Recently my Macmillan Community colleague Claudia Cruz posted “History of the Word ‘Queer’ and other LGBTQ+ Vocab”. Upon reading this post I was immediately reminded of a heated conversation that took place in my classroom five or so years ago. A traditionally aged college student who identified as transgender used the word “queer” when describing a particular group of women in 19th-century America. As this student spoke, a classmate in his 60s interrupted to ask that the student stop using what he viewed as a “derogatory” term. A brief argument ensued in which Student One contended they had the right to use the word while Student Two conveyed his belief that the historical use of the word made it unacceptable in the classroom. After class I tried to mitigate their disagreement. It was a difficult conversation. I too grew up in the era in which “queer” was viewed as slang and derogatory. In my youth none of my gay friends were publicly “out.” They disliked the word “queer” as it was often hurled at them as an insult. Claudia Cruz acknowledges in her blog that to some degree in the LGBTQ+ community the word remains problematic. “Student Two” who objected to its use in class identified as heterosexual and said he was uncomfortable with the word because he viewed himself as an ally, hence his decision to speak out against its use. The conclusion I drew from this encounter, which has been reiterated to me in dozens of classroom experiences in the years since, is quite simple: language is complicated, especially when it relates to personal or group identity. Students in my Black History class are struggling with this concept this week as they read James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. When I have assigned the book in previous semesters, I’ve noticed that Johnson’s use of the word “colored” throughout the story leads to students using the word in our class discussion and in their writings. Rather than correct each individual students as the word is incorrectly used, I now introduce the reading with the following statement in an email to the class as an effort to force students to think about the change in language use over time: This week's novel, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, was first published in 1912. In 1912 it was acceptable to use the word "colored" to describe a person who was not white. Today, it is NOT. Please, when you are writing about the book/characters/themes, do not use the word "colored" as a descriptive unless you are directly quoting the author. In 2022 we should use language appropriate to our time: person of color, African American, Native American, black person, brown person, etcetera. The term "colored" stopped being accepted in the 1960s during the post-World War II civil rights and black power movements. You are invited to learn more about this change in word usage in the following piece on the issue from National Public Radio (2014): The Journey From 'Colored' To 'Minorities' To 'People Of Color' : Code Switch : NPR and in a second article from the Chicago Tribune (2020): Column: Why is ‘people of color’ OK but not ‘colored people’? A reading list for white folks - Chicago Tribune Students have been incredibly receptive to this invitation to consider the historical evolution of language. Several have emailed me to say that they appreciate being educated on the proper terminology to use because they want to be sensitive to the way people identify themselves. This experience and Claudia Cruz’s recent blog remind me, once again, that as educators we have a duty not only to help our students learn facts but to enhance their understanding of the way in which words can have positive and negative connotations. We cannot assume that their pre-collegiate experiences have modeled them to speak with sensitivity or with an eye towards historical change. This knowledge, ultimately, can lead our students towards more cooperative participation in our classrooms and society in general.
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Good digital platforms support all the efforts you’ve already put into your history teaching. So how is Macmillan Learning doing this with ACHIEVE? Select one super short video that speaks to you.
5 Reasons Why Achieve is Different in 1 Minute.
Teaching Students to Think Like Historians with Primary Sources
Improving Student Preparedness with History
Assignable Skills Tutorials & Reflection Activities for Students
Instructor Activity Guides in Achieve for History
Using Analytics to Identify Student Barriers
For a deeper look at Achieve for History, you can also meet with Stephen, your learning solutions specialist for history.
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Will we be seeing you at OAH 2022?
The OAH Conference on American History is the leading conference for American historians and the study of history that occurs in the Spring of every year. We invite all those interested in history to join us in Boston, March 31-April 3. Join us at booth #509 for a demo of Achieve and to request a copy of one of our History products. See you there!
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We invite you to watch "Why We Oppose Pockets for Women" A satirical poem by Alice Duer Miller, voiced by Jane Smith, is a delightful and biting satire to kick off Women's History Month. Please enjoy!
