Tag Archives: Comedy

The Return to the Neighborhood – Mr. D is back!

I'm Back by popular demand!It took quite a while, but the Neighborhood is back in business!

To be honest, I was really expecting to post at least once a week when I started my new position.  However, this year I learned of a new kind of exhaustion.

My new school, in all fairness, is such a refreshing change from my old situation that my exhaustion was barely noticed.  It’s a charmed life: a K-8 neighborhood school in a Bronx neighborhood reminiscent of my ancestral haunts in Brooklyn, with incredible colleagues and administrators that really back me up to the hilt.  Few teachers nowadays get that kind of treatment anymore.

Yet the Neighborhood had to take a back seat to a cruel mistress-two of them, in fact.  Ancient history was less demanding.  Sixth grade science, on the other hand, has had me doing tricks that would make a Flying Wallenda soil his tights.  Its been rough creating basically a whole new curriculum on the fly, especially in two subject areas.  History was simply a refresher: it was nothing some pyramids, a Hammurabi Code and some gladiators couldn’t fix.

Science…well…let’s just say for years we’ve had an understanding.  We usually stay out of each other’s way.

Yet when the principal asked if I could teach science during my interview, of course I nodded.  I could teach anything.  A superteacher like me only needs a stopwatch and some dry-erase markers to make kids recite Herodotus in the original Greek or do long division while explaining word problems in perfect iambic pentameter.

In other words, I lied.  Sort of.  Hey, I wanted the gig.

So between physics formulas, ancient artifacts and suffering through a broken Smartboard and a stack of paperwork I never had to do before, my life has been pretty much exhausted to the point that the Neighborhood was neglected.

Well, no more.

The Neighborhood will be back to give the usually refreshing, mostly irreverent, oftentimes crass and always honest commentary on American and world history, history education and education in general.

So to start…how about a teaching tool designed by yours truly?

One thing I really needed at the beginning of the year was a good comprehensive, all-inclusive introduction to the ancient history curriculum.  Since I’m known to knock around a decent PowerPoint or two, I created this introductory presentation as a jumping off point for lesson planning, assessments, projects, whatever you need.  It starts with a world map where you click on individual areas and it shows information about the “Big Four” civilizations usually studied (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome).  Each section has maps, pictures, short bios of important people and key contributions of each people.

It isn’t a silver bullet, but the presentation is a good way to get students to think about deeper exploration of various themes.  The link is below:

Introduction to Ancient Civilizations

PS – It has my real name on it…as if it were a big secret LOL.  Enjoy.

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This Day in History 9/12: The Battle of Marathon

Marathon isn’t just a word for a ridiculously long foot race that gives you red nipples, poop-filled shorts and a silly cellophane robe as a trophy.

For the small band of Greeks on September 12, 490 BCE, Marathon was a game-changer.

On this day, the 10,000 valiant Greek hoplites of Athens and Plataea, led by the brilliant general Miltiades, defeated a Persian army at least 30 times their numbers.  In response to the victory, the great Olympic champion Pheidippides raced 26.2 miles (who knew Herodotus had a tape measure) back to Athens, announced the victory, and promptly died of exhaustion.

Cute.

Then again, the main source was never really that reliable.

The only real source about the Battle of Marathon comes from the “Father of History,” the Greek historian Herodotus.  Herodotus was, indeed, among the few people of his time to record the history of the Greeks, and their wars with Persia in particular.

Yet the problem with being among the few is that no one’s around to fact-check when you take liberties.

Old Herodotus loved to spin a good yarn and play fast and loose with the facts when it suited his narrative, and no better thread was spun than that on the dusty plains of Marathon.

Let’s take the numbers, for example.  Here, Herodotus gets it partly right.  The estimate of about 10-11,000 Greeks is even today considered reasonable and probably fairly accurate.  It’s not surprising since he was around to possible interview veterans of the battle.

The Persians were another story.  Herodotus never really claims a number, only that 600 triremes (warships) packed with infantry and cavalry landed ashore.  A contemporary estimate was about 200,000, and later estimates range even over half a million.  There’s no modern consensus to the size of Darius’ army, though the general average is about 25,000 infantry and 1000 cavalry–far lower than the traditional estimates.

Even so, that low number was still an over 2-1 advantage.

