Category Archives: Causes of Conflict 2009-2010

Guest Post: A teacher’s journey

This guest post is written by Amy Johnson, a fourth and fifth grade teacher in Longview Public Schools.  In it, Amy describes the how Teaching American History Grant support influenced her teaching and has improved her district.

Roanoke & Jamestown Storyline, Winter 2012

Sadly, our Teaching American History grant is coming to an end…but the impact and inspiration this  project has had on me and numerous others will keep the work alive. Reflecting on the opportunities during the past three years as a collaborator, a teacher and a learner I am forever grateful to have been a part of such a program.  The professionalism, the high level of collaboration, and the friendships made with fellow educators have forever changed me.

Reynolds Memorial, Gettysburg National Park, Spring 2010

Starting out three years ago, little did I know what a huge impact the TAH grant, with a group of middle school teachers, would have on me professionally and personally.  Experiencing, Causes of Conflict: The American Civil War, in 2009-2010 was just the beginning of the journey for me.  Lesson study, with a group of fellow teachers as collaborators, introduced me to lesson design and analysis for the very first time.  Again, little did I know the process would become a passion.  Because of this project and the collaborative spirit, brilliant pieces of student work emerged…evidence of student learning beyond what I thought possible.  I became a learner in this process and was moved by the experiences during my first year because I saw results and excitement in my students.

North Bridge, Concord Massachusetts, 2011

As the TAH grant moved into  2010-2011, Causes of Conflict: The American Revolution, once again I found myself immersed in lesson study and design.   In a group of fellow elementary teachers I was confident, taking risks to create even more engaging opportunities for my students.  It was at this point I realized how much I became a learner too…I was learning about the birth of our nation in Boston.  As an American it was a personal experience.  This experience excited me and I couldn’t wait to bring back to my students. I was living a moment in history and I was able to give it life in my classroom. Again, it paid off.  Because I lived it…student engagement and evidence of student learning skyrocketed.  And, then something special and unique happened.  We became a close cohort group of teachers who could collaborate in an atmosphere of trust.  As a group we found ourselves naturally collaborating and creating engaging lessons for our students.  It was exhilarating and had such power professionally.  I am changed.

As this chapter closes I know with confidence the work started seven years ago continues.

Teaching with Primary Sources Workshop, March 2012

Amy moved from a recipient of  professional development recipient to a pd leader when she organized a Library of Congress TPS workshop for her district earlier this month.  Her students and her district are lucky to have her! Teaching American History grants made a real difference for thousands of teachers and their students and will be missed.


The end is nigh

While we may have thought that we made it through May 21 unscathed, I received two messages yesterday that our friends in the colonies might have considered providential signs.

The first was an email from Peggi Zelinko at the Department of Education.  She wrote to say that no new Teaching American History proposals would be awarded FY 2011, ending any hope that “Competing Visions: Debates that Shape America”, the excellent proposal we submitted in March, would be funded.   This confirmed my suspicions – but was disappointing nevertheless.

The second was a posting on the National Coalition for History site:


The House Education and Workforce Committee this week approved, by a strict party line vote of 23-16H.R. 1891 the “Setting New Priorities in Education Act.” This bill would eliminate 43 programs at the Department of Education including Teaching American History (TAH) grants.

An amendment was offered by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), and cosponsored by Representatives Davis (D-CA), Woolsey (D-CA) and Wu (D-OR) that would have potentially preserved TAH. The amendment would have required the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence to determine if the United States was experiencing a shortage of linguists. If it was found that was the case, Department of Education funds could have been used to improve foreign language education, economic and financial education, arts education and the Teaching of Traditional American History. The Holt amendment was defeated by the same party line vote of 16-23.

House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MI) has decided to adopt a piecemeal approach to reauthorizing the ESEA, considering a series of targeted bills instead of one large one. H.R. 1891 is the first of those bills to be introduced and passed by the panel.

H.R. 1891 will now be considered by the House where it is expected to pass. While this is disheartening, the bill would still have to pass the Senate and be signed by the President which is unlikely. Traditionally, there has been strong bi-partisan support in the Senate for the TAH program.