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For me, the return to campus after nearly two full years (summer and winter sessions included) of remote teaching has been exciting and somewhat turbulent. While the students are reacclimating to long-standing classroom practices (shutting off cell phones) and adapting to pandemic-related protocols (wearing a mask in class), I’m thrilled to hear my colleague lecturing in the classroom next door. I’m grateful for the enthusiasm of students who are happy to be back in the physical classroom. There seems to be an unspoken joy amongst teachers and students who relish once again being part of a group. In spite of it being my fifteenth year of teaching at the same campus, however, I can’t seem to remember which classroom to go to at 10am on Tuesdays. Twice I have impatiently waited in the hallway outside the wrong room wondering why the students were not vacating the space only to discover that the problem was entirely me. And I find myself struggling with my classroom confidence. After so much time without live human beings in front of me, I’m feeling very self-conscious. Can they hear me through the mask? Can they read my handwriting on the board? Am I talking too fast? Am I talking too loudly? These thoughts rattle through my mind as I try my best to keep students' attention on the course content. Mostly, however, I’m worried about what has been lost by the students over the past two years. At a community college the concept of preparedness and how to overcome gaps in students’ K-12 experiences is under constant discussion. The pandemic has made the challenges we have always faced even more dire and I’m making changes to my syllabus on the fly to adapt to what I perceive as students’ immediate needs. This week, for example, I’m thinking a lot about note taking in advance of the first exam. I’ve distributed a study guide and asked students to bring all of their notes to class tomorrow in hopes that we can identify deficiencies before they spend the weekend engaged in studying. I’m hopeful that by completing practice questions in small groups we can model the upcoming in-class, timed exam experience that some of my students have never experienced at the college level. Stay tuned!
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Black History, Black Stories: Share your story of inspiration!
We tasked students, instructors, and administrators to choose a historical figure or event from African American history and tell us how they draw inspiration from him/her/them/it.
Congratulations to the winners...
View Prisca's submission! View Alex's submission! View Rodeney's submission!
View Carolyn's submission! View Kerima's submission! View Jenell's submission!
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Recently a Catholic school in Massachusetts found itself immersed in controversy over their decision to serve a fried chicken lunch as part of Black History Month. The public attention and discourse surrounding the incident reminded me how far we still need to move as a society in terms of understanding our national history and integrating non-white perspectives. While I’m certain that as a society we will never be in complete agreement over what constitutes the “truth” about American history, I do believe that as teachers and historians we must guide our students towards a more comprehensive view of our nation’s diverse past. For me, the “fried chicken” controversy speaks to the general problem of “Black History Month” – a mere month to turn the public’s short attention span to the history of a people that is far more complex and important than can be covered by snippets over the course of twenty-eight days. Those of us who teach black history recognize that it is filled with both triumphs and tragedies – too many to squeeze into a singular four-week period. I worry, for example, that years from now students will remember the fried chicken controversy but will have gained no lasting, concrete knowledge or understanding of the lives of black Americans. Here, however, are two web-based resources that I have recently recommended to students and teachers to help integrate black history into every day, not just the days in February: Joel Christian Gill is an illustrator and historian whose Instagram posts showcase his efforts to bring black history to a wider audience through comic books and graphic novels. Students love his illustrations and are inspired to research the subjects about which he publishes. Gill’s posts also include his sometimes funny, often painful, observations as a professor of color, which can offer prompts for honest conversations about race in the classroom. The Zinn Education Project is valuable to teachers but useful to students of history as well. Of particular interest currently is the site’s publication of the National Report on the Teaching of Reconstruction (January 2022), which includes a state-by-state analysis of what K-12 students are learning about the topic. For those teaching US history at the college level the report provides valuable information about what public school students are taught prior to high school graduation based on state guidelines and standards. The information is both enlightening and alarming. While I’m often surprised at my students’ lack of knowledge of Reconstruction, I was shocked to learn that in my state public schools are not required to teach any Reconstruction history. This new insight will certainly inform my planning for future curriculum. What black history-focused resources that should not be relegated to February have you encountered recently? Please share!
