Teachers from Around the World Study
American History in Cambridge, England
Cambridge, England-Gathered from all corners of the globe, 40 high school teachers recently assembled in historic Cambridge University to explore, delve, learn, expand and research ways to make history come alive for their students. The program is one of many taking place in England as well as the United States, in campuses from Cambridge to Stanford to Yale, all the brainchild of Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, men to whom America and American history matters since their friendship began at Yale years ago.
Housing the Institute at the New York Historical Society under the brilliant direction of James Basker, a professor at Barnard College, Gilder and Lehrman planned the wildly successful Hamilton exhibit with the goal of enticing as many visitors as their neighbor, the American Museum of Natural History.
Since 1994, the overarching goal of the two founders (and funders) is to inculcate a deep love and understanding of American history by analysis of original source material such as a report to the Cominform by Andrei Zhdanov written on September 22, 1947 (see www.gilderlehrman.org), by studying intensely in week-long seminars with experts such as the faculty at the London School of Economics and Political Science which I visited in Cambridge, England, and by sharing different perspectives with peers from other countries and states.
The seminar I observed was led by Professor Odd Arne Westad from the London School of Economics (LSE) whose goal was to help teachers bridge the gap between how Cold War history is taught and understood in schools in the United States and Russia while introducing the latest scholarly research to be converted to effective lessons in classrooms back home.
Citing his own work on the Cold War in Africa, Professor Westad underscored the United States’ preponderance of power, the collapse of socialism and the contribution of the cold war in engendering a new system of interactions among people and nations. “There were ideas, ideals and ideologies that people really believed in; you have to understand this to understand the period,” he stated. Immersion into video, web resources, books, lectures and documents, would be the goal in this intensive, week-long, 9 am to 5 pm seminar series.
The air of camaraderie that began with a garden cocktail party at Clare College, Cambridge, continued through dinner and extended into our classroom as teachers shared varied perspectives about themselves and their classes. John Gardner of Alexandria, VA taught emotionally challenged children; a teacher from Kansas related the isolationism of many of the students who never left the state and needed the perspectives of other countries; one high school teacher from Serbia admitted honestly that she didn’t know much about the Cold War and her students knew even less; a teacher from Houston and a teacher from New York City wanted to get a more balanced presentation of the issues; a Soviet teacher spoke about wanting to learn the truth about the Cold War while her friend stated, “we are all victims and have become enemies so we must discuss these problems with each other”; one teacher cited the access to original documents that had not been available for many years. A teacher from Milwaukee who worked with pregnant teens wanted to learn how economies were affected. Yet another interesting perspective came from a teacher in England who taught mostly English history and came to learn to teach other histories.
Andres Martinez from Broward County in Florida, was a curriculum developer (K-12) who summarized the views of many: “It’s great to get world perspectives from the people here.” Teachers came from private schools, boarding schools, parochial schools, and public schools. A teacher from Groton, Connecticut shared views with a teacher from Africa, another from the Bronx and yet another from Los Angeles.
Professor Svetozar Rajak, Managing Director of the Cold War Studies Center, LSE and Michael Cox, Professor of International Relations, LSE were instructors in the program while Sasha Rolon, Education Coordinator of the Gilder Lehrman Institute successfully “ensured that different perspectives were incorporated and that teachers were coming from different countries.”
How do teachers become participants in this very competitive seminar series that provides room and board in prestigious partnering colleges as well as a $500 stipend with a choice of 25 seminars around the United States? Visit www.gilderlehrman.org for more information as well as original source materials. The online journal www.historynow.org also offers educational resources for teachers, students, historians and the general public.
Kudos to a superb program that inspires good teachers to become great!#