Category Archives: Great Students

Teaching Great Students IV: Carson’s Lincoln Thesis

Assignment: Students were asked to read the chapter on Abraham Lincoln from Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition. Then formulate a thesis on the perception of him as real or myth in history. I took a second to construct my own thesis to add to our class meeting. What are your thoughts of Lincoln? Do you agree with my thesis of Lincoln?

According to Carson: Abraham Lincoln was a transformative actor shaped by his destiny to will Rousseaus’ notion of the human soul and to eradicate the concept of the noble savage. Set from the mark of statesman, Lincoln was perceived as a paradoxical figure; however, the dichotomy that defined his soul and shaped his politics were clearly antiquated by his fixed keen sense of conclusion: A boy who grew to be a man only to be characterized as a historical figure: A man who saved the union…. Thanks to popular myths designed by romantic historicist who used his achievements to create a national identity, the complex arguments of capitalism are often absent. Note that this identity was shaped more by nationalism and capitalism, and less by moral ism: This particular contention is often noted by some who contend that Lincoln would have left slavery intact if it meant national preservation; however, Richard Hofstadter shaped Lincoln as a man who was destined to complete what Thomas Jefferson did not finish: A nation of enlightened actors who would eradicate the evils of slavery now, not later. Much of my “now argument” was derived from Lincoln’s understanding of the changing economy and America’s world status.

Still, it was clear that Lincoln and many white northerners did not see the Negro as being on equal footing with whites. They feared more than anything the expansion of free Negros to the north, which created a surplus of workers thus bringing about a diminishing number of jobs: This basic conclusion enveloped Lincoln as a systematic capitalists – one who recognized the changing economy but feared the plight of the union under its feudal state. Moreover, understanding the complex relationship between the North and the West, Lincoln saw the constant division of unity – thus he sought to transform the economic plight of a growing industrial age while eradicating the structure of the South’s Third-Estate economy. In doing this, Lincoln’s calculus was one that Thomas Jefferson had yet to understand: Tell the masses what they need to know in order to bring about change socially and morally, but do not permit this.

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Filed under Great Students, History, Teaching

Teaching Great Students #4

Only in a Carson run course can this happen: I show up to class two minutes late to discover my advanced students on the table praying in protest that I do not hand them an assignment. Again, I do have a great students. If this is the extent of the crap I get from them, I will take it. I am big on student loyalty — to me and my course; if I get this, I can be pretty democratic in my authoritative approach. Here are my other post under the category of great students.

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Above: Section A4 of Advanced Placement United States History (H/T: Jamie Ferguson)

Although my students are great, I am at times concerned about their interpretation of southern culture vis-a’-vis black slavery. On this day, students were asked to construct a map with symbols examining the commercial revolution and regional economies as they relate to the historical modalities circa 1820 – 1848; well in the picture below, students contend that my black-urban up bringing forced me to greatly misinterpret their picture below. I see a depiction of urban youth, bling bling, hip hoppness, and a garden tool used in many urban rap lyrics. Did I get this wrong? I am sure I am a better academic than this. It was fun to laugh at seeing that the students “supposedly” did not see it this way. Sure!

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H/T: Jamie Ferguson for the picture above.

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Filed under Education, Great Students, History, Houston Christian High School, Students, Teaching

Teaching Great Students #3: Brothers and Sisters

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Above: Danielle Milton, Jillian Thompson, Ariel C’nae Johnson, and Carson kicking it during homecoming week.

Race and independent schools have been the focus of much of the work I have done and would like to continue over the next five years; it is a topic of passion as it not only relates to the development of my non-minority students, but has been shaped by my own past: a black kid in an all white private school. God has blessed me with the ability to transcend race; I do not want people to fail to see my race or understand why my race and past have shaped my current prediction. I do want people to say “wow he is a great guy and a dynamic teacher and scholar.” Because of this, seeing my race is clear and there — but allowing it to take hold is not. I have a great relationship with many of my minority students on campus; however, it is clear that I miss a number of them in my advanced courses — a fact that I am constantly working to change. As seen in the pic above, one cannot help but notice the number of great minority students on campus. At 21%, we are pleased but not satisfied.

