Tag Archives: Field Trip

Field Trip: George Washington’s Mount Vernon

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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

In John Trumbull’s painting of George Washington the artist blends history and portrait. George Washington was the commander in chief during the Revolutionary War. This painting epitomizes heroism and nobility.

In the same Yale University Gallery, upstairs from the American paintings, stands Titus Kaphar’s Shadows of Liberty in the Modern Art Gallery with similar characters and colors. Yet, his painting tells a very different story and tone. The golden yellow cape wrapped around Washington is a shredded list of enslaved people held up with rusty nails like a collar and covering his mouth.

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You will not find Kaphar or Trumbull’s painting at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, what you will find is an “authentically interpreted 18th century home,” lush gardens and groundsmuseum galleries, and immersive programs.

Mount Vernon was George Washington’s home. It was also home to hundreds of enslaved people who lived and worked under Washington’s control. In 1799, there were 317 men, women, and children enslaved at Mount Vernon’s five farms, which covered 8,000 acres. They made up more than 90% of the population of the estate. The exhibit states, “Washington’s views on slavery changed over time. Economic and moral concerns led him to question slavery after the Revolutionary War, though he never lobbied publicly for abolition. Unable to extricate himself from slavery during his lifetime, Washington chose to free the 123 enslaved people he owned outright in his will. He was the only founding father to do so.”

Both the Enslaved People’s tour and the museum gallery “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” offer a watered down view of slavery and set the tone that the first president of the United States had conflicting views about slavery.

George Washington, ca. 1787–1788 wrote, “The unfortunate condition of the persons whose labour in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret.”

History is not one-sided. When teaching about this time period it is important to look at history from multiple perspectives and voices. If you are teaching this time period, here are a few additional resources to add to your repertoire about George Washington.

Born into a life of slavery, Ona Judge eventually grew up to be George and Martha Washington’s “favored” dower slave. When she was told that she was going to be given as a wedding gift to Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Ona made the bold and brave decision to flee to the north, where she would be a fugitive. 51eu07btpel._sx330_bo1204203200_

Erica Armstrong Dunbar reveals a fascinating and heartbreaking behind-the-scenes look at the Washingtons’ when they were the First Family—and an in-depth look at their slave, Ona Judge, who dared to escape from one of the nation’s Founding Fathers.

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For older students, Dunbar’s original book was a Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction offering a startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family. When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he brought along nine slaves, including Ona Judge. As the President grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t abide: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Hmmmmm, that is very sneaky, Mr. Washington! So, when teaching this time period. Let’s just be sure to paint the whole picture. We can bring in artifacts and texts from multiple perspectives and people.

In your are in the Washington, DC area, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate is worth visiting. Also, online there are multiple resources for teachers with lesson plans, virtual tours, a digital encyclopedia, and artifacts. For those who are fans of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton the Musical, there is a webpage on the Mount Vernon website that looks at how each song from the original cast recording relates to Washington.

 

 

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Awe Struck: Poetry & Art Collide with Chihuly

The New York Botanical Gardens is currently showcasing artworks by world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. There are more than 20 installations, including drawings and early works that reveal the evolution and development of Chihuly’s artistic process during his world renown career.

Chihuly is known for his vibrant glass sculptures. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Glass as an art form is relatively new in regards to American art history. Glass as an art form did not flourish until the 1960s. Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. Due in part to the influence of Dale Chihuly and his founding of Pilchuck Glass School, glass has taken on an unique form of expression and art (http://www.chihuly.com/learn).

Chihuly’s work and installation at the New York Botanical Gardens is breath-taking and inspiring. In fact, The New York Botanical Garden, in partnership with Poetry Society of America, presents a Poetry Contest for kids in elementary, middle, and high school who live or study in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Students are invited to submit poems (written individually or with student collaborators) inspired by the installations on view at The New York Botanical Garden. The poems are judged by Newbury Award Winning poet, Jaqueline Woodson.

Here are three of my favorite poems on display with Chihuly’s work.

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Sapphire Star

Oh Sapphire Star, your beauty and grace
To see you completely
I’d have my eyes, detached from my face.
You are simple and complicated, but never overrated Whenever I see you, my amazement is automatically instigated. To pronounce your greatness, I’d have to say it with my mind When I rst saw you

You put your signature on my subconscious
Which will forever be signed.
You are a ne work of art, seeming to be made by da Vinci You have my awe, and everyone else’s
Across every sea.
Sapphire Star, you have also taught me a lesson
That of which my heart and mind is taped
To be yourself
No matter who you are
Or what type of abstract shape.

 

Marcus Lopez-Pierre, 6th Grade
Success Academy Midtown West New York, New York

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Sol

Spirals like the way dance makes my hips move left and right
Overjoy people’s faces with the vibrant colors, allusions
Loops like the way natural hair does in its natural state bouncy and coily

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Dazzles you with brightness that may blind your eyes in a snap of a hand Exquisite like the sparkles sparkling on a disco ball
Luxurious for everyone to enjoy going beyond what they can imagine

Citrón

Curves like the way a worm slithers back into its habitat
Injects you with freedom into a new world like Chihuly
Ties all the pieces together to make it unique
Rams all the ideas, differences in your mind that it suddenly goes “poof” Ongoing into my brain was rst a little thing that wasn’t possible

Now it’s a large scale glass curling sculpture Sol del Citrón

 

Essence Sanders, 8th Grade

Harlem Academy New York, New York

 

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Skillfully Sculpted

Glistening in the sun The way water does On days where
The sun

Like a diamond Sparkles
On its throne in the sky

Fountaining up
With bubbles Perched
Where the
Column of water Breaks at the top Into a petaly array And cascading down Sending ripples out From its landing point

Delphinium Sibley-Wilson, 4th Grade
Bronx Community Charter School Bronx, New York

 

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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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