Monday, January 30, 2012 Spotlights History Is Elementary!

Many months ago I set up a Facebook page for this blog where folks could like the page and could have yet another way to keep up with updates.    

Last week I was surprised to see someone had placed something on my wall that really made me smile. had stopped by my Facebook home to advise the following:

To thank you for all your hard work and dedication we would like to acknowledge you by including History Is Elementary in our Top 10 Favorite Blogs for educational research.

Now, isn’t that nice?!?  Notice my little badge is over in the sidebar.

HighBeam's blog shared a link to this blog along with the other nine.  Here they are:

Homeroom: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education

Honors College Admission Blog: The Honors College Admission Blog for Western Kentucky University with valuable commentary and tips

The College Solution: The Blog of Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a nationally recognized college expert, higher-ed journalist, consultant and teacher

The Quick and the Ed: Published by Education Sector, this blog offers in-depth analysis on the latest in education policy and research

NYC Private Schools: An online community that encompasses all aspects of NYC private, independent, and religious schools

Cool Cat Teacher Blog: Written by Vicki Davis, a full time teacher and blogger, who strives to share her insights on how to reach this generation of learners with teachers and parents

Tween Teacher: Heather Wolpert-Gawron discusses the latest news in education, curriculum design, educational policy and how to enjoy teaching

Generation YES Blog: Thoughts on empowering the current generation of learners with current technology

The Wired Campus: The Chronicle of Higher Education featuring the latest news on tech and education

In case HighBeam is new to you….it’s a paid search engine including the archives from newspapers such as The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and Associated Press.   They also have numerous trade magazines such as Advertising Age and Auto Week and journals like The Journal of Education Research and The Journal of Social Psychology.   All total a subscription to HighBeam provides access to over 6,500 publications.

Many thanks HighBeam for the nod!

I would like to start posting something a little more regularly on the Facebook page to interact with you.  While I don’t want to clog up your newsfeed I would like to interact with you a bit more.     

You are important to me…..I appreciate each and every one of you so much!  

So far I’ve gotten in the habit of linking to new postings as I publish them….eventually I hope to get in the habit of updating the page with pictures, a thought, etc. each day.   Don’t give up on me!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Christian Nation? Be Careful What You Preach

A good friend sent me this article the other night written by Rob Boston and published in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.  My friend wanted to know my thoughts about the article.   He also wanted to know if the article was factual. 

After reading the entire piece I advised my friend the article was indeed factual even though it was contrary to those who happen to think certain members of the Founding Fathers were Christians in the same sense the Religious Right profess to be.

For the most part while I tend to be a Conservative in political matters, I also tend to part ways with the Religious Right in this county who follow a hard-line stance regarding their view concerning our nation was founded on Christian beliefs.  
It really comes down to understanding what the Religious Right believes a Christian to be and how the majority of our Founding Fathers actually viewed Christianity when you place them under a microscope.

I advised my friend, “We have to remember these were all educated men during their time and as such their classical education included views of the Age of Enlightenment….science and fact took the lead.  While they believed in God their views regarding Christianity don’t exactly match up with the Christian Right today.

Boston brings up the issue of Deism when discussing George Washington.  Deists believed in God but didn't necessarily see him as active in human affairs. He set things in motion and then stepped back.

Washington saw religion as necessary for good moral behavior but didn't accept all Christian dogma. He seemed to have a special gripe against communion and would usually leave services before it was offered.

Stories of Washington's deep religiosity, such as tales of him praying in the snow at Valley Forge, are pious legends invented after his death.

I have to agree with Boston.   Back in 2007, I wrote about Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge here and here.   I’ve also examined the controversy about Washington’s inauguration and the fact that there really isn’t any true documentation regarding those little words, “So help me God!” here.

Boston didn’t just pick on historical myths regarding Georgia Washington.   He discussed John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Thomas Paine as well.

Boston states John Adams was Unitarian, although he was raised a Congregationalist and never officially left that church. Adams rejected belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, core concepts of Christian dogma. In his personal writings, Adams makes it clear that he considered some Christian dogma to be incomprehensible.

In February 1756, Adams wrote in his diary about a discussion he had had with a conservative Christian named Major Greene. The two argued over the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity. Questioned on the matter of Jesus' divinity, Greene fell back on an old standby: some matters of theology are too complex and mysterious for we puny humans to understand.

Adams was not impressed. In his diary he wrote, "Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity."

As president, Adams signed the famous Treaty of Tripoli, which boldly stated, "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion ..."

