Socratic Seminars and Deep Conversation

I had the privilege of attending class in Mr. Martinez’s 8th grade class again last Friday. If you haven’t read about Abraham’s class, I’d encourage you to here or here! He’s such a stellar teacher and I appreciate every opportunity I have to attend his class.

Abraham and I will be presenting together next Saturday at the California Council for Social Studies, where our session is titled “Cultivating Community through Socratic Seminars.” At Thinking Nation, we’ve been quietly building Socratic Seminars for all of our units and Abraham has been generous enough to pilot them and reflect on his experience during our CCSS session. 

On Friday, I walked into his classroom in the middle of a seminar (sorry kids! Also, c’mon meetings…) and was instantly excited by what I walked into. The students had just finished engaging in one of our Curated Research Papers on Slave Resistance and were participating in the Socratic Seminar as the final piece before they wrote their essays. The inquiry question for that unit is “How did enslaved people resist their enslavement and why is this historically significant?” As I listened to the students, I heard them answering complex questions, referring to primary sources, and citing evidence from those sources to defend their answers. In fact, one of my favorite sounds during the 1.5 hours I was there was the 15 pages turning at once when a student spoke up and said something like, “As shown in Document B.” To hear the pages flipping in unity was a joy to historian ears.

A student preparing to engage in the discussion.

While I recorded many insightful moments provided by the young scholars in the room, I’ll share just a couple of them here.

The first example demonstrated a student’s commitment to methodology. Multiple students in the inner seminar circle were bringing up the point that running away was the greatest form of resistance. After hearing this multiple times, one student chimed in, “Wait, I’d like to ask a question. What are you guys referencing when you are saying that running away was the most common way to resist?”

This may not seem like much on the surface, but in this moment, the student wanted to source the claims she was hearing. She followed good historical thinking practice and asked a question of sourcing to the students. This high standard for evaluating claims is the type of disposition our democracy requires (Fortunately, the students were able to point her to the section of their materials that made that claim).

The second came when the students were discussing the significance of runaway slave advertisements. In a seemingly simple observation, a student said, “I’d like to add that running away was so common because they put it in the newspaper and it had its own section.” He went on to expand that it wasn’t just the language of the advertisement that revealed significance, but it was the existence of the ad. To him, the fact that newspapers would dedicate copy space to this regularly demonstrated just how prevalent of an event it was. This was great contextualization at work!

I was so impressed by what I heard in the class that day, and I hope that if you are planning to go to CCSS that you come to our session on socratic seminars or at least stop by the Thinking Nation booth (401) and say hi!

Thinking Historically About Podcast

Today we released episode 5 of our mini podcast series “Thinking Historically About the State of Social Studies Education.” As the other episodes have been for me, this was another great conversation with a insightful leader in the education space. My guest was Dr. Janet Tran, the Director of The Center for Civics, Education, and Opportunity for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. If you read the blog a couple weeks ago, Janet was the mind behind the incredibly thought-provoking roundtable at the Reagan Library. Her deep and layered thinking only further shined in my conversation with her on the podcast. Please listen!

It’s been a busy week but also incredibly fulfilling. If you plan to attend the National Council for History Education’s conference in Cleveland please come say hi on Friday. And for my fellow Californians, I’ll see you Saturday in Garden Grove for CCSS!

“Thinking Historically About” – Thinking Nation’s Podcast

Back in September, we announced our new podcast, “Thinking Historically About.” Since then, we’ve released one episode a month featuring an interview with a historian. We discuss a particular Curated Research Paper that students engage with in our curriculum. In all of these instances, the interviewed historian consulted on the actual CRP, ensuring that it was aligned to scholarship and appropriately provided opportunities for students to analyze the questions in the same ways that scholars do. For a list of historians who have consulted on our curriculum, head to our website.

Next month, we plan to launch a parallel version to the podcast, where we think historically about the current state of education. We will primarily do this by bringing in key leaders and thinkers to discuss the findings and implications of our recently released white paper, courtesy of Education Week. We hope that our podcast continues to be a place for people to be thinking historically about both past and present issues.

For now, I want to highlight some of the episodes we released in the final months of 2023, and provide a quick summary of our January episode that was released today– an interview with historian John Fea.

In September, we released our inaugural episode with Nadya Williams, a scholar of Ancient Rome and Greece. In that first episode, Dr. Williams contextualized the evolution of citizenship in Ancient Rome for us. Students who engage with our resources are asked to evaluate how citizenship developed over time in Ancient Rome, and Dr. Williams gave us key insights into the types of primary sources that could be helpful to understanding everyday Romans during the age of the Roman Republic.

In October, we interviewed Dr. H. Paul Thompson, Jr.,  a scholar of temperance movements and 19th and 20th century Black American history. Dr. Thompson provoked deep questions around how we would frame our own exploration into how the New Deal impacted Black Americans. In that episode, we talked a little more at length about historical thinking more generally, giving listeners a helpful methodology for exploring the topic at hand. Dr. Thompson also reminded us about how important primary sources are to the historian’s job.

Then, in November, we coupled an additional interview with the release of  Nadya Williams’ first book: Cultural Christians in the Early Church. In this interview, Dr. Williams helps us better understand the similarities and differences with the two most known Greek city-states: Athens and Sparta. As she did in the first interview, Dr. Williams really pushed us to think more broadly and inclusively in our historical analysis. She also reminded us of the importance of sourcing, that is knowing the background information behind a source in order to better evaluate and analyze it.

Our last episode of 2023 was an interview with Pearl Young, a historian of the American South with particular emphasis on women and gender in the 19th century. In that episode, Dr. Young took on the role of both scholar and teacher, thinking strategically about how to best guide students through the Curated Research Paper that asked students to compare the experiences of women on the homefront during the Civil War. Her guidance in the pedagogical, as well as scholarly aspects, will hopefully help future students think more deeply about the subject when they engage with that unit of our curriculum.

Lastly, in our first episode of 2024, released today, we interview John Fea, a historian of Colonial America and the early republic era. Dr. Fea helps us to think historically about the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and how their ideas shaped the founders’ vision for government. Dr. Fea really pushed us to think historically in order to best contextualize that particular time and place in order to best understand what shaped their views, and how their views shaped others.

We are excited to continue our podcast in 2024, and pushing the topics for what we are thinking historically about. I’m looking forward to interviewing others on the state of social studies education and what we can do about it. Stay tuned!

