Re-inventing My Social Studies Teaching: Hail Freedonia!

Mitchell Map - A map of the British and French...
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I’ve decided to do something different.

No, not that.

I’m still going to be teaching where and what I am doing presently. I’m just going to do one thing different.

It is a big thing, though.

Last spring I took training in designing project-based learning units. They’re really cool for studying things like marine biology, algebra and techno-stuff (an all-encompassing category of “things despised by Luddites.).

I spent a lot of the summer trying to think of how to apply the project-based approach to social studies. I had a lot of ideas, none of which really captivated or excited me.

If they don’t excite me they’re not going to excite 7th grade boys and girls.

My new plan excites me.

I’m going to ask my students to invent a country.

In New York, 7th grade American history starts in what will eventually become the Americas a couple of hundred years before Europeans arrive bearing trinkets and syphilis.

Eventually colonists arrived and, as time passed, they invented a country.

Inventing a country is a much bigger process than telling a nutty king that he’s been abusive and you’re not going to take it anymore, then proving it even though he has the world’s most powerful navy and a large and well-trained army on his side.

Betsy Ross Flag Painted on a Barn

Image by myoldpostcards via Flickr

Okay, that’s a big process, but they had to beat that same Army again 35 years later and in-between they developed a government and a rule book to run it by, unified – more or less – 13 independent colonies, had elections, and started exploring the rest of the continent.

They had to create maps, flags, and a national story.

time to proselytize

Image by 7-how-7 via Flickr

My students will have to do all that in the year-long process of creating their country. And to make it more interesting, they will not each invent their own country. No, that is too easy.

Instead, they will have to work in groups of five or six to invent a country. That will involve negotiation, compromise, deal making and, without doubt, conflict.

And every time one of those things happens will be a teachable moment about the forming of this country.

They’ll have to write a Constitution, provide for succession of leadership, and all the rest as I keep asking questions and contributing situations that will arise more-or-less on the same schedule as they did in this country.

I think this could be a lot of fun, something most 7th graders think social studies can’t possibly be.

So now I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me tonight and tomorrow.

I’ve got to come up with the groups of students I want to work together.

And I’ve got to figure out how to start a civil war.

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I’ve Got Money; Are You Available?

WASHINGTON - MARCH 26: Stacks of one dollar bi...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

News item: Gov. David A. Paterson on Thursday proposed a host of changes in state education law, including eliminating the cap on the number of charter schools, which he said would make the state more likely to receive $700 million in federal grant money. (NY Times 1/8/2010)

If we ever needed proof that – despite all the promises, platitudes and protestations – no politician gives a damn about students, this is it.

From the moment President Obama renamed No Child Left Behind (a giant, expensive race to mediocrity) with the equally catchy and vacuous Race To the Top, governors and state legislatures have been eager to lay down and spread them as any Nevada hooker offered the right price.


Perhaps, but not nearly as harsh as the way those officials charged with making the policies that rule their educational lives treat students.

Just so I am not misunderstood, let me say it loud and clear:

Nothing any politician says or does about education is about children.


Everything they do and say is about money, power, or reelection, usually all three simultaneously.

This Race to the Top is just another attempt to hold the gun of money against the head of state government and attempting to justify it by claiming the gun holds a silver bullet.

I don’t know what races President Obama, Governor Patterson or any other governor shining their red light has watched, but every race I’ve seen has had a small number of winners, usually one, and a much larger number of losers.

That’s right.

Our persuasive President’s education plan promotes there being a large number of education losers.

This is why he, Duncan, Klein and Rhee despise teachers so much. Teachers know there are no silver bullets.


Not charter schools, not standardized assessments. not centralized authority and not union busting.

But also not technology, not better-trained teachers, not smaller classes and not fewer exams.

Some combination of all the above may do wonders, but there are no silver bullets.


Governor Patterson, that gun held against your head holds blanks. Sure it makes a loud bang, but it will not hurt you.

The only ones hurt will be the students.

I guess that’s okay with you.

After all, it is not about them, is it?

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