On the 4th of July Weekend: How Should We Teach the American Revolution?

Who determines the content and process of teaching in my classroom?  State legislatures, school boards, parent activists?

The content in New York State are the Social Studies Frameworks (See here) a list of topics and the state requires students to pass exit exams, the controversial Regents examinations (See an American History Regents, January 2020 here).

There is an effort to create a roadmap, perhaps a better term than curriculum created by Educating for American Democracy,

Educating for American Democracy is an unprecedented effort that convened a diverse and cross-ideological group of scholars and educators to create the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy—guidance and an inquiry framework that states, local school districts, and educators can use to transform teaching of history and civics to meet the needs of a diverse 21st century K–12 student body.

The process of transferring knowledge, the actual process of teaching is the job of the teacher. State frameworks, or roadmaps may guide the content, you have to write the play. Teachers are writers, producers, directors, actors and (hopefully) critics of play with a run of one day.

How do you grab, and hold the attention of a fifteen year old?  Remember your competition: while you’re teaching the causes of the American Revolution how many kids are daydreaming, maybe fantasizing about whatever.

For decades we taught the causes of the American Revolution were basically economic, after the Seven Years War.  England was deeply in debt and turned to their colonies as a source of revenue through taxation, the colonies resisted, England, clumsily forced the issue and eventually the Jefferson authored Declaration of Independence. (Read here)

Over the years historians have begun to challenge interpretations,

Should I include a claim in the 1619 Project that a fundamental cause of the revolution was a defense of slavery? 

Should I assign Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker article (May, 2017), “We Could Have Been Canada?”

 . and what if it was a mistake from the start? ,The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America—what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. Look north to Canada, or south to Australia, and you will see different possibilities of peaceful evolution away from Britain, toward sane and whole, more equitable and less sanguinary countries. No revolution, and slavery might have ended, as it did elsewhere in the British Empire, more peacefully and sooner. No “peculiar institution,” no hideous Civil War and appalling aftermath. Instead, an orderly development of the interior—less violent, and less inclined to celebrate the desperado over the peaceful peasant. We could have ended with a social-democratic commonwealth that stretched from north to south, a near-continent-wide Canada.

What a great lesson!

Should we read selections Thomas Paine’s Common Sense?

Should we study Sam Adams?

For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands? Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of? This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our Fellow Subjects who are Natives of Britain. If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?

Was he a propagandist who inflamed mobs leading to violence or an architect of the revolution?

Should we teach that at the end of the war the Americans tried to re-enslave slaves who fled to the North while the British protected the formerly enslaved,

For their loyalty to the British during the war more than 3,000 slaves and freed black people were secured safe passage and their freedom to Nova Scotia, Canada. These African-American British Loyalists became the first settlement of Black Canadians.

A little sex, questions of race and an overriding question: are we a war-like people or was the war the only option? Can you imagine the discussions in class; I could divide the class into groups to argue all sides of the questions, or moderate Socratic dialogues?

How would parents react?  Am I raising “unpatriotic” concepts, should I “stick to the facts”?  Can I be accused of teaching Critical Race Theory?  Am I protected by the First Amendment (Read here) and my blog here; the differences between “protected” and “unprotected speech,” “job-related” and “citizen speech,” btw, a good lesson on the First Amendment.

Of course we should read the Declaration of Independence. (Read here)

Is it un-American to in any way criticize our Revolution and our founding fathers?

Is it inappropriate to teach that Jefferson fathered six children by an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings?

No one ever told me what and how to teach, yes, I was observed by my supervisor from time to time, I planned and debated with colleagues, I’m sure our classrooms were different, we emphasized different events, different concepts, and we made sure to prepare our kids for Regents examinations.

Is challenging firmly held beliefs the role of a teacher? Is asking students to come to their own conclusions our role?

Kids would ask, “What do you think Mr. G?”  My standard answer was “It doesn’t matter what I think, what matters is what you think.”

The role of a teacher is, to the best of their ability, to comply with Judge De Grasse’s decision in Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

An educated New Yorker, Judge  De Grasse wrote, should be capable of civic engagement such as jury duty, voting, and sustained employment in the competitive marketplace

Jose Feliciano sings the National Anthem

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