Historical Thinking, Meet AI: How We Now Grade Essays

One helpful way to understand the historical thinking skill of continuity and change over time is through turning points in history. Well, this week was a turning point in our own organization’s history. This weekend, we transitioned to Artificial Intelligence for grading essays. As I’ll address below, the human touch is still very much present, but we have spent the last few months working on the AI’s infrastructure and coding to give teachers and students detailed and instant feedback on the essays they write for our Curated Research Papers. We’ve tapped into AI to go beyond assessing memory of the past to using AI to assess historical thinking.

In the future, I’ll write more at length as to why this will be so transformational, but I do want to make the primary reason known right away: We can give students instant feedback and scores on complex writing tasks by programming the AI to assess the writing in the ways we tell it too. The level of detail in feedback that used to only be possible for the super humans among us can now be given to every student, every time. It’s remarkable. AI can enhance historical thinking

Simply, we can incentivize the type of inquiry-based lessons and assessments that we all know to be essential for real understanding without using up so much of our teachers’ outside-of-class time toward grading, or the time it took for our own graders to go through 1000s of essays that may come in any given week.

So what does this look like for Thinking Nation? From the inception of our organization, we always knew that removing the barrier of time spent grading for teachers was critical to shift the paradigm of social studies education. We also knew that social studies lacked key data metrics that could be used to appropriately assess student understanding within our discipline. This is why we’ve always graded the student essays for our partner teachers. 

Our goal was to give students detailed feedback and teachers data reports on student learning without burdening the teacher with losing 12 hours of their weekend to grading essays. As we’ve grown, though, doing this consistently and timely has become harder. Then ChatGPT came out a year ago. We began to see that, given the right prompts, AI could give robust feedback to complex writing tasks with remarkable accuracy. After that, we began to plan out how we could do this for our own CRPs.

Here is an essay graded by AI. This is only it’s first iteration, so the feedback can be strengthened, but this was provided within seconds of the student submitting their essay.

Now, once a student submits their essay, our AI instantly grades it, providing detailed feedback for every single category on the rubric. We know that AI comes with its own set of issues of course, so we still have all of our essays run through human eyes to check on AI’s understanding of our rubrics, for any bias in the programming, and language of the feedback given. We’ll be continuing to refine the algorithm based on the feedback from our (human) graders in an effort to give students immediate detailed feedback on their argumentative writing.

This new addition of AI will only further help our mission to shift the paradigm of social studies education. With immediate and detailed feedback, teachers can have students reflect on their writing in real time, enhancing students’ metacognition that is essential for the discipline itself to be cemented in their minds. AI is a game changer for enhancing historical thinking and we are really excited to provide our partner schools with a way to better shift the paradigm of social studies education.

Meeting Teacher Needs through Formative Assessments on Historical Thinking

At the end of last school year, many of the teachers we work with had a common reflection. It went something like this: “While I appreciate seeing the robust data from the Curated Research Papers, I don’t have enough time to do these often. I do really enjoy the formative assessments on historical thinking, though. The ability to assess a student on a particular thinking skill in a short (less than 30 minute) time span is incredibly helpful for gauging student growth. Can you make more?”

Yes, yes, we can. 

Over the summer, we gave ourselves the goal of having 4 formative assessments for all 80+ of our current units. This meant that we would have to more than double the amount of formative assessments we offered on our platform. So we did! As a rule of thumb, I often recommend that teachers implement a formative assessment on disciplinary thinking every other week in their classes. With over 40 available for teachers in each of our course offerings, this is now an easy feat to accomplish. 

Why formative assessments?

We’ve identified 8 different skills to assess in our formative assessments (We recently added Quantitative Analysis!). Essentially, these assessments are stimulus-based, consist of one “Weighted Multiple Choice” (WMC) question and one “justification” short answer question. Here is a sample for the skill “causation.” Our goal with our formative assessments is to help whole departments shift their own paradigm for how they measure student success. 

Usually, formative assessments in social studies classrooms consist of memory-based assessments to ensure that students have retained the information taught. Essentially, success is measured by a student’s ability to retell us what we told them earlier. However, this is not historical thinking. 

Nothing is moncausal.

Our formative assessments on historical thinking allow for teachers to assess how the students approach the information they engage with, rather than simply their ability to remember it. For instance, in the sample linked above, students are presented with historical context and a primary source. The WMC question asks them to use those sources in order to select the two strongest statements that describe why an event happened. Then, the short answer component asks them to defend one of those statements as the stronger cause for the event, citing evidence in their justification. 

This simple task on causation emphasizes two key components of the historical thinking skill of causation. First, nothing is monocausal: “select two.” Second, historians make evidence-based arguments about the past. This second part is critical if we want to empower our students with the agency to enter into nuanced conversation, whether about the past or our present.

Vertical Alignment through Historical Thinking

Another critical component of these formative assessments is that whole departments can norm around them. In fact, the idea of building collaboration without losing teacher autonomy was the focus of my California Council for Social Studies session back in February 2023. Social Studies departments have been siloed by content for too long and our formative assessments give teachers a common language for success regardless of the content of their classroom. If teachers of different subjects each gave a formative assessment on causation, they could then come together and have meaningful and productive conversations around student success, as well as create aligned goals across the department. Common assessments transform history departments.

We cannot shift the paradigm of social studies education without a common language for success. Formative assessments on historical thinking can help get us there. That’s why we listened to teacher feedback and more than doubled our offerings of this particular assessment tool.

What are Historical Thinking Skills?

At Thinking Nation, we’ve consistently stood by the belief that historical thinking empowers students. When students think historically, they are equipped with the skills and dispositions necessary to sustain democracy and carve out a better future. Social Studies, as a discipline, is uniquely set up to equip students in this way, but what these historical thinking skills exactly are can be challenging to define. 


One of our first blogs simply asked “What does it mean to think historically?” In the blog, I wrote,  “Simply, historical thinking skills are the skills needed to properly interpret documents, events, and their outcomes.” Being able to interpret (and effectively analyze) what is put in front of you in order to make meaning of what you are interpreting is one of life’s most critical skills. It is a skill at the heart of our discipline.

Staying at a 30,000 foot view of the definition of historical thinking skills, I’d also like to add that these are simply the skills that historians employ in their study of the past. While they are by no means natural, as Sam Wineburg points out, they can be learned if students are given adequate instruction and practice. 

Historical Empathy

Historical thinking skills are the historian’s toolbelt. At least that’s how I summed it up when asked by historian John Fea. But these skills, while cultivated in social studies, don’t just remain there. Historical thinking skills are incredibly helpful in navigating everyday life—from the news, to the workplace, even to our relationships. I often tell people how learning to think historically did not just make me a better analyst or writer. It’s made me a better dad, husband, and neighbor. 

