Category Archives: Drama/Theater/Cinema

Decoder Ring Theatre – Your Home for Adventure, Golden Age of Radio-style

antiques,audio equipment,electronics industry,entertainment,German culture,Germany,iStockphoto,listening,media,music,obsolete,old,old-fashioned,Photographs,radios,retros,sounds,transistors,vintages

Decoder Ring Theatre is a new obsession of mine.  I found it by accident–one of those websites a friend liked and thus caught my attention, but it took me a while to actually explore it.  I was thrilled with it when I finally did so.

Even when I was a kid, I had a fondness for old timey radio programs.  Maybe it was because I wasn’t allowed to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings and so watched old school westerns.  Maybe it was because I used to watch the old Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  Maybe it was my interest in the Green Hornet, which I followed in comic books.  Hard to say, really.  Hard to know what led to the other, too.

The programming available on Decoder Ring Theatre is the style of the old noir detective shows and superhero programs from the Golden Age of Radio.  I heart Black Jack Justice and his fellow-P.I. Trixie Dixon, girl detective.  I most enjoy those shows, but the real superhero is the Red Panda and his sidekick Flying Squirrel who keep the streets of Toronto safe from mad villains in the 1930s.  Each pair has their own show that can be downloaded as a podcast or played on your computer and smart devices.

The style of the shows are in the classic style of radio dramas, before TVs largely replaced the medium.  (And yet, coming full circle, perhaps, so many of us seek out the book-on-tape option to sneak texts into our busy lives.)  Certain aspects, common in this early style of story-types, whether in comic book, pulp fiction, dime novels, or radio programs, have been modernized.  The women are not uniformly helpless–in fact, Trixie Dixon, while still a knockout worthy of centerfold, is a pretty darn tough gun-toting sleuth, and the Flying Squirrel can rumble with any back-alley thug–and have key roles to play in the crime fighting and detecting.

This factor makes them rather more palatable than some of the classics they otherwise emulate.   While the programming is genuinely entertaining, the era is also recreated in an accessible manner.  For this reason, I think they have real potential in education.  Not only do they reproduce the era in their sordid tales of crime and justice, they also reproduce one of the major cultural experiences of the era: radio programming entertainment and news.  So, you could create a playlist that the students can access using one of Franklin Roosevelt’s Fire Side Chats and one of the shows from Decoder Ring Theatre.

32nd U.S. president,famous people,Franklin Roosevelt,government,males,men,people,persons,presidents,U.S. presidents,United States Presidents

I wholeheartedly approve of teaching about other eras through experiences.  Reproducing the later years of the Depression through role-playing in built-in class scenarios is an excellent way to bring home the difficulties of the age.  For example, you could easily set aside a couple of classes and recreate the 1930s life within a scenario such as a town hall meeting or recreate a social gathering.  You could also recreate a fictional town and assign each student a character with a particular goal, for example:

  1. a few characters with different backgrounds can each search for a job from other classmates who own businesses
  2. several standard business-owners: bank, grocery, newspaper, etc.
  3. pick a blue-collar industry that supports the town and have the various roles filled: owner, foreman, workers
  4. standard town services: police, postman, doctor, etc.
  5. CCC/WPA project workers

In this way, the Decoder Ring Theatre could actually be assigned as homework along with a handful of other leisure activities that fit the bill–marbles and other games, baseball or football games on the radio, newspapers and comics, etc.  Other activities could be done in the class, such as canning–yes, I’m serious, just find a parent with a hot plate and a pressure-canner–sewing old clothes into new sizes (like letting a pair of pants out for someone who is growing or shortening them for a younger sibling), watch a news reel and movie from the era, hold a pot luck and have everyone bring in Depression-era recipes, etc.