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Last week’s planned return to campus after three and a half semesters of remote teaching/learning was foiled by Omicron. Instead of meeting in person with students, I found myself lecturing to a screen full of black rectangles. Our college will spend the first four weeks of spring semester completely remote. Most of my students, it seems, are fatigued from on-camera class meetings and so it was that I appealed to any last sympathies they might have for their professors. “Please, don’t make me lecture to a screen with black rectangles and face-less names,” I pleaded. “When we meet in person next month it will be much less awkward if we are familiar with each other’s faces.” My pathetic begging resulted in about half the students turning on their cameras. A (very) small victory. This afternoon I participated in a time management seminar for students run by our college tutoring center. While the number of students who attended was small, their willingness to participate in such a program during the second week of the semester reiterates the importance of recognizing that students generally start out the semester hoping for success. Attendees of today’s program, just by being present, were acknowledging the challenge of managing academic demands with family and work responsibilities. Likely they have struggled with balance in the past and are hoping that this semester things will be different. Their presence made me wonder how many of my students are, in fact, engaged in this juggling while their cameras are off during my lectures. In my head I know that there are many reasons students do not turn on their cameras. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable having strangers see into their homes/workspaces. Maybe they are still in their pajamas and sipping their first coffee of the day during my 1pm class. Or they are shy and unwilling to have their images broadcast via the internet into their classmates’ private spaces. Or maybe they are texting or gaming or doing anything but listening to my lecture. I’m trying hard right now to convince myself that it’s not all about me. I have been working with college students since 1994. Nonetheless, the hour before my first remote lesson of this spring semester I was an anxious mess. It was as if I had never taught a class before in my life. Although by this point in the current pandemic I have attended dozens of remote events, I found myself overcome by nerves before opening that first meeting. I played with the backgrounds, adjusted and readjusted my speaker and microphone, and changed my sweater twice. There is something about teaching through the lens of a webcam that is incredibly intimidating even for the most seasoned professional. The screen of black rectangles intensified this anxiety for me: were the students listening and taking notes? Or were they logged in to class but doing something more interesting instead? All of this angst surrounding teaching remotely has made me even more nostalgic for the return to traditional in-person learning. But then, I wonder, how much will have changed? What will the new normal look like? I’m desperate to hear from those of you who are back in the traditional classroom. What has changed? For better or for worse? Please share.
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I recently had the opportunity to view the film “Loving” (2016), a dramatization based on Loving v. Virginia (1967) in which the Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage. For those who have yet to see the film it is a fictionalized account reportedly inspired by “The Loving Story” (2012), an HBO documentary. In addition to the obvious significance of the case in the history of civil rights, viewing the feature film reinforced for me the many areas of US history that can be enhanced by class discussion of the Loving case. Watching the entire film in class is not always optimal timewise but there are some excellent online resources to introduce the case to the class in its place. Encyclopedia Virginia offers a summary of the key people and events, which can be assigned in conjunction maps and figures documenting the history of interracial marriage in the United States. Both the ACLU and vividmaps.com have accessible visual aids to help students understand the geographical component of the debate. While general histories of the case often portray its importance within the broader movement for civil rights, in-class or online discussions may branch out to include such diverse topics as the civil history of marriage in the colonies and the States, miscegenation laws, the 14th Amendment, and the post-Civil War rise of Jim Crow. Students may also wish to discuss connections between Loving v. Virginia and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which guaranteed marriage equality. The Loving case offers an opportunity for students to talk historically about inter-racial relationships and the challenges faced by black and white families who sought to navigate friendships and marriages amidst brutally restrictive racial customs enforced by state laws. It also sheds light on the hypocrisy of a culture that long accepted sexual assault against black women (free and enslaved) by white men but believed that consenting adults should not have the legal right to create interracial unions. These conversations are no doubt difficult in the classroom but meaningful for students to fully understand the foundations and lasting-legacies of slavery and racism in our national history. I find the Loving case to be particularly relevant to students because, at heart, it is about the right of two people to create a family of their own choosing. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the human beings behind Supreme Court rulings, but it is these historical actors that many of our students will engage with most willingly. Encourage them to read interviews with Mildred and Richard Loving, and to watch some of the short video clips of news coverage of the case. In learning about this case many students will be able to see connections to their own family histories and to reflect on how their lives may have been different without the end of miscegenation laws that Loving v. Virginia brought about.