Evaluating Evidence

As I wrote above, historical thinking is empowering. Paradoxically, historical thinking is humbling, too. When students think historically, they have the agency to enter into conversations about complex ideas. They are empowered. But, they also know their limits. They seek to empathize with who they study. They rely on evidence over their own opinion. They’re humbled.

With all of this in mind, as we continue in our goal to shift the paradigm of social studies education in building both teacher’s and student’s capacities to think historically, we wanted to have a simple and clear way to communicate those skills to those who engage with our resources. We needed a visual.

Therefore, as a part of our organization’s rebrand, we worked with the talented design firm, Josh Warren Design, to create visual icons to represent the various skills embedded into our curriculum. Currently, we’ve focused on 10 skills. Below, you can see each of them with their corresponding icon.

Each of these icons will now follow their respective historical thinking skill around our curriculum. Students will see them when they engage in document analysis, formative assessments, or engage in a curated research paper. We hope that these clear visuals, along with their succinct definitions (some examples here!), will help students internalize these thinking skills. We know that the internalization of such skills won’t just be a good way to score well on a history test. Most importantly, it will set up students for success outside of the classroom in creating confident citizens, prepared to think critically about the world they live in.

Thinking Historically About: Our New Podcast

Well, another week, another podcast. Though, this time it’s our own: Thinking Historically About.

As many of you know, we continually try to be a bridge between secondary education and the university. Rather than thinking how we can put a historical thinking “twist” on traditional classroom narratives in social studies, we look at how professional historians define their discipline and then think through how to scaffold those approaches for younger learners. 

Another way we try to be that bridge is by seeking out the expertise of scholars as we construct our own units. Thanks to the generosity of so many historians offering their expertise, Thinking Nation students have access to high level thinking about complex historical events through our materials. I appreciate historians like Carol Berkin, who helped shape our unit on Women and the American Revolution, Manisha Sinha, who guided our unit on Slave Resistance, John Fea, who made sure students can think historically about Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and James Walvin who thought deeply about the Haitian Revolution with me and how to best get students thinking about its consequences. These scholars, among many others, have made our curriculum so much stronger.

One of the next stages of incorporating the expertise of scholars into our resources is through our new Youtube Series and Podcast: Thinking Historically About. In this series, we interview scholars specifically about the inquiry questions that students engage with in our units. Our goal with these is that students can hear how an expert in the field wrestles with the same question they will wrestle with and potentially write about through our Curated Research Papers. We’ve been quietly uploading some on our Youtube channel, but starting this month, we will release one interview a month via podcast. We hope that this gives teachers multiple methods for allowing students to engage with these quick conversations either before or during their own engagement with the historical events they study in their classes. 

Our first episode, Thinking Historically About Ancient Rome can be found on Apple Podcasts here (Or Spotify). Or, if you want to play the video interview for your students, you can find it on Youtube. We are grateful to Ancient Rome scholar, Nadya Williams, for sharing her own expertise in both the crafting of the unit and in her reflection in the interview. We hope these interviews become useful for your classroom!

Lastly, to contribute to the funding of these interviews and other collaborations with scholars  You can donate here.


New Resource Alert: Quantitative Analysis

Today’s blog comes to us from Annie Jenson, Thinking Nation’s Director of Curriculum, who has been hard at work this summer creating a variety of resources for our teachers:

We’ve all heard some iteration of this quote by Mark Twain, “Facts are stubborn little things, but statistics are pliable.” And in an era where stats and data are so easily accessible and then disseminated, the role of the historian and educator has become even more integral to a functioning democratic society.

Our mission at Thinking Nation may be simple – “To cultivate thinking citizens” – but our work is complex. Part of developing critical thinking skills in students must include education and practice in analyzing data. 

Over the summer, we have created a tool to help teachers do just that. We are calling it our “Quantitative Analysis Formative Assessment.”

Our newest resource is a 15-30 minute activity in which students are first exposed to data. After a brief analysis, students evaluate the accuracy of conclusions based on the information provided in the data. To conclude, students justify their answer.

We utilize “Weighted Multiple Choice” (WMC) in this assessment in which there is only one incorrect answer and the other options are ranked. As described by historian Bruce Vansledright, WMCs allow us to “retain some scoring efficiencies while assessing much more complex ideas and interpretations. These items also do improved justice to the [history] domain’s complexity…” 

The inclusion of WMCs in the classroom not only does “justice to the domain’s complexity” it also fuels increased classroom discussion. As answers are correct to a differing degree and students must justify their answer, there is ample opportunity for debate. Rather than a student feeling embarrassed from choosing an incorrect answer, they feel motivated to defend their choice.

In these discussions, we have witnessed democracy in action. Students make claims, use evidence to support their reasoning, and provide counterarguments to the assessments of their peers. And this is how students become both empowered and capable of engaging in meaningful dialogue outside of the four walls of a classroom.

There are so many ways to misinterpret data. From considering the collection of data, to analyzing whether the data is sufficiently representative, to generalizing information, it is no wonder that the exact same graph can yield wildly different conclusions.

In our Quantitative Analysis Formative Assessment, students are exposed to both accurate conclusions and data misunderstandings. Through this practice, they will become more attuned to the critical way in which statistical information should be evaluated. 

The most polarizing conversations in our nation lately have been political in nature. And there are abundant recent examples of both the misinterpretation and misuse of political data presented. Thus, we especially focused on creating Quantitative Analysis Formative Assessments for students in an American Government course.

In one of our formative assessments (Linked here!), students have the opportunity to consider the balance between civil liberties and national security. The graphs depict American attitudes from 2004 to 2015 on how the government has handled terrorism.

In our WMC, one conclusion states, “Age is the only factor that impacts one’s opinion on U.S. efforts to protect civil liberties.” This is a classic example of misinterpretation. Just because age is the only factor represented, it does not mean that it is the only factor involved. For students who choose this answer, they would receive “0” points, however, the weight of the lesson learned is immeasurable. These students will be much more critical in the future as they consider what data is represented and what data is not included.

We are excited about this new offering to our partner schools as we are continually seeking ways to support the efforts of cultivating thinking citizens!

The Curated Research Paper

The Thinking Nation team has been hard at work this summer preparing for the 23-24 school year. We will roll out various changes, updates, curriculum, and more in the coming weeks; but, today, I want to address our summative assessment: the Curated Research Paper.

As you will see, our summative assessments have not changed in structure. They contain an inquiry question, context activities such as vocabulary, relevance to the present, and historical context, and a document set made up of primary and secondary sources. Students take all of this information and construct an argumentative essay that addresses the inquiry question and incorporates the analysis they did of the abovementioned components. In short, they complete a curated research paper.

