A Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Battle of Brooklyn Sites

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of the Battle of Brooklyn Sites

Marion Palm

Used by permission from the Brooklyn Eagle (Source: http://www.brooklyneagle.com/categories/category.php?category_id=27&id=35883)

Two scouts from the leading column of the Royal Marines and Tories and two companies of Long Island Tories were attracted to watermelons growing near the southwest corner of Green-Wood Cemetery. Riflemen fired on the would-be melon poachers.

The Old Stone House now at Fifth Avenue and Third Street in Park Slope, which has an interpretive center, was then named the Vechte Farmhouse, located south of Gowanus Creek. The event involving the retreat of the Americans says that Lord Stirling (he was on our side) gathered 2,000 men. These included troops from Delaware and Pennsylvania, along with an elite regiment from the First Maryland Regiment.

The Old Lyon Inn is now an American Legion Post near the IKEA on the point of Red Hook. The chance meeting at the watermelon patch became a major confrontation that stretched for a quarter of a mile and was responsible for convincing the Americans that the major attack would be on the Gowanus Road. With two sides confronting each other in regular battle formation, this was the first time the Americans, as an independent nation, faced the British in an open field. With no fortifications or stones to hide behind, only hedges and trees to face Grant, the commander of the British (not related to our former president General Grant) took on the fight.

The Brits, however, went east and linked up with the Hessians (paid German mercenaries) to seize high ground in what we now know as Battle-Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery.

The main body of the enemy came down through Flatbush to the intersection of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy. (5). The British were very sneaky in this maneuver, as they swung around in a loop behind the Americans and attempted to capture them all. Howe, the British general ordered his men to cut off the American retreat to the Brooklyn forts on Brooklyn Heights. Most of the Americans survived, some were captured by the British, and others were bayoneted as they tried to surrender to the Hessians.

There is a monument to those who died in terrible conditions as prisoners of the British on ships in our harbor. An obelisk stands in Fort Greene Park that is a 150-foot tall Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument and crypt, which honors some 11,500 patriots who died aboard British prison ships during the American Revolution.

Washington’s headquarters, and he had many of them during the war, was at The Four Chimneys in a mansion overlooking the harbor from Brooklyn Heights. A small garden with a flagpole now marks this spot on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. There is also a small plaque with information about the house embedded into the stand that supports the flag. Washington held his war council there on August 29, 1776. The British, despite their clever advances, made a tactical error. They wasted time digging trenches. This decision took away the Brits’ opportunity to win the war in one stroke.

Lord Stirling managed to disengage from Grant and get around Cornwallis’s forces stationed around the Vechte farmhouse, blocking the Post Road, now First Street in Park Slope. Stirling ordered his troops to plunge into the marsh and go across Gowanus Creek on August 27, 1776.

On what can be seen now as a suicide mission, he staged a preemptive strike against Cornwallis in and around the Vechte farmhouse and its orchard. This sacrificial rearguard gave the bulk of the American wing a chance to escape across the marshes along Gowanus Creek.

A very dense fog drifted in and Washington and his men escaped from the Ferry Landing next to what is now the elegant River Cafe. Washington took the whole regiment by ferry to New York. The last man over received permission to go back for his horse and he and the volunteers were fired upon in what he said was a salute from the enemy with musketry that couldn’t reach them as they returned to safety.

General Howe was in Red Hook and his men were spread all the way to Hells Gate to keep the Americans guessing where he would attack, but he never crossed the East River to pursue them. Howe did succeed to take Brooklyn Heights and Governor’s Island, concealing his invasion flotilla in Newton’s Creek, the border between the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens at approximately 32nd Street.

General Howe is said to have dallied too long at the home of Robert Murray on a hot evening of September 15th when Mrs. Murray and her two daughters opened the wine cellar at the mansion and served cakes and Madeira to the British generals and Governor Tyron. Howe’s delay allowed the Americans to slip away again. There is a plaque to mark the mansion on Park Avenue and 37th Street in Manhattan.

Through a Critical Race Theory Lens: “How Enlightened was the Enlightenment in Europe?”

Through a Critical Race Theory Lens:

“How Enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

by Alan Singer

            School districts across the United States are racing to report that they teach critical thinking, not Critical Race Theory. The Florida State Board of Education banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory because all topics taught in Florida schools must be “factual and objective” and Critical Race Theory argues “racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, an early contender for the 2024 Republican Party Presidential nomination denounced CRT for teaching children “the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.” Teaching CRT is also banned in Tennessee and Idaho.

The controversy erupted in Commack, New York when members of a group called the Loud Majority disrupted two public meetings, interrupting school board members and speakers from the audience, including students who were trying to explain how they felt slighted in a curriculum that ignored who they were. Instead of silencing the disrupters or requiring them to leave, board members and district officials kept trying to explain the curriculum to people who were not interested in listening.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, who teaches law at UCLA and Columbia University and was an early proponent of Critical Race Theory, describes it as “an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” It has roots in legal efforts during the 1970s to challenge segregation deeply entrenched in American law. In the 1990s, social scientists and educational researchers began to employ CRT as a lens to understand the persistence of race and racism. It became controversial when former President Trump denounced CRT as part of his response to the New York Times 1619 Project. In an effort to rally his supporters during his campaign for reelection, Trump declared, “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.”

As a teacher educator and former high school social studies teacher, I embrace the National Council for the Social Studies’ promotion of critical thinking based on an evaluation of evidence as a core component of social studies curriculum. I found Critical Race Theory is an important lens for engaging students as critical thinkers and helps teachers involve students in broader discussion.

For example, the European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution and continued until the mid-19th century. However, some historians, including me, point out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transporting to the Americans as unfree labor on plantations. In the British North America colonies that became the United States, leading founders of the new nation that declared the “self-evident truth” and human equality, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry, were plantation owners and slaveholders.

When teachers introduce the European Enlightenment they have to decide which thinkers and documents to include. John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are pretty standard, but if we want students to understand and critically examine the limitations of Enlightenment thought we also should include Mary Wollstonecraft, who demanded human rights for women, and Immanuel Kant, who promoted a scientific basis for racism. Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was part of the European Enlightenment, but so were Jefferson’s racist comments in his Notes on the State of Virginia.

This lesson builds on earlier lessons on the Scientific Revolution and the trans-Atlantic slave trade establishes themes that reemerge in units on European Imperialism in Africa and Asia and lessons on Social Darwinism.

AIM: How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?

John Locke (1632-1704)

Do Now: The European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution and continued until the mid-19th century. Some historians have pointed out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transporting to the Americans as unfree labor on plantations.

One of the first major European Enlightenment thinkers was John Locke of England. Read the excerpt from Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, written in 1690, and answer questions 1-4.

John Locke: “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others . . . Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided . . . Man . . . hath by nature a power . . . to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men . . . The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom . . . All mankind . . . being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.

Questions

  1. According to Locke, what is the most important human value?
  2. How does Locke believe this value is preserved?
  3. What document in United States history draws from Locke? Why do you select that document?
  4. In your opinion, why is John Locke considered a European Enlightenment thinker?

Activity: You will work with a team analyzing a quote from one of these European Enlightenment thinkers and answer the following questions. Select a representative to present your views to class. After presentations and discussion, you will complete an exit ticket answering the question, “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Questions

  1. Where is the author from? What year did they write this piece?
  2. What is the main topic of the excerpt?
  3. What does the author argue about the topic?
  4. Why is this author considered a European Enlightenment thinker?
  5. In your opinion, what do we learn about the European Enlightenment from this except?
  1. David Hume (Scotland, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779): “What truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God, which the most ignorant ages have acknowledged, for which the most refined geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce new proofs and arguments? What truth so important as this, which is the ground of all our hopes, the surest foundation of morality, the firmest support of society, and the only principle which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and meditations? . . . Throw several pieces of steel together, without shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect, never erect a house.
  2. Baron de Montesquieu (France, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748): “Political liberty in a citizen is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him to have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen. When the legislative power is united with the executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, for the judge would be the legislator. If it were joined to executive power, the judge could have the force of an oppressor. All would be lost if the same man or the same body of principal men, either of nobles or of the people exercised these three powers: that of making the laws, that of executing public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or disputes of individuals.”
  3. Marquis de Lafayette (France, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789): “Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:
  4. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.
  5. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
  6. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”
  1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, Emile, or Education, 1762): “Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man’s object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth . . . The earliest education is most important and it undoubtedly is woman’s work. If the author of nature had meant to assign it to men he would have given them milk to feed the child. Address your treatises on education to the women, for not only are they able to watch over it more closely than men, not only is their influence always predominant in education, its success concerns them more nearly, for most widows are at the mercy of their children, who show them very plainly whether their education was good or bad.
  2. Mary Wollstonecraft (England, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792): “Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks . . . The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger . . . It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness . . . It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. . . . How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.
  3. Immanuel Kant (Germany, 1761, quoted in Achieving Our Humanity): “All inhabitants of the hottest zones are, without exceptions, idle . . . In the hot countries the human being matures earlier in all ways but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race. The yellow Indians have a smaller amount of Talent. The Negroes are lower and the lowest are a part of the American peoples . . . The race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor.”
  4. Thomas Jefferson (British North America, Preamble, Declaration of Independence, 1776): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
  5. Thomas Jefferson (Virginia, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785): “The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? . . . Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection . . . Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”

Exit ticket: “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era

Teaching with New Technology in a “New” Era

Dean Bacigalupo, Dennis, Belen-Morales, Tara Burk, Alexa Corben,  Alexis Farina, David Morris, Madison Hamada, and Elizabeth Tyree

All school districts in New York State were required to develop a “Continuity of Learning” plan that could be used beyond the COVID-19 pandemic if a district is not able to have full “in person” instruction.

Dean Bacigalupo: Teaching 7th graders in this new Blended/Hybrid model, I fully understand the many difficulties student teachers are experiencing. I believe there are 3 immediate challenges that both they and their cooperating teachers have.

The first is becoming fluent in technology. Districts first had to adapt a learning management system. For my district and many throughout Nassau/Suffolk the LMS is Google Classroom. Most teachers and student teachers are not proficient in using this LMS. Within Google Classroom there is a “Suite” of applications/extensions that are helpful for online learning. Some, like Docs, Slides, and Sheets, most student teachers are proficient in. Others, like Forms, Meets, Polling, Jamboard they are not. I set up my class with student teachers through Google Classroom so they could experience a “student view” and become more fluent with this LMS. These are free to create, but there are additional extensions that can be purchased. There are a number of extensions that are also free that are linked to Google Classroom, and because of this have become popular among schools. These include Edpuzzle, Screencastify, Flipgrid, Jamboard, and Nearpod. Teachers are also creating a Bitmoji and Bitmoji Classroom. Like any technology today, they are relatively easy to learn/navigate, but users need time to become proficient.