In the Senate, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) will soon introduce a single all encompassing ESEA reauthorization bill. It was expected he would introduce the bill right after Easter, but that has not occurred. There is no indication at this time what Chairman Harkin’s position is with regard to TAH in particular or history education in general.

It’s a shame.  Based on our experience, I believe that TAH projects have catalyzed important change, critically supporting teachers in ways that renew and expand their vision and capacity to improve students’ learning experience.  I hope that teachers find creative ways to continue the work on their own.

I look forward to next week’s demonstration lesson in Castle Rock and our final “Causes of Conflict” program June 29 & 30.  Enjoy the long weekend!

Teacher Professional Development: The Gift that Keeps Giving

from Tempered Radical - Bill Ferriter

It’s always a pleasure to run into former students and find out that the work you did together continues in delightful and surprising ways.  When I taught middle school, for example, I was never sold on the school’s approach to teaching a foreign language.  How were students supposed to learn Spanish in 50 minute doses three times a week?  As it turns out, something important was going on:  One of the most common characteristics when I run into those kids today is that they’ve continued their language studies – the other common characteristics being that they’re brilliant, wildly idealistic, and unusually good looking 🙂

While I’m sold on the professional development I’ve been doing through Teaching American History grants over the last five years, I do wonder about their continued impact.  Plans for sustainability are always called for in the proposals – but they’re awfully difficult to commit to convincingly.  What a thrill it was, then, to be invited to Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, where three former TAH participants teach.  There, I was treated to a Lesson Study Demonstration Lesson, work they were inspired to continue following their experience int the TAH project.  Lesson Study brings them together to discuss alignment between meaningful student learning targets and powerful teaching strategies, important work that investigates teaching, learning, and assessment through collegial interaction.

When they invited me to observe their Lesson Study, I was impressed to hear that it was happening.  But once we got talking, I was thrilled to learn of a range of tools they’ve brought to Bay from our TAH work together that has enhanced a professional learning culture amongst their staff and students.  In addition to Lesson Study, teachers there are:

  • Working together as teams to plan
  • Maintaining student work portfolios
  • Doing repeated, aligned assessments to see growth over time
  • Examining student work collaboratively and discussing whether it’s sufficient to assess learning

While they say this came from TAH program inspiration, I know that it’s taken tremendous courage and conviction on their part to push this kind of cultural change.  It makes you wonder:  What else is going on?  While the work we’ve done has always benefited from excellent evaluation processes during its duration, it sure would be nice to be able to do some longer term studies…

November’s Batch

Time for another review of opportunities that have passed my desk over the last month that you might have missed:

National History Day Judge Recruitment: Want to support middle and high school students’ enthusiastic historical inquiry?  The Southwest Washington History Day Competition will be held February 26 in Vancouver and we need judges!  If you’ve done it before, you know how wonderful it is to talk to kids about their research and applaud their projects; if you haven’t, you’ve been missing out and it’s time to turn that around.  Register to judge here.  No prior experience necessary; let me know if you have questions.

Lesson Study: I posted twice on Lesson Study this month – once on Peter Pappas’ always worthwhile blog Copy/Paste; a second time here.  Add your voice to the conversation!

Summer Institutes:  Both Gilder Lehrman and NEH have posted their 2011 summer professional development seminars.  These are unbelievable no- or low-cost opportunities to study historical themes with top scholars in interesting locales:

Spring Institute: The US Holocaust Memorial Museum is running an institute for teachers March 3-5 (Deadline January 28)

Scholarships: The Colonial Dames have posted another opportunity for Grade 5-12 teachers in Washington State to advance their instructional capacity with $1000 grants.  Apply here by March 4.

Other odds and ends related to our work:

Civil War

American Revolution

Civil Rights Movement

Education Reform

If there is something I missed that you want others to know about, add it to the comments section!

Learning on the Teaching American History Highway

This article, by Center for Columbia River History Program Manager Donna Sinclair, appears in the October 26 issue of The Vancouver Voice.

