The Origins of Black History Month

“It started as a program to encourage the study of Black History and was a week-long celebration in honor of Frederick Douglass (Born Feb. 14th) and Abraham Lincoln (Born Feb. 12th) and this is why Black History Month is in February.”
— source: Black History Fun Fact Friday – The Origins of Black History Month

Carter G. Woodson (National Park Service)

[As the post explains, the origins of Black History Month lay in Black History Week, initiated by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926.  Dr. Woodson was a pioneer American historian, setting the standard for rigor and accuracy in recording African American history.  You can read more about his life in this profile by Lerone Bennett, Jr.  Dr. Woodson’s home in Washington, D.C. is preserved by the National Park Service (it is currently undergoing structural repairs).

To learn more about African American history in general, check out WorldView Software’s American History I and American History II Theme: African Americans (also in Basic American History I & II, which are suitable for middle school students).]

Labor Day Roundup

Just in time for the start of the school year is a holiday to impress on everyone that summer is REALLY over. But what is Labor Day truly about? Here is a list of resources that examine the history of the observation.

  • From Digital History, the day’s beginning in the violence that accompanied the establishment of workers’ rights (despite the fact that it is not celebrated on the anniversary of the Haymarket Affair)
  • From the U.S. Department of Labor, a history of the legislation creating the holiday in the U.S.
  • Several History.com videos on the subject — especially the role of strikes from Homestead to G.M — curated by Indiana University Northwest

To review the larger background of labor in America, use the Theme: The Labor Movement in WorldView Software’s American History II and Basic American History II (for middle school students).  In the theme, you’ll find gathered in one place materials such as Case Study: Haymarket Affair, Internet Project: Impact of Mass Production, and Tutorial: Revolution of Industry.

And the history of labor isn’t over — it’s been undergoing a series of revolutions ever since the Industrial Revolution, and labor regulations and contracts still haven’t caught up to events like: the entrance of women into paid work and the two earner-family, the globalization of manufacturing, the increasing use of robotics, and the freelance/gig economy.  You can review the information in WorldView Software’s U.S. Government Theme: Economic and Financial Regulation, U.S. Government with Economics Theme: Globalization, Economics Chapter 7: Business and Labor, and Civics Theme: Globalization (for middle school students).  Take the opportunity to discuss recent developments with your students, and encourage them to develop policy ideas of their own based on clearly articulated principles such as fairness.

The featured image is of an unnamed miner in Silverton, Colorado, who won the Labor Day power drilling contest in September, 1940 (photo by Russell Lee, LC-USF33- 012908-M2).


BulbgraphOnOffAdvanced students can get a lot out of Internet Projects on their own; curated links progressively lead to a hands-on project.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

Resources for Remembering MLK, Jr

Why do we have a holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?  Explore his legacy in WorldView Software titles American History II, Basic American History II, Civics, and U.S. Government, which all include resources for teaching students about Dr. King and the unfinished struggle for equality.

American History II has the following resources:

  • Overview: The Eisenhower Years
  • Tutorial: Rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Internet Project: Emotional Persuasion
  • Internet Project: Using Protest
  • Notable People biography

Basic American History II has the following resources:

  • Overview: Post-War Prosperity and Civil Rights Movement
  • Overview: Domestic Problems during Kennedy-Johnson Years
  • Tutorial: Rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Internet Project: Emotional Persuasion
  • Internet Project: Using Protest
  • Notable People biography

Civics has the following resources:

  • Art Gallery: Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony
  • Tutorial: Civil Disobedience
  • Tutorial: American History
  • Notable People biography

U.S. Government has the following resources:

  • Tutorial: Civil Disobedience
  • Notable People biography

Once you’ve given students sufficient background, read Dr. King in his own words:

Letter from Birmingham Jail

I Have A Dream

And if you live in the area, invite them to examine the archives available at Boston University, where Dr. King got his doctorate in systematic theology in 1955. (Unfortunately, the archives are not online.)


BulbgraphOnOffUse the outline page in guided essays to spark in-class discussion on using supporting evidence. Click on “Hint” for ideas.