Then came the tactics.  Miltiades supposedly arranged the Greek forces to be thin at the center and thicker at the flanks in order to force weaker Persian flanks to collapse and surround the center of the enemy.  The problem is that according to most historians, Greek military tactics were not that sophisticated yet.  It wouldn’t be until well after the Peloponnesian War–over a century after Marathon–when ground tactics would reach that level of development.  More likely, Miltiades stretched his middle lines to match the Persian lines and to prevent himself getting surrounded.

The fact that the weaker Persian flanks–manned mostly by provincial subjects forced into service–collapsed under the Greeks was probably due to dumb luck.

Finally, we come to Pheidippides.  Sorry, distance runners–the first marathon never happened.

In fact, when you see the story in totality, it’s even more ridiculous.

Herodotus’ story goes like this: Pheidippides was sent from Athens to go ask for help from its old enemy Sparta.  He would run about 140 miles and arrive in Sparta a day later (Now THAT’s a foot race).  At the same time, the victorious Greeks ran about 25 miles back to Athens to head off a possible Persian counter-attack as their fleet attempted an end run around the Achaean Peninsula.  From an already rough morning, the heavily armored, exhausted and profusely bleeding Greeks arrive in Athens in the LATE AFTERNOON (Again, that’s some foot race) to catch sight of the Persians sailing away.

Over time, the Pheidippides run and the Greek army‘s run would get confused, with Pheidippides becoming a hero for running the approximately 25 miles from Marathon to Athens.  When the Olympic Games were revived in 1896, the organizers rediscovered the story and re-staged the “marathon” as an Olympic event.  The distance was never fixed, but usually around the 25 mile mark.  Eventually, it would be fixed at 26 miles 385 yards, or the traditional 26.2 mile number we use today.

Even with the embellishment, the Battle of Marathon remained a history-turning event in Greece.  It sent a message throughout the Mediterranean that the mighty Persians could indeed be beaten.  The subsequent final defeat of the Persians a decade later would signal the beginning of Greece’s golden age, when its art, literature, philosophy, government and commerce would bestride the known world like a colossus.

See, no need to mess up the facts…it’s a great story as it is.

Attached is a really cool video about the Battle of Marathon.  It’s in that 300 style that I detest, but at least they didn’t dress the hoplites in ridiculous clothes and have them fight ninjas and monsters.  Enjoy.

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Ready for Inspection! The Problem with “Quality Reviews”

“No matter how nitpicky, how fastidious a reviewer can be, he (she)’ll never, ever come close to what you actually do in your classroom.”

Some time ago, an acquaintance I knew from the Department of Education, a science specialist, told me this when I was complaining about State Quality Reviews (SQRs).

As true as this is (and he should know—he actually does SQRs for the district), it still doesn’t explain how a two-day beauty pageant defines years worth of expertise and academic achievement.

In New York State, that’s exactly what an SQR does.

For those in the Neighborhood living outside New York, you may have something similar. They come under various names: reflections, reviews, audits, analyses. Here in the Empire State, these inspections are known as Quality Reviews, with the appropriate air of a Dickensian workhouse.

These official reviews are masked as “learning experiences” meant to provide “reflective feedback” on our practice. After you choke a little bit on your own vomit, you’ll realize their true purpose: to make sure schools do exactly what they’re supposed to do in the manner expected from the state education department—or at least to the whims of the pack of inspectors sent to your school.

The reviews come in multiple levels. The peer review, a less invasive but no less insidious device, involves groups of teachers and administrators rating each other. The educational equivalent of a gladiatorial contest, the peer review is usually less intense since fellow teachers and admins rarely want to crap on their own brethren.

The State Quality Review, or SQR, involves a pack of reviewers from a mix of different places, from the district to the DOE offices in Tweed to the state offices in Albany. A two-day affair, the SQR usually is triggered if a school suffers a drop in their rating or is rated a School in Need of Improvement according to No Child Left Behind.

Even this level of review comes in different degrees. For example, if your school dropped in ranking due to poor test scores in targeted areas, such as English Language Learners (ELLs) or Special Education Students, the review will most likely focus on the school’s work in that area. Otherwise, in case of a monumental screw-up, the entire school apparatus is put under the microscope.