At this point, I am learning student engagement increases when:

The second is understanding how to move from a “technology rich classroom” to building a blended/hybrid learning classroom community. Because of the “virtual” shift in the flow of information, students need to take a more active role in their education, and therefore as a teacher, I am learning that I must foster a classroom that is characterized by increased online engagement, student responsibility, respectful communication, and effective online collaboration as discussion becomes even more important when students are working remotely as students who complete work at home via computer can become isolated

  • Lessons are designed for students to play a more active role in their learning. If not, students at home begin to view their computer screen like a television, and become very passive throughout a lesson/unit.
  • Students need to be proficient in any program used. I assumed they knew more than me, but in reality there is much that students needed to learn, and teachers need to be prepared to teach the technology as well as the content of their lesson.
  • Classroom rules/procedures must have increased accountability/responsibility for students in the learning process. To help students with this transition, I include celebrations at the end of each unit of study and regular (at least once in every 2 week cycle) conversations with parent/guardian to recognize the efforts of the student, or provide guidance if a student is falling behind.
  • Teachers need to foster and develop an increased sense of autonomy and independence among their students. I have found giving students a choice in project based assessment helps to build this.
  • Teachers and students are a team and must rely on each other, and their classroom built on mutual respect. They develop a learning community that works together to discover and build upon knowledge.
  • Students need to know a teacher cares when they are not there. If a student is not in class, I will have a classmate text them that I know are friends or I will call them at the beginning of class. I also include a weekly message in our Classroom Stream to the entire class to remind them of the great things we are accomplishing as a group. 
  • The “in person” and “virtual” classes need to become one classroom. This is helped when student teams are designed to connect “virtual” and “in person” students. This also allows the teacher to connect with “virtual” students through the “in person” students in the classroom as opposed to joining a virtual breakout group. 

The third challenge is really more administrative. Schools and school policies were not designed for this type of teaching, and not all students are prepared for this type of learning. Initially, there needs to be ongoing staff training on rules/routines for students to help them to succeed in a virtual setting. Additionally, there needs to be support classes for students that are having difficulty with this shift in learning. For example, if a student is not proficient in Math, they are assigned an additional A.I.S. class to help. In many cases, I am finding students that are proficient in learning “in person” are failing in a virtual setting, but there are no supports available like A.I.S. to help them to develop the skills needed. Lastly, teachers need time. Districts scheduled classes as they always had, and did not recognize that this new Blended/hybrid model required increased parent/student contact, lesson planning, grading, learning the technologies, and increased collaboration among teachers. Administrators believe they are helping by emailing links and materials to support teachers, but many are not viewing these because they are struggling to keep up with their daily lessons and grading. 

David Morris: No matter how well they use tech tools, many student teachers and teachers are frequently not quite there when it comes to classroom technology. I have students in an introductory teacher education methods class do research and present about online tools. For every session students have to think of how they would teach the lesson using an LMS. Unfortunately, it is not as effective as it needs to be unless students are working at a school and have access to school accounts. I don’t focus on Zoom because I find that students already know how to use that tool. Almost every student in my class this semester in student teaching is using Google Classroom or Schoology. Some schools only have breakout rooms with this tool because it costs the district extra money to add other applications. All the Schoology programs are quite user friendly, but you can’t use them without an account.

The problem that many student teachers (and teachers all over the country) are having is that their students are not doing the work. Even in the most middle-class school districts, many students are just not signing on or if they do, they won’t turn on their video because districts do not require it. Several of my student teachers teach to black screens everyday and have never seen the students. One reported when she dismissed the class no one was there so no one left the Zoom room. She had been talking to herself for several minutes. Schools should require videos on if a student wants to be marked as present.

Madison Hamada: When people heard I was student teaching in a hybrid setting that has become the norm due to COVID-19, the look on their faces said they were happy not to be in my shoes. However, at least from a technological perspective, I learned a lot. I lost track of how many times I was told “new young teachers” would find the new technologies easy to use. While we may be more fluent in technology than older teachers, there is a major difference between technology and educational technology; “new young teachers” are right there with the veteran teachers in learning how to use it. I may be a pro on Instagram, but I had no idea what Edpuzzle and Kami were or how to use Google Meets Breakout Rooms until I started student teaching.

Though difficult and time-consuming to learn these technologies, teachers have a powerful tool at our fingertips and should utilize it. This unique school year provided that opportunity, particularly when interacting with remote students – not knowing if they were even ‘there’ since their cameras were off. I found that the more I infused my lessons with technology, the better my chances were that my students were ‘glued to their screens’ for reasons other than Tiktok and Netflix.

I modified activities that I would typically prepare for in-person learning and was able to engage students in this setting, but not without trial and error. I created virtual gallery walks, virtual museum tours, and utilized virtual reality and breakout rooms at every opportunity. I relied on platforms such as Nearpod, TedED, and Kahoot and created review games like Jeopardy to involve my students in the lesson daily.

My goal for student teaching was to foster a classroom atmosphere that was both intellectually stimulating and enjoyable. At the end of my placement, I asked my students to fill out a teacher review as a means of self-evaluation, to help me become a better educator. One of the most frequent comments was the gratitude for lessons that enabled them to actively participate in their education and to simultaneously communicate with their friends, which made learning more fun. The students appreciated my effort to create normalcy in a year where little exists. Although it took significantly more time to plan and create lessons, it was worth it to hear my students – whether in-person or remote – partake in lively discussion about class material “together.”

Elizabeth Tyree: I’m no longer just an educator, I am now an IT personnel as well. During the pandemic, I worked at a summer camp that was converted into an educational pod where students could come and participate in online learning while parents received childcare so they can continue to work. We had about 50 students throughout the week in grades K-8 from 4 or 5 different school districts. Each district had a unique schedule and different methods of educating during the pandemic. Some adopted a hybrid schedule, some remain fully online, some were stuck somewhere in between or switched between the two. Some schools even offered a fully asynchronous option before the school year began for parents who did not want to deal with the revolving door of school changes.

Most if not all schools use Google Classroom as their online home base. However, some teachers use Google Meet while others use Zoom for video calls. Regardless of the learning platform that the teachers use, the students are still struggling with the technology. With programs like Kami that can edit PDFs the students have generally learned how to use it, however, they constantly find issues with the program and often turn in work that is too sloppy to read. Many teachers, after months, were still learning how to use these online platforms, especially those who rely heavily on Google Classroom, which has more limitations than programs like Zoom. When simply looking at the technology there are many troubles that can arise. With every student online at some point during the week it can lead to system crashes, hackers, WIFI related issues, camera and microphone problems, and other unexpected issues. Most students do not have the developed typing skills to effectively communicate through chats when microphones are malfunctioning, and they cannot easily reach out to teachers so instead they sit back unsure what to do. Even as an adult, I cannot always figure out what the issue is and students miss out on valuable instruction. Students who are using Chromebooks, which are relatively inexpensive computers, find they have many limitations and/or technical failings. Something that I have noticed from the students’ side of the screens is that very few teachers branch out in class to differentiate instruction. When on a video call, teachers may pull up a worksheet or PowerPoint, but generally stay in a lecture-based lesson style. Students sitting behind a screen for an hour or more are zoning out as there is nothing attention grabbing in their lessons. The online learning is leading to simplified instruction that is not even using the technology to its full potential.

Technology can be very useful, but not when students spend their whole day in front of a screen. They are becoming more and more passive in their learning and missing critical learning skills. Many students struggle to read for long periods of time when the reading is on a screen, and annotating that reading is even more difficult. Teachers who rely heavily on reading during the pandemic have many students who underperform on assessments. It is not that the students are incapable of understanding the concepts, but rather that they struggle with synthesizing responses when their only sources of information are online readings. Teachers are making a strong effort in such a trying time. It is not easy to teach while relying on so much technology, so teachers should be commended for any and all good they are able to do.

Alexa Corben: Student teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly challenging, however, I had the opportunity to experience many different technological platforms to use in the classroom, especially in a hybrid setting. Along with learning about new technology, the pandemic also challenged me to design creative lessons. One thing that all the teachers kept telling me was, “we are all practically first year teachers.” By this they meant they were also learning about new technology and they had to change or redo lessons they had previously taught in order to be able to teach in a hybrid setting. The school where I student-taught used Google Classroom. I am familiar with some of Google’s “Suite” programs, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, however there are other programs, like Google Forms, Jamboard, Nearpod, and Google breakout rooms that I have never used before. Although I was not familiar with certain applications, I was fortunate that my cooperating teachers informed me on how to use them. Since the school was hybrid, I had to teach students that were in my classroom and students who were learning remotely at the same time. I felt that teaching the students who were remote was the hardest part because there were many distractions around them, and they were not required to have their cameras on. This meant my lessons had to be engaging in order to keep students focused and attentive. One program that I felt was extremely useful was Nearpod. One of the benefits of Nearpod was that I was able to play videos and insert questions while we watched the video as a class. In addition to this, I was able to see which students were answering the questions and which students were not. Students were also able to take notes while I was presenting the material which was saved to their Google Drive, so they could then go back to review their notes. Another program that was extremely beneficial was Google breakout rooms. It was important that students worked together, but because of COVID[HB1] , students were not able to work together in person. The breakout rooms not only allowed students to work together, but it also allowed students to work with others who may not be in the classroom that same day.

Dennis Belen-Morales: Teaching in this new era has been quite challenging. My students in the South Bronx and I have faced many barriers including access, transitioning, and administrative adjustments. As a first-year teacher who became a student teacher at the beginning of the pandemic I understand the struggle that students have trying to adapt to online instruction. COVID-19 turned our world upside down with many professionals working longer and more exhausting hours, including myself. As a first-year teacher my main priority has been to provide my students with conditions in which they can learn.

I teach in the poorest congressional district in the country and the financial situation of many of my students meant they lacked access to technology and the Internet. Even when they had computers, they were often outdated. To bridge the digital divide, I worked with a colleague, Pablo Muriel, to develop a website that allows students to do homework using a mobile device.

A big problem in New York City has been constantly shifting modes of instruction during the pandemic. At the start of the school year we used a hybrid model with some students online and others in the classroom. Then we shifted to all remote and by April 2021 the city planned to shift back to hybrid. This inconsistency has been tough on many of my students because as teenagers in working-class families they are often older siblings charged with making sure their younger siblings attend class either in-person or online while their parents are not home.

COVID-19 also complicated administrative planning. School coordinators and counselors struggle to design schedules that balance the needs of students with class-size restrictions and teacher schedules. Repeated changes undermine student-teacher relationships vital for educational success. The pandemic drastically changed the lives of millions around the world, including our students. The post-pandemic society and classroom will have to address the problems of interrupted, social inequities, and the availability of educational resources.

Tara Burk: I student taught at a specialized public high school in Brooklyn. In the 9th and 12th grade classes there was nearly full attendance each day, however 99% of students keep their cameras off for the entire class period. Based on my experience, in addition to making sure any technology utilized in the online classroom is accessible to all students, teachers should be flexible and adapt to the particular ways in which students are engaging with technology. Just because we cannot “see” students on camera does not mean students are not showing up to class, participating, and learning. For some students, they do not have the Internet bandwidth to turn on their camera or they are unable to because they are working or looking after siblings or have no privacy. For others, refusing to turn on their cameras may be one of the only things they can control and especially if most of their peers have cameras off it makes sense they would, too. We had students engage with the class by communicating in the chat, working on Google docs together during group work, and sharing responses in full class discussions when they can be on microphone. No matter what kind of technology a teacher uses, from Zoom to Padlet to Google Classroom, I think it is important to “humanize” the tech element by taking advantage of opportunities to connect with each student individually. If a student asks a question in the chat or on Padlet a teacher can be sure to answer it, either in the chat or during the lesson. If a student completes a homework assignment on Google Classroom, getting feedback from their teacher matters because it shows their teacher is engaged with their work and invested in their success. Since there are less moments for informal feedback, such as nonverbal communication, than there might be in a traditional classroom these kinds of connections matter more during online instruction. Finally, a teacher can use technology to check in with students at the beginning of the class and assess how students are feeling (asking students to use the “thumbs up,” “thumbs down” options on Zoom) or they can use this option for formative assessment during the lesson. Based on my experiences and observations, these suggestions are effective in building classroom community. 

