Tag Archives: Field Trip

John F. Kennedy as a Writing Mentor & Model: Writing & Social Action

This week I took a trip to The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA. The museum is “dedicated to preserving and providing access to the legacy of the 35th President of the United States.”

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Among all the artifacts, photographs, and videos, JFK’s writings were at the forefront. The museum and library present the depth of John F. Kennedy’s writing from his schooling days, his honors thesis that was turned into a book, his writing Portraits of Courage, and the countless speeches he wrote (along with his aide, Ted Sorenson) and presented during the time he was in office. It is intriguing that the Museum begins with information about JFK as a young person and highlights his lack of focus and academic rigor in high school. In fact, it is clear based on his high school grades that school was not JFK’s priority. His French teacher wrote, “Jack’s work varies from excellent to extremely poor. . . he has to make the decision between mediocrity and worthwhile work, – and Jack should never be content with the former.” As one progresses throughout the museum, it is clear that JFK’s work moving forward was more than worthwhile.

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Looking at Kennedy’s writings it is clear that he borrowed from many models and mentors himself to produce one of the greatest speeches in American history. Kennedy’s inaugural address taps into key themes Kennedy wanted to convey to the American people at the beginning of an era:  peace, freedom, service to others, and personal accountability. The speech itself contains contributions or borrowings from, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and president Lincoln. It has been said that the line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do from your country” was adapted from Kennedy’s headmaster at Choate.

As a writer, Kennedy was always revising his speeches and looking at the original scripts, one can see the revisions he made in his own handwriting to get the words out just right. His words are meticulous and thoughtful. He used his words to present ideas about war and peace, the possibility of the space program, to advocate for people with intellectual disabilities, when facing a moral crisis and efforts to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation, and to celebrate great writers and artists.

As a teacher, I am always looking for models and mentors for my students to understand the writing process, the craft of writing, and how words are powerful to move masses of people to change thoughts and actions.

Author and teacher, Kelly Gallagher writes in In The Best Interest of Students (Stenhouse, 2015), “students benefit when they pay close attention to models before they begin drafting, they benefit when they pay close attention to models while they are drafting, and they benefit when they pay close attention to models as they begin moving their drafts into revision. Mentor texts achieve maximum effectiveness when students frequently revisit them throughout the writing process.” Kennedy’s writing can be used to study history and the craft of writing. So many of his speeches are mentor texts for our students.

As JFK wrote in the speech for Dallas before his assassination (and was never able to present), “The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence.” Throughout his 1,036 days in office, John F. Kennedy’s words were clear and full of conviction, precise and provoking. Aren’t these the same characteristics we want to see in our students’ writing and thinking?

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Field Trip: Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

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