Thursday, August 25, 2011
Checking out each other
Ed's first day of class sounds like mine, only better executed. He actually takes a picture of the kids!
In my opening session, I do have them look around at the physical appearance of the classroom, something they have been doing for the previous ten minutes anyway. Then I show them an image of the Chicago Philosophy Club from 1896 (we're in Chicago), demonstrating how things have changed between the late 19th century and the early 21st. Then I show them pictures of the signing of the Immigration Act of 1924 and of 1965, and say that these things might sound boring, but they are one important reason why the class we're in today doesn't look like the Philosophy Club.
More of the same follows. On the nature of work, leisure, communications, and transportation. On prayer, on school, on domesticity. And on family, which allows me to say that, while lots of things have changed between now and then, kids' sex drives haven't, so in the late nineteenth century most of them would have been married with children by now.
They sometimes laugh.
The first time I did this I realized that for me to teach recent American history successfully I need to: (1) tell great stories; and (2) use it to explain the present, or at least what came next. There are all sorts of pitfalls about treating history in this way, and I'd be curious to hear them if any of you have experience in this. I'd also be curious to hear what has worked with your students.