Experiences are a great way to bring things home to students.  When a student takes on the role of a character, the real-life troubles of the character become much more real to him or her.  Assign primary sources to help the characters come alive.  And, leverage student interests–one of the real values of this approach to teaching.  If Suzy plays the trumpet she can take a look at the music of the era and be a musician as with other types of artists, many of who were specifically sought out by various federal programs.  If Carl is into cars, then make him a Packard dealer or a mechanic and let him study the historic forerunners of today’s automobiles.  Etcetera, etcetera.  Help them learn and get excited about it.  It’s ok if they have fun!  *wink*

detectives,examining,government,inspectors,investigators,law enforcement,magnifying glasses,occupations,people,women,tools,envelopes

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under art, Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Historian's Journal

Last minute costume ideas from the vaults of history, ’12 edition

Last year’s last minute costume ideas went over pretty well, so I thought I’d revisit it: soooo, whatcha gonna wear for Halloween, tonight?  Here is my top 5 list of last minute history-inspired costumes for 2012:

1. Templar knight

Christians,crosses,crusaders,knights,medieval warriors,men,military,shields,soldiers,swords,people,religion,government

What you need: An old white top sheet; grey sweats (top–with hood!–and bottoms); belt; boots; sword or lance; additional white sheet (optional).

What to do:  Take your white sheet and cut a hole in the middle large enough to fit over your head, and again on either side to create a narrow scapular–shoulder-width, touching your boots in the front and back, and belt this over top your grey sweat suit (make sure the hood is out).  You should paint a red cross on the chest and back of the white sheet.  If you have the additional sheet, it is your cloak.  Wear it around you and paint additional red crosses on it where it meets in the chest.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Beau Seant!”  It is hypothesized by one scholar that this may have been the Templar battle cry, meaning in the medieval French something akin to “Be noble!” or “Be Glorious!” (The author in question, John J. Robinson, is loosely a scholar, and should be regarded warily, but this is for Halloween not your dissertation, so we’ll go along with it for now.)

Historical accuracies: 1) While a knight would have worn chain mail and not sweats, the basic design of the “uniform” is the same. 2) Medieval French–it’s what many Templars would have spoken, and their banner was certainly called a Beauseant.

2. American soldier, War of 1812

What you need:  Blue shirt or jacket; white or khaki pants; black boots; with gaiters (can be made with black duct tape or construction paper); gold construction paper for trim (optional); musket (could be improvised with a broom stick spray-painted silver and a wooden or cardboard stock); leather shoulder bag for cartridges.

What to do:  If you want to be an authentic soldier at the outset of the war, your going to need the gold frippery, but it wasn’t long before the U.S. government couldn’t afford to provide all the extras on the uniforms and began issuing them without the extras.  So, you could basically pull it off with navy blue shirt and blue or grey pants, if you can’t scare up a pair of khaki cargo pants (after all, it isn’t the ’90s anymore).  If you like the frippery–which is nifty, certainly–then cut up some gold construction paper in the pattern you see above.  If you smudge some “dirt” on your face you can claim you lost your hat in battle and forgo that step–though, the government will take the cost of the hat out of your already-months-late pay.  Sling the cartridge bag over your shoulder and keep your musket close at hand!

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Remember the Raisin!

Historical accuracies:  1) I already explained the historic changes in the uniform.  2)  Yep, that’s right, the Raisin:  A river in Michigan, and the sight of the bloody defeat of American forces.  If you live in the Chesapeake Bay area, you may just want to holler, “Remember the capital!”  I just don’t know if that is as fun as remembering the Raisin. 3) While we had a rifle contingent at this time, the bulk of the army went to war with muskets.

3. Phillis Wheatley

What you need:  A dress–long-sleeved and floor length, a bonnet, a shawl (optional), an apron, a Bible or book of classical Greek or Roman literature–i.e. Homer, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, or Horace (optional).

