Backyard Civil War

In 2015, one of the best years of my teaching career, I taught 7th-grade Humanities in a tech academy setting. Part of the joy was the freedom to create curriculum. (Once in a while there is someone who thinks a teacher-created curriculum is a threat to western civilization, but those voices usually belong to those who don’t understand agency, autonomy, and professionalism.) Sitting down with a partner, myself, or a PLC we strive for engagement, purpose, and relevancy. The rigor is embedded in the engagement, and engagement doesn’t always look like what is on the evaluation check-boxes. Teacher-created curriculum is rigorous, meet standards, and is not a ‘free for all’ with loose morals and questionable, dubious pedagogy.

And though I may not necessarily be the best at holding my tongue, and I’m over exuberant and think everyone wants to be my friend, and sometimes days go sideways, I am pretty darn good at this, creating curriculum.

But my scholars are not the lottery-chosen selected students of four years ago. They’ve been through a few years of mandated curriculum that lacks representation and includes a workbook of worksheets for the work that is not working. Many still struggle with the basics: writing a cohesive paragraph, writing a short narrative, and most tragically, reading with engagement. They look at my stacks of #projectlit books and no matter what I’ve done, if they didn’t come to my class seeing themselves as a reader I failed at convincing them they are. (This failure is gnawing at me, but that’s a reflection for another time.) I have one scholar whose mother told me their house is full of books, they read constantly, and this girl has read almost every one of my #projectlit books. But she came from other schools/states and never experienced the soul-crushing death march through an EL workbook.

The Plan:

The new bulletin board is my road map for what we’re going to deeply cover. The aggregate of my history teaching philosophy is “then and now” and Zinn Education resources as well as Facing History provide ample discussion and texts.

1. Share the work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the Reconstruction.

2. Focus on Frederick Douglass and his work.

3. How the Civil War affects us today (which I typed up after scholars did the work – see #8)

4. What can we do (a short list)

5. “32” curated facts and resources document (work in progress) Google doc link here. Scholars share and participate in finding resources – some we share together and others they find on their own.

6. Enduring Understandings: Civil War – a war between citizens of the same country 1861-1865: The Civil War (United States) continues to be of the most impactful events of our nation. Some of the notes on the anchor chart are captured questions from students and me.

7. Big Facts

8. Sticky note responses from scholars on how the Civil War affects us today.

But before we get to the Civil War: Studying 19th Century Societal Reformers…

We watch this Crash Course video, took Cornell Notes, and then created our own “21st Century” utopias. Students are still working on them, but the process is to combine the tenants of civilization along with our current state of technology and hopes.

Guess what? Yup – when students discussed their utopias they quickly dissolved into dystopias. But all in all, their Utopia projects are pretty cool:

Fantastic Artwork by SW

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy

Video resources:

This is one of the most important pieces to show and discuss.

I know the Ken Burns seminal work on the Civil War is amazing, but it can be a bit…boring. This is a fairly comprehensive list of resources, and my goal as their history teacher is not to overwhelm, but to allow time to process, internalize, and recognize when and how oppression occurs now so they can be guarded, skeptical, knowledgeable, informed and VOTE.

Articles for now: Poll taxes, voter suppression,

This is a work in progress: still collecting and curating resources for my scholars, and seeking their guidance, too, as they make connections.

And for that man who still has the Confederate Flag on the back of his pick-up truck: I see you. You’re on the wrong side of history. Again.

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