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?

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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African American History: A Past Rooted in the Hudson Valley

African American History: A Past Rooted in the Hudson Valley

David Levine

Reprinted with permission from https://hvmag.com/life-style/history/african-american-past-hudsonvalley/  

The origin story of what was to become the United States of America typically features two main characters: the native peoples who had lived on these lands for centuries, and the Europeans who took those lands from them. But there was a third cast member in this drama, one whose role is at best downplayed and at worst ignored: Africans and their descendants. In 1613, just four years after Henry Hudson’s crew sailed up the river that would bear his name, and seven years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, a mixed-race man named Juan Rodrigues (or some spelling variant near that) left Hispaniola for the New World, set up shop in and around Manhattan Island, traded with the natives for a time, squabbled with the Dutch—who called him a “black rascal”—and then disappeared from the public record as the first African to set foot in the Hudson Valley.

In 1626, just 10 years after the establishment of New Amsterdam, the Dutch West India Company shipped 11 African male slaves—whom they labeled “proud and treacherous”—into the colony, with women brought in two years later. Some slaves were moved to Fort Orange, the outpost that became Albany. As land patents divvied up the Valley, every patent holder whose name still graces the region stocked his farm with slaves. In 1664, when the Dutch handed the keys to the new kingdom to the British, about 800 Africans and their children inhabited the Valley, only about 75 of them considered free.

The British increased slave importation, and by the early 1700s New York State had more slaves than anywhere else in the colonies, more than the deep South, more than Boston, more than the Virginia plantations. “The two biggest slave markets in the country before the American Revolution were in New York City and Albany,” Dr. A.J. Williams-Myers, a retired professor of Black Studies at SUNY New Paltz, says. By 1790, the first federal census counted more than 19,000 enslaved New Yorkers; Georgia had 12,000. “New York was not a society with slaves, it was a slave society, dependent on enslaved Africans,” he says.

As New Yorkers, we like to think of ourselves as different from the south in regards to slavery. We were different only in that, numerically speaking at least, we were worse. Any history of African descendants in the Hudson Valley must first come to grips with this fact. From the earliest moments of European contact, African Americans have been part of the Valley’s dramatis personae. “Africans have been portrayed as in the shadow of history, when actually they were center stage,” Williams-Meyers says. “Where European people went, Africans went with them, shoulder to shoulder with their enslavers.” 

The oppressed as oppressors

As the Hudson Valley economy transitioned during the 17th century from the fur trade to farming, Africans helped make the region the most prosperous in the New World. Hudson Valley farms helped feed Great Britain, its newest colonies and its holdings in the Caribbean, and Africans did much of the work. A 1733 century painting called the “Van Bergen Overmantel,” by artist John Heaten, depicts the Marten Van Bergen farm near the Greene County town of Leeds. Historic Hudson Valley writes that “no other single artifact offers more information about life in colonial New York. Here African, Native American, and European people populate the landscape.” Dr. Myra Young Armstead, Lyford Paterson Edwards and Helen Gray Edwards Professor of Historical Studies at Bard College, calls this painting, “a good picture of what was going on and why the Hudson Valley was a big area of slavery.”

Even those who came here because of oppression became oppressors. The French Huguenot founders of New Paltz purchased their first of many slaves in Kingston in 1674, a hypocrisy not lost on a Huguenot descendant. “My ancestors fled France for religious and political freedom. Before leaving France they saw their own families tortured, enslaved, and killed. Yet these emigrants came to the New World and, for their own personal gain, forced other human beings to labor against their will,” Mary Etta Schneider, board chair of Historic Huguenot Street, said this summer. “For this I am ashamed.” 

Schneider was speaking in advance of a September 2016 event, in which HHS welcomed Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. McGill travels the country spending the night in historic slave dwellings to bring awareness to their existence, history, and need for preservation. More of these are in the north than most people know. “The history I learned in school was junk,” McGill says. “Slave dwellings are part of the history of this nation. They are hidden in plain sight.” Huguenot slaves were likely locked in at night so they couldn’t escape, Schneider said, and those who slept there along with McGill got “a sense of what it must have felt like to just reinforce that ownership, that lack of ability to have any control over your life.” Addressing another myth, that northern slave owners were “better” than southern ones, McGill says bluntly, “There were no great slave owners. When you assign a degree of severity, you start with bad.”

