BECOMING MORE “CIVIC” THROUGH THE STUDY OF LOCAL HISTORY

0
111

BECOMING MORE “CIVIC” THROUGH  THE STUDY OF LOCAL HISTORY

ABSTRACT

The nation’s recent preoccupation with reshaping academics and raising academic performance has all but overpowered a task of vital importance – educating our young people to become engaged citizens of their communities.  Traditionally, students are taught citizenship skills in either a civics education class or through citizenship courses in the social studies curriculum.  This study examines how a course on local history influenced students to develop greater civic mindedness and become more civically engaged.

Open to all11th and 12th grade elective as a social studies elective, the researcher developed and taught a Local History course that addressed the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for democratic participation through purposefully selected instructional activities reflecting constructivist and place-based pedagogy.   To study this rural high school course, an action research approach was taken.  PRE – and POST – course surveys were used to gauge students’ civic awareness and engagement.  Fourteen months after the class, a third survey was administered.  Data collected throughout and shortly after the class included teacher and student artifacts, student and course narratives, written and spoken definitions, and interviews.  Findings from this broad set of data indicate positive results supporting the use of local history to promote civic awareness and eventual civic engagement.  The data suggest that a Local History course based on the critical concepts of place does promote civic mindedness and engagement.

 

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. vii

LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. viii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ……………………………………………………………………………………….. ix

Chapter 1  Introduction  …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1

Research Questions  …………………………………………………………………………………………… 4

Who Knows our Local Community Better than a Shaner? ………………………………………. 5

Chapter 2  Review of the Literature …………………………………………………………………………….. 10

Teacher Action Research  …………………………………………………………………………………… 10

Judging quality in teacher action research  …………………………………………………….. 13

Defining Pedagogy of Place  ……………………………………………………………………………….. 16

The role of school in a place-based education program ……………………………………. 18         Defining Civic Mindedness ………………………………………………………………………………… 21         Defining Civic Engagement ………………………………………………………………………………… 23         Teaching Civic Mindedness to Encourage Civic Engagement …………………………………. 24         Constructivism, Civic Mindedness, and Place-based Education  ……………………………… 27

Chapter 3  Research Design and Methodology ……………………………………………………………… 32

Introduction   …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 32

Identify Questions or Problems  …………………………………………………………………………… 32         Develop a Plan of Action  …………………………………………………………………………………… 33

Enact and Observe the Effects of the Plan within Context ………………………………………. 36

Reflections ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 36

Artifacts ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 38      Surveys …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 39

Interviews …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 40

Reflect Upon and Change Where Necessary …………………………………………………………. 41

Methodological Notes ………………………………………………………………………………………… 42         Trustworthiness …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 42

Credibility …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 42        Transferability ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 43      Dependability …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 43

Quality  ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 44         The Locale  ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 44

Hugeville in the first half of the 20th Century …………………………………………………. 45       Late 20th and early 21st Century changes to Hugeville …………………………………….. 46         Community  ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 47 Chapter 4  The Story of the Course  ……………………………………………………………………………. 50

Local History …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 50

Developing the course ………………………………………………………………………………… 51

Key Content and Pedagogical Activities 1998 – Present  ………………………………………… 54

Oral history projects ……………………………………………………………………………………. 55       Service learning …………………………………………………………………………………………. 56

Guest speakers …………………………………………………………………………………………… 57

Field trips ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 58

Sabbatical and Literacy Coaching………………………………………………………………………… 60         Teaching Local History for the Last Time …………………………………………………………….. 62                Pedagogical approaches to teaching civic mindedness through local history  ……… 64

The 2006- 2007 Local History Course ………………………………………………………………….. 65         PRE – course survey  …………………………………………………………………………………………. 67

Exploring Civic Mindedness ………………………………………………………………………… 68        PRE – course survey (August 2006) results …………………………………………………… 69         The Fall, 2006 Local History Class ……………………………………………………………………… 71            Guest speakers ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 80    Field trips …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 86

Oral history projects …………………………………………………………………………………….. 94

POST I – Course Survey Results …………………………………………………………………………. 107

PHS/O movement statements between PRE – and POST I – course surveys ………. 109

Interviews …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 112

POST II Results ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 120         Gathering Civic Engagement ………………………………………………………………………………. 122

Definitions of Community  …………………………………………………………………………………. 126

Chapter 5  Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 129

Identify Questions or Problems ……………………………………………………………………………. 129

Develop a Plan of Action ……………………………………………………………………………………. 130

Enact and Observe  ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 130

Assertion #1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 130       Assertion #2 ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 131      Assertion #3 ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 132       Assertion #4 ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 132                 Sally  ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 133

