Your-Story of the United States... an open-source approach to American History that builds greater empathy through collaborative, research, writing, and publishing.

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Education, not indoctrination:

De-myth-tifying the History of the United States

Seeking education rather than indoctrination - this year long, student-centered, project-based approach to teaching the History of the United States will join high school classes from across the political/cultural divide seeking to develop a greater sense of empathy and a deeper understanding of American History through their collaborative research, writing, design, and publishing of THEIR-Story of American History. 

Writing history is an inherently collaborative process. Even if the task were to write their own personal history, their memory, limited by their own perspective, would only provide a one-dimensional representation of who they are.  Their parents, siblings, grandparents, neighbors, friends, enemies, coaches, teammates, rivals, classmates, and, teachers to name but a few, would each provide a valuable perspective into who they were and how they personally contributed to their family's history, neighborhood, school, county, state, nation, and world. Each of us is a part of a much larger story.  Throughout this course, their task will be to reach back beyond their own limited lifespans, working collaboratively, to reconsider American History.

This year-long project based course will seek to capture the breadth of American History from the perspective of eleventh grade, Bishop McNamara High School Students throughout the 2016 - 2017 academic year. Capturing this unique “snapshot” of American History will require all students to collaborate, and compromise in all phases of the project exposing them to the process through which history is agreed upon.

The centerpiece of the program is the class' collaborative contribution to Your-Story of the United States (a yet to be fully realized hub) as well as each student's independent project that would take place during the third (summer) semester of the course.

As envisioned,  Your-Story of the United States will be a collaborative on-line (project/community/resource/host) where high school classes across the country and political/cultural divide would seek to develop a deeper understanding of U.S. History and American Government through their collaborative research, writing, design, and publishing of their-story of the United States.

The classroom itself would be organized more like a journalism course than the more traditional layout of a History class.  For each unit of study, the students, placed into teams of four, would be assigned the task of collaboratively researching, writing, designing, and publishing their responses to a series of "essential questions." Following each class, all student will be required to complete a brief Google Form reporting their progress and assessing both their team's as well as their own collaborative efforts.  At the conclusion of each unit, in order to encourage and ensure the teams have been working collaboratively, each student will be required to take, an in-class, timed, formative writing assessment based on one of the essential questions sourced from the questions assigned to their particular team.

At the beginning of each unit of study, the collaborative teams are shuffled. Intentionally done, to both expose students to different group dynamics and to provide them with the opportunity to experience their own bias by adjusting the group dynamics of their team, this process is the at heart of this approach.  With each rotation of the project, as the students become more conscious of themselves and how they function in a collaborative effort, the teams have tended to evolve.  Better able to identify and source material, perceive bias and both cooperate and collaborate within the shifting dynamics of their groups, the students experience how history is agreed upon and how our government was intended to function.   

How this program could scale up to meet this lofty goal is yet unclear.  What I am confident in is this program's potential to build greater understanding and encourage dialogue across the cultural divisions that threaten our union.  In the Information Age, our students and fellow citizens must learn to discern fact from fabrication, to question sources, to perceive bias and, to hold our government accountable.  It is an old adage that “every nation gets the government it deserves” and, writing this in the wake of what has been perhaps the most shocking presidential elections in our nation’s history, I fear it might be true.

Yet, I remain hopeful.  Our government, like this program, is intended to be a reflection of who we are; as a nation, a state, and for the purposes of this sentence, a classroom or school.  It is my hope that moving forward, our nation, with a greater appreciation of who “We the People” actually are, can face our future with greater awareness and more unified understanding of our history, our government and, the quintessential diversity of our American Culture.

I thank you for this opportunity and look forward to working with the Teachers Guild and their partners in the further development of this program.

Here is working Google Doc on the project,  I would appreciate any suggestions or insights you may have to offer, Thanks...

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Photo of Erin Quinn

Have you ever heard of design fiction? I recently heard of this concept, where you speculate on what might be designed in response to an imagined or future society's values.
I wonder if there's potential here: what if you sketched out what a future informed by the current political reality could look like. What would Americans in that imagined future design?

This is already so developed and fleshed out. Is there anything you'd like some feedback on specifically?

Photo of Shawn Dougherty

Erin, Thanks for the suggestion. I like the historic fiction angle, it might work well as a capstone project at the end of the year or as a summer bridge assignment prior to their Senior year. As for specific feedback and direction, I'm looking to expand the project beyond my classroom and am seeking partners in other schools outside of my own little bubble. The structure of interaction this approach would foster, among students, teachers, and their school communities would be as applicable in a Math or Science classroom as it has been in my History class. So, if you could suggest any organization or network that would be interested in partnering/fostering/mentoring me in taking this next step; I believe this model to be very scaleable and could prove to be an effective vehicle for building greater individual empathy and broader cultural understanding within and among the United States of America.

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