Out with the old and in with the new.

Most people call this process a “DBQ,” or Document Based Question. This name has its origin in AP (Advanced Placement) Exams, put out by the College Board. The College Board, of course, has received a ton of attention in the past few years with many universities foregoing SAT requirements, the new African American Studies course, and the particularly low AP U.S. History scores that came out about a month ago. For much of High School history education in the United States, the College Board serves as an anchor for teachers and schools to compare what they do too. Thus, it has made sense for us and others to use “DBQ” as a term to describe what it is we do.

However, we have decided to break away from this terminology and call our assessments what they actually are. I want to take today’s blog to briefly explain our rationale for this change in hopes of continuing the dialogue for our organization’s ultimate goal: to shift the paradigm of history education. We hope to bring a new dialogue in social studies.

  1. The term “Document Based Question” does not accurately describe what we are asking students and teachers to do. In fact, I can recall dozens of instances when I told someone we did DBQs and they told me that they did too. Then, they began to explain what, essentially, was a textbook reading assignment. Read a short excerpt of a document, and answer one or more questions about it. Sometimes these questions never even broke the DOK 1 threshold. Clearly, we had a different definition!
  2. A part of growing up is making decisions because you thought through them, not simply because that’s what your parents did. For sometime, most of us have used the term DBQ because it’s what the “parent” (College Board) used. Those of us in that circle knew exactly what we meant, but the broader public (and most new teachers) had no idea, unless of course, they took an AP history class. This means that every time we talk about DBQs with a new audience, we have to add an extra layer of explanation. We believe that this extra layer can be removed and we can make a more evidence-based conclusion about what to name the process we are asking students to engage in. Thus we have the Curated Research Paper, or “CRP.”

To recap, we believe that Curated Research Paper is the best way to articulate the summative tasks within Thinking Nation’s curriculum. Using CRP with both the professional community and the wider public will more clearly articulate for all stakeholders what exactly the expectations are. 

We are looking forward to engaging in CRPs with our partner schools this year! In the weeks to come, I’m excited to draw attention to more exciting things coming out of Thinking Nation!

Oped: Our Response to the NAEP Scores

Last week, Education Week published my response to the recent NAEP scores which showed a decline in students’ understanding of both American History and Civics. They summarized my article succinctly: History Teachers Deserve Respect. I’d like to nuance this slightly to say that “The Discipline of History Demands Respect.” Please read an excerpt below, and then head over to Education Week to read the full article.

Trend in eighth-grade U.S. history average scores (

“The National Assessment of Educational Progress released the 2022 scores in history and civics for 8th graders earlier this month. I cannot say I was surprised by the decline. As others have noted, decreased time spent on social studies, a lack of funding, and recent state legislation prohibiting the teaching of a full and honest history were likely contributing factors.

I’d like to make the case that each of those causes represent a larger issue worth addressing: the lack of respect or attention to history education. This lack of respect permeates school buildings in how tests are built, professional development is allotted, teacher bonuses are awarded, and teaching assignments are given.

Most people do not actually see history as a discipline. They see it as a content. This distinction is crucial. When we only see history as a content of stories to be told, we get lost in the weeds of which stories to choose. The ongoing culture wars over what we can teach in history classrooms illustrates how this quickly spirals out of control. Rather than having constructive conversations about competing interpretations of the past, many people have become dogmatic about particular narratives, distracting us from the disciplinary practices inherent to the study of history.

If we truly care about equipping the next generation of citizens to be proficient in history and civics, we need to start by redefining what it is we do as history teachers. Of course, as I often tell the teachers I coach, this does not mean that we get rid of content in favor of skills, but it does mean that content becomes a means to an end—to the loftier goal of empowering our students to think historically.

We must… cultivate historical thinkers, empowered to engage with the diversity of ideas that they encounter both in and out of our classrooms.

To do this effectively, we need to build a common language around how we think about history so that social studies teachers don’t just have surface-level conversations about student progress within their content silos. We also need to provide common assessments on historical thinking that facilitate the use of that common language.

We can bring legitimacy back to what we do. Focusing on the discipline rather than the content allows us to rise above the culture wars, redeem ourselves as teachers of literacy so that we can properly collaborate with other content areas, and, most importantly, empower our students with the skills and dispositions to reinvigorate a visibly injured democracy.

As a bonus? Yeah, the NAEP scores will increase, too.”

Teacher Appreciation Week!

On our social media this week for Teacher Appreciation Week, we featured teachers at some of our partner schools around the country who are absolutely CRUSHING IT! We are so grateful to work with such inspiring teachers and want to take some time to honor them here, too.

Following each teacher introduction, we will highlight some of their thoughts on history education through a mini Q+A.

First up for Teacher Appreciation Week: Dr. Carlo Aaron Purther. Dr. Purther currently is the department head at Birmingham Community Charter High School and has been teaching for 21 years. This year teaches US History, US History EL, AP Euro, and Government. To add to that he also teaches at Cal State University, Northridge. We love how we constantly integrates historical writing and analysis into his classes. We appreciate you, Dr. Purther!

Dr. Carlo Aaron Purther, Birmingham Community Charter School, Van Nuys, CA.

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: The mission is to help students become responsible democratic citizens.   In addition to the number of skills one needs to be an effective citizen such as supporting an argument with textual evidence like they do with DBQs, one should also be able to think historically.  That is, students should be able to understand the context and contingency of situations to better understand their place in the present and future.  Additionally, students should be able to identify the cause and effect of events, how things change over time, and be able to comprehend the complexities of situations.  All of this leads to students becoming responsible democratic citizens.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

A: I would like to see (1) more cross-curriculum skill-based work with other subjects (2) students being service focused  (3) focus on depth of historical events based on interests and/or needs of a local community.

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

A: Because of our school’s work with Thinking Nation, students have improved in  (1) summarizing documents (2) being able to explain how textual evidence supports a thesis (3) and connecting what they learned from the writing an essay to event in another historical era.

Moving across the country to Michigan, we want to highlight the work of Uplift Michigan Online High School teacher, Jenifer Gould! Mrs. Gould is an incredibly reflective educator who continuously pushes her students to think deeply about the past. We appreciate you, Mrs. Gould!

Jenifer Gould, Uplift Michigan Online School

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: Teaching students to think historically is so important as it teaches them lifelong skills of analyzing, thinking objectively, and making sure they have evidence to support their position. Especially in the current climate we live in, it is more important than ever that students have these skills.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

My hope is that history education would start focusing much more on primary sources, analysis, and critical thinking, versus memorization and multiple-choice answers. Teaching history using primary sources is so rewarding as students see historical events in an entirely new light. 