Matt ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 133       Tyler …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 134

Blaine ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 135          Reflect Upon and Change ………………………………………………………………………………….. 135                 Study limitations ………………………………………………………………………………………… 136

Recommendations ………………………………………………………………………………………. 138

REFERENCES ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 140

Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION 

Civically, the mission of public education has primarily been to educate young people about their rights and responsibilities as American citizens (Spalding & Bobb, 2005).  This mission has been accomplished by developing a conception of citizenship and fostering the growth of civic values that are still a central focus of our schools today (Galston, 1995).  However, public schools have become increasingly less attentive to their civic purpose.  The nation’s recent preoccupation with reshaping academics and raising academic performance has all but overpowered a task of vital importance – educating our young people to become engaged citizens of their communities.  Since the implementation of No Child Left Behind (2001), the amount of time teachers spend on social studies, geography, civics, and other related subjects has decreased at both the elementary and secondary levels, while the time spent on reading, mathematics, and science has increased (Restoring the Balance Between Academics and Civic Engagement in Public Schools, 2005, p. 3).  An increasing number of students receive little to no education about how the American government operates, the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, the evolution of social movements, and U.S. and World History.  Schools are giving less attention to civic education than they once did, requiring fewer civics courses and neglecting civics outcomes in state assessments (Miller & Piscatelli, 2003).

Critics argue that this decrease in instructional time for civics education has a direct correlation to the decrease in the levels of informed civic engagement across the United States (Center for Civic Education, 2008; “Civic Mission of Schools and CIRCLE, Center for

Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement,” 2008; Civics Framework for the

2

 

1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1998; The Nation’s Rep[Type a quote from the document or the summary of an interesting point. You can position the text box anywhere in the document. Use the Text Box Tools tab to change the formatting of the pull quote text box.] ort Card: Civics 2006, 2006).  Numerous studies have found that levels of informed civic engagement are lower than desirable, and in many cases, are declining (Putnam, 2000; Putnam & Feldstein, 2003; Social Capital Community Benchmark Executive Summary, 2001). Bowling

Alone, The Social Capital Benchmark Survey, Youth Helping America:  Educating for Active

Citizenship, BetterTogether, and New Voices at the Civic Table are studies conducted in the United States within in the past 20 years.  The results of these studies indicate that the American population is not as actively involved in community, social, and political events as in the past and offer support, strategies, and suggestions for increasing America’s civic engagement.

Several factors have contributed to the decline in civic life in the United States.  Histories of civic engagement have argued that suburbanization, commuting, urban and suburban sprawl, the effects of electronic entertainment, and the expansion of the workforce to include a majority of adult women have led to civic decline (Putnam, 2000;  Schudson, 1999).  Robert Putnam (2000) proclaimed that Americans had become less inclined to join the voluntary associations that for generations had served as the backbone of their communities and expressions of their common ideals.  Bowling Alone documents that membership has declined in long-established volunteer organizations as Parent Teacher Associations, the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, the Lions, the Elks, the Jaycees, and the Masons (Putnam, 2000).   Additional factors playing a role in civic decline include (1) pressures of  time and money; (2) generational change; (3) changes in the American family structure such as the breakdown of the traditional family unit of mom, dad, and children;  (4) greater socio-economic stratification which has given way to class tensions and a decrease in shared values; and (5) the arrival of big business, capitalism, and the market economy (Putnam, 2000; Schudson, 1999;  Skocpol, 1996; Morse, 1989; Kasarday, Appold, Sweeney, & Sieff, 1997).  Putnam believes that our nation’s market capitalism lacks the interpersonal warmth necessary for friendship and devalues human ties to the status of mere commodities (p. 282).  I believe that our market capitalism has played a role in the decrease of small town businesses.   More and more, for example, we find a chain hardware store replacing the corner family-owned hardware store, dissembling the local economy.

Many communities are reacting to economic development that disrupts, rather than cultivates, community life by implementing place-based education programs.  As multinational corporations constantly relocate in search of cheaper labor and production costs, communities in the United States are left with high rates of under and unemployment, a shrinking tax base, and often, environmental decay (Gruenewald & Smith, 2008, p. xiii).  Wal-Mart and other superstores continue to displace local businesses and depress wages; the pressure to keep costs down leads to a downward spiral of more downsizing, outsourcing, and few economic opportunities for struggling communities (p. xiii).  Education efforts that focus on one’s locale or place aim to promote the civic development of a community’s youth to “think globally, act locally.”

Traditionally, the American school system has been the place where children were taught to become civic minded.  It was the school’s primary mission to enhance the commitment to the basic ideals of democracy by teaching civic education to young people.  Having a curriculum that encouraged citizenship education in multiple processes through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are needed for democratic citizenship was vital to our American educational system.  Accompanying classroom learning were opportunities for students to become actively involved in the community both in and out of school. For this study, I refer to civic mindedness as the capacity to recognize, pay attention to, and have concern for public affairs, whereas civic engagement refers to actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.

 

Historians today still believe that in order for democracy to function at healthy capacity, it is necessary for the community to be actively engaged and involved in the democratic process (Bridgman, Shreve, White, Heaviside, & Dunshee, 2006).  Although our school systems today still claim to enhance democratic ideals through the civic development of our young people, our nation has seen a steady disengagement from political and civic institutions.  Is it that the primary mission statement of years ago is no longer a priority of American schools?

Research Questions

If our public schools are to continue with their primary mission of educating children to become responsible, informed, and engaged citizens then students must be taught the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for democratic participation.  Traditionally, students are taught citizenship skills in either a civics education class or through citizenship courses in the social studies curriculum.  I propose that through a Local History course based on the critical concept of place and the pedagogical practices associated with this course, students will learn to become civic minded, which will ultimately result in an increase in their level of civic engagement. My inquiry was designed to answer three research questions:

 

  1. What were the key content and pedagogical concepts that influenced the initial design of a local history course that was intended to promote civic engagement and civic mindedness on the part of high school students?
  2. As the Local History course unfolded, what events and activities were perceived by the student and the teacher as being the most powerful in impacting their ‘civic’ thinking and beliefs?
  3. What evidence, if any, suggests that the Local History course actually influenced students to develop greater civic mindedness or become more civically engaged?

Who Knows our Local Community Better than a Shaner?  

My maiden name was Shaner.   If you know anything or anyone in Hugeville, you know the Shaner name.  I am the youngest of ten children, the aunt to 36 nieces and nephews, 21 great nieces and nephews, and over a hundred cousins who all have roots and connections to Lysock County.  Everywhere you go in our community, you run into a Shaner or someone who is related to or knows a Shaner.  Literally, there were so many Shaners’ in our neighborhood, that our family farm had a sign on the mailbox that read Shanerville.   I always joked with my Local

History students that if your name was Shaner, Barto, Smith, Holmes, Houseknecht, or Kepner, (all names found in my family tree) make sure you date outside of our local community,  because we are all distantly related.  When the idea of developing a local history course that addressed the history and culture of our local community arose, who better to teach it than a Shaner who had local roots, local values, and local connections?  I attended high school in Hugeville, lived in the surrounding community my entire life, went off to college, and was now back to teach social studies to our town youth.  It seemed my duty to teach students about the rights and responsibilities of American citizenship.

How did this idea for a Local History course come about?  One day while pumping gas at the local gas station, my principal at Hugeville High School was at the pump across from me (incidentally, he is also a distant cousin whose family farm is near my parents’).  I can distinctly remember him looking at me and saying, “Amy, I have been thinking that we need a course in the high school that addresses the history and culture of our local community as a way for students to appreciate our community and become more involved in it.  You know about everyone in the community, and you would be the best choice for going out and getting the stories of the older people here and teaching it to the students.”  At the time I was in my fourth year of teaching 7th grade World Geography, and had just finished my Master’s degree in Reading from a local university.  Professionally, the furthest thing from my mind was developing a course about our local roots, but the more I thought about it, the more excited I became about the chance to do this!  Moreover, my principal was right: who knew more about our local community or had more contacts with the people of our community than a Shaner?

So the research began.  I spent the entire spring and summer of 1998 visiting local libraries, attending historical society meetings, rummaging in attics and old barns, and sitting on the front porches and barn banks of local residents listening to the stories of days gone by.  I collected oral histories from town residents and spent countless hours with our town historian (a retired history teacher from our high school who has been a teaching inspiration to me) who shared with me his knowledge about the East Lysock School District and the villages and boroughs that comprised it.  It was one of the best summers of my life.  I learned so much about our community, and more so, about myself and my beliefs in community involvement.  I came to realize that young people need to have a connection with their local surroundings, a feeling of belonging and ownership.  This belief became one of the founding principles of my class.

Key content and pedagogical concepts that influenced my initial design of the Local History course arose from the study of pedagogy of place and the use of community-based, constructivist philosophy to promote civic mindedness and civic engagement on the part of high school students.  The key content in the course was reflected in the unit titles, such as:  Highlights in Pennsylvania History; The History of Lysock County; The Physical, Historical, Political and

Cultural Geography  of the East Lysock School District (ELSD);  and The Underground Railroad in Lysock County.  Assessment of this content came from classroom discourse, quizzes, tests, written reactions, oral history research presentations, and projects.

Pedagogically speaking, these topical units governed the overall way in which field trips, guest speakers, student and teacher discourse, and oral histories all played into particular units of study.  Each of these instructional strategies were selected and taught so that students would experience a constructivist and place-based pedagogy with the greater goal of enhanced civic mindedness and engagement.  For example, when we studied the history of the East Lysock School District, each aspect of the unit was designed with the hope that the students would learn more about the history of the school system.  The culminating activity was a field trip to a oneroom school in our local district in which the students were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic by a teacher who had taught at a one-room school.  Within this context, the students would learn about the “box socials” that were part of the civic activities of the youth of days gone by.  Young ladies would prepare a box lunch and bring it to school, and young men would then ‘bid’ on the box lunch. A winning bid entitled the boy to eat the prepared meal and spend time with the girl who made the lunch. This function and many others helped the children learn social responsibility, knowing that the proceeds from this event went to the school.

I taught the Local History course through a constructivist philosophy of teaching that was grounded in place and deeply rooted in cognitive psychology.  Using a constructivist approach allowed me to be a facilitator and the students to question, interpret, and analyze information in order to develop, build, and alter the schemata that they already had around a given subject.  This student centered style of teaching allowed students to shape the knowledge and truth that they create, discover, and attain in the learning process by taking into account their own background and cultures.

Finally, a sense of class community was designed, encouraged, and embraced throughout the course as the students were taught the knowledge, skills, and dispositions underlying civic mindedness and engagement.  The study of local history (pedagogy of place) builds content through pedagogical concepts and practices so that students not only learn more about the place but also become more aware and involved in community engagement in the class, the school, and the community at large.  From the onset of developing this course, I believed that schools could foster a sense of community as a societal asset through the study of local history, rekindling community allegiance.

The teaching and learning that occurred during this course was mainly student-centered, with little time spent on whole group lecture.  Rather, students doing inquiry-based projects and the teacher as facilitator seemed to work well. Making changes during the 18 weeks of the course was not unusual. It was not uncommon for me bring in a speaker or discuss a ‘hot’ topic that was currently occurring in our community.

Over the eight years I taught Local History, I revised my syllabus numerous times.  As I grew educationally, my teaching style changed to become even more student-centered.  My belief in the study of place-based education continued to grow, and if I had my way, every student in our high school would have taken this class.

This dissertation deals with a hometown girl teaching a successful Local History class for her last time.  I hope to show that this class did make a difference in the lives of students in terms of their enhanced levels of civic awareness and engagement.  After eleven years of teaching at Hugeville High School (HHS), I was granted a sabbatical to further my education at a large research university in central Pennsylvania.  The academic year following my sabbatical, 2006 – 07, I returned to the East Lysock School District (ELSD) to find myself serving in a different educational capacity, a Literacy Coach at our grades 7 – 12 junior/senior high school.  I also had the opportunity to teach one section of Local History that academic year, and when my schedule allowed, I would assist with the teaching of two additional classes of Local History.

That year (2006-2007) turned out to be my last year at HHS.  Knowing this may be my final semester teaching Local History, I began to formulate a teacher action research inquiry in which I examined and reflected upon my own assumptions about the development of a course promoting learning that is rooted in what is local – the history, culture, and economy of a local place, as well as the pedagogical practices associated with teaching a course such as this.  Moreover, I began gathering evidence to support whether students really became more ‘civic’ in their awareness and actions through the study of local history.  As my research study unfolded, specifically, I chose to look back at 1.) The development of the course and reflect on the key content and pedagogical concepts that influenced the initial design of a local history course, 2.) The events and activities that students and I perceived as being the most powerful in impacting their ‘civic’ thinking and beliefs, and 3.) What evidence, if any, suggests that the Local History course actually influenced students to develop greater civic mindedness or become more civically engaged?

BECOMING MORE “CIVIC” THROUGH  THE STUDY OF LOCAL HISTORY

Leave a Reply