Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Students do Stuff

I've gotten a little tired of reading posts by people telling me what I should be doing in my classroom who have absolutely no idea what goes on there.  Often anti-intellectual in tone, tied to attacking stereotypes of teaching that haven't been true in 25 years or longer ,written by people who have never heard of Dewey or Maria Montessori and yet claim they are going to reinvent schooling.  People who don't know the difference between "track" and "tract."   

But enough about my pet peeves.  The best cure for offensive speech (and it is offensive speech) is more and better speech so the solution is to write about what I actually do and why it's good teaching.  
So, the challenge today is to explain a history assignment that I gave, why it's a good assignment, and what exactly it teaches and what students did with that assignment.

The class: World History since 1300
The topic: The Industrial Revolution
The Assignment: 
Objective:  To create something (a poster, movie, newspaper editorial, cartoon, etc.) that persuades the reader to agree with you.
The Issue:  The Use of Child Labor in Factories
  • Has a thesis and is effective in it's overall objective.  10 points
  • Shows awareness of historical context, arguments fit with the time period.  10 points
  • Polish and production (if it's written, is it proofread?, if a video is the sound/visual quality good? etc.)  10 points

This assignment is about three things.  First, it's about creating an argument and having evidence.  In that sense, it's not all that different from a math proof or a science lab.   Second, it's about understanding the context of the time.  There was a time when it wasn't obvious that child labor was a bad thing - and if you know about current conditions of how the clothes you are wearing were probably made - it's still not obvious in some places.  The arguments I'm looking for here aren't ones that we might use today.  19th century Brits worried an awful lot about children who worked in factories growing up to be sinners.  They worried about young girls working with grown men in mines and what could happen to them underground.  They did not worry about these children growing up and getting better jobs.  They wanted them to have the same jobs, but have a rudimentary moral educations that would keep them from being drunks and whores in adulthood.  Third, I'm kind of hoping that once students understand that bans against child labor are not a given, they can look around at the world they live in and ask what other things appear to be givens are not and what might need changing.

Another important aspect of this assignment is that students chose the final outcomes, which led to some really interesting results.


This image is great for a lot of reasons.  It uses an early 19th century visual style with lots of complexity and text.  Although it seems weird to us, early to mid-19th century audiences expected dense images with lots of words and this drawing does this very well.  The vocabulary used her is pretty striking.  The mine cart is entering the mouth of hell.  The children are learning morality in school via instruction in the bible.  The family is held up as the basis of society and so on.

But, that's not the only way to skin a cat.  Another student did a great job arguing for child labor in historically appropriate ways, but used a modern technology to get the point across: 

And that's why it's not about the technology.  It's about what a kid does with it.

UPDATE:  Image credit: Creative Commons License
Industrial Revolution Project by Henney Hambrose is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 comment:

  1. Cool! I want to steal the anti-child labor poster, and perhaps use it in my American Character class. Does putting it up on the web constitute a declaration of open access use?