Voices of the Past: Learning on the Teaching American History highway

Donna Sinclair

Most people think of history in terms of dates or events, but history is more than facts. History is an activity. In fact, history is inquiry, as reflected in the root Latin word, “historia,” which means learning or knowing by inquiry. Historians “do history,” actively exploring past events and ways of life through physical remnants of bygone times. Those remnants can be diaries, letters, institutional reports, receipts, newspaper articles, photographs, people, and even landscapes. Historians examine puzzle pieces — these “primary sources” — in order to develop a historical narrative that tells us about the past and its meanings.

It isn’t always clear how histories are created, whose line of inquiry has been followed, or what constitutes truth. That is why historians document sources in footnotes and bibliographies, so that others can agree or disagree with their conclusions. Determining an event’s cause is not easy. We cannot know exactly what people did and said in the past any more than we know exactly what is happening now. But we can try to sort it out, to examine how and why something happened. We can recognize that history affects different people in different ways.

Learning to create authentic versions of the past based on evidence is the work of historians. It is also the job we have delegated to the teachers and students of Washington State. The state’s grade level expectations, GLE’s, call for students to analyze and interpret historical materials, identify causes of events and connect them to the present, while arguing for a position from at least one social science perspective, and citing multiple sources they have evaluated for accuracy.

For the past three years ESD 112 has worked with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Center for Columbia River History (CCRH) to provide “history on location” teacher workshops. This “Causes of Conflict” program, funded by a grant from the Teaching American History (TAH) program of the U. S. Department of Education, has focused on three major eras corresponding to the periods studies at the 5th, 8th, and 11th grade levels–Civil Rights, the Civil War, and the Revolution. Participating teachers learn content and teaching strategies, work with pre-eminent national historians and travel to actual sites of conflict in places like Birmingham, Gettysburg and Boston. CCRH works with the teachers in day-long workshops that apply national themes to regional history. The first two years, CCRH held workshops on the Fort Vancouver National Site where teachers learned about the site’s hidden histories from NPS historian Greg Shine. They often found unexpected national connections, from Fort Vancouver’s Buffalo soldiers and World War II shipyards, to the everyday experiences of settlers, the military, and Native people during the Civil War era.

Last month the third cohort of teachers gathered at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. There, they considered the idea of “revolution” from the perspective of scholars, archaeologists, and Native experts. These teachers learned about what was happening here during the Revolution and what was and was not revolutionary for the large regional Native population. They examined historical documents and practiced new ways of teaching and learning. They gained ideas for their classrooms that “expand and enliven” history, as one participant said, “beyond the textbook.”

As a result, students are studying where historical sources come from, who creates them and why. More than ever before, they are gaining an understanding of what it means to “do” history, to analyze and connect past and present.

Fort Vancouver and the Cathlapotle Plankhouse provide new ways to experience history, as do public programs like the upcoming talk by James B. Castles lecturer, Dr. Ken Ames. On 5:30 p.m., November 18, at the Oregon Historical Society Dr. Ames will present “Entangled in the Fur Trade,” discussing his work with Native people of the Northwest for the past 35 years. For more about this program, go to

National History Day provides another way for students to travel the road to history. National History Day promotes historical inquiry, analysis, and fun. Sixth to twelfth grade students participate individually or in groups, by creating exhibits, dramatic performances, research papers, or multimedia documentaries and websites. NHD is exciting, with students abuzz in conversation about their versions of the past, debating the quality of their work, or calling a parent to say, “Mom, I’m going to state!” . . . in History!

To learn more about the Causes of Conflict Teaching American History grant, go to

For more about National History Day, see

Donna Sinclair is Program Manager for The Center for Columbia River History (CCRH), a consortium of the Washington State Historical Society, Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver. The CCRH mission is to promote study of the history of the Columbia River Basin and to present the results publicly. CCRH is dedicated to examining the hidden histories of the Basin and to helping people think about the historical record from different perspectives. CCRH offers free public programs and has an extensive historical website at

History and Memory: Confederate History Month

This post is based on a workshop Rich Christen, Peter Thacker, and I put together for Saturday’s Northwest Teachers for Social Justice conference.  I’m posting it here thinking that it might prove useful in articulating a rationale for using primary documents with students or parents.