What to do:  Get dressed, apron goes on the outside.  Carry the book with you wherever you go.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,/May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” (“On Being brought from Africa to America,” by Phillis Wheatley)

Historical accuracies:  1) Phillis Wheatley was a colonial era slave and poet, extensively educated by the family who owned her and wrote complicated poetry about America’s slavery institution, full of literary allusions from the Bible and  classical  Rome and Greece.  2) She was well-read particularly of the Bible and Greek and Roman classics.  3) She was a successful poet, though many doubted a slave capable of her poetic production.

4. Viking

armors,battles,castles,government,knights,medieval warriors,men,people,wars,weapons

What you need:  A grey sweat suit; a long, large grey t-shirt–hanging to mid-thigh or knees; a belt; a grey ball cap or skull cap; axe, sword, or spear; large round disc–either card board spray-painted grey/silver, or similar; a large sack full of books, gold, jewels, or any other stuffing to make it look full of loot (optional)

What to do:  Put on the sweat suit, then the over-sized t-shirt, after you’ve removed the sleeves, and belt it.  If you have a grey ball-cap cut the bill off of it or simply wear the skull cap.  Make your shield and carry it along with your weapon.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Valhalla!

Historical accuracies:  1) Vikings wore chain-mail–if you have a kilt or animal skin that you can wear like a kilt, this would probably be more accurate, but maybe it’s cold outside, tonight.  2) Vikings would not have worn horns on their helms.  So, unless you are going as an opera viking or a Minnesotan viking, forgo the horns.  3) Vikings carried a simple round wooden shield–if they carried one at all.  You may forgo the shield to carry the sack–remember, the vikings were robbers and marauders from the sea (or, from Scandinavia  by way of the most convenient waterway).  4)  Valhalla was the sacred mead hall of heaven reserved for warriors who died gloriously.

5. Rosie the Riveter

From the Rosie the Riveter Trust; http://www.rosietheriveter.org

What you need:  Blue button-down, collared, long-sleeve shirt; blue work pants; red hankerchief.

What to do:  Put your clothes on.  Roll your sleeves up and tie the red bandanna on your head, with the bow on the top.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “We can do it!”  (And, show your guns off while you say it!)

Historical accuracies:  1) This is obviously the image from the famous WWII propaganda poster highlighting the blue-collar work of women on the homefront during the war.  2) Blue collar variations could include tools or welding helmets, etc. as women worked in various “manly” positions so “our boys could go off and fight the war.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Fiction, Historian's Journal, History how-tos

Student drama brings War of 1812 home

Student drama brings War of 1812 home – baltimoresun.com.

A model of the fort as it appeared during the War of 1812.

I think theater is one of the most under-utilized history teaching tools available to teachers.  That’s why I got so excited about the performances covered by the Baltimore Sun, linked above.  Students from the Baltimore School for the Arts wrote and performed “Fighting for Freedom” about the War of 1812:

The cast and crew, all sophomores at the Mount Vernon school, researched the archives at the Maryland Historical Society for insights into the war that many call the nation’s second struggle for independence. They visited the fort several times and drew characters from ordinary people, rather than from the few made famous by the war.

~ Mary Gail Hare, “Student drama brings War of 1812 home,” The Baltimore Sun

The effort of developing a character based on a historical person, requires research into the primary sources available for that person.  It requires leaving behind one’s own world and trying to access the strangeness and differences of another culture.  While local Marylanders may be well-acquainted with life by the Chesapeake Bay, the world of Maryland during the War of 1812 is still a foreign land, beholden to rules of a different era and expectations that have been left behind in a pre-Civil War/pre-Civil Rights, pre-WWI/pre-WWII America.

Their research unearthed one Maryland militiaman’s letters home, accounts that inspired one of the scenes. Alexandra Morrell, clad in a floral dress that designer Erin Beuglass had created from a curtain, read her husband’s letters to their daughter as their enslaved servant girl shared their concerns. Students developed a love story subplot between the servant and the household’s enslaved wagoner. The scene ended with the young man pleading with the girl to run away.

