…..I’ve used this blog to mention my anniversary… mother’s death…..and a few other milestones in my personal life, but I’ve never really discussed my children and their academic life.

That’s really not my purpose here.

However, recently Dear Daughter brought home an assignment she received from her literature teacher, and it caught my attention. The smidgen of literature teacher that really IS hidden away somewhere in the darkest places of my being instantly noticed a great assignment, and it was just icing on the cake that Dear Daughter received a score of 100 with the words Superb and Wow written across the paper in red.

The assignment she had been given also had real worth to discuss here since it involved race relations and how we use our own experiences and our daily situations to pass judgment on the strangers we encounter.

Dear Daughter’s assignment involved the poem On the Subway by Sharon Olds.

Here is the original poem:

The boy and I face each other.
His feet are huge, in black sneakers
laced with white in a complex pattern like a
a set of intentional scars. We are stuck on
opposite sides of the car, a couple of
molecules stuck in a rod of light
rapidly moving through darkness. He has the
casual cold look of a mugger,
alert under hooded lids. He is wearing
red, like the inside of the body
exposed. I am wearing dark fur, the
whole skin of an animal taken and
used. I look at his raw face,
he looks at my fur coat, and I didn't
know if I am in his power-
he could take my coat so easily, my
briefcase, my life-
of if he is in my power, the way I am
living off his life, eating the steak
he does not eat, as if I am taking
the food from his mouth. And he is black
and I am white, and without meaning or
trying to I must profit from his darkness,
the way he absorbs the murderous beams of the
nation's heart, as black cotton
absorbs the heat of the sun and holds it. There is
no way to know how easy this
white skin makes my life, this
life he could take so easily and
break across his knee like a stick the way
his own back is being broken, the
rob of his soul that at birth was dark and
fluid and rich as the heart of a seedling
ready to thrust up into any available light.

Sharon Olds is an American poet and author. Previously she was the director of the Creative Writing program at New York University where she currently holds the Erich Maria Remarque professorship. Generally, I would say the majority of her poetry isn’t appropriate for upper elementary or even some middle school age children. She covers some heavy topics including death, sex, and biographical sketches that are heavy with pain and regret at times. Ms. Olds even states of her work, “I have learned to get pleasure from speaking of pain.”

In an interview from The Guardian she states, “"Poems like mine - I don't call them confessional, with that tone of admitting to wrong- doing. My poems have done more accusing than admitting. I call work like mine 'apparently personal'. Or in my case apparently very personal."

On the Subway is obviously written from the point of view of a white woman. Dear Daughter’s assignment was to rewrite the poem from the prospective of the black youth. She and a partner penned the following they titled Light and Dark.

Their poem reads:

A woman and I face each other.
I see through my squinted eyes.
She looks hesitant, almost frightened,
Like she is in a dark valley by herself.
I start drifting off and thinking to myself.
When all of a sudden, I come up with a solution
For her subtle emotions and realize..
Am I the cause of all of this?
We sit on opposite ends of a moving train,
Through darkness with only little light.
The light hits her pale face continuously and
I start to wonder if she even notices I stare through
My hooded eyes.
She glowers at me.
Like l have trapped her in darkness with no light.
She dresses in animal fur while I am wearing jeans
And a hood.
I could easily grab what is hers and make it mine.
But I don’t
While she could easily take what is mine and make it hers.
For I am black and she is white, and in this society it is so
Easy for her; everything is thrown at her and she doesn’t
Even have to try.
While I work all day and night
Praying I won’t lose my job and have to fight even harder
Just to survive.
She probably wonders if I’m planning anything behind
My closed eyes.
But I am wondering the same.
Our ancestors have caused us to be skeptical of each other.
But would we still think this if they had not?
Probably so, because she represents light,
While I represent darkness.

I think it was an interesting assignment. On the Subway would be an excellent piece of poetry to share with students to open up an honest discussion regarding first impressions and how stereotypes of all types work against us.

Students not only had to read Sharon Old’s work very closely in order to complete their assignment, they also had to put themselves in the shoes of the young man and analyze what he might be thinking or feeling. But, I think the meat of this assignment is merely based on how we look and how others view us.

However, an honest look at race relations in this country would include much more than just role-playing. Historian, Robin D.G. Kelley advises, “[Racism] is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.”

....and how people assign meaning has so much to do with history and historical events.

In 2007, researchers from the University of Texas released a study that concluded black and white children were more likely to find racism unfair if they were taught the history behind racism in America. The study determined white children who had more lessons concerning historical racism were defensive, didn’t accept stereotypical views and had more racial guilt. See the press release here.

Along that line the American Anthropological Association has put together the RACE Project which strives to explain the differences among people and reveals the reality – and unreality – of race.

The main website for the RACE Project can be found here. The interactive exhibit includes historical artifacts, iconic objects, compelling photographs, multimedia presentations, and attractive graphic displays that offer vistors to RACE an eye-opening look at its important subject matter.

The exhibit is traveling around the county…a tour schedule can be found here.

Follow this link to view a video titled History: The Story of Race. It’s a little over eight minutes, but worth viewing and could be a good start for a series of lessons regarding historical racism.

....and that paper my daughter brought home with the very large 100 written on it????

Why it's on my fridge, of course!