When historical memory drives a news story, the media fills with representatives portraying competing visions about the past.  These talking heads blather past each other, typically driven by ideology rather than historical inquiry.  How might the interrogation of primary sources assist citizens in making sense of the debate?  The recent debate over Confederate History Day provides a case study.

Historical memory is manufactured in a tremendous variety of ways, with film, books, symbols and statuary being especially significant ways.  Political proclamations also play a role in memorializing the past.  On April 6, 2010, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell issued a proclamation declaring “Confederate History Month.”  It’s valuable to start by reading the proclamation as originally issued, noting what you think it says about how McDonnell remembers the Confederacy.

Confederate History Month Proclamation

I think it’s an incredible document.  On first glance, I couldn’t get past the idea that he was calling it “Confederate History Month” rather than “Civil War History Month.”  On return readings, other phrases jumped out:  He calls the Civil War a “war between the states for independence“, combining two highly partisan names for the war (“War Between the States” and “War for Southern Independence”).  He calls the period “a time very different from our own,” which – while no doubt true – could be seen to remove any ability to assess motivations today.  He talks about the “insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union [note: not “United States”] Army“, conjuring Lost Cause mythology, and his reference to Lee’s surrender echoes Reconciliation mythology.

National outrage ensued.  Many – including Barack Obama – argued that omitting slavery from the proclamation was unacceptable.  Others defended McDonnell:  Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, for example, said that “it goes without saying” that slavery was bad and that protesters were “trying to make a big deal over something that doesn’t amount to diddly.” Watch, for example, this CNN debate on the issue.

In watching the clip, it seems to me plausible that most viewers would adopt a relativistic response – these are two different ways of thinking about the past; two truths, both equally valid and worthy of consideration.  What happens, though, when – rather than listening to debaters giving only the slightest of consideration to the other’s arguments – we add primary sources to the mix?  If we are wondering how we should remember the Confederacy, shouldn’t we invite the Confederates to speak for themselves?

While many different documents can do the trick, one could do far worse than using Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech for this purpose.  In the speech, given March 21, 1861, the Vice-President of the Confederacy is celebrating the Confederacy’s foundation for “all, not only in this city, but in this State, and throughout our Confederate Republic.”  He

elaborates on the Confederate constitution’s vast improvements over the US Constitution, detailing progress in interstate commerce, representation, and presidential terms.  He then turns, “last, not least” to slavery.  He says that the authors of the US Constitution – Thomas Jefferson and “most of the leading statesmen of the time” – believed “that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. In this belief, Stephens says, they were in error – and the Confederacy was founded to correct that mistake:


Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

With great detail, Stephens goes on with an argument for White Supremacy and the foundational role it plays in the Confederacy.  One exercise people might be asked to do is to highlight spots where Stephens’ speech is consistent with McDonnell’s proclamation in one color with inconsistencies labeled with a different color – it’s a strong contrast.

Response to McDonnell’s proclamation brought revision from the governor:  first, he added a clause regarding slavery; more recently, “Confederate History Month” became “Civil War in Virginia” month.

Thinking beyond Confederate History Month, though:  In what other studies might primary sources shine light on contemporary debates?  Leonard Pitts had a recent piece on remembering the Civil Rights Movement; Larry Cebula had a post about quoting Patrick Henry; Ron Chernow wrote about The Founding Fathers versus The Tea Party.  Are you doing work with students confronting historical memory?  Let’s hear about it!

Update:  I wish I had known about this video prior to our presentation – Lost Cause Nostalgia – “Virginia.” Definitely worth the watch – but you need to stick around for the whole thing.  h/t: Kevin Levin – Civil War Memory

Lesson Study on the National History Education Clearinghouse Site

It’s not too often that our work gets featured on any website other than this one, so I think I’d be mistaken not to direct the reader’s attention to this new post on the National History Education Clearinghouse,  The interview was conducted well into the December 2009 Teaching American History Project Directors Conference in Washington DC –  I wish I had dunked a double espresso before sitting down to that one!  The NHEC site will be posting many other interviews which I’ll be interested in seeing from that session.  The site is an increasingly helpful one, whether you’re looking for teaching materials, history content, introductions to historical thinking, “best practice” approaches to teaching history, lessons learned from TAH projects, or anything else related to teaching history.