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

It has been so fun, rewarding, and worth the effort to incorporate and use primary source documents in class as I have seen “light bulb” moments in several students as they have learned about historical events that they previously learned about, but now are seeing it from a totally different perspective. 

From the Mitten State to the Lone Star State, we are going to the classroom of Gabriel Hernandez at Idea Public Schools in Weslaco, TX. Mr. Hernandez is a go-getter and risk taker that cares deeply for his students. We appreciate you, Mr. Hernandez!

Mr. Hernandez reviewing for the AP exam with all of his students at Weslaco IDEA Pike College Prep!

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: It is important for our students to think historically and view concepts through a historical lens to ensure we grasp it through the interpretation of then and now.  To make sure history does not repeat itself, since history is a  generation away from being lost.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

A: History in the future should be something we all carry with us, and be showcased through multiple platforms, topics and not just what is required, but special topics, narratives, and interpretation from scholars and others that will bring more attention to History education.

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

A: A bright spot of student thinking in my classroom consists of peer feedback, pair shares and a WATCHA wall (oh look at this work/Spanish translation) that showcases student work and achievement. The photo that I attached is one of our last days of review, we build Key Concept hats and students were to showcase all day to other staff and students!  I apologize for the walls being covered, since it was right before exams, we are not allowed to have any work up (timelines, anchor charts and such).

Finally, for Teacher Appreciation Week, we’d like to (again) highlight the work of Abraham Martinez at Stella Middle Charter Academy in Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Martinez has been teaching for 7 years and continuously reflects on how to best empower his students to think historically. We appreciate you, Mr. Martinez!

Mr. Martinez going over a Thinking Nation Formative Assessment with his 8th graders.

Q:  Why do you think it is important to teach your students to think historically?

A: Teaching students to think historically is important as it gives them a framework and thought process to approach primary sources in an academic setting. I also believe that this framework can be applied outside of the history classroom into other content areas and beyond. Ultimately, it helps them become better people and gives them the problem solving skills that they will need throughout their entire lives.

Q: Where would you like to see history education go in the future?

A: This is a tough one. I believe that history education has moved into the right direction in the last 20 years by focusing on the historical thinking aspect of the discipline in addition to the names, dates, and facts. However, I don’t think that everyone in education seems to see this importance. I would like for education leaders to highlight and recognize the importance that history education plays in the role of developing the “whole student”. Perhaps this may be a reflection of my thoughts on education as a whole, but we need to make sure that we are developing better humans that are able to think for themselves, not just for academic purposes.

Q: Share with us a bright spot of student thinking from your classroom!

A: One of the brightest moments that I witnessed this year was when we had a socratic seminar on the Monroe Doctrine. Students were so excited to discuss what would normally be a rather “boring” topic according to an 8th grader. My 4th period class was so engaged in the conversation that they chose to stay in during lunch to continue the discussion. It was amazing to see their excitement and passion.

Take some time today to celebrate the teachers in your life for Teacher Appreciation Week. And all the teachers out there: Know that we see you and appreciate how much you do for the students in your room.

AAPI Heritage Month: Students Can Explore Resilience

[This blog was adapted from a previous Thinking Nation blog on May 28, 2021]

The month of May is AAPI Heritage Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We want to take this week’s blog to honor those who resisted injustice and persisted toward equality within the AAPI community. This week’s blog will highlight three instances where Asian Americans called the United States to live up to its founding ideas of liberty and justice for all. Each of these stories come from our curriculum’s library of DBQs and we hope that as you engage with their heroism today, students will engage with their stories in the classroom.

Our first story of resistance and persistence comes from San Francisco in 1886. Chinese men Yick Wo and Wo Lee were denied permits to operate their laundry businesses under a new discriminatory law in San Francisco. While the law did not mention race at all, after the city council passed it, only white laundry business owners could obtain permits to legally operate in the city. Yick Wo and Wong Lee challenged this discrimination on the basis of the relatively new (passed in 1868) 14th Amendment, which states, “No State shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” To put the amendment to the test, they continued to operate their businesses without permits, and then when threatened by the city, made their case in the U.S. legal system. Despite the new city law not explicitly referencing Chinese San Franciscans, Wo and Lee took their case (Yick Wo v. Hopkins) all the way to the Supreme Court to argue that the city’s laws violated their 14th amendment rights. The court unanimously sided with Wo and Lee and set a profound precedent in U.S. legal history. The court argued that just because a law is not racist on its face doesn’t mean it can’t violate a citizen’s 14th Amendment rights. Their resistance and persistence led to an important change in our justice system. (Here is a free document analysis activity highlighting the court case).

Our second story to highlight during AAPI Heritage Month comes during the American tragedy of Japanese internment. During World War II, the American government forced Japanese Americans out of their homes, rounded them up, and forced them to live for almost three years in concentration camps in remote areas mostly in the Western United States. Resisting this unjust internment, Fred Korematsu hid in Oakland. He was later arrested and jailed for refusing to be taken from his home to one of these camps. The ACLU used his arrest as an opportunity to test the legality of Executive Order 9066, which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed to intern Japanese Americans, arguing that it was in the interest of national security. Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court did not uphold the 14th Amendment rights like it did in 1886 and ruled 6-3 in favor of Korematsu’s conviction. Still, Korematsu paved the way for America’s apology for this atrocious act against Japanese Americans. In 1982 a federal commission found that the Executive Order was shaped by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988, the government paid $20,000 in reparations to each surviving internee. Korematsu’s resistance set the foundation for justice. 

Our third story takes place in 1965. Thousands of Filipino farmworkers in California were working underpaid and in inhumane conditions in California farms. Filipino-native Larry Itliong, who led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led a successful strike in Coachella to raise the wages and working conditions of Filipino farmworkers. From there, the workers followed the grape crops to Delano, CA. When refused the same wages they were granted in Coachella, they planned another strike. But to avoid Mexican workers taking the jobs once the Filipinos went on strike, Itliong approached Cesar Chavez, the leader of the association that primarily served Mexican farmworkers. Initially hesitant, Chavez agreed to help Itliong and join the strike. This became the great Delano Grape Strike that lasted 5 years and became an international movement to advocate farmworker rights. If it were not for the resistance and persistence of Larry Itliong, the movement would have never come about.

During AAPI Heritage Month, may we remember the contributions of the above three men and so many more within the AAPI community who resisted injustice and persisted toward equality on behalf of Asian Americans throughout the United States.

Oped: Primary sources allow teachers to continue the National Week of Conversation

We shipped this week’s blog elsewhere thanks to The Fulcrum, “a platform where insiders and outsiders to politics are informed, meet, talk, and act to repair our democracy and make it live and work in our everyday lives.”

