Learning does not only occur in the classroom. I love taking my students on field trips and experiencing learning beyond the walls of my classroom. When there is an opportunity for students to travel beyond the borders of our city and state to make curricular connections, learning is exponential. This past holiday weekend I went to Washington, DC with fifty eighth graders to see the sites and visit the American Holocaust Memorial Museum, Newseum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African America History and Culture.
The eighth grade humanities curriculum begins with Reconstruction and then moves through American History ending as close to the Vietnam War as possible. The books read in English Language Arts coincide with the themes and time periods students explore in order to make connections and critically analyze choices made throughout history.
The Smithsonian NMAAHC is an amazing museum with powerful artifacts and stories depicting African American History from Slavery until today. There were shackles that were used on slaves on display, parts of slave ships, and along the walls of this exhibit the numbers of slaves that originated on a particular ship, it’s origin, and the number of survivors from the travels. There were painting of slave ships, a slave cabin, and even American bonds that depicted slave images on the bills.
The museum states that the main messages of this exhibit include:
- Slavery is a shared story resting at the heart of American political, economic, and cultural life.
- African Americans constantly and consistently created new visions of freedom that have benefited all Americans.
- African American identity has many roots and many expressions that reach far back into our past.
Walking through the History Galleries (I suggest you visit these floors first), there are artifacts like a Tuskegee Airplane, a segregated rail car, Emmitt Till Memorial, and hundreds of photographs, testimonies on displays that highlight the decades and movements of civil rights, and beyond.
Since many of my students read Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, the artifacts like photographs of the Little Rock 9 during desegregation and a sign from a segregated bus station in Birmingham, Alabama were reminders of what Melba, and others, experienced during her high school years at Central High School.
The museum has over 37,000 artifacts from history that help show and tell American history and celebrate African American contributions. The upstairs galleries highlight the artists, writers, musicians, actors, politicians, and military heroes. The music contributions are tremendous and you will see Chuck Berry’s red convertible Cadillac, RUN DMC’s Adidas’ sneakers, and clothing worn by Michael Jackson and countless others. This exhibit rivals the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There are learning opportunities for educators, one day workshops and a summer week long institute on race and identity. The museum states, “Our programs and resources are designed to ignite critical thinking skills and creativity, to generate self-pride and inspire life-long learning for diverse audiences.” To find out more about the professional learning events you can visit their website.
There is so much to see and reflect on. We did not spend enough time there and I cannot wait to go back. Attending an educator’s workshop is also on my list of things to do. As the museum states, “Race is an aspect of our American culture that is often ignored, glossed over or mishandled. Additionally, to succeed in promoting equity, tolerance, and justice, childhood is the time to address these issues by understanding children’s development and encouraging positive feelings about their racial and cultural identity, as well as others’. Working with youth makes it incumbent that educators are prepared to address issues of race whenever they surface such as in history or social studies lessons or when current events brings them forward such as events in our recent history.”