“It will be hard for her to leave the family, but I think she will run off with her man to freedom,” said T’Pre Mayer, who portrayed both the girl’s hesitation and her love.

Lance Strickland, who played her suitor, said, “The war affected everybody, not just the people in history books, but even the slaves.”

~ Ibid.

The conflict of 1812, is also a different type of conflict, in many ways, than what we have become accustomed to in the modern U.S.  The War of 1812 is the only war visited upon the United States, and outside of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the only time the United States suffer attacks among the states, themselves.  One has only the Civil War and the colonial wars (and the Indian wars) to turn to for a similar sense of foreign aggressors in and among American homes, cities, and waterways.

This sort of production helps to introduce a narrative that is an authentic representation of that foreign world.  As NPS Ranger Vince Vaise is quoted saying in “the show fills in historical gaps with credible fiction.  ‘These kids are telling untold and more inclusive stories,” he said. “They show what average people were talking about in the Fells Point coffeehouses. They really have blown the dust off the history books. The school, the fort and the historical society give us a real powerhouse of history right here.'”  Emphasizing the other side of this project that I so admire: collaboration.  The archives are here, and the students and teacher put them to innovative and productive use!  (Extra props for using the name of the blog, Ranger Vaise!)

Such insights fulfilled instructors’ expectations for the project, said Norah Worthington, a costume design teacher, who wrote a pirate scene and worked with the 24 sophomores involved in the production.

“They put together a picture of what those of that era faced,” she said. “They focused on everyday people, not the famous, and showed how events affected them. The stories make the war personal.”

The drama helped the teenagers understand the local significance, too, she said.

“The scenes played out on streets these students walk every day,” Worthington said.

One scene focuses on the riots that broke out on city streets. Again, the students presented a new perspective — that of an assertive woman. Calla Fuqua played the normally docile wife of a shipping merchant, prompted by the war to disagree publicly with her husband. Their encounter occurred on Charles Street, where she finds him safe after a night of rioting.

“The war was about freedom of speech, bringing Canada into the union and impressing American sailors,” she said. “I think even the women had to speak up.”

~ Ibid.

This is a new day for these students, many of whom may have had no interest in history before the project who have now experienced it on multiple levels: 1) they have experienced researching history–just as historians do–with primary sources; and 2) they have created an experience of the historical era through their performance, introducing themselves and viewers to the people of a foreign time in our community’s history; introducing them to the concerns about conflict; introducing them to the mores of a society that continued to grapple with slavery, a young government, and other problems that we sometimes struggle to relate to otherwise.

We should be doing more of this sort of learning.  Take the talents that students have or are eager to develop and make use of them in education.

Leave a comment

Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic

100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times – NYTimes.com.

100 Years Later Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times - NYTimes.com

So, the Titanic has sailed back onto our horizons, for at least a little while.  The link above will take you to the New York Times education page.  On it, you will find links to primary sources from the Titanic’s sinking, including articles from the paper’s archives.  There are a variety of suggestions, such as: making scrapbooks or mock Facebook pages (try MyFakeWall.com) which are neat ideas–easily incorporated into an existing history program or as a stand alone activity.  And, this brings up an important decision for history teachers wanting to do something with the Titanic.

What are you doing with the Titanic: Is it an opportunity to take advantage of history being covered in the news, or does it work well with what you are covering in your class already, or is it something that you simply feel compelled to cover, or is it a means to actually cover current events?  Another relevant question: Are you going to simply do a fact-finding project, a history project driven by a particular question, or a project that evaluates other disciplines either in an isolated way or in a multi-disciplined approach, such as science, engineering, or sea-exploration?

I always consider the anniversaries of particular events as interesting opportunities in teaching history, but they are also potentially awkward prospects that could unsettle the flow of the class if they do not fit in logically. Sometimes there is no real way to introduce these moments without a natural gap, such as in-class activities just before a major test or due date while students are working on tasks at home, or immediately after such a date when students are a bit exhausted.