My school recently had the former: a review based on our supposed lack of progress in ELLs and Special Education. Even so, the entire school was mobilized. Reams of assessment reports, data reports, student diagnostic reports, spreadsheets, graphs, charts, lesson plans, rubrics, student work, teacher evaluations, curriculum maps—all of it gets collected into a series of massive binders. These binders are designed for a dual purpose: to provide adequate evidence that we’re doing our job even without making educational targets; or to overwhelm the reviewer with work to the point that they just assume the school’s doing a thorough job without cracking open these three-ring behemoths.

Rarely does the review not go past the binder stage.

After a day of sifting through numbers and charts, day two features the classroom visits. In theory, the visits are supposed to be “random.” Therefore, every class is spruced up, cleaned up, papered with new charts and new student work (with appropriate rubrics and task cards). In practice, however, since the visits target certain populations, it is often the classes with said populations that get visited—and are often prepped ahead of time.

The result is a series of visits into model classrooms in the vein of Disney World’s World of Tomorrow rides. Bulletin boards stand as monuments, replete with student work, carefully labeled with comments, a rubric and task card (never mind the mind-numbing hours spent preparing these works ahead of time). The charts around the room carefully detail every minute movement in the academic process (usually after re-doing and sprucing up charts the teacher has used for years).

Even the procedures need procedures—such is apparently a “well developed” classroom. I’m surprised there are no charts detailing how to effectively utilize the lavatory (Lord knows they can use it).

The children sit in their seats (the more impossible ones are either conveniently absent or not-so-subtly convinced/cajoled/threatened to behave) and stage a performance worthy of Broadway. While they are listless, lethargic or outright defiant most of the year, the SQR somehow summons articulate, well-mannered, enthused children gleefully engaging in one of your “A” lessons (a little coaching certainly helps.)

All the while, the reviewers (some blasé, some meticulous, and even a few true-believers with Nazi brutality) ask the teachers and children questions about their learning, mostly to figure out if the little whelps are actually paying attention. It’s a scream when they go off-script. One year, a boy was asked his favorite subject. He replied, “Home.”

Some of the questions teachers get can be downright insulting. One teacher was asked to show her lesson for that day. She was asked to show the lesson’s objective (which is clearly marked on most lesson plan books, which seemed to go above the head of this reviewer). After pointing to the lesson objective in her plan, she was then asked, “Why is that the objective?”

Hmmm…how about because that’s what the phony-baloney curriculum map they had to make (and could barely read) says to do.

Even the tone of that question—and I wasn’t present to hear it—would suggest that the reviewer was not among academic professionals but rather a pack of chimps that still needed Jane Goodall to teach them how to poke at anthills with a stick.

In the end, the review usually comes with a long checklist of positive points and things to work on (NEVER negative points, because the word “negative” doesn’t exist in a well-developed classroom *vomit*). The negatives rarely carry much substance, but rather focus on how to create MORE useless paperwork to make the appearance of learning.

Sometimes, they even suggest to return to methods and theories that were discarded during the LAST quality review.

After coming out of the subsequent scotch fog, I had some serious questions about the SQR process. Why the reams of paperwork? Why collect data that often says little and means even less? Why ask children for answers who are notoriously honest—even in the best schools?

Most importantly…how does a quality review help children learn more?

I’m looking really hard, and I haven’t the foggiest.

The window dressing, the bulletin boards, the charts—they are only as effective as the teacher behind them. Any trained animal can clean up well enough to perform a show.

The “evidence” question doesn’t wash with me. Most of a teacher’s best work is done without a ream of paperwork or forms to complete. Effective professionals know what data works and what data is simply filler for a spreadsheet. More data doesn’t necessarily mean improvement.

Thus, if reviewers are really looking for reams of evidence, are they viewing teachers as professionals? Or are teachers more like Goodall’s chimps, according to the state?

Therefore, maybe that’s how the education reform crowd, the NCLB nancies and TFA fops, views all of us who chose education as a calling: a pack of trained animals that can’t be trusted to make intelligent decisions and need a zookeeper to collect the feces.

Which leads back to the earlier quote. My friend was absolutely right. The quality review can’t scratch the surface of what a teacher does in the classroom. Yet the very existence of such a review undermines the status of professionals whose talents and achievements far exceed any binder of data.