Today in History

Today marks the 377th anniversary of the first colonial constitution: the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.  It was adopted by representatives from the settlements of Wethersfield, Windsor, and Hartford.

The History Channel website notes:

Roger Ludlow, a lawyer, wrote much of the Fundamental Orders, and presented a binding and compact frame of government that put the welfare of the community above that of individuals. It was also the first written constitution in the world to declare the modern idea that “the foundation of authority is in the free consent of the people.”

The Charter of Connecticut superseded the Fundamental Orders in 1662.  The Charter stood for centuries, despite being revoked by James II in 1687 and an attempt by a royal governor to retrieve it which was dramatically foiled:

Sir Edmund Andros, His Majesty’s agent, followed up failure of various strategies by arriving in Hartford with an armed force to seize the Charter. After hours of debate, with the Charter on the table between the opposing parties, the candle-lit room suddenly went dark. Moments later when the candles were re-lighted, the Charter was gone.

You may remember this as a subplot in the Newbery Award-winning novel “The Witch of Blackbird Pond,” where Kit’s uncle is one of the townspeople trying to prevent Connecticut’s annexation. The charter was hidden in the tree pictured above, which is the only known photograph of the famous Charter Oak of Connecticut before it fell in a storm 1856.  [The file record of the Connecticut Historical Society lists one “Edwin P. Kellogg” as the photographer; however, in most available sources it is attributed to Nelson Augustus Moore (1824-1902).]

Find out more about the circumstances surrounding each British colony’s creation by reading the Tutorial: Formation of the Original 13 Colonies in WorldView Software’s American History I and Basic American History I.  (The texts of both the Fundamental Orders and the Charter are available at the Yale Law School’s Avalon Project.)


BulbgraphOnOffUse the answers to the “Questions for Thought” in the overview as a note-taking guided exercise.

Digital Textbooks vs. Online Schools

For K-12 students, online-only learning is likely to leave more people behind than it is to help them advance.  According to a recent report from researchers at the University of Washington, Stanford University and the Mathematica policy research group, online pupils fell far behind their counterparts in the classroom. In math, it was the equivalent of pupils having missed an entire year in school.

The study’s findings: far too little teacher/student interaction time and low levels of student engagement (for a medium that requires MORE student engagement to work):

  • Student–driven, independent study is the dominant mode of learning in online charter schools, with 33 percent of online charter schools offering only self-paced instruction.

  • Online charter schools typically provide students with less live teacher contact time in a week than students in conventional schools have in a day.

  • Maintaining student engagement in this environment of limited student-teacher interaction is considered the greatest challenge by far, identified by online charter school principals nearly three times as often as any other challenge.

  • Online charter schools place significant expectations on parents, perhaps to compensate for limited student-teacher interaction, with 43, 56 , and 78 percent of online charters at the high school, middle, and elementary grade levels, respectively, expecting parents to actively participate in student instruction.

Read the complete study here.  It’s clear that online-only, while it has its uses, is more limited than supporters would have you believe.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it was already tried at the college level.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were the hot new flavor some time ago.  San Jose State University’s partnership with Udacity, a for-profit MOOC provider, ended in a “breather” several months later when it turned out that their students needed more of everything that can only be delivered by a teacher in person.


BulbgraphOnOffArt images can be used to discuss the differences between visual and textual sources.

Veterans Day in Documents

Veterans Day isn’t just a day off from school. It commemorates the sacrifices that all soldiers and sailors have made in the nation’s service. A great deal can be learned about the changes that the armed forces have gone through by researching military records at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The National Archives and Records Administration is the nation’s record keeper. The federal government creates a huge number of documents and other materials in the normal course of business, but only a small fraction of these are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are preserved forever. These records include the nation’s founding documents, as well as documents from the various censuses, congressional records, federal court records, government employment and military records, as well as records pertaining to the Panama Canal’s construction, and can be used for purposes such as genealogical research.

