Tolerance

How will you use your local community as a resource for teaching social studies? How will you generalize and connect what the students learned about their local community to the world community?

As has been discussed in prior classes, my community is small, with little by way of significant cultural or social resources. However, being adjacent to Los Angeles, we have many resources nearby. One resource I feel very strongly about is the Museum of Tolerance. This is an emotional stretch for 5th graders, but a valuable one. At this museum, the children will learn about intolerance and its devastating consequences. This museum is local, but its subject is often events far from California. Still, it has exhibits on “Segregation in California” and particular emphasis on the situation of hispanic immigrants. No doubt, for some of my students, this later subject is anything but hypothetical.

What I particularly love about this museum (in addition to the overall message) is the lesson that little injustices can balloon into very big ones, that every little prejudice is a tiny Holocaust and a potential building block for a tragedy. Finally I love that it helps us to see that we are all potential victims and victimizers, that self-reflection and sensitivity is a life long discipline.

There are many less weighty resources as well: community groups from nearby representing particular ethnicities, enthusiasts in particular subject matter (from Civil War reenactors to model plane builders to dance lovers) and museums of many varieties. Everything is local and global. We are unified by the human experience. The challenge for a teacher is to be alert for the themes that tie us to the global community (and them to us) and be quick to share those with our students.

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Participatory Citizenship

How will you relay the experience of participatory citizenship in your classroom?

I believe in a student-centered approach to both education and classroom management. The central organizing principle in my classroom would be respect. The first manifestation of that principle is that the students and I will work together to write the classroom charter – including the major principles and rules. Likewise, the students and I together would establish a disciplinary structure based on peer mediation and natural and logical consequences. The process by which these structures would be established would be democratic. Students would work in teams to discuss possible organizing principles, etc. Those teams would agree on their conclusions and the teams would come together as a class to decide which become the classroom’s foundations.

The learning process would be democratic as well. Student-centered learning is inherently democratic. It puts the power and creation into the hands of each student and then into groups of students who work together in the “marketplace of ideas” to produce learning and learning projects. Beyond this, my intention is to have a keen core of focus on training for standardized testing, but also to use that clarity of focus to generate time to pursue integrated units more dense with arts, literature, music, and affective content. I will, as frequently as I can figure out how to, give students a choice in which course or unit or subjects they wish to pursue. I believe that students learn best from novel, relevant materials and methods.

Finally, the integrated units themselves are wonderful opportunities to explore participatory democracy. A unit on slavery or pre-Civil War America could incorporate Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Students could stand in Huck’s shoes as he chooses to be a “good” citizen, “do the right thing,” and turn Jim in, or hold to their own sense of morality, violate the law, and protect Jim from the slave hunters. Literature is an incredible tool for teaching responsibility and consequences, choices and principles.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Which themes and skills reflected in the national and state standards do you consider to be the most vital to teach? Explain why. In which discipline areas does this occur?
Given the list of Ten Themes of Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies [NCSS], n.d.), I would pick “Individual Development and Identity” as my highest priority.

My goal as a teacher is to both create relevance in the material to enhance learning and to concentrate my time with my students on material that will be of use in their lives.  While everything on the NCSS list is important, nothing will be as valuable as personal identity.  It is impossible to have stable, resilient self-efficacy in the absence of a clear sense of self.  Likewise, it is terribly hard to interact with other humans in community absent comfort with one’s own identity.  Finally, knowing what we do not know is central to both self-knowledge and effective learning.  By giving my students the tools to understand themselves, I am giving them the ability to withstand more easily many of the traumas of youth.  For example, it is not enough to know that Howard Gardner identified multiple intelligences.  The power of that construct is in understanding that we are all differently gifted and appropriately so.  Knowing our own capacities and proclivities with regard to these intelligences is a wonderful gift that will buffer adolescent angst and clear the way for focus and optimal proficiency in life.

In addition, “Individual Development and Identity” is a wonderful place to begin learning the other nine Themes.  This theme’s description directly references two other themes (“Culture” and “Individuals, Groups, and Institutions”).  It also must cover “People, Places, and Environments” and “Time, Continuity, and Change” by way of creating perspective and context for self.  That is half the list right there.  If I only cover that, I feel like I have given my students an enormous advantage as they move forward with their lives.  If one of the main themes of my teaching is personal power, power to build a mindful, joyful, satisfying life, a strong sense of self and a strong sense of one’s relationship to time, space, people, and change is crucial and nearly sufficient to that goal.

References

National Council for the Social Studies. (n.d.). National curriculum standards for social studies: Chapter 2—the themes of social studies. Retrieved January 21, 2011, from http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands