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As History Changes, So Must the Teaching of History

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Peter Shulman

In 2003, when I became the first new history teacher at Catlin Gabel in decades, I worked alongside titans. John Wiser, Harriet Wiser, and John Keyes emanated academic rigor and challenged students to think critically, write incisively, and wrestle with defining moral quandaries. In addition, I was fortunate enough to become friends with the just-retired Dave Corkran, and quickly came to know his legendary intellectual intensity and fierce moral integrity. The eloquence, industry, and ethical consideration of our alumni are a living legacy of their teaching.
 
As the last departmental link between this revered generation and a new, dynamic cadre of colleagues, I often find myself considering a central problem identified by students of change: excelling in one context often diminishes adaptation to new circumstances. After all, why change what’s been working extremely well? Qing China is a classic governmental example of decline in spite of strength, while Western Union’s strategic error of protecting its telegraph monopoly by giving away mastery over the telephone wires speaks volumes about the perils that accompany success. Education is of course rife with strategic decisions, fueled by prognosticators of decline and evangelists for the latest workshops promoting “education for the 21st century.” Suffice to say that there is a lot of hype about transformational education, but it would be equally foolish to ignore that the times, they are a-changin’.
 
The 21st century’s dizzying pace of change has turned old realities upside down. The U.S. is now a net exporter of petroleum products, the Blackberry phone teeters on extinction, and marriage equality, decisively defeated at polls in the century’s first decade, seems an unstoppable force in its second. Karl Rove predicted, with apparent justification in 2004, a “permanent Republican majority,” only to find a Democratic congress by 2007. Meanwhile, a century that began with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi firmly in power is a distant memory in a roiling Middle East, and the giddy optimism of Tahrir Square has chilled into an Orwellian winter. The speed of change should give any pundit pause.
 
These heady transformations are joined by a communications revolution whose scale rivals the Gutenberg press. The increasing power of the individual to publish text, imagery, and music is collapsing massive hierarchies, while the merging of the human mind with computer databases forces a central question: what must students “know” when so many answers are a click away? As such, the department confronts its own version of the “innovator’s dilemma”: how to keep the best aspects of an esteemed program while adjusting to an increasingly globalized, digital society.
 
Our goal is to maintain the core, non-negotiable assets of our predecessors. Effective writing, careful reading, measured analysis, and the strong teacher-student relationship must always be central to our work, and each of these requires one element that isn’t changing: the finite nature of available time. But we have launched several new initiatives to adapt to a changing world:
 
Greater focus on contemporary issues and problem-solving: Historians focus on great cataclysms that we should never forget, but a diet of man’s inhumanity to man can demoralize students. Hence, instructors have built solution-oriented explorations into the curriculum. Freshmen tackle family-planning strategies to address overpopulation, while sophomores use historical case studies of Poland and Yugoslavia to offer prescriptions for mitigating conflict in multi-ethnic states. Recent electives in Public Health, Race and Class in Portland, Economics, and Environmental Politics are all built around getting a better understanding of key challenges confronting the 21st century. Patrick Walsh changed the Globalization curriculum to include an imperative for students to propose and enact solutions to climate change.

Experiential education

Experiences” are easy enough to create, but truly meaningful experiential education takes genuine savvy and keen intentionality. Freshmen engage contemporary businesses on the nature of global production, and supplement their study of religion with visits to unfamiliar houses of worship. Sophomores had the opportunity to meet with Bosnian refugee and Jonske speaker Ismet Prcic in the context of studying the disintegration of Yugoslavia. George Zaninovich’s PLACE electives have long pioneered experiential forays, as students produce plans for a variety of real-world clients, including the Portland Parks Department, Zenger Farm, and Lincoln High School. This year, Dave Whitson led his Transitional Justice students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools in Vancouver, B.C., where his class sat in on hearings and interviewed indigenous participants. Dave also brought students to Chile and Argentina to directly engage transitional justice issues in the aftermath of military rule. Finally, Meredith Goddard’s new Economics of Innovation elective, coming on the heels of her wildly successful Startup Camp, has students champing at the bit to try out their entrepreneurial chops.

Increased global perspective

The first two years of the Upper School core curriculum have been totally reconstructed in the past two years, with greater focus on India, Japan, China, and sub-Saharan Africa. New classes over the past three years include 9/11 in a Global Context (cited as exemplary innovation by Bill Gates in his 2012 NAIS keynote), Modern China, and Revolution in the Middle East. Research: Given the transformative access of the internet, efficiently finding and carefully evaluating online materials are crucial skills. As such, teachers have opened up space in the curriculum for greater research opportunities. Sophomores interrogate the invention of nationalism in distinct countries through research, while U.S. History has traded in an exam on the Cold War in favor of student research projects that evaluate the impact of U.S. foreign policy in countries such as South Korea, El Salvador, Angola, and Pakistan. In Revolution in the Middle East, students assess the stability of the Saudi monarchy and the economic clout of the Egyptian military, while Economics students research the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Transitional Justice students have posted their research on Wikipedia, and have found that editing the historical record can elicit contentious resistance from those with a great investment in a particular version of the past.

Public speaking

Catlin Gabel’s small classes are uniquely positioned to provide robust speaking experience. A given day might find students teaching about the Japanese response to Western encroachment, debating U.S. military intervention in Syria, or running an Upper School assembly on contemporary income inequality. Patrick and George’s Journalism students have staged two Portland mayoral debates; on the latter, the Oregonian’s Steve Duin wrote that “the student organizers at Catlin— who moderated the forum, asked the questions and publicized the event—were at the top of their game.”

Current events colloquium

Recently, thanks to librarian Sue Phillips, two dozen students spent their free period with history faculty to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The students’ intellectual hunger and sophistication was great evidence of their ability to use history to understand, and, indeed, to teach. What hasn’t changed is the importance of having a historical context. It helps us to ask the right questions, identify true outliers, and fact-check the scurrilous and misleading uses for which history is too often deployed. It gives us practice in the art of multi-variable analysis, for unlike a science lab, human interaction has too many variables to control. It will always be a way to understand the diversity of human experience, and at Catlin Gabel, it strives to be an essential aspect of the credo “inspired learning leading to responsible action.”
 
Peter Shulman has been teaching history at Catlin Gabel since 2003.

The Mandate for Teaching History Well: A Farewell From Outgoing Head of School Lark Palma

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Lark P. Palma

If taught well and thoughtfully, history helps a student develop a unique capacity for comprehending human situations. It fuels a conversation about the importance of action from the lessons of history. It’s meaningful to me that my last article for the Caller is about history and social studies, as I believe history is the single most powerful discipline for analyzing the past, living the present, and predicting the future. Most importantly, studying history well helps us become thoughtful, informed, and committed to exercising our rights as citizens, especially our right and privilege to vote. This issue is a testament to how well our superb faculty teaches history, and their eagerness to fine-tune the curriculum, create experiences that make history immediate and important, and seek connections to social, political, artistic, and economic situations.
 
Recently, when packing boxes to move back to South Carolina, I came across my 8th grade required history text, The History of South Carolina by Mary C. Sims Oliphant. She found it adequate to talk about slavery for one and a half pages, and the glorious generals of the “War Between the States” for several chapters. The economic justifications for slavery were never connected to the immorality of the war. What if I hadn’t come from a progressive family that had lively debates at the dinner table? What if I had not been exposed to any other points of view? My ability to participate in our fundamental right to express our citizenship would be severely compromised.
 
Catlin Gabel and the teachers who teach history and social studies understand well the mandate of their work.
 
• Students learn how the past shapes the present and probably informs the future. The Transitional Justice course clearly shows the direct effect of a law, its enactment, and the success of social change as a result.
 
• Students learn to develop empathy by reading original texts written by the people experiencing the events. For instance, 6th graders study the context of the Civil War and write a first-person journal.
 
• They learn to read critically to distinguish between evidence and assertion and understand competing points of view. In doing so, they learn to interrogate the text and artifacts, make hypotheses, and draw conclusions so that they extract every bit of meaning. Through these interrogations, students come up with real questions. Who is not represented in the study of history, and why? Why is the history of real lives of the poor, women, minority groups, or children so sparse in relationship to the history of political leaders, wars, politics, treaties, and policies? Why isn’t there more work published by women and minorities? In a sense students are calling for a wider exposure and deeper content to intensify their understanding of the course of history.
 
The study of history reveals its evolving narrative. Students learn that what happened in the past is not the final truth, so what they study and how they study it has to change. Courses that have been added to the Catlin Gabel curriculum include Middle Eastern studies, the Sixties, 9-11, Islam, gender studies, and other courses that emphasize social history and bring in more interdisciplinary learning.
 
I leave Catlin Gabel this summer to contemplate a curriculum for another school, in Charleston, South Carolina. The first plaque acknowledging that city’s role in the slave trade was erected in the 1990s. It is clear how the teaching of history should develop there, with the city itself as the curriculum. If any of you travel there, I will be a willing and proud guide. I will miss Catlin Gabel deeply. I will miss writing for the Caller, but there are books and blogs inside me ready to emerge.

Lark's farewell BBQ photo gallery

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The sun always shines on the righteous!

 

Lifers ceremony photo gallery 2014

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So long, it's been good to know you (BUT STAY IN TOUCH!)

Students who have attended Catlin Gabel since preschool, kindergarten, or first grade, and their parents, join Beginning School families and teachers for a very special Friday Sing.

Click on any photo to enlarge or download the image.