In it, I address how we can continue the National Week of Conversation in our classrooms by giving our students ample opportunities to read primary sources.

The primary source the student in that classroom analyzed.

Here is a taste:

As seen in the classroom that day, listening to the past through the analysis of primary sources can be a powerful act of empathy for students. When we incorporate student discussions into that analysis, we only deepen empathy. Students model a listening process for their analysis of past documents as a way to set them up to listen in the contemporary conversations they engage with every day.

It is my hope that we continue the themes of #NWOC [ National Week of Conversation ] far beyond this week. Let’s support teachers around the country as they pause and look for opportunities to have students listen to the past and engage in empathetic conversations about its significance. Not only will students grow in their intellectual capacity through these conversations, such conversations are foundational for the preservation of our constitutional democracy.

Head over to the full article to read the rest.

Our Juneteenth Art Contest!

Teachers and high school students! For the month of April, we are collaborating with the National Liberty Museum and Youth Advocates for Change to host a Juneteenth art contest! 

This year’s National Charter School Conference takes place in Austin, Texas. This is the weekend of our nation’s newest national holiday: Juneteenth. As a way to celebrate a holiday defined by liberation, our art competition challenges students to imagine and envision a Black leader or artist and their contributions to liberation. The top 20 students will be featured in a pop up exhibit at the National Charter School Conference. Then the top 3 students will even win cash prizes of $1000, $500, and $250 respectively.

The National Alliance for Charter Schools is sponsoring this contest. This means it is only open to HS charter school students, so if you teach at any charter school in the U.S. WE’D LOVE FOR YOUR STUDENTS TO SUBMIT THEIR ART WORK! This is a really great fourth quarter activity to stretch students beyond the traditional scope and sequence and demonstrate civic participation.

Teachers: We’ve also collaborated with the National Liberty Museum on two introductory activities, linked here. The first has students read General Granger’s Order NO. 3, dubbed the Juneteenth orders, which declared the Emancipation Proclamation to the wrongfully enslaved communities in Texas. The second has students analyze art work to help them plan out their own art submission. Please use these activities in your classrooms to situate your students before they begin on their submission for the Juneteenth art contest. 

We can’t wait to see what students come up with! If you have any questions, please contact Thinking Nation’s Community Outreach Manager, Tiana Day (

Here is our flyer! (Also linked here in PDF form). We cannot wait to see all of the talented submissions by your students!

The Juneteenth Art Contest Flyer (pdf linked above)

How We Can Shift and Shape School Culture

I was visiting one of our partner schools in Los Angeles recently and I happily saw that the 8th grade teacher, Mr. Martinez, had student writing on the wall in the hallway outside his classroom. His school, Stella Middle Charter Academy, has partnered with Thinking Nation for a few years now and it has been so rewarding to watch the students grow. 

student writing on hallway wall
Mr. Martinez’s Wall

My initial reaction was admittedly a little proud. It’s always cool to see Thinking Nation out and about. But as I reflected, I recognized that what Mr. Martinez was doing was both shifting and shaping the culture of learning at his campus.

Most times that we put up student work, it is the work that has immediate visual appeal. Artwork, maps, pamphlets, etc. This work does indeed look nice, but it often does not showcase student thinking. In fact, many of these assignments require the same amount of DOK 1 knowledge that most content-based multiple choice questions require. In a way, these pieces of student work reward students for restating the information that we or a textbook or website gave them at an earlier date. By putting them up, we are sending a message of what we reward in our class.

In the case of much (not all!) student art work, we are sending the message that what is valued by us (and at our school) is visually appealing work that demonstrates content knowledge. But this isn’t history.

History is the study of the past and we have to employ historical thinking in order to do that well. What Mr. Martinez was doing was demonstrating to students and passing staff and parents that he was rewarding something deeper. He was showcasing student writing that couldn’t simply be taken in by quickly walking by. It encouraged the passerby to stop, read samples of student work, look at a rubric that assessed higher order thinking and writing skills, and engage with a variety of arguments. Mr. Martinez was rewarding historical thinking.

student writing on hallway wall

This may seem small, but in this simple way he was setting a tone for the type of work that was celebrated in his class. He was shifting the culture from “this looks nice, let’s post it,” to “this is deep work, let’s celebrate it!” If we want to cultivate thinking citizens and shift the paradigm of history education, this is the school culture shift we need. If we shape our culture to reward deep thinking and complex writing, guess what? Students will begin to showcase their deep thinking and push to become better writers. From there, the paradigm will shift.

As we reflect on what we reward at our schools, I hope that Mr. Martinez’s example can serve as an inspiration for us all.

Elizabeth Keckley and Women’s History Month

For our last blog, we talked about the special occasion of listening to Dolores Huerta speak on International Women’s Day. Today, we want to continue to celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring a lesser known, but incredibly important voice: Elizabeth Keckley. 

If you’ll recall our last blog post of 2022, I highlighted my top 5 history books of 2022, one of them being Keckley’s autobiography. Her story is incredible. From that blog: 

Picture of Elizabeth Keckley

“Wow. Keckley’s experience as an enslaved, then free, seamstress was riveting. Put simply, there needs to be a movie about her. A seamstress for Jefferson Davis’s wife before the Civil War, she refused to go with them once the war began. Through her own grit, she became Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress during Lincoln’s tenure in the White House. She was a confidant for Mrs. Lincoln and was often “in the room” with President Lincoln at critical personal moments. I could not put her book down.”

Keckley’s life story is truly incredible. I was blown away by her story and how she was able to be such a crucial part of the Lincoln family’s life while they were in the White House. She witnessed so much! She spent so much time in the presence of the first lady and her husband, the president, that she offered such fascinating insights into the inner workings of Lincoln. For instance, read her perspective on his integrity and trust in others:

OFTEN Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln discussed the relations of Cabinet officers, and gentlemen prominent in politics, in my presence. I soon learned that the wife of the President had no love for Mr. Salmon P. Chase, at that time Secretary of the Treasury. She was well versed in human character, was somewhat suspicious of those by whom she was surrounded, and often her judgment was correct. Her intuition about the sincerity of individuals was more accurate than that of her husband. She looked beyond, and read the reflection of action in the future. Her hostility to Mr. Chase was very bitter. She claimed that he was a selfish politician instead of a true patriot, and warned Mr. Lincoln not to trust him too far. The daughter of the Secretary was quite a belle in Washington, and Mrs. Lincoln, who was jealous of the popularity of others, had no desire to build up her social position through political favor to her father. Miss Chase, now Mrs. Senator Sprague, was a lovely woman, and was worthy of all the admiration she received. Mr. Lincoln was more confiding than his wife. He never suspected the fidelity of those who claimed to be his friends. Honest to the very core himself, and frank as a child, he never dreamed of questioning the sincerity of others.