It is very well known among historians that Thomas Jefferson, our third president, did not believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection, original sin and other core Christian doctrines. He was hostile to many conservative Christian clerics, whom he believed had perverted the teachings of that faith.

Boston goes on to discuss what is known as The Jefferson Bible…..

Although not an orthodox Christian, Jefferson admired Jesus as a moral teacher. In one of his most unusual acts, Jefferson edited the New Testament, cutting away the stories of miracles and divinity and leaving behind a very human Jesus, whose teachings Jefferson found "sublime." This "Jefferson Bible" is a remarkable document -- and it would ensure his political defeat today. (Imagine the TV commercials the religious right would run: Thomas Jefferson hates Jesus! He mutilates Bibles!)

While I have written about James Madison and his college days at Jersey College….we know it today as Princeton… I have left his religious beliefs alone until now.   Boston doesn’t.  He advises….Nominally Anglican, Madison, some of his biographers believe, was really a Deist. He went through a period of enthusiasm for Christianity as a young man, but this seems to have faded. Unlike many of today's politicians, who eagerly wear religion on their sleeves and brag about the ways their faith will guide their policy decisions, Madison was notoriously reluctant to talk publicly about his religious beliefs.

Madison was perhaps the strictest church-state separationist among the founders; taking stands that make the ACLU look like a bunch of pikers. He opposed government-paid chaplains in Congress and in the military. As president, Madison rejected a proposed census because it involved counting people by profession. For the government to count the clergy, Madison said, would violate the First Amendment.

Madison, who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, also opposed government prayer proclamations. He issued a few during the War of 1812 at the insistence of Congress but later concluded that his actions had been unconstitutional. He vetoed legislation granting federal land to a church and a plan to have a church in Washington care for the poor through a largely symbolic charter. In both cases, he cited the First Amendment

Finally, we come to Thomas Paine.  The man who never held office but wrote a little pamphlet we remember as “Common Sense.”  

Boston advises he was also a radical Deist whose later work, "The Age of Reason," still infuriates fundamentalists.

In the tome, Paine attacked institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity. He rejected prophecies and miracles and called on readers to embrace reason. The Bible, Paine asserted, can in no way be infallible. He called the god of the Old Testament "wicked" and the entire Bible "the pretended word of God." (There go the Red States!)

Boston states, “There was a time when Americans voted for candidates who were skeptical of core concepts of Christianity like the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the virgin birth. The question is, could any of them get elected today? The sad answer is probably not.
Based on this knowledge, wouldn’t it would be interesting to see the founding of our nation played out in more contemporary times?

I have a feeling it would be as much of a circus as our primary and election seasons have become today.

Monday, January 09, 2012

When Cross Curriculum Intentions Go Wrong

So....little Johnny or Susie brings home a teacher prepared worksheet filled with several math problems for homework.  At some point a parent decides to check the answers or at least review  the sheet to see what type of assignment had been given.

Some of the problems are troubling:

1. "Each tree had 56 oranges.  If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?"

2. "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?"

Yes, I'm serious.   This actually happened recently in a Georgia classroom per  this link.

I hope you have a problem with these questions.  I certainly do, and I applaud the parents in this situation for complaining.

Why would teachers include such insensitive questions within a math assignment?

The spokesperson for Gwinnett County Schools advised the teachers were trying to provide students with a cross-curricular activity by incorporating social studies lessons into the math problems.

The school system agreed the questions were inappropriate.  The assignments were gathered and shredded so they wouldn't resurface.  The spokesperson was quoted as saying, "The problem with the question is there is no historical context."

True...there is NO context.

An article from the Atlanta Journal provides another quote from the system spokesperson..."It was just a poorly written question."

Poorly written?   Seriously?

Teaching across the curriculum is a little more involved than taking one aspect of a historical event and throwing a question into a worksheet.These questions are more serious in my view than having no historical context and being poorly written.   

They are without question insensitive and indicate the teachers involved have no clue regarding what “teaching across the curriculum” means.

Instead of focusing on the slavery issue the math questions could have taken a look at the large numbers of soldiers killed on both sides of the war where students could work on determining the differences between battles or averaging the numbers across a few battles similar to this lesson plan.   This would open up discussion regarding the cost and benefits of war.

Here's a lesson plan involving symmetry and the Civil War.  

Another idea that would bring in the slavery issue but would be more sensitive than the worksheet questions I mentioned above involves freedom quilts to teach geometry.   A great book to introduce freedom quilts to students is….Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Reading Rainbow Books (Pb))

There are lots of great resources out there to help teachers get on track with cross curriculum  thinking....which is one of the reasons why I’m going to be shaking my head over this situation for a long time.