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Every year around this point in the semester -- past midterms, almost at Thanksgiving Break, and starting to think about final exams -- I find myself needing some additional inspiration to push through the last weeks of fall courses. I can feel my motivation lagging and the early sunsets only add to my lethargy. I’m taking some time for reflection this week in hopes of reinvigorating my mental focus so I can finish the semester with the same (or close to) enthusiasm I had the first week of September. The first step in my reinvigoration process has been to take some time to think ahead to next semester. Half of my course load is different in the spring so I looked back through some of the notes I kept from last spring to remind myself of particular changes I want to make to those courses. Giving my brain a future project to think about, even briefly, gave me a momentary break from the weight of the current semester. I like to make at least one significant curriculum change each time I offer a course. Reviewing my notes from last time around reminded me of ideas I had for spring 2022 and gave me an opportunity to feel excited about their implementation. Next I spent just a handful of minutes today browsing the current registration numbers for my spring courses. Registration just opened this past Monday and already my US Women’s History class is full. To know that there are so many students interested in the subject matter made me more excited to think about topics I will be teaching in the spring and how to better connect them to my students’ lives. Finally, as a last bit of motivation, this morning I pulled one of my all-time favorite books down from the shelf. Many years ago as a graduate teaching assistant at Boston College I was assigned to a Western Civilization II course. As a US history major I remember dreading the shift in focus to European history for so many precious hours of the week. The professor assigned Pat Barker’s brilliant Regeneration (1991) for the students to discuss as part of their World War I materials. While I cannot remember anything about leading those discussion sections, I have reread Regeneration every single year since that fall semester in 1999. The book itself is now in its thirtieth year of publication. Each time I read Barker’s fictional account of a British asylum for soldiers during the war I am reminded of how the book initially led me to read more about World War I when the course finished, and then many years later inspired me to start researching asylums in the United States around the same period of time. As I reread the book now I’m hopeful that some new inspiration and motivation will grow from the familiar story. How do you handle late-semester fatigue? Suggestions welcome.
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I’m getting my COVID booster today and am feeling very hopeful. If enough people in my neck of the woods follow through with vaccinations and boosters maybe, just maybe, I will be able to return to campus in the spring. Student reluctance to register for on-campus offerings has meant a third semester of all online teaching. I’m starting to optimistically think about what I might take back to the brick and mortar classroom space with me from this three semester-long remote experience. A colleague noted this week that she plans to continue using her online discussion board even when she is teaching in-person. Students who are reluctant to speak up in a traditional classroom space often submit eloquent, thoughtful discussion posts in online classes. My colleague is wise to take advantage of this reality and I plan to as well. I’ve also thought about using a chat-style system during my in-person lecture so that students who might be shy about raising their hand will still get their questions answered in class. Perhaps an open “chat” during my live lectures will allow me to engage more students in classroom meetings than I have in the past. While my attention span is too short to allow a scrolling chat to interrupt me during lecture, I can foresee looking at the chat in the last couple minutes of class to catch any questions that need to be addressed. I’m planning to continue to use the journal-based research assignment that I first wrote about in a blog this past spring (see “Summer Project: Assignment Reboot”) in which I break down a traditional research project into sections and grade each separately. I designed this project because I felt my students were fatigued from online learning and not fully engaged in their semester-long projects. Forcing them to submit the project in sections has enabled me to keep tabs on their progress while providing feedback along the way, and has significantly reduced the problem of procrastination on the students’ end. I also find that the grading process for me is quicker (shorter chunks of work submitted at a time) and that I’m writing more comments. And finally, I’m planning to continue to take advantage of the abundance of human resources that are available virtually as a result of the pandemic. I encourage fellow faculty to follow the social media feeds of historical and cultural organizations that relate to the topics you are teaching in class. On November 1st, for example, my students will be attending a virtual artist talk by Nikole Hannah Jones titled “Examining Slavery’s Modern Legacy,” hosted by Massachusetts College of Art & Design (register here). Later in November they will be assigned to view (live or via the post-event recording) a talk by Gayle Jessup White hosted by the National Archives. “Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendant’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy” will be moderated virtually by historian Annette Gordon Reed (register here). I have no doubt you’ll be amazed by the access your students can have to fabulous speakers and resources with just a little time web surfing. If there is something that you’ve brought back into the traditional classroom with you from your experience with pandemic-era online learning, please share!
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On Oct 21st, 2003, scientists first discovered the dwarf planet Eris. When first found, there was some discussion that it was larger than Pluto which then led to questions about Pluto's categorization as a planet. The debate within the scientific community ultimately led the International Astronomical Union to "downgrade" Pluto to a dwarf planet in 2006.
The dwarf planet Eris seems to be aptly named as it was inspired by the Greek goddess of discord.
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