Alexis Farina: Who would have thought that a child’s education would be dependent on a stable WiFi connection? The Covid-19 pandemic has completely transformed teaching and learning as we know it, especially during the peak of the virus when it forced many schools to offer instruction either hybrid or remote. As a teacher in early elementary education, I wonder how much the new technology will continue to shape education? Video conferences have replaced the traditional classroom setting, online assignments have taken away from paper and pencil, teachers are teaching children they have never even met in person, students are listening to stories being told on YouTube instead of gathering on a rug. A good portion of the school day was already dedicated to using iPads or laptops. I fear technology has started to take away the authenticity of school as education has become heavily reliant on it. One of the most difficult technological situations I face is teaching a class in person while solving tech issues for students that stream in for remote learning. It requires you to split yourself in half. Tending to the students in person and online simultaneously is almost impossible, especially in the lower elementary grades. These children are not yet completely independent, and most are still learning how to read so they need an adult to guide them.  When technology works, it’s great, and when it doesn’t, it’s detrimental.

Preserving our Democracy: The Now Inescapable Mandate for Teaching Media Literacy in Elementary Social Studies Education

Preserving our Democracy: The Now Inescapable Mandate for Teaching Media Literacy in Elementary Social Studies Education

Kevin Sheehan, Emily Festa, Emily Sloan, KellyAnn Turton

Sam Wineberg’s latest treatise on the need for historical literacy, Why Learn History When It’s Already on Your Phone, could not have come at a more critical time in our history.  The inescapable truth is that the world is now sophisticated and instantaneous in providing information and insights on cell phones with a speed that truly boggles the mind. Although information is now instant, what cannot be overlooked is that our current digitally wired citizens lack the ability to accurately evaluate the reliability and credibility of this instantaneous information.

HBO’s frightening documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” points out the dangers for society in being fed our political information from social media sources. In an effort to gain our attention, social media is now able to digest our preferences and sensationalize our media feeds so that we only hear sources that support our previously demonstrated preferences. The reason behind the severity of this article’s title, Preserving our Democracy, is that the skills of media literacy are now, not only integral strategies in how we teach history, but are critical to our democracy’s survival.

The recent insurrection at our nation’s Capital and failure of much of the nation to accept our presidential election results should leave all of us with one underlying and unmistakable lesson. The ability to evaluate the validity of the information that we receive on our media platforms is now our most pressing mandate in social studies. On an almost daily basis, we suffer through the drama of surrounding claims and counterclaims on media sources of all types.

What should be painfully obvious to all of us in social studies education is an inescapable fact that currently seems invisible to the general public in the frenzy and passion of current political accusations on both sides. Regardless of which side was most harmed by the outside social media influences in our last election, more than at any time in our history, our electorate is dangerously vulnerable to cyber misinformation. This article attempts to provide a solution to how we as social studies educators might address this crisis.

Now that this Pandora’s Box of our inability to separate fact from fiction has been opened for the world to see, sanctions and even armed attack against aggressors will not be able to eliminate outside threats from using the invisible power of the Internet to influence our elections. The fact is that our recent elections have revealed that the American democratic process can now be manipulated with a laptop from anywhere in the world.  The growing awareness that our electoral process is vulnerable to foreign and internal interference puts our very democracy in peril.

Although the current state of our national politics seeks to find the culprits and punish those responsible, what is being missed in this drama that has both political sides attacking each other is who the real enemy is. In the words of the noted philosopher and long-ago comic strip superstar, Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” The truth is that no matter who interferes and who is to blame, the real question is why are we so vulnerable to obvious, and often ridiculous misinformation?

The fact is that the most preposterous claims can affect and determine the outcome of an election is clear proof that our electorate lacks the critical skill of determining what information is credible and that which is not. We have become so addicted to our social media that we unquestionably accept the credibility of information the minute it is provided.  Not only is this damaging in political arenas, but this misinformation can spread to every arena of our lives. The good news is that we have the power to do something about this if we are willing to rethink the way we deliver social studies education and the end goal of that instruction.

Moving beyond Jeopardy to the new basics of social studies, media literacy

My sad confession, after decades as social studies instructor and a New York State Regents test designer, is that too much of my professional involvement focused on preparing students to recall and employ the vital information that was considered essential to understanding our nation’s past and present.  Said in a less flattering way, a good deal of my life’s work in this subject involved preparing students to meet demands, not unlike that of a high stakes and challenging Jeopardy game. Although state and advanced placement assessment has never been confused with the fun and excitement of a Jeopardy game, the same basic skill of recall drove both.

Now that Google has made that skill of recall less relevant in the lives of the digital natives that we teach, we must face the fact that the new skill most needed is evaluating the continuing barrage of information that invades our lives on our electronic devices on a minute-by-minute basis. According to a new study by Roger Bon at the University of California-San Diego, we are bombarded daily by an equivalent of 34 Gb (gigabytes) of information every day.  This is enough to cripple our laptops. Imagine what this overload is doing to our brains.

Inspired by a presentation by social studies supervisor, Lorraine Lupinskie of the Half Hollows Central School District, at, the Long Island Council for Social Studies, my graduate and undergraduate students created online K-5 Inquiry Design Model units with the new basics of arming our students with the tools needed to deal with this information overload.  Media Literacy is a skill that is too critical to hold off until middle or high school social studies courses. These skills need to be cultivated in the earliest grades as our students inhabit the digital world from birth.

These units, harnessing the magic of the storybooks, begin in grade one and run through grade five, can be accessed on this Molloy College website link (shorturl.at/estAM). These units, created by my Molloy College students and driven by compelling questions, deal with the key media literacy skills of sourcing, corroboration, purpose and point of view, differentiating fact from opinion, credibility and reliability, applying these constructs to their assigned curriculum.  Each unit is based on the Inquiry Design Unit Model and driven by an appropriate grade level children’s literature selection that breaks down the complicated skills of media literacy through story.  After the students absorb the media literacy skills, they are required to evaluate the credibility of the information that they receive, even from their own textbooks as well on the Internet.

Please feel free to borrow the units created by Molloy preservice students shared on our website, www.behindthecurtainsofhistory.weebly.com (K-5 Media Literacy Units—Beginning with Storybooks). The nature of this publication does not allow us to share in depth multiple examples of each unit, but in this the year of a truly controversial national political election, we share a snapshot of two of the units from the creators and implementers of those units as they impart the skills of sourcing, corroboration, purpose and point of view, differentiating fact from opinion, credibility and reliability, applying these constructs to their students.

Lessons from the Field: A Snapshot of our Second Grade Inquiry Design Model Unit: How Can We Elect a Good President?

Emily Festa and Kellyann Turton

Living in an era, where the concept of fake news and the misinterpretation of facts and ideas are prevalent, it is evident that we need to teach students the skills and techniques needed to be informed citizens, who will one day be called to effectively exercise their right to vote. Our second-grade unit, How Can We Elect a Good President, is made up of lessons that teach our youngest scholars how to identify credible sources and to corroborate those sources so that we can make effective decisions.

Our unit’s foundation begins with this question to engage students, “Have you ever heard a rumor about someone that wasn’t true?” To teach the concept of the credibility of rumors through story, we chose the marvelous book Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna. This book ignites a discussion and activity to identify the need for credible sources in the face of rumor. Through discovering how a person’s reputation can be ruined by an unsubstantiated and false rumor, spread by misinformed members of a community, students will be able to sort through and determine what are credible sources in follow up activities that links to their everyday lives.

After learning what makes sources credible, scholars will use their newly found knowledge to learn to corroborate facts that they hear. To teach corroboration, we chose to incorporate the book, I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, in conjunction with a YouTube video, Six Insane Iguana Facts. Scholars will practice corroborating sources to see if the events covered in the story have sound corroborating evidence from the video. These skills will be then be harnessed to help our youngest citizens become informed citizens by participating in an election to determine a class ice cream election. This unit was made with the full intent to give our future voters the tools they will one day need to vote in actual elections by using literacy sources that teach underlying skills.

Lessons from the Field: A Snapshot of our Fourth Grade Inquiry Design Model Unit: How Do We Know What We Learned about the Inventors during Industrial Revolution is True? 

Emily R. Sledge

In our digital age, the introduction of media literacy in elementary education is no longer an add on but should be a necessity. How Do We Know What We Learned About the Inventors During the Industrial Revolution Is True? is a fourth-grade Inquiry Design Model (IDM) unit that consists of integrated media literacy based E.L.A. lessons and social studies lessons that address the importance of the media literacy through the skills of sourcing and corroboration. By utilizing these newly developed skills, students will be able to conclude whether or not the information from their textbook on inventors of the Industrial Revolution is credible.

To teach sourcing, we incorporated the book Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna as our introductory, media literacy based E.L.A. lesson. Although this book may have been used in previous grade levels, it was our belief that the same book could viewed through different lens at a different age.  This lesson laid the groundwork for students to learn to examine and scrutinize information from various sources. In contrast to the use of the book presented on the second-grade level, the book now established a mandate to evaluate a source on all information, even textbooks.

The book led to a discussion about the danger of spreading misinformation and the need to evaluate the sources of any and all information. It was our goal in this lesson for students to walk away with the understanding that informed citizens use sound evidence and facts to draw conclusions about the accuracy and credibility of a source. After the story, opened the unit with two key questions, “What is sourcing? and Why is it so important to check the sources of the information we hear?” The goal was to get students think about the need to investigate the author of a source and the motive for author in writing the source. Students completed an activity in which they practiced sourcing, using evidence and facts to determine whether information might credible, based on the sources.

The goal of the final lessons of the unit was for students to utilize the skills of sourcing and corroboration to answer our essential question, “How Do We Know What We Learned About the Inventors During the Industrial Revolution Is True?”  To evaluate the sources that had driven our unit, we created a tool for students to put each source under the microscope. This tool we created was named, USER, (Understand, Source, Elaborate, Reliable).  On a large oak tag sheet with a different source in the middle of the poster, each group of four students was required to move around the source in the center to determine the credibility of the source by providing answers called for under each letter.

Students first collaborated under a large U, and on the bottom of the poster, wrote down what their understanding of the information that the source conveyed.  Moving the next side of the poster, they then filled in everything that they could learn about the source and the author of the source under the large S. The next letter, E, elaborate, asked students to elaborate on what they thought about the credibility of the information based on what was said (The U) and the source’s author (The S). The final letter, R, asked student if the information seemed reliable, did what they learned based on what they had learned in analyzing the source support what was in their textbook.

Groups of four evaluated different primary sources in collaborative units and shared their information with the  whole class as experts on their document.  After hearing all of the documents, our youngest student citizens were now armed with primary source evidence to answer the question of whether what their textbook taught about the inventors of the Industrial Revolution was true, based on this in-depth class corroboration exercise.

It is our hope that lessons focusing on media literacy will establish positive and integral habits that our students can take into the future. Media literacy is an essential skill that we must all be equipped with going forward if our democracy is to survive and thrive. In a technological age, when information is a click away, teaching primary and intermediate grade students the importance of evaluating the credibility of sources will ensure that our students are responsible, literate individuals who will not accept what is delivered to them on social media at face value.

(Full lesson plans, Inquiry Design Unit Plans, Unit PowerPoints, and supporting materials for the units above are available on the website http://www.behindthecurtainsofhistory.weebly.com)

References

Bohn, R., & Short, J. (2012). Measuring Consumer Information. International Journal of Communication, 6, 980-1000. Retrieved from https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/1566/743

Coombe, D., J., Orlowski, & Curtis, V. (Writers), & Orlowski, J. (Director). (2020, September 9). The Social Dilemma [Television series episode]. In The Social Dilemma. HBO.