Long before Nat Turner, slaves in New York were rebelling against their owners. In 1712, 23 slaves killed nine whites in New York City, and rumors both real and unproved of slaves plotting revolts from the City to Albany kept tensions high throughout the 18th century. In 1794, three slaves—including two girls of 12 and 14—were hanged for setting a fire that burned much of downtown Albany; two were hanged from “the Hanging Elm Tree,” at the northwest corner of State and Pearl Streets (planted in front of the house of young Philip Livingston), the third on Pinkster Hill, site of the current Capitol. “Slaves and owners were on constant war footing,” William-Myers says. “The Hanging Tree in Albany shows you the use of fear to keep Africans in their place.”

Revolutionaries and warriors

And yet, slaves helped their masters win independence. “You cannot discount Africans’ input in the Revolutionary War,” Williams-Myers says. Though they often were sent to replace their owners in battle, under the assumption that whey would be freed after the war, they fought bravely and well. “They are never pictured as part of that, but they were there on the battlefield,” he says. Slaves held positions along the Hudson River as General Clinton made his way up from New York City, and fought at the battles of Saratoga, along the Mohawk River and throughout the region. “African warriors were one of the colonies’ secret weapons,” he says. “They were significant in winning the war.”

After the war, slaves weren’t freed right away, but Federalists like John Jay and Alexander Hamilton founded the New York Manumission Society in 1785 to promote abolition. It happened in fits and starts, and full emancipation was realized when the last New York slaves were freed by July 4, 1827. It was the largest emancipation in North America before the Civil War.

The Hudson Valley to a large extent welcomed freed African Americans. During this gradual emancipation, Quaker groups offered land—usually rocky, undesirable land, to be clear—to help freed slaves, and self-sustaining black communities sprung up in Rockland (Skunk Hollow, near the New Jersey border), Westchester (The Hills in Harrison and another community near Bedford), Dutchess (near Hyde Park, Beekman and Millbrook), Ulster (Eagles Nest, west of Hurley), and all the other river counties. Though legally emancipated, blacks weren’t entirely free yet, and the Valley, like the rest of the state, was in no way free from racism. Laws limited blacks’ rights to vote, to travel with whites on public transportation, to attend school and more. “You could argue that the earliest ‘Jim Crow’ laws actually appeared in the north, not the south,” says Dr. Oscar Williams, Chair of the Department of Africana Studies at the State University of New York at Albany.

The opening of the Erie Canal, in 1815, precipitated the slow and steady migration from upstate farms to river cities for employment. “Cities like Newburgh and Poughkeepsie offered jobs to blacks, while there was bigger movement to New York City or Albany, the nodes of the Valley,” Armstead says. Black institutional and social life took hold in these cities. Rhinebeck, for example, had a vibrant neighborhood of black artisans on Oak Street. African American Revolutionary War veteran Andrew Frazier and his family, who are buried in the “Potter’s Field” section of Rhinebeck Cemetery, owned land in the Town of Milan. In Kingston, the A.M.E. Zion Church on Franklin Street, the oldest African American church in Ulster County, owns the Mt. Zion African American Burial Ground on South Wall Street. The cemetery holds the remains of members of the U.S. Colored Infantry’s 20th Regiment, which fought in the Civil War. An extension of the Mt. Zion cemetery on South Pine Street is “one of the earliest, and potentially largest slave cemeteries known in the northeast,” according to an anthropologist who conducted an archeological survey for the city of Kingston in 1993. The Rye African American Cemetery, inside the Greenwood Union Cemetery, was established in 1860 as a burial place for blacks. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the final resting spot for African American Civil War veterans and the descendants of many slaves from Rye.

As the Civil War approached, the Hudson Valley was a hotbed of abolition. So-called Colored Conventions, movements held by free slaves to oppose slavery and push for rights for free blacks, were held all over country, including in Poughkeepsie, Armstead says. The Underground Railroad had important station stops along the river, such as the Beecher House in Peekskill and the Stephen and Harriet Myers House in Albany. Sojourner Truth started on her march to freedom as Isabella Baumfree, a slave born on an estate near what is now Ripton, sold to a family in New Paltz. In Troy, an African American named Henry Highland Garnett was Malcolm X before Malcolm X. Garnett led a radical movement from his position as the first pastor of the Liberty Street Negro Presbyterian Church. First working with abolition leaders like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, he gave a famous speech in 1843 at the National Negro Convention, a “Call to Rebellion” encouraging slaves to rise up in open revolt. His position was opposed.

