Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Local History

Last year as I was teaching the students about the history of the U.S. it became more and more apparent that they were not incredibly interested in it for a lot of reasons. First, it was a lot of work learning history- you have to read to do it, generally speaking. Second, they felt that U.S. history had absolutely nothing to do with them. While I could certainly counter the second argument, I began to realize as the year went on that it was somewhat viable. Most of my students certainly couldn't relate to rich white men who've always run the country- a pretty common argument; still other students were themselves immigrants and went back and forth between feeling lukewarm about the U.S. to actually wanted very badly to go back to their home country. Regardless about how you feel about immigration, the charge given to teachers is to educate students and motivate them to learn about the country in which they are currently residing.

Now, New York is an incredibly test-driven school system. All last year I was working like mad to prepare my students for the state test given in June. When that test came around only a bit over half of my students were even made to take it, and then the results were calculated and promptly ignored. It was a bit disheartening to say the least, and to be honest I was pretty apparently pissed. The legitimacy of these tests are certainly debatable, but the point that came across was that it did not matter at all how well my students did on the test.

Because of that I decided to start teaching the way I'd wanted to the entire year last year. Other than testing, my lack of knowledge of the area my students live in and my lack of management skills didn't allow for a lot of wiggle room for progressive education techniques and the like. This year I'm going to concentrate on Bronx history and many more hands-on, project-oriented lessons. I tried very much to concentrate on literacy last year, which is incredibly important for our students (mine were three full grade levels behind on average), but this year I'm actually going to concentrate on the core concepts of social studies- preparing our students to be productive citizens.

To get things going I read The Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler earlier this summer and I picked up the book The Bronx by Evelyn Gonzalez yesterday to get a better idea of what happened in the neighborhood in which my students live and go to school. I'm also planning to use the book The South Bronx of America by Mel Rosenthal, which should provide some decent images of what the South Bronx looked like in the past sixty years.

Today's Wine: The same bottle of Charles Shaw Cabernet from two days ago. I used a wine pump on the bottle and stuck it in the fridge, something I was advised to do by an ancient bar-tender I used to work with. Red wine's shelf-life increases considerably using the two, just take it out an hour before you drink it to let it warm up.

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