Festa, E., Radburn, L., Spaulding, M., Turton, K. (Writers). (2019) Behind the curtains of history: FINDING STUDENT voice in HISTORY NCSS: Inquiry Design Unit plans. Retrieved February, 2021, from http://www.behindthecurtainsofhistory.weebly.com/

Kelly, W. (1971). Pogo [Cartoon].

Madonna; Long, L. (2003). Mr Peabody’s Apples, London: Puffin Books.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Kenneth E.Behring Center. Engaging Students with Primary Sources. (n.d.).

Wineburg, S. S. (2018). Why learn history (when it’s already on your phone). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Adopting a Politics of Love and Liberation in Our Schools Can Save Our Democracy

Adopting a Politics of Love and Liberation in Our Schools Can Save Our Democracy

Teresa Ann Willis

On January 6, 2021, mobs of mostly white Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol building armed with weapons, outrage and what they believed to be the truth about a Donald Trump victory in the November 2020 presidential election. Despite election results that recorded a 306 to 232 electoral college win for Biden, many who backed the president believed, without any evidence to support their beliefs, the election was stolen and President Trump should serve another four-year term. Two weeks later, Trump’s 1776 Commission released its report on the teaching of U.S. history in schools — a report widely criticized for its poor scholarship and blatant lies. Trump ushered the commission into existence the day before the November election, he said, to restore patriotic education and eradicate “decades of left-wing indoctrination.”

In September 2020, then-presidential candidate, Joe Biden, also weighed in on the teaching of history. Speaking at a Kenosha, Wis. town hall held in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and the civil unrest that followed, Biden asked, “Why aren’t we teaching history in history classes?” then proceeded to extol the accomplishments of African Americans routinely left out of the curriculum.

Both Trump and Biden understand education’s role in shaping our understanding of who we are as Americans, and thus, our democracy. Though Biden revoked Trump’s 1776 Commission during his first week in office, neither approach to teaching history will help us become a healthy democratic nation.

President Biden correctly understands U.S. history hasn’t been taught with the complexity and nuance needed for students to become informed voters and citizens. But if we want to prevent today’s students from becoming tomorrow’s insurrectionists, we can’t just change what is taught, we’ve got to change how we teach, and doing so will require restructuring teacher education programs. Teacher candidates must be trained in teaching historical thinking skills — skills that equip students to critically analyze and evaluate history by reviewing primary sources from multiple perspectives, thereby enabling them to make intelligent, evidence-based arguments.

Trained in historical thinking, students will determine for themselves the validity of claims like, “there was no Holocaust” or “slavery wasn’t really that bad for African Americans” or “the election was stolen.”

Interrogating primary sources will push students to confront what James Baldwin rightly called a history that is “longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Liberated from corporate textbook versions of American history, students will be compelled to confront historical narratives with their eyes wide open. Classrooms will come alive with students engaged in robust inquiry and thoughtful meaning-making. Under the guidance of competently trained teachers, they’ll also practice being civil and respectful in the face of sometimes extreme dissonance and discomfort — skills sorely lacking in our body politic.

That our public education system has always been political (even though we pretend otherwise) is an understatement. Before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Americans were educated in segregated schools. It’s true, schools populated by Black children, teachers and staff were grossly underfunded. Often ignored is that some of those schools had an abundance of what is necessary to produce informed, courageous citizens, perfectly positioned to create a healthy representative democracy.

In the best schools, Black children were educated by teachers who loved on them just as hard as their parents loved on them. These teachers affirmed their Black students and as a result the children in these schools knew they mattered. They believed they were worthy human beings despite dominant cultural narratives that screamed otherwise.

They also were held to the highest academic standards. In her book, Their Highest Potential, Vanessa Siddle Walker, professor of African American Educational Studies at Emory University, spotlights one school, the former Caswell County Training School (CCTS) in Yanceyville, North Carolina. CCTS was the only accredited school in that county when court mandated desegregation took root: “Ironically, then, at the end of segregation, black students left their accredited high school to be desegregated into a white school that was not accredited,” Walker wrote. Teachers at CCTS recalled pushing students to their highest potential because they knew “giving other children what you would want for your own was the basis of good teaching and of a good school program.”

In other segregated schools, children were taught how to vote through elaborate election simulations even though their parents and teachers were barred from voting. The teachers and students who populated some of these Jim Crow-era schools became our Civil Rights Movement sheroes and heroes. The staff, teachers, students and parents of these segregated Black schools serve as models for what’s needed today.

It’s true more history teachers are using primary source documents to teach history. It’s also true many lament that because they weren’t adequately taught American history, they feel neither confident nor comfortable teaching it. If we’re going to begin teaching in a way we’ve never before taught, we will have to become comfortable being uncomfortable — until we find our sweet spot.

As a first step, we must acknowledge and understand our own relationship to American history. The question, “In the history of the United States, where were my ancestors and how are my people connected to past events?” may not be the most comfortable place to begin but begin teachers must. That some educators also cling to ignorant notions about our history speaks to the urgency of overhauling teacher education programs. After a classroom discussion in a 2016 professional development institute I attended on slavery and abolitionism, one tenured teacher remarked about enslaved people, “Well they had food and shelter.”

Similarly, the furor over Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project speaks to why we’ve got to come to terms with our history and with who we are as a nation. Premiering in the New York Times Magazine in 2019, the series reframes America’s historical narrative by “placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of African Americans at the very center” of our story. As a nation, we will never be able to love other people’s children like they are our own until we first reconcile who we’ve been to each other, how we’ve treated each other and why.

Walker stated that the teachers who trained Black children for democratic citizenship were engaging in subversive acts. Training all students for democratic citizenship, arming them with critical thinking skills and liberating them from the myths, lies, omissions and erasures of American history may still be considered subversive, but it is no less essential.

It would be naïve to think our education system is the only one requiring systemic change if America is to become her best and highest self. It would be equally naïve to think teachers are singularly responsible for the task at hand. Creating schools that become sites of liberation and love will require a commitment from all stakeholders — politicians, power brokers, education administrators, teachers, parents, everyone. America, will you commit? Will you love our children and make real our democracy?

Debate over the 15th Amendment Divides Abolitionists

Debate over the 15th Amendment Divides Abolitionists

Alan Singer

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution declares “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The wording of the Amendment drove a wedge between different factions in the anti-slavery movement. A number of prominent women in the movement argued for a universal right to vote. Some advocates for the amendment as written believed the moment was ripe to end voting discrimination against Black men, but that adding women’s suffrage to the Amendment would mean its defeat. Some of the opposition to granting Black men the right to vote but not white women was overtly racist.

Questions

  1. Why did the 15th Amendment divide allies in the abolitionist movement?
  2. Why did women in the movement demand universal suffrage?
  3. What was the argument for limiting the 15th Amendment to voting rights for Black men?
  4. How did this debate expose racism amongst those who opposed slavery?
  5. If you were an elected representative in the 1860s, what would have been your position on the 15th Amendment? Why?

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1865): “By an amendment of the Constitution, ratified by three-fourths of the loyal States, the black man is declared free. The largest and most influential political party is demanding suffrage for him throughout the Union, which right in many of the States is already conceded. Although this may remain a question for politicians to wrangle over for five or ten years, the black man is still, in a political point of view, far above the educated women of the country. The representative women of the nation have done their uttermost for the last thirty years to secure freedom for the negro, and so long as he was lowest in the scale of being we were willing to press his claims; but now, as the celestial gate to civil rights is slowly moving on its hinges, it becomes a serious question whether we had better stand aside and see “Sambo” walk into the kingdom first. As self-preservation is the first law of nature, would it not be wiser to keep our lamps trimmed and burning, and when the constitutional door is open, avail ourselves of the strong arm and blue uniform of the black soldier to walk in by his side, and thus make the gap so wide that no privileged class could ever again close it against the humblest citizen of the republic?”

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1866): “You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me . . . We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro. You pressed him down for two centuries; and in so doing you crippled the moral strength and paralyzed the spiritual energies of the white men of the country. When the hands of the black were fettered, white men were deprived of the liberty of speech and the freedom of the press. Society cannot afford to neglect the enlightenment of any class of its members. At the South, the legislation of the country was in behalf of the rich slaveholders, while the poor white man was neglected . . . Talk of giving women the ballot-box? Go on. It is a normal school, and the white women of this country need it. While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America.”

Petition to the Senate and House of Representatives for Universal Suffrage (1866): “The undersigned, Women of the United States, respectfully ask an amendment of the Constitution that shall prohibit the several States from disfranchising any of their citizens on the ground of sex. In making our demand for Suffrage, we would call your attention to the fact that we represent fifteen million people—one half of the entire population of the country—intelligent, virtuous, native-born American citizens; and yet stand outside the pale of political recognition. The Constitution classes us as ‘free people,’ and counts us whole persons in the basis of representation; and yet are we governed without our consent, compelled to pay taxes without appeal, and punished for violations of law without choice of judge or juror. The experience of all ages, the Declarations of the Fathers, the Statute Laws of our own day, and the fearful revolution through which we have just passed, all prove the uncertain tenure of life, liberty and property so long as the ballot—the only weapon of self-protection—is not in the hand of every citizen. Therefore, as you are now amending the Constitution, and, in harmony with advancing civilization, placing new safeguards round the individual rights of four millions of emancipated slaves, we ask that you extend the right of Suffrage to Woman—the only remaining class of disfranchised citizens—and thus fulfill your Constitutional obligation ‘to Guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government.’ As all partial application of Republican principles must ever breed a complicated legislation as well as a discontented people, we would pray your Honorable Body, in order to simplify the machinery of government and ensure domestic tranquility, that you legislate hereafter for persons, citizens, tax-payers, and not for class or caste. For justice and equality your petitioners will ever pray.”

Thaddeus Stevens (1867): “There are several good reasons for the passage of this bill. In the first place, it is just. I am now confining my arguments to Negro suffrage in the rebel States. Have not loyal blacks quite as good a right to choose rulers and make laws as rebel whites? In the second place, it is a necessity in order to protect the loyal white men in the seceded States. The white Union men are in a great minority in each of those States. With them the blacks would act in a body; and it is believed that in each of said States, except one, the two united would form a majority, control the States, and protect themselves. Now they are the victims of daily murder. They must suffer constant persecution or be exiled.”

Sojourner Truth (1867): “There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored woman; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women get theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1869): “If American women find it hard to bear the oppressions of their own Saxon fathers, the best orders of manhood, what may they not be called to endure when all the lower orders of foreigners now crowding our shores legislate for them and their daughters. Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling-book, making laws for Lucretia Mott, Ernestine L. Rose, and Anna E. Dickinson.”

Frederick Douglass (1869): “I do not see how anyone can pretend that there is the same urgency in giving the ballot to woman as to the negro. With us, the question is a matter of life and death, at least, in fifteen States of the Union [in reference to the former slave states]. When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans . . . when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”

Susan B. Anthony (1869): “If you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people, give it to the most intelligent first. If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the government, let the question of women brought up first and that of the negro last . . . Mr. Douglass talks about the wrongs of the negro; but with all the outrages that he today suffers, he would not exchange his sex and take the place of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”

New Law? New Curriculum? What Do I Do?

New Law? New Curriculum? What Do I Do?