So if the state continues to treat me like a chimp…well, let’s just say chimps are marksmen with their bowel movements.

 

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The NEW AND IMPROVED South Street Seaport Museum

Entrance to the South Street Seaport Museum

Rarely am I impressed at any institution that plies me with food and alcohol.

This Tuesday, however, was a rare exception.

It may have been the salmon wraps…the booze…the gentle rolls of the floorboards (more on that later)…or a combination of the three. In any case, the new and improved South Street Seaport Museum is definitely worth a visit—both by your class and on your own.

“New and Improved?” you may ask. “But Mr. D, didn’t you toot SSSM’s horn way back when covering places for field trips?”

Well, things have changed since our last jaunt down to the waterfront.

Built in 1967 in an early 19th century building with musty smells and buckling floorboards (the floors alone gave you seasickness), the South Street Seaport Museum has been, at least in museum terms, something of a Mom-and-Pop operation. It focused mainly on maritime history and New York’s seaport life, and its one dank floor of exhibits brought mostly seafaring enthusiasts and wandering tourists enjoying a summer day at the corner of Fulton and South Streets.

Like the proverbial working girl on the docks, this museum has had a hard life. Apart from the odd school field trip, SSSM’s fairly seasonal clientele could not sustain the place financially. By last year, the museum was in so much debt that a third of the board resigned and half the staff were let go. When the New York Times uses the word “beleaguered” multiple times in describing its status, it can’t be good.

Enter the Museum of the City of New York.

MCNY has risen in recent decades to become one of the preeminent cultural institutions in New York. In my mind, no other museum connects with historians, educators, students, tourists and casual observers quite like it. So it made perfect sense that MCNY took over operations at South Street in the fall of 2011.

The folks uptown gave SSSM the royal treatment, taking charge of the building as well as the fleet of aging schooners, tugboats and barques sitting in the East River. Upon arrival on Tuesday for an Educator Open House (the free food and booze sealed the deal), I was floored at the finished product.

A one-floor dankhole has been expanded to three floors chock-full of exhibits and classroom space. Sixteen galleries now highlight different aspects of the city and the waterfront through a combination of artifacts, photographs, video and multimedia exhibits.

(By the way, the floorboards still buckle—it is an 1812 building after all.)

Some highlights include old Seaport favorites like model ships, old tools and seafaring paraphernalia that survived the overhaul. Other additions include an impressive photo exhibit of the Occupy Wall Street movement, exhibits covering products made in New York, and the highlights of MCNY’s Manahatta exhibit (it’s great that the light-up interactive map of Manhattan made its way downtown).

For school groups, MCNY installed two spacious classroom spaces, with plenty of primary artifacts, text sources and activities that connect students to New York’s maritime past. Furthermore, a number of school programs are available, including a New Amsterdam Walking Tour that used to be offered up at MCNY—guess it just makes more sense to base it here.

Finally, never fear…the Pioneer is still there! I had the pleasure of sailing on this 1885 schooner around New York harbor and even help hoist one of the sails (it inadvertently got me into a short sailing craze which future Mrs. D regrets). The old rust bucket is still there, and still available for tours of the harbor, focusing on history, ecology, commerce and navigation.

Yet all is not well on Schermerhorn Row.

The MCNY experiment is brief, and there is a real danger that the South Street Seaport Museum may not survive once its on its own again. They really need membership (there’s those financial problems again) and a steady stream of visitors to keep the place afloat.

Like it or not, New York’s history is tied intrinsically to the waterfront. We’re blessed not only to have a historic district like South Street, but also a museum that showcases New York’s deep connection to the sea. As commercial and crass as it is, the South Street Seaport offers the only glimpse of what New York looked like before the age of skyscrapers and subways, and the South Street Seaport Museum provides an important educational service in connecting New York’s past and present.

Make sure you give South Street a look, and not just during good weather. Bundle up and get your butt over to Fulton Street—either on your own, or with your class. If you can contribute to becoming a member, great…but come down even if you can’t.

And as always, since we crave attention as much as the aforementioned harbor chick, do tell them the Neighborhood sent you.

South Street Seaport Museum (phone # 212-748-8600) is located at 12 Fulton St., between Water St. and South St.