Video: 2014 seniors talk about their college choices

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Catlin Gabel seniors are about to embark on an exciting new chapter in their lives. Five seniors speak here about their college choices, and how they found a good fit for them.

»Link to list of where all seniors are going to college
»Link to article by college counselors about the admission year and college trends

Thomas is going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!

Emmarose is going to the University of Southern California!

Chris is going to Princeton University!

Liban's going to Swarthmore College!

Sadie is going to Barnard College!

College list for Catlin Gabel 2014 seniors

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Here's where the class of 2014 is going to college!

(as of 5/22/14)
 
Amherst College
Barnard College
Bates College
Berklee College of Music
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Brown University
Case Western Reserve University
Chapman University
University of Chicago
Claremont McKenna College
Colorado College (2)
Colby College
University of Denver (2)
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Hamilton College, NY
Harvey Mudd College
University of La Verne
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
McGill University
Montana State University, Bozeman
Mount Holyoke College (2)
New York University (2)
University of Notre Dame
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
University of Oregon (2)
Portland State University
University of Portland (2)
Princeton University (2)
University of Puget Sound (3)
University of Redlands
Reed College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2)
Scripps College (3)
Smith College
University of Southern California (2)
Southern Oregon University (2)
Stanford University
Swarthmore College (3)
Tufts University
Tulane University (2)
Union College
Whitman College (5)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
 

Summer Borrowing is Underway in the US Library!

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8th grade films win awards at Middle School Media Festival

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Three films by Catlin Gabel 8th graders received awards at the Middle School Media Festival at Bush School in Seattle:

"Free Yourself" by Andrei Stoica and Katie Truong: Honorable Mention

"Welcome To The Hood" by Stuart Ryan, Mason Snider, and Elliott White: Audience Award

"One Fish Two Fish Dead Fish Chewed Fish" by Piper Kizziar, Kathryn Putz and Rachael Underwood: Audience Award & Teacher’s Choice Award

Congratulations to the filmmakers and their teacher, Brendan Gill.

Nic Bergen '16 wins Grand Prize at International Silent Film Festival

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Sophomore Nic Bergen's film "Continuous Quest" won the Grand Prix--first place, best film--last night at the selective International Youth Silent Film Festival, competing against films from the U.S., Canada, and China. Nic received a generous cash prize and time on the set of "Grimm," and will be featured in the Rose Festival. Watch for news of a public screening on June 4. Congrats to Nic and our other finalists, Søren Anderson, Becca Dunn, Gus Edelen O'Brien, Zulema Young-Toledo & Elena Lee, Ben Waitches-Eubanks & Javin Dana, and Vikram Nallakrishnan & Reuben Schafir!

Valerie Ding & Nikhil Murthy win awards at Int'l Science Fair

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Catlin Gabel sent two finalists this year to the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair held the week of May 11 in Los Angeles. Both Nikhil Murthy ’17 and Valerie Ding ’15 came home with awards.
 
Valerie Ding won four awards:
1.      4th Place Grand Award in Physics & Astronomy
2.      3rd Place Internationally & 1st Place Nationally (USA), SPIE International Society for Optics and Photonics
3.      Top 6 Nationally, from American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society
4.      New American University Provost Scholarship, Arizona State University (awarded to 22 projects nationally).
 
Nikhil Murthy won 2nd Place Grand Award in the category of Chemistry.

Congratulations, Nikhil and Valerie!

»Link to Oregonian article

Ten students named international film festival finalists

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Four individuals and three teams of two and have made it to the top 46 Pacific Northwest Regional Finals of the International Youth Silent Film Festival. As finalists, their work will be showcased May 19 – 21, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland.

Congratulations to individual finalists freshman Gus Edelen O’Brien, and sophomores Søren Anderson, Becca Dunn, and Nic Bergen; and to team finalists freshmen Reuben Schafir and Vikram Nallakrishnan, Elena Lee and Zulema Young-Toledo, and Ben Waitches-Eubanks and Javin Dana.

The International Youth Silent Film Festival is a nonprofit organization that gives youth the opportunity to show their work at an annual competition. To purchase tickets, contact the Hollywood Theatre or call 503-281-4215.

Students join international conversation about food equity

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10Students in the PLACE urban studies class joined forces with students from Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie, Oregon, to give a presentation about food security at a virtual international youth conference.

Other presenting groups were from Grand Rapids, Michigan; Medellin, Colombia; Lima, Peru; and Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. The conference was at 6 a.m. PST, so the students from Oregon awakened at 4:30 to set up at Rex Putnam at 5:30 a.m.

The mayor of Grand Rapids addressed the conference and said he was grateful to have youth tackling the important issues of food sustainability and equity.

Representatives from the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability also attended the virtual conference from locales in Germany, Bangladesh, and Brazil.

The presentations were informative, the questions were rich, and everyone learned a lot about local food issues in different countries.