Past, prologue

After the Civil War, blacks continued to move from local farms to industrial centers, and in their “Great Migration” from the South. New York City was a major destination, and in time blacks also moved into the suburbs, exurbs and growing river cities of the Valley. Freedom did not mean integration, however. As just one example, in the 1920s, land in the Nepperhan neighborhood of Yonkers, now known as Runyon Heights, was sold to blacks because whites didn’t want it and it was naturally separated from white communities.

Work, as always, continued to be the magnet drawing African Americans north, and the Valley had one of the world’s most powerful magnets: IBM. After World War II, “IBM was really important, ahead of its time, a global force that recruited from black colleges and universities,” Armstead says. By the late 1950s and 1960s, black professionals populated the area. “That generation is dying or dead now, but they became the first black heads of organizations, the first black teachers,” she says.

The history of African Americans over the last half century is a story of progress and regression, of course, both nationally and here in the Valley. The current political climate is restive. The struggle has been ongoing for 403 years now, ever since Juan Rodriguez stepped ashore and began battling the Dutch. The story has evolved, but it hasn’t ended. As William Faulkner wrote, the past is never dead. It’s not even past.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

By Bill Gates (2021)

Reviewed by Hank Bitten, NJCSS Executive Director

The New Jersey Department of Education has taken an important step in avoiding a climate disaster. Beginning in September 2022, every New Jersey student in Grades K-12 will be studying the causes and effects of climate change in their community, state, nation, and world. In Social Studies classes, students will be researching, debating, proposing, and implementing solutions to reduce their carbon foot print, propose strategies for a sustainable environment in their schools and community, propose solutions at the state and national level, and collaborate with students and professionals in other countries about global initiatives. The goal of changing behavior at this critical time is to educate students with an interdisciplinary model and approaches in all disciplines.

Bill Gates focuses on solutions to the impending climate crises regarding the harms of the 51,000,000,000 (billion) tons of greenhouse gases that 7,500,000,000 (billion) people contribute to every year!  Although on the average this is 70 tons a day, the per person contribution is significantly higher in the United States, New Jersey, and some other countries. Europe has a plan to become the first continent to become carbon neutral in 30 years. (What is the EU’s Green Deal? And could Europe become the first climate-neutral continent? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org))

The first application in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is with the metaphors that will help students in the elementary grades to understand the effects of global warming.

For example: Imagine a bathtub of water with the drain closed that is slowly filling up with water. What will eventually happen? What will be the damage to the room or house? Why is it not enough to slow the amount of water filling up the bathtub? 

Imagine sitting in a car with the sun shining on the glass windows.  What happens to the temperature inside the car? Will opening the window half an inch make the car safe for passengers?  Why is the temperature of the earth increasing every year? What will be the result if it continues to increase?

These metaphors will help students understand that small changes in our behaviors are helpful but they are not likely to solve the problem for what is causing the earth’s temperature to continually increase. Teachers will find valuable resources for teaching young children how electricity and cars contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. (Page 55) For example, electricity contributes about 27% of greenhouse gases to our environment. For younger children, teachers need to help their students understand how much electricity (megawatts and kilowatts) one family contributes.  The average home uses 28 kilowatt hours of electricity per day. For example, my electric bill stated that our home consumed 630 kilowatt hours over 28 days or 23 kilowatt hours per day.

Ask your students to identify everything in their apartment of home that uses electricity. Then compare kilowatts to a cup or glass of water that would be emptied into a sink or tub with the drain closed. Have your students explain the effects of increasing and decreasing the amount of electricity consumed.  The more electricity used and the more people using electricity will generate additional greenhouse gases that will harm the environment.

Another important understanding for younger children is to understand that each item they identify as using electricity uses different amounts of energy. For example, a light bulb might use 40 watts but the hair dryer uses 1,500. The critical application for younger students is to understand that by reducing the amount of electricity consumed helps the environment. In this context, teachers should scaffold to a higher conceptual level by understanding the impacts of more people in the home, community, and world. Reducing greenhouse gases is very difficult which is why understanding that everything we do and everything we produce has a harmful effect on our planet.

The second application is the useful information to support middle school student debates on the solutions to reduce greenhouse gases at the local, state, and national levels.