Of course, if you are already discussing the era, then so much the better.  This is a great opportunity to evaluate Edwardian issues of class, the lingering perception of invincibility for imperialists and innovators of industry, the era’s perceptions of gender, an evaluation of the early 20th century’s media and connection with perceptions of disaster, or a more general consideration of communication developments in the age.

One of the resource links from the NY Times article: RMS Titanic Victims of the Titanic Disaster

If you are going to utilize the Titanic tragedy in class, do it with a purpose.  Be cognizant of the event’s social and cultural cache.  It may be the perfect moment to capture and wow students with a degree of interest that is sometimes hard to achieve in history classes.  Try assigning each student a person through the stories, wooing them into the drama of the past.  Provide them with multi-media sources to explore the moments they are reading about.

If your student, Tommy, reads about a young lady who gushed over dancing in the ballroom and seeing the view from her balcony, and then let him explore the underwater scene of the ballroom, today, there is a real opportunity to draw him into an experience he may have never had before.

If your student, Natalie, follows the excitement and worries of a family who put everything into this trip to immigrate to America and their struggles to keep the family together during the tragedy, complete with subsequent census records for the family after the survivors made it to the States, she may develop an interest in the nitty-gritty she never knew she was capable of sharing.

If your student, Devon, takes a look at one of the socialites who is in the newspapers leading up to the voyage and then considers his or her experience during the voyage and its disaster, they will get a personal “in” and learn a little bit about class status in the era.

This is a potential trigger moment, that can really open the world of the past in a way that other events often do not, especially for older students who are more likely to know something about the Titanic.

Titanic 100 Years -- National Geographic Channel

Additional resources:

The NY Times piece from above: 100 Years Later: Ways to Teach About the Titanic With The Times – NYTimes.com.

The BBC has interviews with survivors–great primary sources, but don’t forget the effect of history and time impacting the memory of those interviewed.

Teachinghistory.org provides a useful movie review of the James Cameron’s Titanic which is short enough to be used easily in conjunction with the movie (also complement the Hollywood experience with primary sources!!).

HistoryTech.wordpress.com offers some tech resources for Titanic lesson plans.

Larry Ferlazzo also has a collection of “The Best Sites for Learning About the Titanic.”

The History Channel’s website also has a series of articles, clips and interactive materials on its Titanic Topic’s page.

Leave a comment

Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning

My National Geographic Magazine project

In this post, I am sharing my National Geographic assignment.  This is especially useful in generating multi-disciplined assignments and projects.  I use it for home school, but it could easily be adapted to history, anthropology, English, social studies, language arts, or related subjects–the reading level is higher, obviously, so if you are doing it with younger kids, enlist the help of parents or reading coaches.  It also makes a pretty good extra credit assignment, if you do that.

The purpose is to get the student to read one of the articles and then engage in the content at a higher level.  Whether the student reads further, creates fiction based on the article, or is artistically inspired, he or she is reworking the content of the article into his or her own project.

This is a great way to expose students to science, history, sociology, travel, and culture beyond their classrooms!  Once they’ve tapped into the pictures and maps, the story becomes hard to resist.  Each article is a kind of field trip (almost) and it should capture students’ imaginations and fuel their curiosity–for life.

(Additional tip for history use:  Assign older Nat. Geo. magazines from a period you are studying–the old Life magazines work well, too–so, students could, for example, read about the Space Race as it was unfolding.  Now, you’ve advanced it to a primary source project!)