Cathy A.R. Brant

On Monday March 1, 2021 Governor Phil Murphy Signed Assembly Bill No. 4454 of which Section C.18A:35-4.36a which mandates that New Jersey K-12 public school curriculum to include instruction on diversity and inclusion:

Beginning in the 2021-2022 school year, each school district shall incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion in an appropriate place in the curriculum of students in grades kindergarten through 12 as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. b. The instruction shall: (1) highlight and promote diversity, including economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance; (2) examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole; and (3) encourage safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs (New Jersey Legislature, 2021)

For many teachers, it is a relief that it is now state law that issues of diversity and equity are mandated parts of the curriculum. In fact, in my work with pre-service teachers one of the most common threads I hear from my students is that they want to address issues of equity, racism, inclusion, homophobia, and other diversity related issues but have concerns about push-back from their colleagues, their administrators, and their students’ parents. For other teachers, it can seem like a daunting task to address these topics in an age-appropriate way, especially in the elementary grades.  In addition to the new diversity and inclusion law on June 3, 2020, the State Board of Education adopted the 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) (State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020), which go into effect during the 2022-2023 school year. This article lays out how this new curricular law could be covered in age-appropriate elementary grades using the new 2020 social studies standards. Additionally, curricular resources will be provided to help teachers address these topics.

New Jersey Diversity Law

The new NJ Diversity law has three areas of focus. The first area is highlighting and promotion of diversity.  This instruction should help children understand the differences that exist between people due to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, religious differences, etc. The goal of this law, in the elementary school setting, is for young students to understand the ways in which diversity exists in the world and to see the commonalities between their lives and the lives of others.  This idea is not new. Multicultural Education (MCE) has been around for decades (cite).  Multicultural education “an approach to teaching and learning that is based upon the democratic values and beliefs and that affirms cultural pluralism within culturally diverse societies in an interdependent world” with the goal of fostering “the intellectual, social, and personal development of all students to their highest potential” (Bennett, 2003, p. 14). Students who engage in a robust multicultural curriculum learn about aspects of identities, to appreciate and value the diversity of others in the world, and to help students develop cross-cultural competence to prepare them for lifelong interactions with people who are different from themselves.

The second part of the law focuses on understanding unconscious biases. Unconscious biases, or implicit biases:

…are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.  Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values (University of California-San Francisco, n.d.)

Children need to understand the ways that they may unintentionally engage in biased behavior that impacts others as well as understand the ways that bias, and discrimination exist at an institutional level.

The third section talks about the instruction itself in including encouraging safe, welcoming, and inclusive environments for all students.  In other words, the instruction should include the elements presented in the first two parts of the law but should also “[accept] and [affirm]the pluralisms (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities and teachers reflect” (Nieto and Bode, 2008, p. 44) in a way that all students feel welcomed in the classroom and school community.  The law explicitly articulates that this instruction should include topics of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs.

It is clear why this law was enacted. Students need purposeful inclusion of cultural education in the elementary classroom (McCarty, 2010). As the children of New Jersey grow up, they continue to interact with those of different races or ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs and will need to be prepared to be aware of the local as well as the global community (Kirkwood, 2001). They will be aware of global issues that go beyond their backyards such as global pandemics, the climate crisis, poverty, and other global inequities and transnational migration. Teachers, both explicitly and implicitly, make daily instructional decisions about “how students perceive their own culture, their nation, the lives of people around the world, and the issues and conflicts facing the planet” (Merryfield, 2002, p. 19), so there needs to be a deliberate shift in making this instruction explicit so that students can become productive citizens of their community and the world.

2020 New Jersey Social Studies Student Learning Standards

One of the major changes to the new NJSLS is the re-banding of the standards from K-4, 5-8, 9-12 to the following bands: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12. The new standards lay out the core ideas which “represent the knowledge and skills that they should be able to apply to new situations outside of the school experience” (State of New Jersey, Department of Education, 2020, p. 22). Curriculum writers and educators can use these core ideas as the basis for formative, summative, and benchmark assessments. Additionally, the standards describe the performance expectations, what students should know and be able to do by the end of the band.  The 2021 NJSLS have 18 key disciplinary concepts from the four main disciplinary domains of social studies: civics, geography, economics and history. See Table 1:

Table 1: 2021 NJSLS key disciplinary concepts:

Civics, Government, and Human Rights Civic and Political InstitutionsParticipation and DeliberationDemocratic PrinciplesProcesses and RulesHuman and Civil RightsCivic MindednessGeography, People and the Environment Spatial Views of the World Human Population Patterns Human Environment InteractionGlobal InterconnectionsEconomics, Innovation and Technology Exchange and Markets National EconomyGlobal EconomyHistory, Culture, and Perspectives Continuity and ChangeUnderstanding Perspectives Historical Sourcing and Evidence Claims and Argumentation  

In addition to the core disciplinary concepts, the new standards also present core ideas under each of these disciplinary concepts which students should be able to achieve by the end of a grade level. It is easy to see how many of these can be connected to highlighting and promoting the diversity of others. For example, under the concept of History, Culture, and Perspectives: Understanding Perspectives, by the end of Grade 2 students should be able understand that 1) Two or more individuals can have a different understanding of the same event, and 2) Respecting and understanding the views of others helps one learn about various perspectives, thoughts, and cultures. By the end of grade 5, students will be able to understand 1) Respecting and understanding the views of others helps one learn about various perspectives, thoughts, and cultures, and 2) Events may be viewed differently based on one’s perspective (State of New Jersey, Department of Education, 2020, p. 18). This is just one example of the explicit connections between the new standards and the diversity law, but what is even more important are the pedagogical practices on how to teach these concepts.

Lesson Ideas

In this section I will highlight four specific indicators, three from the K-2 band and one from the 3-5 band.  These indicators have been selected as they directly relate to the new legislation. This should serve as affirmation for elementary grade teachers that they can and are required to teach this content. One of the best ways to help students see themselves reflected and affirmed in the curriculum, and to provide windows into the lives of others who may differ from them is through high quality children’s literature (Sims Bishop, 1990). In addition to discussing how the standards can be addressed in the curriculum, I will highlight high quality multicultural children’s literature that will help teachers do so. The kindergarten through second grade standards opens up spaces in elementary classrooms to lay the foundation for addressing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The third grade through fifth grade band allows teachers to add layers to what the kindergarten through second grade teachers introduced.  Once students understand that differences exist, how stereotyping and prejudice is problematic, and promoting ideas of tolerance and respect for others, teachers and students adapt a more critical lens, going beyond their own experiences to focusing on the experiences of others and greater system issues of discrimination and marginalization.

6.1.2.CivicsCM.3: Explain how diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect for others can contribute to individuals feeling accepted.

With young children, we need to scaffold their understanding of the concepts of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect. Even in the youngest grades, teachers can have conversations with children about their identities, affirming their identities, and helping them appreciate and value the differences between their identities and the identities of others (Teaching Tolerance, 2018). Setting this groundwork in the early grades can allow for explicit instruction, in later grades, on more complex aspects of these topics such as personal biases and systemic oppression. The Day You Beginwritten by Jacqueline Woodson (Woodson, 2018) is a perfect book to help introduce the concepts of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and respect to young children, and helping students see the commonalities between each other. Angelina comes to school and notices the many ways in which she is different from her peers, including her skin color, hair texture, and is nervous to share the fact that she and her family did not go on any big or exciting trips over the summer vacation. Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, is embarrassed when his classmates laugh at his accent. Another student is upset when a classmate criticizes her lunch of meat, rice and kimchi. Woodson, then, has Angelina share her story about her summer vacation, and other students begin to make connections. Woodson encourages the reader to not only recognize the difference between people and not to treat people poorly because of them, but for each reader to have a sense of pride in the ways in which they are different and special.

6.1.2.HistoryUP.3: Use examples from the past and present to describe how stereotyping and prejudice can lead to conflict.

In almost every elementary classroom, teachers have heard students say phrases like, “Girls can’t do that” or “That’s a girl’s toy, not a boy’s toy,” or “Pink can’t be your favorite color, you’re a boy!” Pink is for Boys by Robb Perlmann and illustrated by Eda Kaben (Perlmann, 2018) is a book that would serve as a great entry point to talk about how stereotypes and prejudice can lead to conflict. The book goes through the various colors of the rainbow and states that the color is for both boys and girls. The book encourages children to do what they love, regardless of the gender stereotypes associated with that activity.  A teacher can read this book and have explicit discussions with children about the times that they were made fun of or criticized for liking things that were stereotypical for another gender. The teacher could lead the students to engage in critical work to think about why certain colors, toys, clothes, etc. are marketed to a specific gender instead of to all genders.  This text could also lead into conversations about children who do not fit into the gender binary.  After beginning a lesson or a unit on exploring gender stereotypes, the teacher could then introduce a book about a transgender such as When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff.  This text tells the story of Aidan, who when he was born, everyone thought he was a girl, but was really a transgender boy.  The book discusses how Aidan’s self-image changed when he was able to be his authentic self. This book is an excellent resource to introduce the topic of transgender individuals and how they should be treated.

6.1.5.CivicsPD.3: Explain how and why it is important that people from diverse cultures collaborate to find solutions to community, state, national, and global challenges.

The goal of this standard is for students to take the skills that they have started to learn in earlier grades about understanding and valuing cultural differences to begin to understand how people with those cultural differences can work together. This is important for students to understand the problem solving that goes on in their communities, their state, their nation, and in the world.  Students can begin to see how issues like global warming, war and poverty are relevant in the United States but across the globe and that everyone needs to do their part to work together to begin to solve these problems. Harlem Grown by Tony Hillery is a great place for young students to see how people can come together to make a difference in their community. This book is the true story about how the author, with the help of his community, turned an empty lot in Harlem, New York into a community farm (Hillery, 2020).  The book shows the way that This book could be paired with Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Seedfolks is a similar story set in Cleveland, Ohio in which a young Vietnamese girl plants seeds in an empty lot near her home. As her plants began to grow, other neighbors from diverse backgrounds began to plant their own fruits and vegetables. The book shares the rich diversity of the neighborhood and how the community garden brought these very different people together.

6.1.5.HistoryCC: Evaluate the impact of ideas, inventions, and other contributions of prominent figures who lived in New Jersey.

In addition to celebrating New Jersey heroes like astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, author Judy Bloom, and inventor Thomas Edison, we need to be explicit in highlighting the contributions and accomplishments of New Jersey who come from diverse backgrounds including jazz artist Count Basie, Joe Black, the first African American to win a World Series Game, suffragist Lucy Stone, and actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson. Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, was an All-American football player at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University), and then got his law degree.  Despite having a degree in law, Robeson became a singer, actor and activist. Robeson believed that part of his responsibilities as a celebrity was to fight inequity and injustice. Grandpa Stops a War: A Paul Robeson Story is one example of a book that can be shared with upper elementary students. In the book the author, Susan Robeson (Paul Robeson’s granddaughter), shares the story of her grandfather using his singing talent to help raise funds for those displaced during the Spanish Civil War. What is especially poignant about this book is that fact that Robeson used his natural gifts, of song, to help make a change. A book, such as this, can help students see the ways that they can be who they are and positively impact their communities and the world. This book could also be combined with others about other activists for equality such as Lucy Stone, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez.

Concluding Thoughts

These are just four examples of the intersections between the new New Jersey Assembly Bill No. 4454 and the 2020 Social Studies NJLS. One of the challenges that teachers face when thinking about enacting these two elements are resources. Teachers want to know where to find information that will provide them with the background knowledge, they need to teach these concepts and the tools needed to effectively do so. There are a few resources I specifically recommend. First, I highly recommend that all teachers review Learning for Justice’s (formerly Teaching Tolerance) website, and more specifically, their Social Justice Standards (https://www.learningforjustice.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/TT-Social-Justice-Standards-Anti-bias-framework-2020.pdf).  The Zinn Education project (https://www.zinnedproject.org) is another valuable resource for teachers with downloadable lessons and materials for teachers to use to promote the experiences, voices and perspectives of those not typically highlighted in textbooks such as people of color, Indigenous people and women. Another place that teachers can find resources is the National Council of the Social Studies Notable Trade Book list (https://www.socialstudies.org/notable-social-studies-trade-books).  This annually released list of books is a phenomenal resource for teachers, as the books are reviewed by both university faculty and classroom teachers and are annotated with a brief summary that includes the appropriate grade levels for the text.

