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American History Is Focus of Summer Institute

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September 7, 2005

For the second summer in a row, 45 high school and middle school American history teachers from Evanston, Oak Park, and a handful of other districts in the national Minority Student Achievement Network gathered at Northwestern. The group met for two weeks of intensive conversation and collaboration with Northwestern historians and specialists from the Newberry Library, the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago and National-Louis University.

Part of a three-year, $1 million dollar grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the summer institute is at the heart of an ongoing effort to build relationships between teachers of history at the high school and middle school level and their colleagues in other area institutions.

In 2004, the group spent two weeks immersed in the latest scholarship on American history up to the Civil War and in strategy sessions about how best to take that scholarship back to their classrooms. This summer's institute focused on more contemporary history, with a special emphasis on the African-American experience.

In the institute’s first week, Northwestern Professor Dylan Penningroth, author of “The Claims of Kinfolk: African-American Property and Community in the 19th Century South,” presented the challenges and opportunities that faced African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this era, former slaves adjusted to emancipation, fled the South and created vibrant new communities in New York, Chicago and other northern cities.

In the second week, teachers formed two teams for more content-intensive sessions. The goal of the sessions was the development of new lesson plans and strategies to introduce middle and high school students to the methods and questions of professional historians.

Northwestern historian Mark Bradley, author of “Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam,” led a group exploring new work on the history of the Cold War. A group led by Northwestern Professor Nancy MacLean considered the work being done on postwar social movements. MacLean is author of “Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan“ and “Freedom is Not Enough:  How the Fight for Jobs and Justice Changed Race and Gender in America, 1950-2000.”

Throughout the institute, teachers worked with nationally acclaimed literacy specialist and National Louis University Professor Donna Ogle. Ogle offered a series of sessions helping teachers develop strategies for teaching students of different reading abilities how to use historical documents.

The instructional team also included Nisan Chavkin, associate director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation. He guided teachers through the history of and debates over affirmative action and discuss ways to integrate that history into the classroom.

Although the summer institute is designed as a self-contained educational experience, it is part of a series of encounters that occur throughout the academic year. During the 2004-05 academic year, for example, teachers participated in six after-school or weekend sessions focusing on discussions of scholarship and classroom technique.

This year's summer institute will be followed by a similar set of workshops in the continuing effort to build lasting collaborative relationships among the participating individuals and institutions.