Start by looking for digital copies from NARA’s National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), located here. This will bring up hundreds of results of letters, telegrams, citations, and special orders from the American Revolutionary War onward that can be viewed online.  Examples of archival documents include the appeal for conscientious objector status by Alvin C. York, who would become the famous “Sergeant York,” one of the most decorated American soldiers from World War I (on left) or the citation for the Award of the De La Croix De Guerre to Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier from World War II (on right),

appeal for conscientious objector status by Alvin C. YorkAward of the De La Croix De Guerre to Audie Murphy

as well as records from other soldiers and sailors, and about celebrities such as Elvis Presley who served. Whether your students are reading the case study “The Battle of Saratoga” from American History I: Period of Exploration to Reconstruction, or “The Spanish-American War” from American History II: Post-Civil War America to the Present, you can find incredible historical records to illustrate the narrative.

There are also pages dedicated to photos of World War II, telling not just the big stories of politics and battlefields, but also the behind-the-headlines stories of industrial production on the home front. The caption on the haunting photo below is: “Back to a Coast Guard assault transport comes this Marine after two days and nights of Hell on the beach of Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. His face is grimey with coral dust but the light of battle stays in his eyes.” February 1944. 26-G-3394.

WWII Marine after Eniwetok

There is also an interactive version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, created with the use of NARA military data. Not only can students view the wall, but they can also easily access information about each of the men and women named, as well as contribute pictures and comments about them. No matter which era you research, you and your students can make history come alive by putting names and faces to the narratives of war, knowing the price for following particular policies is often paid in blood.

As a secondary lesson, consider how the materials being archived reflect the contexts in which they were created, and the challenges these different media present to archivists. How can a battle be documented? How do the changes in technology alter what is saved and how it is saved?


BulbgraphOnOffUse the answers to the “Questions for Thought” in the overview as a note-taking guided exercise.

Texas Textbooks and Slavery

Recently, a mother found that her child’s geography textbook attempted to erase the experience of slavery — a caption for a map said “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and the 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the Southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.”  The rest of it wasn’t much better.

Now, the Texas textbook adoption process is incredibly long and involved, and ends with a vote by the elected officials of the State Board of Education. There are all kinds of incentives to tell them what they want to hear, especially considering that the whole process from decisions on standards to approving textbooks takes many years.  The last time a social studies textbook was approved was over a decade ago.  That’s a long time to wait to try again if a publisher wasn’t approved — which is a very long time to be locked out of one of the most (if not the most) lucrative textbook markets in the country.

But it’s no excuse for trying to blur the boundary between “worker” and “slave.” The screen capture below shows how often and where the word “slave” and its permutations appear in WorldView Software’s World Geography:

Screen capture shows the search results for the term "slavery."
Screen capture shows the search results for the term “slavery.”

It’s definitely in our product.

But the truth is that a textbook will be a poor substitute for primary source information about a subject like slavery.  A textbook tends to be quite abstract (mealy-mouthed language and grammar choices made to satisfy ideologues aside) and to know what slavery was like in the United States before and during the Civil War, an excellent resource is the Library of Congress’s archive of the Federal Writer’s Project, in particular the first-person Slave Narratives.  These narratives aren’t perfect, and it’s worth reading the introduction to see some of the ways they fall short of the historical researcher’s ideal: bias in interviewer selection, in interviewer training, and so on.

But what could be more powerful than reading how Tempie Cummins‘ mother freed herself and the other slaves on a farm?  Keep in mind that the quote below is an interviewer’s attempt to reproduce an accent and dialect in writing:

“The white chillun tries teach me to read and write but I didn’ larn much, ’cause I allus workin’. Mother was workin’ in the house, and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen to what the white folks say. When freedom was ‘clared, marster wouldn’ tell ’em, but mother she hear him tellin’ mistus that the slaves was free but they didn’ know it and he’s not gwineter tell ’em till he makes another crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, ‘I’s free, I’s free.’ Then she runs to the field, ‘gainst marster’s will and tol’ all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her. Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the ravine and gits away with me.

Learning how much deception played a part in keeping people enslaved should also teach us empathy for those caught in slavery’s grip here and now.  The only difference is that the “peculiar institution” is now called “labor trafficking.”  But it’s still slavery, and it’s a part of the supply chain for many things in a modern economy, which means we as Americans are still complicit in it.


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