While the new curriculum and the new New Jersey diversity law can seem daunting for New Jersey elementary social studies teachers, it is important to know that these two documents are supportive of each other. The new standards are more explicit in the emphasis on issues of equity, tolerance and difference, and the law mandates that teachers teach this content. The goal is to prepare the youth of New Jersey to work, live and play with others in our ever increasingly diverse state and country.

Picture Books Cited:

Fleischman, P. (2004). Seedfolks. HarperTrophy.

Hillery, T. (2020). Harlem grown: How one big idea transformed a neighborhood.  Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.

Lukoff, K. (2019). When Aidan became a brother. Lee & Low Books.

Perlman, R. (2018). Pink is for boys. Running Press Kids.

Robeson, S. (2019). Grandpa stops a war: A Paul Robeson story. Triangle Square.

References

Bennett, C. I. (2003).  Comprehensive multicultural education: Theory and practice (5th ed). Allyn and Bacon. 

Kirkwood, T. F. (2001). Our global age requires global education: Clarifying definitional ambiguities. Social Studies, 92(1), 10. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.1080/00377990109603969

McCarty, D. M. (2007). Using multicultural National Council for the Social Studies Notable Books in the elementary classroom. Social Studies, 98(2), 49–53. https://doi-org.ezproxy.rowan.edu/10.3200/TSSS.98.2.49-53

Merryfield, M. M. (2002). The Difference a Global Educator Can Make. Educational Leadership, 60(2), 18.

New Jersey Legislature (2021) Chapter 32. Retrieved from https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2020/Bills/PL21/32_.PDF

Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (5th ed.). Longman. 

Sims Bishop, R. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix-xi.

State of New Jersey, Department of Education (2020), New Jersey Learning Standards. Retrieved from https://www.state.nj.us/education/cccs/2020/2020%20NJSLS-SS.pdf

Teaching Tolerance (2018). Social justice standards: The teaching tolerance anti-bias framework, https://www.learningforjustice.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/TT-Social-Justice-Standards-Anti-bias-framework-2020.pdf

University of California-San Francisco (n.d.). Unconscious Bias. https://diversity.ucsf.edu/resources/unconscious-bias


 

Learning and Teaching about Service Learning: A Model Project about Freedom Seekers

Learning and Teaching about Service Learning: A Model Project about Freedom Seekers

Dana Faye Serure and Michael Broccolo

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards advocate civic engagement in which students take informed action as “both a means of learning and applying social studies knowledge” in order to prepare for civic life living in a democracy (National Council for the Social Studies, 2013, p. 59). Civic engagement is also an aspirational learning goal of the New York State K-12 Social Studies Framework (2015). That said, preparing pre-service social studies teachers who are equipped with teaching civic engagement can be challenging especially in our current times with increased political polarization (Hess & McAvoy, 2014), fakenews vs. fact-checkers (Breakstone, McGrew, Smith, Ortega, & Wineburg, 2018; Journell, 2021; McGrew, 2020), and the continued social studies wars – recently evident by President Trump’s “1776 Commission” and The New York Times “1619 Project” debate (Davis, 2020; Evans, 2004; Evans & Passe, 2007; Kendi, 2016).

This manuscript details the process of pre-service secondary social studies education candidates learning “how to teach” as well as learning “how to teach service learning” during a required course project. In addition, pre-service teachers examined social justice from the perspective of Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance). The authors are the course instructor and the educational specialist with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center (hereafter referenced as UGRR or Heritage Center) who offer insight on this topic. The course instructor is a newer assistant professor in the field of teacher education, and previously served as a social studies instructional specialist and classroom teacher. The educational specialist is a social studies education graduate from Institution_insert. He/she began working at UGRR in 2018 as a Visitor Experience Guide, and recently promoted to develop UGRR educational resources.

Being mindful that teaching “how to teach” and learning and teaching “how to teach service learning” with social justice in mind can be a daunting task for any educator. A meta-ethnography of social studies education research pinpoints an un-even score card of pre-service social studies teachers’ capability to internalize democratic education  concepts, such as civic action, equality and equity, and social justice (Tannebaum, 2015). While many social studies teacher educators address these topics and issues, Tannebaum (2015) indicates that pre-service teachers demonstrate a developing competency to apply theory into instructional practice. As expressed by Bickmore (2008) teaching social studies methods compares to making “soup” and all of its “ingredients” with a sprinkle of hope that pre-service teachers will learn to be/become civic-minded, social justice teachers.

Hence, the course instructor believes that the initial methods and materials course prepares pre-service teachers for “doing social studies,” in other words, to develop their social studies purpose similar to a teacher’s creed (Author, YYYY; LaMorte, 2017; Ross, 2015). “Doing social studies”extends beyond content, skills, and literacy; it leads with civics which “enables students not only to study how others participate, but also to practice participating and taking informed action themselves” (National Council for the Social Studies, 2000, p. 31) as critical for pre-service teachers to learn during their preparation programming.

What is service learning with social justice in mind?

According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), service learning connects meaningful service in the school or community with academic learning and civic responsibility (NCSS, 2000). Service learning is distinguished from community service or volunteerism in two ways: 1) the service activity is integrated with academic skills and content; and 2) students engage in structured reflection activities about their service experiences. Service learning seeks “to equally benefit the provider and the receipt of the service,” distinguished from traditional service learning as charity work (Furco, 1996, p. 12). One’s service intention should avoid the deficit perspective which dis-empowers the community partner, and instead advocate an asset perspective which aligns with “social justice” or “justice orientated” civic engagement principles(Bringle & Hatcher, 1996; Ho & Barton, 2020; Tinkler, Hannah, Tinkler, & Miller, 2014; Wade, 2000). This approach, social justice service-learning, is encouraged by NAME_INSTITUTION for service learning, credit-bearing courses, which is the future goal for this teacher educator to become a service learning instructor.

Social Justice. For teacher educators implementing the National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers (NCSS, 2017) social justice is defined as “(1) a goal for improving access to equity for all individuals in a society who face any type of marginalization; and (2) the process by which individuals work toward realizing this goal” (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2007 as cited in Cuenca, 2017, p. 373). With civic responsibility at the core of service learning, and taking informed action to demonstrate civic engagement, pre-service teachers also need to self-reflect on their social justice knowledge. It begins with self-awareness of one’s own intersectionality, such as gender, race, ethnicity, social-economic status, and etc.

In developing the ability to teach and learn about social justice, the instructor and students examined the “Social Justice Standards: The Teaching Tolerance Anti-bias Framework” (Learning for Justice, 2018). The social justice standards include: identity, diversity, justice, and action; and were explored by four online learning modules that the course instructor adapted from the professional development resources by Learning for Justice. Additional class lessons supported student’s online learning experiences by viewing model lesson plans and participating in class discussions.

Overview: High School Methods Course and Service Learning Project. The high school methods and materials course introduces pre-service social studies teachers to social justice and service learning concepts in the first of two required methods and materials courses. At the course onset, explicit instruction centered on the NYS Social Studies Framework (NYSED, 2015), and an array of social studies teaching methods, such as historical thinking, social justice standards (identity, diversity, justice, and action by Learning for Justice), cultural-relevant sustaining pedagogy, taking informed action as advocated by the C3 Framework, as well as pedagogical skills (i.e., lesson plans, assessments, etc.).

In brief, the service learning project assessed a multi-step culminated learning process in which pre-service teachers either developedan action plan to coordinate a service learning experience with a future community partner or created a unit of study (sequenced lesson plans) to support the education platform of a community partner. Figure 1 outlines the development of the service learning course project over the last two years.

Figure 1: Service Learning Course Project

Due to various circumstances each semester (a total of four semesters over two years), the course project took on slightly different versions. Year One was split between a pre-coronavirus semester and a semester that included an extended spring break plus full remote instruction. During the second year only one semester of pre-service teachers completed the project who participated in a model service learning experience with the Heritage Center. This unique opportunity offered students a social justice lens to develop lesson plans that met UGRR’s value of freedom seekers. In seeking a reciprocal action students’ lesson plans were reviewed by the course instructor, UGRR’s education specialist, and collaborated upon to create a single inquiry which applied the Inquiry Design Method (Swan, Lee, & Grant, 2018), and formatted like the NYS Toolkit Project (for examples visit EngageNY – NYS K-12 Social Studies Resource Toolkit, 2015).

Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center

Niagara Falls, New York served as an impactful geographic place in the story of freedom seekers. The transportation routes afforded by the Niagara Falls region aided abolitionists, free African Americans, and enslaved people who crossed the International Suspension Bridge (located in the former village of Suspension Bridge) and/or the Niagara River into Canada (Wellman, 2012).

The public opening of the Heritage Center took place in May of 2018 after of decade of planning by the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Commission. The museum is attached to the Niagara Falls Amtrak Station and housed in the former 1863 U.S. Custom House. The mission includes a desire “to inspire visitors to recognize modern injustices that stem from slavery and take action toward an equitable society” (UGRR, Mission, n.d.). As adopted by the board of directors, UGRR vision is:  

To be at the forefront of Underground Railroad interpretation by encouraging visitors to take action for civil and human rights and creating global change that begins in the Niagara Falls community (Bacon, 2018).

The Heritage Center’s perspective advocates for social justice, such as “identity” and “action” by the language usage and teaching local history. The rethinking of language by the Heritage Center allows us to consider how words and images make us think and feel as demonstrated by exhibits of “freedom seekers” and “enslaved people” who achieved self-emancipation; some aided by others while many sought freedom unaided (National Parks Service, What is the Underground Railroad, 2020;Wellman, 2012).

Niagara Falls was not the only Underground Railroad passageway yet served as a predominant crossing point known as “one more river to cross” and a permanent exhibit at the Heritage Center (UGRR, One More River to Cross, 2020; Wellman, 2012). The grassy space of the museum and remnants of the Suspension bridge is called the Harriet Tubman Plaza, a sacred place where freedom seekers crossed into Canada for their freedom (UGRR, On Site – Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, 2021). Equally important, the Heritage Center is dedicated to the heroic efforts of many unknown everyday heroes who accomplished extraordinary things. UGRR prides itself in telling freedom seekers stories, for example John Morrison, Nancy Berry, Cecilia Reynolds, and Patrick Sneed (UGRR, n.d.; Wellman, 2012).

Service Learning: Course Project for a High School Methods and Materials Course

As pre-service social studies teachers learn “how to teach,” the aim of this teacher educator is to develop their ability to be “democratic social justice” leaders (Bickmore, 2008). As previously noted this endeavor can be a challenging task as pre-service teachers may be novices to civic engagement and civic responsibility themselves (Ho & Barton, 2020; Tannebaum, 2015; Wade, 2000, 1995).

Project Description and Process

Pre-service social studies teachers enrolled at INSTITUTION_NAME, an urban-engaged campus, prioritizes social justice and service learning at the collegiate level. The college’s Social Studies Education Department is also refining its program to enhance alignment with the National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers (NCSS, 2017), specifically social justice and service learning experiences. That said, the instructor addressed these learning intentions by exploring the Learning for Justicesocial justice standards and collaborating with the campus organization, CCE (as previously outlined in Figure 1).