Middle school students should understand how human activity is accelerating climate changes by warmer temperatures. The technology of renewable sources, (i.e., solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal) should also be familiar to most students. However, the cost, amount of space needed to produce energy for a city, and the durability of the equipment are important areas for student research, problem-solving, and debate.

In the United States we have replaced energy several times over the past century.  Many homes have fire places but wood burns quickly and heat is lost through the chimney. Coal and oil were more efficient resources to heat homes.  They were eventually replaced in many homes with natural or propane gas. In the 1950s and 1960s the government supported high-powered transmission lines for electricity and underground pipes for natural gas. In the 1970s we transitioned from leaded gasoline to a more expensive grade of unleaded fuel.  Understanding the processes of continuity and change over time for how people live is critical to understanding the societal costs of inexpensive fossil fuels.

In Zurich, Switzerland there is a DAC (direct air capture) facility operated by Climeworks which can remove (or absorb) carbon from the atmosphere as it is released.  The cost is $100 per ton.  Since the world is currently producing 51 billion tons of harmful carbon emissions EACH year, the cost is $5.1 trillion.  The United States has a per person carbon footprint of 15 tons per person. The cost would be $1,500 per person or $6,000 for a family of four. This would be the cost EACH YEAR and a very expensive solution.

There are interesting hypothetical scenarios in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster regarding a place near Seattle or a large city the size of Tokyo. In these scenarios, students will find enough information for them to ask probing questions or search for more research regarding the average number of days with sunlight or wind speeds, the impact of severe weather, the amount of space on land or in water to build an energy farm, the costs to transmit electricity over long distances, and how to store sufficient power for evenings and when energy supplies are less than what is demanded.

Another interesting topic for middle school students to debate or discuss is the impact of electric vehicles on home energy supplies. Students need to consider the impact of charging multiple vehicles per household and in a city with high-rise apartments.  The book also provides basic information that should motivate students to research the technologies of fusion, batteries, and nuclear power. The ITER project in southern France will likely be operational within this decade. Is fusion the magical answer for our goal of zero carbon emissions?  Teachers will find empirical evidence in this book regarding current technology and experiments which are essential when teaching students how to support their claims and arguments with evidence.

The third application is for high school students to determine proposals for reducing the one-third of greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing plastics, cement, and fertilizers.

The media focuses on emissions from the fossil fuels of vehicles and the generation of electric power. Two areas that may not be familiar to students are that 19 percent of global emissions come from the production and application of fertilizers and 31 percent from industrial production.  The combination of these two areas represents about one-half of the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions currently contributing to the increase in temperature.  When studying continuity and change over time, students visually see how communities and cities change over 100 years, 50 years, or less. For example:

Shanghai, China in 1987 (on the left) and 2013 (on the right) Source

New York City (1876-2013)

When studying the impact of land use on climate, students should explore the environmental costs to society from the use of cement, steel, glass, generation of electricity, loss of forested land, waste, and traffic. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster provides an opportunity for classroom exploration, research, inquiry, collaboration, and solutions.  The contribution of the social sciences to understanding the causes of greenhouse gas emissions, strategies for changing the way we currently are doing things, and analyzing the externality of societal costs is found in what students do best – asking questions, researching, debating private and public solutions, analyzing the costs and long-term benefits, and presenting information clearly and concisely in graphs, tables, maps, and images.

Examples of questions for collaboration, researching, and interviewing by students are:

  • How are we producing automobiles?
  • Is natural gas the most efficient method for cooking food and heating buildings?
  • What are the societal costs for raising animals for food?
  • How should we recycle food waste?
  • How would a Green Premium be calculated in analyzing the costs and benefits over time?
  • How significant are the societal costs of air-conditioning on a global scale?

Standard 6.3 for climate for high school students in New Jersey requires them to collaborate with other students on proposed solutions.

6.3.12.GeoGI.1: Collaborate with students from other countries to develop possible solutions to an issue of environmental justice, including climate change and water scarcity, and present those solutions to relevant national and international governmental and/or nongovernmental organizations.

The competitive advantage of Social Studies in learning about the biggest issue to impact our planet in history is with our ability to engage in problem solving, understanding perspectives from different cultures, historical lessons of strategies to address problems over time, the ability to analyze the economics of the problem and solutions, and to debate the effectiveness of public and private solutions. The Social Studies classroom, especially in grades 6-12, is a laboratory for analyzing the marginal costs and losses of incremental changes, preventative solutions, investments in research and development, and the cost of inaction.