While attending a private upper day school in Montgomery, Alabama, I found myself trapped in one of Ralph Ellison’s descriptive allegories of being invisible while clearly being visible. This construct was greatly exacerbated due to my race and the expectations of one’s color. As a black kid growing up in a low socioeconomic community, the idea of being hard and tough greatly outweighed that of being smart and academic. Because I attended a private school on scholarship, I was surrounded by peers who were not like me; I often felt invisible.

Ralph Ellison’s classic novel, Invisible Man, highlights the challenges many blacks felt in white America:

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.

Ellison is addressing this distorted perception — the failure to see the humanity and individuality of black people — has its roots in the historic veil of slavery and Jim Crowism that separates the black world from the white world. This is the veil that W.E.B Du Bois addressed is his epic Souls of Black Folks.

Many of my affluent private school classmates made it okay to relax and be myself, which often included jamming to the likes of Garth Brookes while reading a classic or two. This seems to be the case for our minority students on campus — though there have been minor issues at times, as was the case for me as a student. However, while out with people from my neighborhood, I found myself jamming (who uses this term) to my favorite gangster rappers. It is very difficult for me to listen to most of today’s “want to be a gangster” rapper. True, many of the eighties and early nineties gangster rappers used harsh language and graphic illustrations to represent black urban life, but many of them were simply being poetic and artistic in addressing their everyday life.

Tell me, do you believe that gangster rap and country music reflect both urban/rural and political problems? Why do country music stars address their problems without the degree or language, violence, and sex that rap artists continue to use? Does this promulgate racism and classism? How does this reflect the dichotomy of being black in a white world? Independent schools tend to show case this dichotomy very well. I am excited that HCHS has worked hard to diversify its faculty and student population. But, we still have much work to do as we consider the topic of class.

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Filed under Great Students, Houston Christian High School, Independent Schools, Students

Teaching Great Students #2

As I addressed here, I have decided to devote a blog post every Friday to teaching. I hope to address a lesson, a discussion, or introduce my students and their interests. Below are pictures of the work of all three sections of my Advanced Placement United States history classes; here they are analyzing primary documents on the board. Based on what I read from students’ course evaluation of me last week, they seem to like this type of stuff. Here is how it works:

  1. Select a number of primary sources that relate to what you are reading or teaching. In this case, I selected a set of documents from a New England town prior to the American Revolution.
  2. Place students in groups. Then, have each group rotate to various sources on the board; have them read and analyze the sources. They should note the extent of what the sources are saying and its point of view. Furthermore, students should add additional outside information that links the sources to the textbook reading. All notes should be placed on the board.
  3. Allow the work to remain up so that other groups and sections can study the sources and either correct or modify the analysis placed on the board. Students cannot erase any notes unless it is an egregious error.

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Filed under Education, Great Students, History, Houston Christian High School, Students, Teaching

Teaching Great Students #1

I have stated on this blog and to colleagues that I have the best job in the world; I get to teach great students everyday I arrive on campus. I have decided to devote a blog post every Friday to teaching. I hope to address a lesson, a discussion, or introduce my students and their interests — which I am sure is just history. In preparing to converse with my most excellent students, I get to read books, draft notes, and review journal articles that address the most recent trends in the field. I also get to travel to professional meetings and conferences where others much like myself participate and exchange ideas. Furthermore, many of the papers I write derive from a particular question or conclusion from my classes.

This is the advantage of teaching bright students who, for the most part, enjoy participating in a discussion about history. My teaching style is Socratic: I ask questions in hopes that students will seek answers from each other before I inject my thoughts or take on the matter; many students do not mind my historical take…. Though, at times it is different from theirs. Moreover, my students are willing to give me a chance to challenge the works that we read or the historical notions they have about matters of class, race, historical romanticism, and status; I too have worked to allow them the same voice in our conversations. As one student pointed out about my classes, there is only one method of instruction… though I will mix that method up with various activities: Discussions.

Below are pictures taken by Shelby See of the yearbook staff and a great student in my AP European History class; I teach two sections of AP European History, three sections of AP US History, and a section of World History. All of my classes are conducted around a table. After visiting a number of elite private schools that use the Harkness Method, I concluded years ago this is the best way to teach a class. (read about the Harkness Method here and here and here)

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Filed under Great Students, History, Houston Christian High School, Students, Teaching