Take the 2,3, 4, 5, A, C, J,M or Z to Fulton Street Station, then walk down Fulton Street until you see the tall ships. It’s the marine-colored entrance on the right-hand side.

 

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Videos for the Classroom: Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book

In our belated homage to Dr. Seuss on his March 2nd birthday, the Neighborhood presents a video of one of Seuss’ greatest–and most controversial–works.

In 1984, Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book caused a sensation in classrooms, libraries and especially the corridors of power in the Reagan administration.  A satirical parable about the arms race, militarism and especially nuclear war, The Butter Battle Book was so controversial that public libraries across America banned the book over its  viewpoints.

Given the Cold War hysteria of the early Eighties, the book’s content was rife for discussion.

The book chronicles the long-simmering conflict between the Yooks and the Zooks, two cultures at war over breakfast food.  The Yooks butter their bread on top, while the Zooks butter theirs on the bottom.  This innocuous difference leads to an escalating arms race, culminating in the development of an “Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo”–a weapon designed to wipe out all life with no counter-defense.  The book ends as both generals hold their tiny Armegeddon devices, ready to drop at any moment.

Like the Lorax, Seuss’ other well-known political work (then about the environment), The Butter Battle Book is not your traditional feel-good children’s story.  A cliffhanger is left as we don’t know what happens with the Yooks and Zooks and their factories of death.

Yet Seuss’ nuclear fable differs in that it feels much more hopeless, more helpless–and thus much more sinister.

Attached is the 1989 animated special of the book by TNT.  It was created by an equally controversial animator in Ralph Bakshi, who created a work very close to the wording and intent of the original book.  Narrated by charles Durning, the special was so well made that Seuss himself considered it the most faithful adaptation of his work ever made.

This is my all-time favorite Seuss work, and is brimming with classroom debate and discussion at any age.

Enjoy…and stay away from butter altogether.  It’ll kill you in the end 🙂

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The “Corrupt Bargain” of the 1824 Presidential Election

Electoral College Results for 1824. Courtesy of Wikipedia

There is no such thing as a one-party system.

Whenever a political group manages to dominate all the others, there’s only one thing for the top dogs to do: fight among themselves.

From Commie red to Fascist black, the song remains the same: Stalin vs. Trotsky, Hitler vs. Rohm, Castro vs. Che, Mao vs. Deng, and in 1824, Jackson vs. Adams vs. Crawford vs. Clay.

The 1824 presidential election was rife with mudslinging, regional balkanization, backroom dealing, alliance building, nursing old grudges and settling old scores. It would be the first-and last-time only one political party would vie for the presidency—and in the process, throw politics and the Constitution into chaos.

It all began with a war hero.

Andrew Jackson, hero of the Creek War, the War of 1812, and the Seminole Wars, thought himself a perfect fit for the top job in 1824. Tough and ornery, with a series of duels under his belt, Jackson amassed a fortune selling horses and gambling to become a gentleman planter in Tennessee—the direct opposite of his upbringing in the Carolina backcountry. Yet he appealed to common folks in the South and the frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee as a sort of “common man.”

His main rival was anything but common.

John Quincy Adams was born into public service, literally. The son of the second President of the United States, Adams accompanied his father on his trips to Europe during the Revolution (and compiled an impressive diplomatic resume in the process). As secretary of state, Adams negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, as well as drafted the main ideas of the Monroe Doctrine. A favorite of New England (naturally), Adams felt he was due for the Presidency.

(and unlike another son of a chief executive, Adams was genuinely astute, brilliant and principled.)

If it were just these two, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. Yet two other rivals also come into the race-one a member of numerous Cabinets, the other a Speaker of the House that was a master of the backroom deal.

William Crawford was a Georgia Senator who also served as Minister to France, Secretary of War and Secretary of a Treasury. It makes for an impressive candidate except for one thing: Crawford suffered a stroke the year before, brought on by a side effect of a doctor’s prescription. Even though Crawford recovered—even receiving the endorsements of former Presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson—his campaign was never the same.

The last of the candidates was Henry Clay, known to history as the “Great Compromiser.” Most historians view him as a great orator and politician. In my mind, Clay was the first great Congressional wheeler-dealer in history. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, and later a United States Senator, Clay would be instrumental in the most important legislative deals of the 19th century: the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Nullification crisis, etc. He was the epitome of the great orator, a man who could charm anyone into voting for anything.