“Climate science tells us why we need to deal with this problem but not how to deal with it.  For that, we’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, and other sciences.” (Page 198)

One of the best chapters in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is the one on government. The perspectives on the electrification or rural America, installing natural gas lines, building the interstate highway system, implementing the Clean Air Act or 1970, the Montreal Protocol of 1987, and the Human Genome Project provide empirical examples of what the government of the United States has accomplished in the 20th century.  The lessons of innovation and the call to debate solutions for reaching the goal of zero carbon emissions are opportunities that should be integrated into the existing curriculum. The Sunshot Initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy to reduce the costs of solar energy is one example worth studying in Economics or U.S. History. Here are some examples:

  1. Will the steps taken to reduce carbon emissions in your community or average size city in New Jersey work in Tokyo with a population of 38 million, or Mexico City, New York, or Mumbai?
  2. Is the best strategy for reducing carbon emissions one that is implemented at the local or state level of government, through national or global commitments, or by incentives to private firms?
  3. Are there dangers in making immediate but small reductions by 2030 or will it be more effective to wait for new technologies from current research?
  4. If society delays implementing carbon emission reductions now, will the costs be significantly more expensive if implementation is postponed five or ten years?
  5. What are the most effective incentives to lower costs and reduce risks? (tax credits, subsidies, loan guarantees, carbon tax, cap and trade system, etc.)
  6. How important are the actions taken by citizens, consumers, and producers in taking the initiative in reducing carbon emissions?
  7. What lessons have we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic that apply to our response to impending warmer temperatures and rising sea levels from carbon emissions?

As teachers in New Jersey begin to implement the K-12 mandated curriculum standards on climate and environmental sustainability, they should consider an interdisciplinary model that includes learning in every grade focusing on causes, effects, and solutions at the local, state, national, and global levels.  Students who are age five in Kindergarten in 2021 will be 34 in 2050.  Teachers who are age 25 or 30 now will be 55-60 in 2050.  The curriculum that is planned and implemented will have a measurable legacy in the foreseeable future. In 1921, a nuclear bomb, sending a man to the moon, CT images, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) were impossible to imagine but by the middle of the 20th century they were in development of considered possible. Social Studies teachers must look beyond what is predictable today and teach students for a world that may be in conflict and crisis or one that can be safer and better.

A Disability History of the United States by Kim E. Nielsen

Review by Jenna Rutsky

“Disability” as a whole is not a topic commonly found in the average social studies curriculum.  I had history classes that would mention President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use of a wheelchair after contracting polio, or a brief aside to discuss President Woodrow Wilson’s handicaps of paralysis and loss of partial vision after a stroke in his second term.  During my time student teaching, not one of the historical figures we learned about had a disability that we discussed as a class.  I struggled between choosing to read either Kim E. Nielsen’s A Disability History of the United States, or Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, but I decided to write my review of Nielsen’s book as I am not getting my special education certification as many of my other friends in the cohort are.  Though my knowledge of the indigenous peoples of the Americas is not incredibly broad, I do have more experience with that topic as I took several Native American history classes during my time as an undergraduate at Rutgers University.  But, aside from an online “Intro to Special Education” class, I felt I needed to learn more about the history of people with disabilities in the United States as an educator who will not only most likely be working at some point with students who have disabilities of their own, but also to educate all of my students about a history that has largely been ignored, in my own experience as a student. 

            Nielsen wrote a book which not only kept my attention with how clear it is, but also with how truly fascinating she kept her writing by including personal anecdotes from people with disabilities, as well from those who have discriminated against them throughout various time periods or witnessed this discrimination.  The main argument of A Disability History of the United States remains clear throughout the entire book: people with disabilities have a history all their own that has fallen by the wayside in terms of historical coverage and mass education to students.  Nielsen argues that this is a history that changes based on time period and culture, opening her book with a Native American view of disabilities before colonization, followed immediately after by a contrasting chapter of how early colonial settlers viewed disabilities.  But more subtle arguments appear throughout the book as themes, such as the reoccurring theme of discrimination against people with disabilities by those without disabilities. 