The service learning project was inspired by a fifth grade classroom project called Civic Zines (Kawai & Cody, 2015) and Project Citizen protocols (Center for Civic Education, 1996).

Learning civic action for elementary students took the form of creating an individual current events magazine based on a topic or issue that was civically important to them (Kawai & Cody, 2015). For pre-service teachers, they followed a similar structure to inquire about social justice issues in the community and to connect with a community partner in order to develop a service learning experience. During this segment of learning, course readings included articles about the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) by Kathy Swan, John Lee, and S.G. Grant (2018) and viewing videos on the c3teachers.org website. Each of these resources connected with explicit instruction in the classroom which established the foundational “ingredients” to prepare students for the culminating project.

The initial step to implement the course project was the “What is service learning?” presentation facilitated by CCE specialists and included a class discussion about social justice issues important to students. The process continued with the following tasks: students conducted their own research seeking out an issue important to them, researched potential community partners to collaborate with, and reviewed NYS Social Studies Framework (NYSED, 2015) for instructional alignment with a grades 9-12 social studies course. The instructor reviewed students’ drafts and provided feedback as students focused on writing either a structured action plan detailing the logistics of a service learning experience for their future students or creating an unit design with a sequence of lesson plans for a potential service learning project relevant to high school social studies students. One criteria of the assignment that demonstrated exemplary performance compared with developing performance was planning for social justice beyond the act of charity, or volunteerism (Furco, 1996; NCSS, 2000). Last, pre-service teachers reflected upon service learning as a pedagogical approach in fulfilling their social studies purpose.

Even though the instructor intended to implement a class service learning experiential model as he/she transitioned from year one to year two, some limitations were encountered including the coronavirus pandemic. Collaborating with the CCE specialist, INSERT_NAME, and a former student, INSERT_NAME who serves as the educational specialist with the Heritage Center, a virtual partner was coordinated. The course project took on new meaning as the class experienced service learning through the eyes of a “student” and a “teacher.” The updated service learning project entailed a virtual tour of the heritage site, detailed learning about how language matters with an emphasis on Freedom Seekers, a walking and driving tour of local historical sites, and the option for additional research to develop lesson plans for UGRR. Three out of twelve students created lesson plans which are currently being vetted with the intent to be published on the Heritage Center’s website.

Assessment and Students’ Self-reflection. Pre-service teachers were assessed by four dimensions: 1) Research, 2) Learning Experience, 3) Reflection, and 4) Elements of Writing, see Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Rubric Dimensions

Student reflections provide insight for the teacher educator and potential next steps in re-designing the course’s learning objectives. In year one, two students (whose names have been changed to protect their identity) expressed the following:

  • Firstly, I like the fact that service learning allows for learning outside of the classroom. I also like the fact that this type of learning shows empathy toward one’s community (Ed).
  • I learned about what goes into planning and organizing a service-learning project…like research to find a reputable place that fits your classroom with relevant issues. Then, how will this learning experience impact the students. I would like to assume that if students understand the problems existing in their backyard…that they would be willing to make a difference and take-action (Rachel).

Both students reflect on the importance of community awareness and empathy as a civic action Second, these pre-service social studies education candidates recognize the potential impact on student learning that service learning can have on their own future students. In year two, this cohort participated in the virtual service learning experience with UGRR, and one student who developed lesson plans reflected on his learning experience as

This semester we had a chance to interact with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Museum; I found it an enriching and meaningful experience. For my final project, I created lesson plans to focus on using language and imagery, and how they affect how we think, view, and feel about a historical topic, specifically the Underground Railroad. The museum encourages visitors to rethink how we use language and imagery. Some of the lesson plan resources that I used included documents and videos from the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Museum (Don).

The reciprocal deed is reflected upon in this student’s statement as he expressed his own learning from UGRR resources and desired to create lesson plans which aligned with the Heritage Center’s belief system of freedom seekers.

According to the educational specialist, connecting history to the present is a paramount goal of the Heritage Center. He/she explained the impact of conversations between UGRR specialists and visitors, like students, can have when “learners make their own connections with history while UGRR staff help to deepen their understanding and probe more challenging questions” during a Heritage Center experience. Similarly, UGRR specialists, like teachers, aim to engage participants in discourse in order to enhance their learning experience, especially when seeking to take action about social justice.

Next Steps and Conclusion

            To meet and exceed the new NCSS teaching standards (2017), social studies education programs must provide purposeful learning experiences about social justice and service learning in order to develop civically, and social justice mindful educators. In attaining this goal, one potential next step is re-designing the methods course and formalizing it as a service learning course, which would entail:

a credit-bearing educational experience in which students participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of the course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility (Bringle & Hatcher, 1996, p. 222).

Even though not yet an official service learning course, another student’s reflection statement demonstrates that some of these attributes are already in place with the course project. She stated:

During the research stage I learned that there are many organizations trying to help those in need, and a service-learning project would impact high school students in a positive way. I never had the chance to do a project like this and I wish I did (Yvonne).

Yvonne recognizes the impact service learning can have on her future students; thus, indicating the course project’s learning intention were met.

Another next step is a continued community partnership with UGRR. As expressed by Michael Broccolo, “the museum is always looking to make connections with schools and educational institutions; collaborating with service learners offers UGRR an exciting role in sharing its mission and continued advocacy for modern day freedom seekers.” Ultimately, the participants, including the pre-service teachers, instructor, and community partner, found the social justice, service learning project worthwhile.

In conclusion, the notion of doing social studies begins with better equipping future social studies teachers with service learning experiences, including social justice mindfulness. It is imperative that teacher educators continue to focus on developing future teachers as “democratic social justice” leaders(Bickmore, 2008, p. 155; Tannebaum, 2015) in order to achieve the endeavor of fostering adolescents’ civic mindfulness for democratic social justice.

References

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Cuenca, A. (2017). Preparing Teachers for a New Generation of Social Studies Learners: Introducing the National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers. Social Education81(6), 370-375.

Davis, K. C. (2020). The American contradiction: Conceived in liberty, born in

shackles. Social Education84(2), 76-82.

Evans, R. W. (2004). The social studies wars: What should we teach the children?. New York: Teachers College Press.

Evans, R., & Passe, J. (2007). Dare We Make Peace: A Dialogue on the Social Studies Wars. The Social Studies98(6), 251–256. https://doi.org/10.3200/TSSS.98.6.251-256

Furco, A. (1996). Service-learning: A balanced approach to experiential education. In B. Taylor (Ed.), Expanding boundaries: Serving and learning (pp. 2–6). Washington,

DC: Corporation for National Service.

Hess, D. E., & McAvoy, P. (2014). The political classroom: Evidence and ethics in democratic education. New York: Routledge.

Ho, L. C., & Barton, K. C. (2020). Preparation for civil society: A necessary element of curriculum for social justice. Theory & Research in Social Education48(4), 471-491.

Journell, W. (2021). Taking a reasoned stance against misinformation. Phi Delta Kappan102(5), 12–17.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0031721721992559

Kawai, R., & Cody, J. (2015). Civic zines: Writing, discussing, and doing citizenship. Social Studies and the Young Learner28(2), 22-25.

Kendi, I. X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.

LaMorte, S. (2017). A context for teaching and learning social studies. NYSED Social Studies Statewide PD. Albany, NY: Rochester City Schools.

McGrew, S. (2020). Learning to evaluate: An intervention in civic online reasoning. Computers & Education145, 1-13.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103711

National Council for the Social Studies. (2017). National standards for the preparation of social studies teachers.Washington, DC: National Council for Social Studies.

National Council for the Social Studies. (2013). The college, career, and civic life (C3) framework for social studies state standards: Guiding for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history. Washington, DC: National Council for Social Studies.

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Modern Monetary Theory for Social Studies Educators: A New Perspective on an Old System

Modern Monetary Theory for Social Studies Educators: A New Perspective on an Old System

Erin C. Adams
 

Economics is a discourse built on figurative language, metaphors and folksy sayings (McCloskey, 1983). Former U.S. Representative Jack Kingston (Republican, GA) repeated one of the field’s best known sayings when he suggested that K-12 students should “pay a dime, pay a nickel” or better yet “sweep the floor of the cafeteria” in order to learn “there is in fact no such thing as a free lunch” (Kim, 2013). Although many economists, economics teachers and politicians are apt to repeat this popular metaphor, Modern Monetary Theorists would claim that such a sentiment is simply untrue. According to them, current federal programs like the National School Lunch Program, Social Security, Medicare, and the Postal Service can actually be fully funded in ways that have little to nothing to do with tax revenues. Economist Stephanie Kelton (2020) argues that these funding issues are more political than they are financial or economic and derive from a mixture of ignorance about how money actually works and voter pressure.  

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) “has achieved something quite rare for heterodox economics: it was in the headlines all over the world and in quick succession first denounced by all respectable policymakers, politicians and economists and then suddenly embraced as the necessary response to a global pandemic” (Wray, 2020, p. 3).  The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted discussions about issues that concern MMT; deficit spending, job guarantees, the availability of currency and the government’s role in aiding the public. These ideas “may be the economy’s only hope to get through the pandemic… a final test of MMT will come when the current pandemic ends, and the U.S. economy begins returning to normal” (Pressman, 2020, n.p.). Thus, it may be too late for the federal government to pursue any other course of action other than the deficit spending and other policies that MMT economists promote.

It has been said of Modern Monetary Theory that “once you get it you never see things quite the same way again (Kelton, 2020, p. 31). This is because MMT upends everything we think we know about how the economy works. In this article, I consider the contributions Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) can make to the fostering of the informed citizenry promoted by social studies education. MMT offers a new lens through which social studies educators and their students can view economics, politics and current events (Author, 2020). The goal of this article is not to convert or proselytize or to create MMT acolytes MMT, but to consider how MMT can prompt new and different ways to think about the economy. I highlight the way MMT can illuminate a current issue, the payroll tax deferral and the future of social security and other federally funded institutions.

Modern Monetary Theory: A Short Introduction

Modern Monetary Theory, a “once fringe idea” has suddenly “vaulted into the national conversation” (Bryan, 2019, n.p.). Although developed in the mid-1990s, Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, gained a following when U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed it as a financial solution for the Green New Deal (Horsley, 2019 see also Seitz and Krutka, 2020).  In fact, although it is called a “theory” MMT “isn’t ‘theory’ at all” but “an accurate description of the monetary system that has already been operating in the United States and other sovereign nations with sovereign fiat currencies for decades” (Svetlik, 2019).In other words, MMT describes the system already in place and seeks to debunk myths about how money actually works. Thus, economists who promote MMT say that it is not an effort to change the financial system but to provide the public a more accurate picture of how it works.

Modern Monetary Theory was developed by University of Missouri-Kansas City economist Warren Mosler in the 1970s with the publication of the essay “Soft Currency Economics.” Bill Mitchell, who runs the Center of Full Employment and Equity at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia is credited with the term “Modern Monetary Theory.” Mosler and Mitchell’s ideas are drawn from the chartalism movement which originated in Germany in 1905. Chartalism means “ticket or token” “items that may be accepted as payment, but which do not have intrinsic value” (Hayes, 2021). This is an accurate description for modern United States currency. Since the United States went off of the gold standard in 1971, money is not backed by anything tangible and only functions because it is an agreed-upon currency backed by the sovereignty of the state.

