Teach­ers cre­at­ing class to give a fuller view of city’s his­tory

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NEWS - BY SA­MUEL NORTHROP Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch snorthrop@timesdis­patch.com (804) 649-6023 Twit­ter: @northrop_samuel

Rich­mond Pub­lic Schools will of­fer a new elec­tive course next year that pro­vides an un­var­nished view of Rich­mond his­tory, delving into as­pects that have gone mostly un­told.

RPS of­fi­cials are hop­ing the course can con­nect stu­dents to a more im­me­di­ate his­tory that Virginia stan­dards and broader cour­ses don’t leave much time for.

Ma’Ase­hyahu Isra-Ul, the dis­trict’s spe­cial­ist for his­tory and so­cial sci­ence in­struc­tion, is lead­ing the dis­trict’s ef­forts at the be­hest of Su­per­in­ten­dent Ja­son Kam­ras. Isra-Ul said the REAL Rich­mond course will counter false nar­ra­tives around the slave trade and South­ern his­tory that have yet to be fully dis­persed, even though text­books con­tain­ing the fab­ri­ca­tions were phased out decades ago.

“It’s built upon the goal of a more ac­cu­rate and thor­ough ac­count of Rich­mond and the stu­dents’ com­pre­hen­sion of their city,” Isra-Ul said. “Not only will stu­dents get an em­pha­sis on some of the marginal­ized parts of Rich­mond his­tory, but the meth­ods will be a big part of what dif­fer­en­ti­ates this course from a stan­dard his­tory class.”

Lo­cal his­tory in­sti­tu­tions, so­cial jus­tice ac­tivists and schol­ars from VCU and Univer­sity of Rich­mond col­lab­o­rated with RPS per­son­nel to de­velop the cur­ricu­lum and the group de­cided on a back­ward de­sign method that will start with the pre­sent and work back to give stu­dents a greater un­der­stand­ing of the con­text of what’s hap­pen­ing now.

Isra-Ul said de­bates around Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments, the African burial ground and even where in­ter­states were built all af­fect stu­dents’ day-to-day lives and are an­chored in the past.

He said he thinks start­ing with what stu­dents see and trac­ing their roots back in his­tory will hook them with rel­e­vance and con­text.

Shawn Ut­sey, chair­man of African Amer­i­can stud­ies at VCU, said he thinks the course has po­ten­tial to be an ef­fec­tive teach­ing tool as long as the dis­trict is care­ful in de­sign­ing the cur­ricu­lum.

Dis­crep­an­cies in cur­rent text­books that can skew the in­for­ma­tion be­ing pre­sented to stu­dents have been high­lighted re­cently. Ut­sey said RPS of­fi­cials must choose top­ics and in­struc­tors wisely to avoid echo­ing the same per­spec­tive stu­dents al­ready get in stan­dard his­tory classes.

How­ever, if the dis­trict gets it right, it could help fill gaps in the tra­di­tional cur­ricu­lum set by the state.

“There are lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties and his­tor­i­cal sites here and it’s log­i­cal to uti­lize them and cap­i­tal­ize on that. You can cre­ate a cul­ture of want­ing to en­gage peo­ple with the his­tory and I think they will buy into that,” Ut­sey said.

He said that for the long term, he’d like to see the kinds of things pro­posed for the course be­come stan­dards at a state level, but the class is a good start­ing point.

“Why not just add that to his­tory and put it in the SOLs? That’s how you val­i­date and le­git­imize a his­tory,” Ut­sey said.

The course will go beyond new sub­ject mat­ter as well, Isra-Ul said, with reg­u­lar trips around the city and new tech­nol­ogy for stu­dents to use, in­clud­ing 360-de­gree cam­eras for aug­mented and vir­tual-re­al­ity projects. Isra-Ul said he ex­pects at least two teach­ers will of­fer the course and around 50 stu­dents to take it dur­ing its pi­lot pro­gram in the first year.

Sarah Walt­man-King, a his­tory teacher at John Mar­shall High School, said she signed up to teach the course be­cause it dives deep into some­thing mean­ing­ful for her and her stu­dents.

She said she hopes stu­dents will gain a richer un­der­stand­ing of the city’s past by ac­tively en­gag­ing with it.

“One thing that’s frus­trat­ing is peo­ple think his­tory is just some­thing that hap­pened but it’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing to us ev­ery day,” Walt­man-King said. “The con­tent is lit­er­ally in the neigh­bor­hoods they live, goes back hun­dreds of years and is still im­pact­ing them to­day.”

Teach­ers who vol­un­teered for the class will have in-depth work­shops this sum­mer to re­view the ma­te­rial, visit many of the sites that will be fo­cal points in the course and get hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence with the new tech­nol­ogy to pre­pare.

Isra-Ul said he hopes ev­ery­one who takes the course can bring some­thing new for fu­ture stu­dents to use and build a comprehens­ive record of pre­vi­ously marginal­ized groups.

“All of that is a part of the his­tor­i­cal soup that has al­lowed for this course to be cooked up,” Isra-Ul said. “I think Rich­mond his­tory will fo­cus on all marginal­ized his­tory and the marginal­iza­tion of con­tent that has taken place through­out his­tory.”

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