Discrimination against people with disabilities is still a civil rights issue today, which is how Nielsen concludes her book, bringing the reader to the twenty-first century with anecdotes of modern-day activists.  Another theme of the book is juxtaposing not only how able-bodied view people with disabilities, but how people with disabilities view themselves.  In no way does Nielsen write this book in condescending pity for people with disabilities.  She rather raises people with disabilities up to be identified by more than simply what they cannot do, but by highlighting what they can do in spite of their disability and how in various cultures and time periods, disability was not frowned upon, but instead those individuals were cared for by the community rather than shunned away.

            The argument of Nielsen’s book is effective mainly in its use of evidence to support her claims.  Her information has clearly been well researched with footnotes leading the reader to page after page of resources ranging from peer reviewed journals such as the Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences (Nielsen, 2012, p. 206) to the text from exhibit posters found at the Library of Congress (p. 201).  When Nielsen makes a claim about the treatment of people with disabilities, it is followed almost always by evidence to back up that claim.  For example, in Chapter Three, “The Late Colonial Era: 1700-1776,” Nielsen writes, “[Those considered valueless and often killed]… likely included those with physical disabilities that made them ineligible for slavery (pp. 43-44).”  The next page provides an excerpt of a primary source by a young boy named J.D. Romaigne serving on the slave ship Le Rodeur where many of the slaves on board for transport to the New World contracted blindness from ophthalmia, a contagious eye disease.  Nielsen cites Romaigne as saying, “The mate picked out thirty-nine negroes who were completely blind, and… tied a piece of ballast to the legs of each.  The miserable wretches were then thrown into the sea” (p. 45).  This gruesome retelling of such an appalling event perfectly supports Nielsen’s claim from just a page earlier; slaves with disabilities were typically “considered valueless and often killed” (p. 43). 

            Alternative interpretations of disability are the core content of the beginning of the book, especially, and this content continues throughout, though more sparsely, as the book goes on.  The remainder of the book focuses more often on disability as widely recognized, but not protected, and it then becomes a civil rights battle for equal rights.  I really enjoyed how the book is written in chapters that follow one another chronologically, to show the history of people with disabilities as one that does simply have an upward growth towards equal rights, but how that battle for equal rights was nonexistent, and then partially won, and then partially lost again, and how this battle continues into today’s society.  It is captivating how Nielsen starts with the treatment of people with disabilities amongst Native American cultures before European arrival, as this is an aspect of the topic I had never learned before.

But the book is limited, though it acknowledges this in the title, since it is only A Disability History of the United States.  The examination of Native American culture is the only look the reader gets at disability viewed by another culture other than mostly European immigrants to the United States.  She writes how Native Americans were generally unfazed by disability as, especially physical disability, was so common in the difficult work required to survive.  And anyone who could provide some service to the community was valued despite their disability.  The author does write two contrasting views immediately following one another, as disability was defined differently by separate tribes and individuals without any laws to define the rights of the disabled and who those laws should include.  Nielsen writes, “Some groups viewed the behaviors and perceptions of what today we call psychological disability as a great gift to be treasured and a  source of community wisdom (p. 5).  She then contrasts this statement by following up with, “Others considered them a form of a supernatural possession, or evidence of the imbalance of an individual’s body, mind, and spirit” (p. 5).  Alternative interpretations of disability are presented throughout the book within the setting of the chapter’s time period; for example, the varying accounts of disability and its differing treatments and levels of acceptance in the next chapter about European settlers, but it is up to the reader to connect those alternative interpretations within one chapter to past chapters. 

            The content of this book could inform classroom instruction in U.S. History not only in New Jersey schools, but schools across the nation.  Personal accounts of disability stretch from California protests for equal rights in the 1970s to “founding the nation’s first disability-specific institution in the United States, the American Asylum for the Deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut” (Nielsen, p.67).  And on the topic of asylums and other institutions for people with disabilities, the content of this book can connect to classroom instruction through the form of visual media.  Educators can connect Nielsen’s discussion of the conditions and purposes of asylums and institutions at their founding to their actual perpetuity in an example such as showing clips from journalist Geraldo Rivera’s publicly broadcast special about the horrors of Willowbrook State School in New York.  I recently watched the special in my “Inclusive Teaching” class this semester, and though it is from the 1970s, Rivera’s piece still sends shivers down my spine today.  It is a powerful visual component to incorporate into classroom instruction when discussing disabilities.