Elizabeth Keckley in many ways was an American hero. The stability and restraint that she brought to the White House flies flat in the face of the “get ahead however you can” culture that often runs our world. Her empathy for others is worth emulating. 

In our middle school Civil War DBQ, students are asked to look at the various experiences of women during the Civil War, one of whom is Elizabeth Keckley. Teachers, if you would like to introduce Keckley’s story and efforts to your students, please download this document analysis worksheet that highlights her efforts during the Civil War. 

Happy Women’s History Month!

Celebrating Women’s History Month by Honoring Dolores Huerta

This past Wednesday, we celebrated International Women’s Day, and of course, this month is Women’s History Month. Fortunately, I was able to attend an event honoring the great civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta, on Wednesday. She spoke to the crowd and challenged us, she read a beautiful children’s book capturing her life to a group of local 4th graders, and those 4th graders sang a perfect rendition of “De Colores” for the audience. It was such a special day. 

An art piece from the new exhibit at CSUCI.

It’s not often that you are presented with the opportunity to sit in the presence of such a powerful person in history–and the crowd at California State University, Channel Islands knew it.

Dolores Huerta came to the university that day to inaugurate a new exhibit housed at CSUCI put together by the Smithsonian. I was lucky enough to sit next to Maria del Carmen Cossu Saettone, the Project Director for Latino Initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Cossu Saettone’s hard work on the exhibit manifested itself clearly that day. Her dedication to spreading the word of important history shined in her passion and focus.

Before reading the children’s book, Huerta took the opportunity to speak to the intently focused crowd. She mentioned how her organizing helped save the local community of La Colonia in Oxnard, CA from being bulldozed in the 60s before the Farm Workers’ Movement really began to take shape. After she told that story, she reminded us, “All they [the people] have to do is come together, organize, vote, and I’ll say it again, vote!” She wasted no time in her efforts to organize at the event.

An art piece from the new exhibit at CSUCI.

She spoke to the necessity of passing the Equal Rights Amendment, the importance of funding education and dissolving the education to prison pipeline, she addressed what she identifies as creeping fascism in the United States, and even challenged the crowd to write to our senator to stop the inhumane treatment at a migrant detention center in Kern county. “Can you do that?” she asked. We’ll make it easy for you, readers. Here is his contact information. Voicing my concern took less than 5 minutes.

Huerta ended her speech by asking everyone to stand up in true organizer form. She had us answer her questions. “Who has the power?” and “What kind of power?” In return, the crowd shouted: “WE HAVE THE POWER.” and “PEOPLE POWER!” This moment brought me right back to my studying of the Delano Grape Strike, where Huerta, Caesar Chavez, and Larry Itliong organized a nationwide strike on behalf of the farmworkers who were working for deplorable wages in inhumane conditions. 

Awhile back, our blog covered this event to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Huerta and others sacrificed so much for the voiceless. Now, at 92 years old, Huerta has not stopped the fight. She is the personification of tenacity, grit, and service. May we take some time to reflect and learn from her this Women’s History Month (Teachers, use this primary source analysis resource to talk about Huerta’s work and the Delano Grape Strike in your class).

Dolores Huerta addressing the crowd at CSUCI.

Huerta’s response to a 4th grader’s question sums up her goals well. The 4th grader asked, “What’s your favorite thing to do?” 

Dolores shouted: “Organize! I love to get people together and tell people that they have power… Come together and fight for justice.”

Or perhaps another 4th grader’s question: “What sport did you play when you were little?”

Chuckling, she responded, “Well I was so small that no one picked me for sports teams. But, I love dancing. Everyone should dance. If you dance when you’re small, your legs get strong so you can march!

Our Annual “Let’s shift this paradigm together” Reminder

Two years in March, our blog was titled – A Needed Teaching Revolution: The Importance of a Skills-Based Curriculum. One year ago, we posted it again.Well, it seems that March is the month to reevaluate our foundation and remind ourselves of the work that needs to be done, so today’s blog highlights just why we need a teaching revolution in history. Lets cultivate historical thinkers.

The Reminder:

Teaching history in schools needs a revolution. For years, the primary way to teach history, and measure student learning of history, has been content, content, content.

“Do you remember this event from the past? No?! Then you don’t know history!” This attitude toward history needs to change and is one of the primary reasons we began Thinking Nation.

Why a content-driven history classroom should not be our goal.

As you’ll recall from previous posts, history is not merely the past, it is the study of the past. History is a discipline. It is a process, not an outcome. It changes over time, it necessitates multiple perspectives, and it takes time. 

Often times, ensuring that students know a particular topic is the primary aim of the history teacher. While there are noble reasons for this, it should not be our primary aim. If our students know about many important people, dates, and events, but do not know how to think about those things, they may be walking encyclopedias, but they are not historians. To be historical thinkers, students must be able to contextualize those people, dates, and events. They must be able to identify patterns, make comparisons, and understand causation. Of course, this does not mean that the content of history should be neglected. After all, if historians have nothing to think about, they cannot be historical thinkers. Still, the content of history should be our means to the end, not the end in and of itself. 

At the heart of our curriculum is the idea that when students think historically, they are better citizens. They can think critically about their own time and place in the same way they think critically about the past. They have the skills and dispositions to navigate the present moment in an analytical way. This is why our skills-based curriculum goes deeply into specific areas of history rather than providing a cursory view of a broader range of topics. By doing this, students are empowered to analyze the past and draw their own evidence-based conclusions, not merely absorb the narrative that their teacher or textbook tells them. History becomes a dialogue, not a lecture. History becomes active. It helps us cultivate historical thinkers.

To do all of this, though, we have to re-think our teaching of history. We need to be willing to a spend large amount of class time on a small amount of topics. We need to prioritize depth over breadth. We may not be able to cover all of the things we used to, but our students will be equipped to better remember what we do cover and be equipped to think – the ultimate tool we can give our students.

Join us in this revolution to teach historical thinking. May we cultivate thinking citizens and build up a thinking nation.

Best Books of 2022

To wrap up the year, I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of my favorite books read in 2022. These books continue to shape my understanding of history, historiography, methods, and pedagogy. Here are the top 5, in order of when they were read.