National Geographic Assignment

Directions:  Read the current issue of National Geographic Magazine and do one of the following activities using an article of your choice from that issue:

  • Write a short story
  • Make a board game
  • Write a play
  • Do a related experiment
  • Further reading
  • Write a short report
  • Make a travel brochure
  • Do an art project
  • Invent a product or service
  • Write a blog post
  • Write a letter to the author or someone in the article
  • Make an informative map or chart explaining an aspect of the article
  • Create a storyboard for a short movie or documentary inspired by the article
  • Draw one of the photographs from the article
  • Write a speech
  • Make a cartoon strip
  • Write a song or poem
  • Make a PowerPoint explaining the article or an aspect of the article
  • Create a glossary or encyclopedia entries for the article
  • Design a craft project inspired by the article
  • Create a non-profit/fundraising service idea to address an issue raised in the article
  • Prepare a meal inspired by the article

These projects also make good “show” projects when highlighting the class’s  work or an individual student’s accomplishments.  Stories, artwork, and other projects may be used for contests or projects beyond the school or home school.

Leave a comment

Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Food, Games, Music, Tech tools, Travel

The Value of the Classics–What you read is important, too

Pile of books

                I grew up in Morgantown, WV, the daughter of professors (as it turns out, the little sister of a couple of more professors).  Many of the kids I went to school with were also the sons and daughters of professors.  One such friend, Kate, was transferred out of our Blue Award-winning school right before her senior year of high school, because her father had taken a new position with the University of Pittsburgh (incidentally, arch-rivals of WVU).  With so many options for school, she ended up in an aggressive college-prep program and private school.  She did not love it.  As AP Tests were approaching, her English teacher handed out a list of all the books students should have read if they had attended the institution for their entire high school careers, and of these Kate had only read those which the senior class had read that year.

“That’s what you get for going to a school in West Virginia!” snarked one girl, after Kate raised her hand to explain.

Then, the teacher handed out a list of the recommended book list for AP Literature exams.  He asked if anyone in the classroom had read any of these books.  Kate looked around as one or two students had read one or two of the books, before raising her hand.

“I’ve read every single one of these.  That’s what you get for going to a school in West Virginia.”

* * *

academic,books,leisure,libraries,research,shelves,volumes,information,knowledge,stacks

                I tell this story for several reasons:  1) out of sheer middle-class delight in Snarky getting deliciously one-upped by Kate, and, 2) what were they thinking in depriving high schoolers of the greatest works in the English language or Western Civilization?  Why force post-modern literature on adolescents?  Is that not the purpose of college or long, disillusioned hitch-hiking trips across the country?  There is plenty of time for the wacky, the strange, the experimental, the nouveau, the trippy… etc., but can we at least provide a foundation in the great works?

Ok, so what does this have to do with history?  Only everything.  The great works of our civilization (in the grand “Western” sense of the word) is the humanities’ corpus.  It begins with the Greeks, the Romans, the Medieval Europeans, the Early Modern Europeans and then extended to some of the colonial production in the Americas.  This body of work reveals the great ideas (good and evil, destructive and productive, etc.) that help to explain our culture and society today.  It is a collection that constantly references itself throughout different eras and epochs.  Once that basic, though expansive, foundation is established, it grows to include an exposure to the rest of the world’s great literature, and if one has taken the time to really understand one’s own developmental leaps, it will be possible to gain an understanding of other civilizations, as well.

academics,education,hardcover books,heaps,homework,iStockphoto,learning,publications,reading,research,stacks,studies,textbooks,wisdom

The great works of literature, philosophy and theology are inextricably linked with the history that produced each piece.  They should not be taught separately, really, but should be harmoniously and simultaneously engaged.  The entanglement of Livy’s history of Rome and Augustus’s Rome through which Livy lived is inseparable from the work he wrote.  The same can be said about Augustine and the City of God, about Beowulf, about Geoffrey Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales, about  John Locke and Two Treatises of Government, about Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, about Charles Dickens and Oliver Twist, about Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five, etc., etc.