Think like a currency issuer

You and I are currency-users. For that reason, we think like currency users. We have to access the national currency because we cannot print our own money. Unlike currency-issuers, we have to find ways to obtain the currency we need to buy the things we need and want and, most importantly, to pay taxes. Usually, this means we work to obtain the currency we need to participate in the economy. We also have to balance our budgets. This also means when we do not have enough money to pay for something we need or want, we must take out a loan and we must save money for things we want and need in the future. Budgeting, saving, borrowing and working in order to spend are very familiar concepts in K-12 economics education and comprise the crux of financial literacy. From a very early age, children are taught to make personal budgets, to make choices because they cannot have everything they want and to spend and save. The following quiz tests readers’ knowledge of everyday monetary “truths.”

Table 1. Monetary Policy Quiz

BeforeQuestion After
T/FThe purpose of taxes is to pay for government expendituresT/F
T/FSocial security, the United States Postal System and other federal programs can run out of moneyT/F
T/FGovernments introduce(d) currency as a way to make trade easier [than barter]T/F
T/FHouseholds, states and the Federal government must maintain    balanced budgets T/F
T/FTaxes must precede government spending (i.e. governments must collect money before they can spend it). T/F
T/FThat dollar in your pocket is yours T/F
T/FThe Federal government should reduce spending during recessionsT/F

Most people would answer true for most, if not all, of the questions. MMT, however, offers a different point of view, that of the currency-issuer.  Thinking like a currency-issuer means flipping everything we think we know about how the monetary system works, making all of the quiz answers false.

The issues with this curriculum have been noted (e.g. Sonu & Marri, 2018). However, some knowledge of how a person or household can manage their money may service currency-users fairly well, but it does little to help students develop into informed citizens who understand how their government makes decisions.  Kelton (2020) argues that this singular currency-user perspective is the key to Americans’ misinformation and to a continued state of needless austerity. One of these pervasive misunderstandings, and a “fundamental rule” taught to children, is that “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Thinking as a currency issuer is key to understanding both Modern Monetary Theory and U.S. monetary policy. This is because currency-issuers, play by entirely different rules than the currency-user rules taught in financial education. For example, using a currency-issuer’s point of view, MMT argues that the federal government can never actually run out of money despite “going broke” narratives thrown around by politicians. It cannot go bankrupt because “that would mean it ran out of dollars to pay creditors; but it can’t run out of dollars, because it is the only agency allowed to create dollars. It would be like a bowling alley running out of points to give players” (Matthews, 2019). This is a fact corroborated by Alan Greenspan in 2005 testimony before Congress regarding social security “there’s nothing to prevent the federal government from creating as much money as it wants and paying it to somebody” (Kelton, 2020, p. 256).

Taxes

In the United States, any talk of taxes is going to spark heated debate and strong feelings. Tax policies are at the center of any politician’s platform and the “taxpayer…is at the center of the monetary universe because of the belief that the government has no money of its own” and therefore needs ours (Kelton, 2020, p. 2). Taxes and taxpayers are indeed at the center of the monetary universe, but not for the reasons we may think.

The federal government doesn’t actually need to take our money from us, physically. Warren Mosler (2010) put it this way:

What happens if you were to go to your local IRS office to pay your taxes with actual cash? First, you would hand over your pile of currency to the person on duty as payment. Next, he’d count it, give you a receipt and, hopefully, a thank you for helping to pay for social security, interest on the national debt, and the Iraq war. Then, after you, the tax payer, left the room, he’d take that hard-earned cash you just forked over and throw it in a shredder. Yes, it gets thrown it away. Destroyed! Why? There’s no further use for it. Just like a ticket to the Super Bowl. After you enter the stadium and hand the attendant a ticket that was worth maybe $1000, he tears it up and discards it.

The story above demonstrates how the federal government doesn’t actually take in “our” tax money because we pay our taxes in the dollars that it prints. It is simply a matter of pluses and minuses on a spreadsheet. MMT stresses that the government doesn’t need our money, we need its money. 

However, this does not mean that taxes do not matter. In MMT, taxes play more of a social, rather than revenue-raising role. Ideally, taxation should serve not necessarily as a redistribution of wealth but as a tempering mechanism that curbs outsized wealth accumulation. Thought about this way, tax paying is more of a civic duty for the health of the economy rather than as something to avoid or that is “taken.” Taxes, then, are part of a socio-economic contract that has to do with, among other things, creating feelings of entitlement-creating a demand for government and gov’t spending as well as tending to the health of the economy by curbing inflation and, ideally, rebalancing distribution of wealth and income (Kelton, 2020, p. 71).

The main thing, though, is that taxes create a demand for currency.  This notion is based on money usage in ancient Egypt and Greece. These origins are evidence that taxation and social relations, not a replacement for barter, was the real origin of money. In Egypt, the deben (value of goods and labor services) was paid as a tax to fund the public and public works. Bookkeeping was developed as a way to keep track of these debts and obligations (Semenova & Wray, 2015). Basically, the theory is that people must find a way to earn currency in order to pay their taxes. The government, in turn, gets a population that is employed and engaged in public works but that is also reliant upon the government for currency. This is just like a token economy in classrooms. A teacher introduces a currency, offers tangibles to create demand and outlines a way to obtain it. The teacher does this not because she needs pieces of paper to return to her (they are worthless) but because she needs their compliance and their work.

Creating a supply and demand for currency is a classic colonizing tactic; “currency-issuing colonial governments did not need tax payments for revenue but imposed them to force Natives into the wage relation; tax-driven money was a colonial governance mechanism that enabled the mobilization [of currency]” (Feinig, 2020, p. 2).  Although the Tea and Stamp Acts are well-known in American history, the Currency Act of 1764 is not. The Currency Act is essential to understanding the more famous tax acts. A colonizing strategy is for the colonizing nation to impose taxes for the same reason all governments impose taxes-to create a demand for currency. The Currency Act banned the colonies’ practice of printing their own paper money. The tax not only helped Britain locate offenders, but forced Americans to pay their debts to British merchants and to the Crown in pound sterling (see Murphy, 2017 and Office of the Historian, n.d.). Thus, the issue was perhaps not so much the taxes as the currency with which those taxes were to be paid.

 Teachers can lead students in a reconsideration of the role of currency in the colonies and investigate current-day iterations. For example, students can investigate the current anti-CFA movement (see Konkobo, 2017). The CFA Franc, established by France for its colonies and now tied to the Euro, is used by fourteen African nations. Proponents say it stabilizes the nations’ currencies. Opponents say it robs these nations of say over monetary decisions and funnels more money to Europe than received in aid.

Payroll Taxes and Social Security

On August 8, President Trump signed an Executive Order, Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster, which deferred the employee portion of Social Security payroll taxes for certain individual. To many Americans, this measure seemed strange and unnecessary. For one, it only deferred, not forgave, payroll taxes. Second, it only “helped” those who pay payroll taxes. Third, the amount of money seemed insignificant, especially when Americans were expecting relief checks, not tax breaks.

With this measure, though, President Trump introduced a tactic to defund social security. However, without knowing the history of social security, this agenda would not be obvious. No President, especially one up for re-election and courting the elderly vote, would threaten social security outright. After all, the program was designed to be defund-proof, as Franklin Roosevelt famously stated, “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” This is because FDR designed a funding scheme built upon a little psychological trick that played on the public’s currency-issuer mindset.

Seeing is believing [that you earned it]

In response to the payroll tax deferral, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman John B. Larson acknowledged this defunding scheme in his “Save our Social Security Now” hearing on September 24, 2020, stating “and so, when some on the other side of the aisle talk about ‘terminating’ Social Security’s payroll contributions, they are threatening the very existence of this bedrock program.” What does a payroll tax deferral have to do with dismantling social security? The answer has to do with the power of perception.

            Today, 59 million Americans receive retirement, disability and/or survivors’ benefits. Social Security was signed into being by Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 as a measure to alleviate poverty. The history of social security and the debates surrounding it are demonstrated in this EconEdLink lesson, which can be a useful supplement to this inquiry.

FDR knew that the federal government could fund social security. This has since been corroborated by Alan Greenspan (see Norman, 2016).  Instead, he needed to ensure the public demanded this funding (supply and demand). FDR knew the power of perception. Even though the federal government could fund social security without personal contributions, a payroll tax ensures workers see their contributions to social security leave their checks each pay period; “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” Basically, FDR wanted to foster a sense of entitlement among workers who paid into the system in order to destroy what he saw as a “relief attitude” or the working person’s resistance to accepting charity. Those who felt they earned their social security payments would not only demand those payments but would hold politicians to ensuring their continuation.

Politics all the way through

“Entitlement” has undergone a transformation in connotation since the Reagan administration. In FDR’s time, the term was “earned entitlement.” “Earned” was then dropped, and, with it, the reminder that social security is something owed to people because they meet the qualifications for receiving it, to be able to live a dignified life in old age and because it is owed to them for not only what they paid in but also for working.

FDR’s “trick” is expressed in a 1941 memorandum from Luther Gulick. In the memo, Gulick proposes the institution of a sales tax as opposed to the payroll tax. In the memo’s last paragraph, Gulick stated “I raised the question of the ultimate abandonment [of] the pay roll taxes in connections with old age security and unemployment relief in the event of another period of depression.” This is a notable parallel to the economic situation in 2020. To this proposal, FDR is reported to have responded that the economics “are politics all the way through.”

To begin the lesson, teachers can have students examine a paycheck stub, asking them to notice the various taxes paid by the worker. Today, with the popularity of direct deposit options, workers may pay less attention to these numbers than in the past. Teachers and students should discuss the psychological effect of these taxes. Likely strong feelings will be elicited. Teachers can use this emotion as an example of “earned entitlement.” Although “entitlement” is often used pejoratively today, it was originally meant to signify someone’s right to collect on what has been promised, or owed, to them. Then, teachers can introduce Social Security, guiding students through the final paragraph of the Gulick letter. Students can consider whether or not FDR’s decision to “fund” social security through payroll tax made the program successful. Finally, discuss the September 2020 CARES Act, specifically the intricacies of the payroll tax deferral. Students can compare the stated aims of this measure, which in reality would make little substantial difference to the average worker to its longer-term effects. Students can analyze H.R. 8171, the “Save our Social Security Now” Act. The document outlines 17 “findings” related to the efficacy and purpose of social security. The final three, numbers 15-17, specifically cite the deferment of payroll taxes as “the first step in his announced plan to entirely defund Social Security by eliminating payroll contributions altogether beginning in 2021.” Primary sources related to Social Security can be found at http://www.sa.gov/history. Students can conclude the lesson by considering whether or not FDR’s “funding” scheme was a mistake, in that “entitlements have fared especially badly…partly because of early decisions that were intended to protect them” (Kelton, 2002, p. 158).

Conclusion: What to do in times of economic downturn?

Once we realize that the federal government’s role is to provide currency not-collect to it, our whole perspective changes. For example, it reminds us that federal institutions like the U.S. Postal Service and Social Security aren’t intended to be profit-generating, but to serve the public. MMT, and the currency-issuer’s perspective help us consider the Federal government’s responsibility to its people, especially in times of economic downturn. Proponents of MMT suggest that “since the government imposes the tax that causes people to look for wages to earn currency, the government should make sure there is always a way to earn currency” (Kelton, p. 65). Currency comes from the Federal government, therefore it is the Federal government’s job to ensure people have a way to obtain it. As Kelton further argues, without a jobs guarantee, minimum wage is not actually $7.25/hour but $0.

The ability to see through these initiatives and to critically read economic policy is a crucial component of economic literacy (Author, 2021). MMT, and the perspectives it fosters, help develop citizens’ ability to understand the political agendas being enacted through economic and monetary policies by taking a currency-issuer’s perspective. The United States doesn’t need our money, we need its. We, in turn, provision the government through circulating currency and engaging in public works. MMT reminds us that we are entitled, and that entitled is not a bad word.

References

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