Thursday, July 24, 2008

oh, legal history

Searching around today for some scholarship on the relationship between the 17th century Virginia slave codes and the historical invention of the idea of racial difference in the US, i discovered yet another blog that i'm excited about. (I appear to have entered a moment of renewed interest in the peripheral non-electoral blogosphere. blame the zodiac, if you can.) Its the Legal History Blog--which appears to be a project of the wonderful legal historian Mary Dudziak (author of the Very Important book Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy, among other things). I am supposed to be hard at work on chapter 8 of my book History as Image, Image as History: Visual Knowledge and History in the Classroom, so i don't have time to explore it as thoroughly as i'd like, but its possible i'm in love with a blog.

or maybe its just lust.

Anyhow, check it out at

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

re: ongoing projects

(the above image is a piece by the artist Fred Wilson, entitled "mine/yours.")

i'm in the middle of trying to make major headway on two book projects that are under contract and due in the next few months. both are collaborations with multiple other people, which is great but also hard. collaboration is hard! also writing books is hard. and both are also attempts to bring strong but inaccessible historical thinking into contact with strong ideas about pedagogy and classroom practice.

the one i'm deepest in the middle of at this precise moment is a book about the idea and practice of using contemporary art to teach history in the secondary social studies classroom-- a topic that, remarkably, hasn't really been explored in depth anywhere else to date. its a great project, and i've been working with my collaborators on it for years, and we have a good structure, but i'm coming up against what is often a problem in this kind of cross-disciplinary ginormous type of endeavor: how to boil things down? how to pick a central historical question and idea from the fifteen or so that seem important in any given chapter, and how to make sure its THE one that best suits the artwork and the pedagogical purpose? its really challenging. also: how to keep the ideas at a high level without losing the readers, without writing incomprehensibly? how to address both complicated historical questions and the practical and pedagogical concerns of classroom teachers? these are questions that i am contemplating.

and in specific, i'm contemplating the question of how to do this in a chapter that's specifically about the history of race, and through the lenses of slavery & abolition, and immigration. there are obvious ways to do this, and that's why we (I) put them all together in a chapter on the history of race, but its also SO MUCH MATERIAL to choose from-- in addition to the other concerns i mentioned above. plus we're keeping the whole project primary document-based...and etc.

on a positive note: i'm very excited about the project, and this chapter in particular is really getting me jazzed-- especially the task of publishing and thinking about structures for talking about the primary documents i'm working with, some of which i don't think have been published in teacher-oriented texts ever before, and some of which are gaining new meaning in light of the works of contemporary art with which we're pairing them. for instance the image at the top of this post, by Fred Wilson, is, i think, just so provocative, and really invites a very distinct conversation about racial identity and the way that US Americans remember slavery than you could get from a historical monograph. Of these two representations of a family of enslaved people, Wilson's piece asks, which is "yours?" which is "mine?" more importantly, it seems he's making a statement about the way that slavery is officially remembered in the US, versus, perhaps, how African Americans remember/understand it.

Its not just Fred Wilson, either. There are quite a number of genius contemporary artists grappling with important historical questions. and these artists offer, on the one hand, fresh kinds of critical historical analysis. although most historians wouldn't recognize them as such, these sorts of artworks really are also works of historical analysis (in visual form) in and of themselves. also many of the pieces that we've found open up unusual doorways for thinking about classroom activities and models of learning and writing and thinking. its exciting to think about putting this material (and guides for how to think about and use it in a classroom context) into the hands of educators.

alright, back to work... more soon...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

two good education-related blogs

in june, i went to a radical teacher education conference at the center for anti-oppressive education at the university of illinois-chicago. two of the most exciting things i encountered there were

a)mica pollock's new book and project, _everyday anti-racism_, which offers what i think is an interesting model for use in professional development contexts and teacher-led critical inquiry groups: it offers short question-generating texts to read, and a protocol for discussion that focuses on both long term and short term approaches to political and educational classroom challenges. pollock has also started a blog, connected to this project, to encourage converssation about how to teach and talk about and teach against racism in k-12 contexts. check it out at


b)a range of projects that therese quinn, an old friend of an old friend of mine who teaches arts ed stuff at the school of the art institute of chicago, has been organizing. these include TAME (teachers against militarized education), and a bunch of anti-homophobia in k-12 and teacher education projects. she also has a nice blog at

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

nyc teachers not into chancellor klien, chancellor klien not into nyc teachers

two recent articles in the new york times seem to lay bare the many problems with the bureaucracy of nyc public schools.

one reports the results of a UFT survey that reveals that 80-something percent of NYC public school teachers lack confidence in the chancellor's leadership. the chancellor responds by questioning the validity of the research/distribution protocol by which these results were gathered, and by touting his success at getting test scores up. its an upsetting example of the non-dialogue that he and bloomberg have perfected; of anti-union knee-jerkism; of the ridiculousness of test-oriented rhetoric. check out the article at

the other one reports on the success of a small school in fort greene. which is great, interesting, and thoughtful. but hidden in there is a really important series of observations, made by the 32-year-old principal responsible for a lot of the school's success. "“People have to work much too hard to do what we are doing. People cannot work at this level all their lives and nobody is prepared to do something at a level of mediocrity,” she noted. Thus, in order to have this kind of success at a public school, you are going to have to rely on teachers like the ones at her school: "most are in their late 20s, and few have families at home." And most will, like her, leave the school after only a few years of work there. (She's leaving to work for a charter school that will pay her a lot more money and require less work.) Klien's response? "When people are part of the world of changing things for children, they don’t view it is as work." Its such a dismissive and troubling thing for a SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR to say. check the whole thing at