For an entertaining experience of this effect compare the Arthurian stories through history, beginning with the Arthurian-like leader, Ambrosius Aurelianus, from the 6th century author and monk, Gildas; next, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s version, written in 1135 AD, in History of the Kings of Britain; then, Chrétien de Troyes and the Arthurian Romances, written in 1170-1185 (notice how French his name sounds?);  Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (notice how French this Englishman’s title sounds?); onto Lord Alfred Tennyson’s version, Idylls of the King; and, finally T.H. White’s Once and Future King.  If you compare these works and the history contemporary with the authors, you get the opportunity for some pretty fascinating expositions in both history and literature—incidentally teachers, this makes a truly awesome collaborative elective!  (Note that Gildas and Nennius—another Arthur story source ca. 9th century Wales—and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History is available online.  The rest are found in any decent book store.)

academic,books,close-ups,education,learning,libraries,spines,hardbound

History and the Great Books of literature, philosophy, drama, theology and, well, history are gloriously and inextricably entwined with each other.  They enrich each other.  Students studying Greece should read Homer, Aeschylus, Plato, Herodotus and Demosthenes.  On the one hand, it is simply a sampling of the incredible number of varied sources we still have today that enrich our understanding of Greek culture; on the other hand, they have been continuously read since they were written and inform not only our own ideas of literature, drama, philosophy, history and politics, but have been embedded into our culture in ways we cannot possibly realize until we have been exposed to their elements or aphorisms or mechanisms.  One does not realize how ingrained Socratic dialogue is until one reads Plato’s dialogues.

American history should be accompanied with the literature, essays and philosophy that fueled it and responded to it.  It means reading Jonathan Edwards, Nathanial Hawthorne, Thomas Jefferson, Washington Irving, and so many more in concert with the study of historical events and movements.  What is the point of inflicting Walden Pond on anyone without the historical context that makes it seem glorious to Henry David Thoreau and his cadre?  History is the primary reason for reading Thoreau (I’m not saying that Civil Disobedience is limited to its period, here, for the record, but understanding what he was responding to is just as important as recognizing his influence on later figures).

books,boys,education,libraries,men,people,readings,research,shelves,students,studying,academic

I am advocating an in depth initiation into Western Civilization precisely to understand the roots and developments of the culture.  Once that is achieved to a substantial degree, I further advocate the expansion to the history and great works of the world over.  Once one has read the great literary, theological and philosophical works of the West, continue with Bhagavad Gita, Lao Tzu’s Ta Ching, the Mayan Popul Vuh, etc.  I am not so rigid that I demand one wait on all of these other works until one is well-versed in Western Civilization, particularly if a good opportunity for exploration arises—being such a slave to a construct is as deficient as no construct at all.  However, I do think curriculums should not be aimed at world history and world literature before Western Civilization for students who are being raised in the West.  This does not presuppose that everything “Great” was simultaneously flawless.  Part of studying Western Civilization is recognizing the faults, although we must always seek to respect that our point of view did not exist in the eras that we study, while acknowledging that past eras do not earn a complete pass on moral action.  Finally, just because I endorse reading theology and philosophy does not mean that everyone must be a faithful adherent of such Western thought—indeed, it would be impossible even if one sought to be given the numbers of wars we have fought in the West over precisely those ideas.  My call and encouragement for this program is made for the sake of cultural literacy.

For educators or for others in a position to influence youth in studies of the past, I encourage an approach that allows for the study of Great Books to enrich history.  This used to be the primary method of education for the great intellectual giants in our history.  Its fall from such primacy is a tragedy in Liberal Arts education, and to an extent a further dumbing down of education.  While many teachers, programs and Boards of Education seek to achieve some semblance of this education, others are either skeptical of it, afraid of it (for varying reasons), or incapable of it (again, for varying reasons).  I know that American literature and American history are often required in the same years in high school, but I also know that the links between the history classroom’s material are not always made with that of the English classroom unless a teacher guides the students to make them (with some exceptions, of course).  Meanwhile, Shakespeare is seldom studied with the English Reformation in mind until college courses.  If one has the power to influence a link between the great written works of our civilization with its history, jump on it!  Make it come alive in ways students could not have imagined possible!

Leave a comment

Filed under Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction