7th grade social studies email
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From: [Teacher name removed]
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Your children put in some hard work last week and I have been very impressed at how most students have stayed focused and on track when given chances to work independently.
Last week was mostly independent work time, but I started on Monday with a lightening overview of the colonial period, focusing on push and pull factors for settlement in the New World and features of the three regions of the English settlements that developed. We discussed how in 1616 most of the native populations near settlements died off from small pox, which the Puritans took as a sign that they had divine providence on their side. If you ever get the chance to read The Wordy Shipmatesby Vowell it contains a very well-researched look at this belief.
Students worked on their layered activities for the rest of Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we started with another summary overview, this time of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Dr. Kathy Swan, one of the lead authors of the C3 Social Studies standards, who I have a lot of pedogeological respect for, warns about what she calls “crafty sarcophaguses.” Dr. Swan cautions against softening history by gamifying or “making fun” for students at places that are solemn and creating incorrect emotional attachments. I am very careful when addressing the enslavement of Native American and African people to in no way minimize the horrors of slavery. Using an on-line virtual tour of a Dutch slave fortress at Goree, Senegal that is now a UNESCO world heritage site, we talked of the various horrors that awaited captives from the 50% survival rate of getting from the interior of Africa to the coast, the dehumanizing conditions while awaiting sale, and the wretchedness of The Middle Passage. I tape out on the floor an 8.5” x 8.5” square on the floor to give a visual of the space 15-20 people would be chained for three-month periods while waiting for sale in Goree. I also tape out a 4” by 1” rectangle and a 5” by 1.2” rectangle on the floor to show the space suggested to slave traders to allow on their ships for girls and boys respectively. I explain that I am in no way trying to recreate the experience – I couldn’t and wouldn’t – but just that visual of seeing the small spaces help students have increased understanding of the mistreatment of enslaved people.
We talk about how this could happen – with the basic truth that it was about profit over people. Throughout the year, slavery will always be there as a part of the America we study, and that constant tension between the idea of the “home of the free” built on stolen labor and stolen lives. As we discuss current events, we have to recognize that 400 years of race-based slavery, and 100 of unequal treatment under the law, is not just “gotten over” in the fifty or so years since.
Thursday and Friday were mostly work days. I ran reports to check in with students on points and nudge them to their goal of finishing the required layer by the end of Monday (11/11). Mixed in was extended advisory and a surprise fire drill (we all learned that if you don’t put water in your mac n’ cheese cup before microwaving, you end up with a lot of smoke).
Current events were also discussed as we looked at the races and results from Election Day, social media attempts to limit voter disenfranchisement through the spreading of false information on their sites, the continuing private impeachment inquiry interviews, what to expect when the questioning is in the open next week, and more.
One last note, next week is Parent/Teacher Conferences. I greatly enjoy getting a chance to talk with you about your lovely children and the work that we do, but they are long days for all of us, with conferences back-to-back throughout thirteen hours on Thursday and a quick turn-around to seven more hours the next day, so I ask that you please forgive any fuzzy moments.
Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.