MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 21-22, 2012: American Studies for Lifelong Learning

[As the spring semester gets underway, this week I’ll be blogging about aspects of my spring courses that connect to, have been influenced by, and can help reveal some of my perspectives on American Studies. I’ll leave out Introduction to American Studies, not ‘cause it’s not a fun course—it’s on the 1980s! I get to team-teach with a historian!—but because the connections are a bit obvious. This is the fifth and final entry in the series.]

An exciting new course and opportunity gives me the chance to bring some of my public scholarly American Studies goals to a new and significant community and conversation.

One of the very best things about my nearly seven years teaching at Fitchburg State University has been the opportunity to work with a wide variety of student populations and communities. That includes not only the different undergraduates and the grad students about whom I wrote on Friday (most of whom are already secondary educators or otherwise working in the field), but also particularly exemplary and driven undergraduate students as part of an annual Leadership Day, interested community members and educators from around the state as part of a Teaching American History workshop, and local high school students through an English Department-sponsored writing contest, among other communities. And this year I have the chance to work with another group: senior citizens from more than a dozen local communities, through a five-week course I’ll be teaching in the Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area (AFLA) program.

When I was offered the chance to do the course, I knew right away that I wanted to do something that lines up with my goals and ideals for public scholarship, for a couple of key reasons: this is a community of students for whom, it seems to me in the abstract at least, the question of how what they’re learning connects to their lives and worlds and perspectives and identities is rightly paramount; and it’s likely to be a community of students whose American experiences will comprise a vast and very significant range of histories and stories, and thus a community with whose voices I’m very eager to put my own perspectives and ideas about America into conversation. Moreover, I was offered the course right after giving a fall graduate colloquium talk, where I shared some histories and stories related to the Chinese Exclusion Act and immigration in America; the audience responses to that talk reinforced for me a sense, one that influenced my creation of this blog in the first place, that there are many vital, complicated, dark and yet often also inspiring American histories and stories that are not widely known or part of our national conversations and narratives.

So my preliminary plan (which will remain very open, as the course doesn’t have outside readings so it really unfolds for those couple of hours on each of five Fridays in February and March—which means that suggestions will be very welcome and appreciated!) is to focus each class on a different moment that is under-represented in our conversations and narratives, to bring in various primary sources and works to help us think about each, and then to get the students talking about their own perspectives and what these different moments and sources might contribute to them. As of right now those five moments are: Competing women’s voices and roles at the 1876 Centennial Exposition; the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the early history of immigration and law in America (links above); the 1898 Wilmington (NC) Massacre, lynching, and race in Jim Crow America; the Bonus Army March, the Depression, and class and protest in America; and the American Indian Movement takeovers and controversies of the 1970s, and Native American presences and voices in late 20th century America.

I’ve got plenty of starting points, but would love your thoughts as always—texts or stories or histories I could use to help frame those different moments? Other moments or histories you’d nominate as alternatives? Perspectives of any kind on this course and working with a community of students like this? Share, please!

Ben

PS. You know what to do!

1/21 Memory Day nominee: Roger Nash Baldwin, the influential social worker and probation officer who, in response to World War I and the need for an organization to support and defend conscientious objectors, helped found and then directed for many years the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), spearheading many of the ACLU’s signature legal and social efforts.

1/22 Memory Day nominee: Noah Phelps, the Revolutionary War officer whose efforts as a spy led directly to one of the war’s earliest and most significant victories (Ethan Allen’s capture of Fort Ticonderoga), and who continued to serve the new nation politically for many years, chairing the meeting that passed Connecticut’s Articles of Confederation and serving as a delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention.

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