Deep Thoughts from the Fishbowl

My students of color took umbrage at the Texas Minister who said, “In our American situation it is indisputable that the motivational role of Bible and the Christian faith was paramount in the settling of most of the original 13 colonies…” One African-American student remarked, “My ancestors didn’t come here for religious freedom.” A Latina student added, “Neither did mine.”

I am so proud of them! I mean, it’s dusty in here, or my allergies are acting up… these are definitely not tears… *sniff*

As your read in my last post, my American history classes are working on a project called, “Who Owns History.” We’re been looking at the controversy surrounding the Texas State Board of Education’s decision to change that state’s social studies standards to better reflect the religious and political views of the Board.

As we’ve dug into our primary source documents, we’ve been having Socratic Seminars so that students can think deeply about these sources and share their ideas.

It’s been AMAZING!

When my students referred to the letter from the Evangelical Minister, quoting, “Anne Hutchinson does not belong in the company of these eminent gentlemen. She was certainly not a significant colonial leader…” they were indignant and reflected about our Anne Hutchinson paper from last year and how much they thought they learned about critical thinking and analytical writing from studying her trial.

They referred to a Texas teacher who wrote a letter to the Texas Board, quoting, “Unfortunately, this debate over standards often rages with little input from history teachers who are expected to implement mandated curriculum. This attitude derives from a fundamental lack of respect in our culture for teachers. Thus, it is assumed that dentists and real estate agents are better equipped to make curricular decision than are history educators.” My kids argued that k-12 standards and textbook selection should more closely reflect the processes at universities, were professors and experts in the field hold the majority of control over the topics and books students study.

However, another student respectfully pushed back, quoting the same letter, “…I was not too impressed with my high school history teachers, who were primarily football coaches… their employment was dependent not upon their history knowledge, but rather their won/loss record…” They, too, could recall history teachers of theirs who perhaps did not have the necessary expertise to make curricular decisions for their classes. I myself have to confess that I have know colleagues who were far more concerned with Friday night’s game than they were about 3rd period any day of the week.

My students of color took umbrage at the aforementioned Minister when he said, “In our American situation it is indisputable that the motivational role of Bible and the Christian faith was paramount in the settling of most of the original 13 colonies…” One African-American student remarked, “My ancestors didn’t come here for religious freedom.” A Latina student added, “Neither did mine.”

All of this amazing thinking has come out of the three Socratic Seminars we ran this week.  Rather than running a whole class session, we’ve been running a fish-bowl seminar. Only the students who deeply read the letter from the Minister took part in that discussion. Only the students who deeply read the letter from the Texas teacher took part in the next day’s conversation. The students on the outside of the bowl listened and took notes.

I had only planned on running two. As we wrapped up our conversation of the letter from the History teacher yesterday, several students asked, “Which document are we talking about tomorrow?”

I am so proud of them!

How about you? How are you proud of your students? What deep and critical thinking are they doing this week?

  • SandyMerz

    Taking ownership

    As often as we bemoan students who won’t own their learning, this is a completely refreshing post. To answer your question – I’m proud of how nice my students are this year. For the first time I can remember, I don’t have that one class that I just have to get through to call it a win. 

    • DaveOrphal

      Thank you!

      I agree, Sandy. It was a refreshing class session!

      I’m glad that you are building good relationships with your kids this year. That is always my #1 priority.

      I remember when I was interviewing for a social studies job in Oakland. The principal kept wanting me to talk about how the students would start on academics on day 1. I stood my ground.

      “We don’t get to academics until the start of the second week. We spend the whole first week building relationships and community, going over policy and procedures, and generally setting the tone for the year. I find that spending those five hours on community building buys me FAR more than 5 hours of NOT having to stop teaching to deal with discipline issues during the year.”

      I had to tell her that twice.

      But I still got the job. 🙂