            The content of this book could also be used to engage students in current events by learning about the past.  For example, Nielsen writes, “Don Galloway of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on the Handicapped testified that every day, his office received phone calls from ‘people who are being discriminated against,’ and that as many as three hundred thousand Colorado citizens with disabilities needed civil rights protection” (Nielsen, p. 170).  Students could be asked to connect acts of the 1980s such as this, to modern acts of civilian participation in seeking to influence government. Students could be given examples such as this one provided by Nielsen and be asked to compare to the current events in which many American citizens have been calling their local senators to oppose the appointment of Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education.  Articles about the two Republican senators who voted against DeVos, though not preventing her appointment, can be found from reliable sources such as the New York Times, quoted as saying “The two Republicans who voted against the nominee, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said Ms. DeVos was unqualified… Ms. Murkowski also said she had been influenced by thousands of messages she had received urging her to reject the nomination” (Alcindor & Huetteman, 2017).  Students can be asked to draw comparisons between the activism that influenced the acts of these government officials, and in turn, learn about being active citizens in a democracy and exercising their rights. 

            The social studies curricula we have analyzed thus far in class, Jarolimek, Hartoonian-Laughlin, and Kniep, all seem to have at least one common curriculum goal: create active citizens in a democracy.  I believe that A Disability History of the United States could absolutely fit into the curriculum design of U.S. History for middle or secondary school students.  I found Nielsen’s book to be so clear, concise, and grabbing to read more, that I would recommend it as reading for secondary students.  The vocabulary used by Nielsen is easy to understand and the story she tells is compelling, especially to students who mostly likely have never learned anything about the history of disability.  This book can be used to inform students of both middle and secondary education of the contributions and struggles of people with disabilities throughout history.  Nielsen offers countless examples of tales of strife and triumph of those with disabilities for educators to choose from based on grade level appropriateness.  On one hand, maybe middle school students could not emotionally handle the previously mentioned “Le Rodeur” example.  People with disabilities have always existed, and these time periods and cultures in which they are living are mostly being covered in U.S. history classes, but the individuals with disabilities themselves are not.

            The content of this book could inspire empathy, a goal our cohort discussed as a class that we would like to see in our own curricula.  The number of inclusion classes in the United States seems to be growing every year, I taught two during my student teaching, and I believe it is important for the peers in these classes of both students with disabilities and students without disabilities to respect one another.  Knowing the history of the disability movements in the United States can engender respect for a group of people who have been historically oppressed such as when Paul S. Miller, a top-of-his-class Harvard graduate had “over forty firms seeking his application”, but “after interviewing Miller, who was four and half feet tall, firms changed their minds” (Nielsen, p. 171).  This example can be taught to students to show the struggles of those with disabilities, but also their successes, as “Miller later become a commissioner of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and an international disability-rights expert” (Nielsen, p. 171). 

            A curriculum based around including the history of disabilities in the United States, such as the story of Paul S. Miller, would not be difficult to create.  Social studies educators already teach the time periods marked in Nielsen’s book.  For example, Nielsen writes, “The story of Robert Payne and the Disabled Miners and Widows is a story of class, labor, race, and place; it is also the story of the social reform movement that culminated in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society… (p. 159).  Mainstream approaches to U.S. History, based on my own experience in history classes in high school as a student, already include discussions of “class, labor, race, and place.”  To include the discussion of disability in this mix is natural as Nielsen in the aforementioned quote proves, the stories of people with disabilities overlap with other historical contexts already being taught.  To include a history of people with disabilities in the mainstream curriculum would challenge a curriculum that does not always include the stories of minorities based on race, gender, or ability.  During my student teaching, I was expected to follow a curriculum that mentioned a few historic women, barely any historic racial minorities other than those conquered or enslaved by Europeans, and no discussion of those with disabilities.  Curriculum design that includes the stories of people with disabilities paves the way for social studies educators to discuss the stories of all minorities, as people with disabilities can also be racial or gender minorities.  Nielsen’s book makes it easy for the social studies curriculum to include content from A Disability History of the United States, especially with her chapters clearly marked by the eras already being taught in the mainstream social studies curriculum of U.S. History.

References

Alcindor, Y. & Huetteman, E. (2017, February 7). Betsy DeVos confirmed as education secretary; Pence breaks tie.  The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/politics/betsy-devos-education-secretary-confirmed.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share.

Nielsen, K. E. (2012). A disability history of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. ty=”48