  1. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere

One of our partner school teachers recommended this book that I had sadly not read yet. More than anything, this book challenged the way I think about how others think. It reminded me that what we think is not just contextualized into our own experiences, but how we think is too. The methods of our thinking vary based on our own lived experiences, and as we develop curriculum we need to consider these varying modes of thinking. Like millions before me, Friere challenged me deeply.

  1. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

I read this immediately after Friere’s book as I was building a unit on Indigenous Environmental Justice for our Ethnic Studies curriculum. At the end of the unit, students are asked how they can promote justice (free graphic organizer!) based on their engagement with this history. Gilio-Whitaker’s work was incredibly scholarly and incredibly readable, a combination that is pretty hard to come by. She challenged the way I saw certain events in history and enlightened me to just how important environmental justice is to American Indians. She demonstrated why land is so much more than a physical asset for indigenous communities, as land is tied to indigenous culture, religion, economics, food, and more. Her holistic history was incredibly eye opening.

  1. Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley

Wow. Keckley’s experience as an enslaved, then free, seamstress was riveting. Put simply, there needs to be a movie about her. A seamstress for Jefferson Davis’s wife before the Civil War, she refused to go with them once the war began. Through her own grit, she became Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress during Lincoln’s tenure in the White House. She was a confidant for Mrs. Lincoln and was often “in the room” with President Lincoln at critical personal moments. I could not put her book down. 

  1. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Back on Juneteenth, I dedicated a whole blog post to this book, so I will link to it rather than restate much of what is there. In sum, Gordon-Reed’s book was equal parts memoir, history, and a treatise on historical methodology. This book should be read in undergraduate methodology courses.

  1. The Historian’s Craft by Marc Bloch

This is somewhat of a canonical book in historiography, and yet I hadn’t read it until this year. Bloch was a part of the Annales school of historical methodology in France in the years before WWII. An activist, he stood against the Nazi regime when they took over the area of France he lived in. He was imprisoned by the Nazis and wrote this entire book while imprisoned. The book ends with a “…” because he was executed before he finished and edited the book. Even in its incomplete state, Bloch’s reminders of what it means to “do history” are foundational to what we do at Thinking Nation

Each of these books were formative in my own historical thinking and I’m excited for students to experience this type of thinking in our curriculum.

Learning from 7th Graders

This week, I had the opportunity to teach a few classes at one of our partner schools: Rise Kohyang Middle School in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. For three class periods, I was able to work through the history of Ancient Rome. Specifically, the students were working on answering the essential question: How did the idea of citizenship in Ancient Rome change over time?

As a guest teacher, I never really know what I’m walking into. I find this exciting! It gives me the opportunity to let the students lead a little as I pry and figure out what they know and what they know how to do.

We started reading some historical context of Ancient Rome. Right away, the students were making poignant observations. One student noted that “just because the plebeians became citizens did not mean that they became equal to the patricians” pretty early on. I had some fun and ignored raised hands when it was time to give an answer to a text based question and simply said “say it if you know it!” Dozens of students shouted out the answers. The students were engaged, inquisitive, and prepared to participate. I was impressed.

An 1882 painting depicting Rome’s upper class men.

As we began to talk about the document that cemented the last large expansion of citizenship in Ancient Rome, the Edict of Caracalla, some of the students’ brains really began to turn. Emperor Caracalla signed the Edict of Caracalla in 212 C.E. It essentially gave citizenship to all free people living in the Roman Empire. Many scholars point out that this was probably the largest expansion of citizenship to ever take place from a single event in world history. People across the empire, living on three continents, instantly became citizens. Its significance is profound.

The classroom was set up with four rows of desks on each side of the room, all facing the center. As I looked down the center walkway dividing these sections, I noticed one student sitting in the first row, closest to the center but in the back of the room. She was clearly pondering something. Her hand went up. 

“You know how a lot of people say that Rome didn’t fall because of invaders from the outside, but that it crumbled from within?” Without waiting for my response, she continued, “Do you think that Rome expanding citizenship to too many people too fast was a reason that it fell from within? That they couldn’t make everyone happy or keep order which led to it crumbling?”

Of course, this was not where my brain was at that moment. I was thinking about the inclusiveness of the act. She was thinking about its unintended consequences. To be sure, I’m no expert on Ancient Rome. I let her know that that is a really interesting and plausible consequence of the edict. We then opened the conversation up to the class. What is the purpose of a government? What happens when it can’t fulfill that purpose? Students began to express their thoughts, compare Rome to the U.S.A today, and most relevant to this unit, really began to grasp just how large the Roman Empire was.

It’s always a privilege when I get to join students in their academic journey. This week was yet another example why. I came in with a specific purpose around a specific question. That particular student was making different connections, based on her own interests. The intersection of those two goals produced a brilliant exchange with a group of Los Angeles middle schoolers. We often are unsure if young students can analyze deep concepts in history. I hope this example reminds us not just that yes they can, but that they want to. We just have to provide them the opportunities.

Chicana Feminism – Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month began last week. As we celebrate both Hispanic heritage and Hispanic contributions to United States history, we are going to focus on an area often under explored: Chicana feminism. 

The Second Wave of Feminism is largely seen as the feminist movement that began with The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan in 1963 and then lasted into the early 1980s. Over a twenty year period, women pushed for equality that went far beyond the right to vote, which is the right that defined the first wave of feminism (1848-1920). Even within the noble aims of this second wave, however, many feminists of color felt a disconnect between the fight of their white counterparts and their lived reality. Thus, Black and Chicana feminists often called out racism within the movement and sometimes banded separately from the “mainstream” movement to fight for rights at the intersection of race and sex.

The disconnect felt by Chicana feminists in particular are illuminated in a provocative poem by Jo Carillo. Carillo was Chicana and Native American and published this poem, entitled “And When You Leave, Take You Pictures With You,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, published in 1981. For today’s blog, we want to publish the poem below, as it gives a good glimpse into a perspective of Chicana Feminism. In our DBQ on the second wave of feminism, students analyze this poem as well.

Our white sisters
radical friends
love to own pictures of us
sitting at a factory machine
wielding a machete
in our bright bandanas
holding brown yellow black red children
reading books from literacy campaigns
holding machine guns bayonets bombs knives
Our white sisters
radical friends
should think

Our white sisters / radical friends
love to own pictures of us
walking to the fields in the hot sun
with straw hat on head if brown
bandana if black
in bright embroidered shirts
holding brown yellow black red children
reading books from literacy campaigns
Our white sisters
should think again.
No one smiles
at the beginning of a day spent
digging for souvenir chunks of uranium
of cleaning up after
our white sisters
radical friends.

And when our white sisters
radical friends see us
in the flesh
not as a picture they own,
they are not quite sure
they like us as much.
We’re not as happy as we look