Seeing How the Other Half Lives

This week provided a different type of adventure, as it included a road trip to see how another university’s History Department evaluated itself.  In addition, I had the pleasure of observing two more student teachers, seeing how a group of students had to modify their presentation when 3/5 of the group disappeared, discussing how the United States conquered a sovereign nation (toppling the queen in the process), and dumping tea into Boston harbor.

First, the road trip.  Every five years academic departments in the Pennsylvania State System for Higher Education undergo a program review in which they evaluate the progress they have made in the past five years (or recognize problems that have developed since the last review).  Our history program underwent the process last year, and I had compiled the reports for the previous two reviews in 2001 and 2006.  So I was quite familiar with what goes on (or at least what is supposed to go on in a program review).  This week, I had the pleasure of visiting with administrators and history faculty members at Bloomsburg University as part of reviewing their program.  To put it mildly, I was quite impressed—and, at the same time, a bit embarrassed at how our program review looked compared to theirs.  I got some great ideas that we can incorporate before our next program review, and I got to spend time with some great people (and met with our former dean, who is now at Bloomsburg).

Second, my student teachers.  I have a really solid group of student teachers this semester, but the two I observed this week stand out—and have shown me that they will be outstanding teachers in the classroom.  On Wednesday I traveled to Athens, PA and observed a class in which the lesson focused on the Holocaust.   The lesson was interactive and included a multimedia presentation that kept the students engrossed in the lesson.  Thursday’s observation included a lesson on Pompeii that included “archaeological” investigations by the students as they identified ­­photographs of artifacts from the ancient city.  It was enjoyable watching the student teachers interact with the students (and, in the latter case, seeing the students eager to participate in the lesson).

Third, my students who can adapt on the fly.  Two of my classes had presentations this week:  a book presentation in History of Pennsylvania (on John Moretta’s William Penn and the Quaker Legacy) and group discussion presentations in United States History since 1877 related to readings from American Experiences (a collection of articles/essays) and America Through the Eyes of Its People (a collection of documents).  For Pennsylvania History, two of the group members had withdrawn from the course earlier in the week (because it required more reading and writing than they had anticipated) and one has not attended class in over two weeks, so the two remaining group members summarized the book and asked questions of the class.  In the U.S. history class, one group was missing a couple of members who apparently were unable to attend class because of the weather (we finally got snow!), and they did an admirable job compensating for the lack of participation from the absent members—even relating the assigned reading to current events.  Typically, when group members are missing they just pretend their assignments don’t need to be covered (and hope I don’t notice), but in both these instances the students showed me that it can be done (so I don’t want to hear any whining in the future).

Fourth, the United States conquering a sovereign nation:  Monday and Wednesday the U.S. history class focused on U.S. expansion in the late 19th century, when manifest destiny expanded from dominating the continent to spanning the globe.  Along the way, of course, the U.S. helped Cuba gain its independence from Spain, did not allow the Filipinos (who also were fighting for their independence from Spain) experience the same privilege, and effectively stole Hawaii from their monarch (the focus of a documentary on Queen Liliuokalani shown on Wednesday).

Fifth, dumping tea into Boston harbor:  the adventures in History of the American Revolution.  We started off with a documentary on the life of Paul Revere, then focused on political causes of the Revolution (focusing on the evolution of the provincial assemblies and struggles between backcountry and coastal areas over who would control the colonies internally).  The tea party came Friday, and it included a reminder about how most of the early histories of the United States were written by New Englanders…and, as a result, we know more about the Boston Tea Party than their counterparts in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  The students were also reminded that, contrary to popular opinion, the colonists masquerading as Mohawks did not deposit tea bags into the harbor, nor were they protesting the lowering of a tax—instead, they were protesting the 18th century version of a corporate bailout of the British East India Company by Parliament.

Finally, once again the purple pen is making an appearance, as students in the American Revolution and Pennsylvania History classes submitted their paper proposals and annotated bibliographies.  There still appears to be some issues with what constitutes an academic journal (apparently “it has citations” and “it generally does not have color illustrations” isn’t enough of a definition), and at least one student will have to re-do his proposal completely (and a few others have to narrow their topics).  By the way, in case anyone is interested in why I use a purple pen for grading—studies have shown that students are more intimidated if their papers are corrected in red, and it’s a tribute to my alma mater (Axe ‘em Jacks!).  Of course, when there is a lot of purple on the paper (instead of red), it probably isn’t good for their self-esteem, either (and, in one instance, a student got a wee bit overexcited upon seeing all the purple on his rough draft).

And now, the photo of the week, taken at the Visitor’s Center at Minute Man National Historical Park:

British soldier. Obviously, not very intimidating without a face.


About Karen

History Professor. Baseball fan. Author of two books, one of which I force my students to buy and read. You want me on your Trivial Pursuit team.
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