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How do we know about the past? How do we remember our past? How does the past affect our present? These are just a few of the questions students grappled with during Making History, a four-week program for 28 high school students held this summer at UC Berkeley. Due to a generous grant from the Stuart Foundation, UCBHSSP was able to prototype curricular materials in order for students to increase their connection to the historical narrative, the history of their communities, and themselves.

 

Making History Leadership Team: Becky Villagran, Phyllis Goldsmith, Sandra Navarro, Jenna Rentz, Amy O’Hearn and Grace Goudiss.


Over the course of the program, students created a museum of their family’s migration stories to California (and named the museum, “The History of Us”), toured New Deal sites around the Bay Area and in their own communities, examined evidence about WWII Homefront at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center in Richmond and the MIS Learning Center in San Francisco, and conducted oral interviews of people who fought for change throughout the Bay Area during the 1960s and 1970s.  


Although the summer was rich in historical content, our leadership team, which consisted of UCBHSSP staff, Bay Area history teachers, and UC Berkeley graduate students, attempted to hold two goals at the forefront of our work: 1) emphasize inquiry, particularly by explicitly engaging with historical thinking skills and 2) maintain a curiosity with regard to the outcomes of instruction. While we asked students to test new questions and ideas, we wanted to reinforce these practices among our instructional team as well.  Through trial and error, we worked to cultivate an authentic learning experience that emphasized growth over mastery, questions over answers, prototyping over final drafts, and historical thinking over historical facts.

 

Erick Alvarez, Diego Piceno and Edgar Oseguera’s memorial to Company E.

This experimental approach of teaching and learning, focused around inquiry, allowing our students the freedom to make deeper personal connections to the past.  We encouraged students to ask questions about the traditional historical narrative, and think about whose stories have been emphasized and, consequently, whose stories have been left out. To this end, one week students drafted their own memorials to people or events that were historically meaningful to them. One group of students designed a memorial to the members of Company E, the only U.S. army company in World War II comprised entirely of Chicano soldiers. Another student proposed a memorial that would be located in Daly City to honor Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz for their work in the Filipino-American labor movement.

 

The questions students posed around historical significance reinforced for them that historical narratives are constructed and rely on the evidence that is privileged. These ideas were further explored during the fourth week of our program, when students had the opportunity to interview activists who fought for change in the 1960s and 1970s. The oral interviews students conducted allowed them to meet with people involved with the Third World Liberation Front, the Free Speech Movement, the anti-Vietnam War protests, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Black Panther Party. During the interviews, students not only met incredible people with inspiring stories, but they also learned more about the construction of history, based on how historical actors choose to remember their own pasts. As one student noted after his interview:

 

Students Jose Mascarro, Alina Aceves, Naomi Maruoka, Katherine Purev, and Kyle Tenchavez at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Education Center in Richmond.


I was always of the mind that facts are king and that stats don’t lie. Anecdotes were only used as a little bit of flavor, since they are always clouded with bias and nostalgia. After speaking with Gerald [who was active in black student strikes and the anti-Vietnam War movement], I changed my mind. Now I realize that there are so many different forms of historical evidence.

 

 

For many of our students, their experiences with living “historymakers” helped them to think deeply about how history is created. It also inspired them to consider how the past might affect the present, and how they might become “historymakers” themselves.

 

What does a classroom centered around historical inquiry look like? How is it different than our traditional teaching models? If students ask meaningful questions, how do we frame or define the parameters of their investigations?  How do we adapt our teaching philosophy to allow for these types of experiences? We learned this summer that if fostering inquiry is our goal, our classrooms might have to become more flexible environments to the point of discomfort, both for the instructor and the students!

 

Although we cannot replicate a unique once-in-a-lifetime summer program, we are currently in the process of adapting our learning modules, with further piloting by classroom teachers, for use in a more traditional instructional setting. This spring, we will offer workshops on how to foster historical thinking through personal connections and project-based learning. This winter, we will launch a page on our website so that all teachers can access the instructional modules. And, next summer, we will host a one-week Making History institute for teachers.  We hope to continue learning together as we ask more questions and continue to reflect and refine how we think about teaching and learning.

 

 

 

 

Jenna Rentz taught World History, U.S. History, Government and Economics for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. She left the classroom to pursue a master’s degree in US History at San Francisco State University. She led the development of the UCBHSSP Making History program in collaboration with UCBHSSP co-director Phyllis Goldsmith, teacher leaders Sandra Navarro and Becky Villagran, graduate students Grace Goudiss and Amy O’Hearn, and twenty-eight Bay Area high school students.

 
Making History was made possible through a grant from the Stuart Foundation.