He also hated Andrew Jackson with a passion.

Referring to Jackson’s victory in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, Clay scoffed: “I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy.” It isn’t much of an argument: Washington was responsible for quite a few British scalps himself. Yet Clay made his point; military victory alone does not a President make (a point often lost on the electorate, even then).

All the candidates had one thing in common: they were all Democratic-Republicans.

Since the Federalist Party imploded during the War of 1812, the Democratic-Republicans had been the only real political force for almost a decade. The previous President, James Monroe, ran without any opposition, demonstrating the Dem-Rep dominance of the period.

But, as expected, the unity couldn’t last. Tensions ran high, scores needed to be settled, and regions were quick to attack other areas of the United States. Welcome to the US in 1824, eerily similar to the Yugoslavia of 1994, minus the bloodthirsty militias and hard-to-pronounce surnames.

As Election Day neared, all four candidates were staking out their bases—and not much else. Adams was popular in the Northeast. Jackson, now less frontiersman and more planter, was a friend of the South. Crawford, on the other hand, had supporters in the Old South states of Georgia and Virginia, old planters that feared Jackson’s popular support. Parts of the West, especially the old Northwest Territory, supported Clay.

The results, as expected, provided little clarity.

Although more and more states were using the popular vote to decide their Electors to the Electoral College, Many still relied on the state legislature to make the decision, making the ballots cast a moot point. In 1824, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina and Vermont still didn’t trust their citizens enough to choose Electors for the top job. So bear that in mind when reading the results:

Presidential Candidate

 

Popular Vote(a)

Electoral Vote

Count

%

Andrew Jackson(b)  

151,271

41.3

99

John Quincy Adams(e)  

113,122

30.9

84

William Harris Crawford(c)  

40,856

11.2

41

Henry Clay(d)  

47,531

13.0

37

(Massachusetts unpledged electors)  

6,616

1.8

0

Other

6,437

1.8

0

Total

365,833

100.0%

261

Needed to win

131

Although Jackson won the most votes, and the most Electors, he didn’t win a majority. He won 41% of the popular vote (again, without the votes of 6 states) and 99 out of a possible 261 Electors. Too bad he needed 131 to win.

So for the second time in America’s history, the US House of Representatives will decide the winner.

This time, however, was different from the last mess. In 1800, when Thomas Jefferson failed to secure the majority of Electors for the Presidency, the US House of Representatives acted under different rules. Under those rules, the winner became President, and second place became Vice-President. With a little conniving by a West Indian New York lawyer and former Cabinet secretary named Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson won the tiebreaking vote, and his opponent Aaron Burr become the veep—only to snuff out Hamilton on the dueling grounds of Weehawken four years later.

The 1824 debacle would be decided under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1804. It served to make the process less messy and more straightforward. Now, President and Vice-President were cast as separate ballots. In the House, each state would vote amongst the top three vote-getters. Each representative would vote their preference, but the final vote is cast by state (usually the majority among the state’s representatives).

Henry Clay, as the fourth runner, was left out—just in time for him to do some back-parlor magic.

As Crawford was a non-issue thanks to the stroke, the House machinations came between Jackson and Adams. Clay, as Speaker of the House and a political boss to a sizeable number of Congressmen, was in the enviable position of kingmaker. It didn’t take long for him to make a decision.

Politically, Adams’ policies on internal improvements and tariffs for promoting domestic industry was along the lines of Clay’s ideas as well (funny enough, the ideas were actually the brainchild of 1800 kingmaker Hamilton, as the first Secretary of the Treasury.) Furthermore, Clay saw Adams as more “presidential.” He came from a leading family. He held high positions in government for most of his life. He understood the domestic and international rigors of the job.

Jackson, to Clay, was no more than an ill-bred, hillbilly Napoleon with a rabble of voters and a workload done by slaves (all of which has some truth to it). Also, Jackson had an unsavory reputation for dueling, stealing women, horse betting—the sort of backcountry foolishness that would make both Boston Brahmins and Virginia planters cringe.

Finally, though no one could substantiate this claim, an anonymous account in a Philadelphia newspaper claimed that Clay sold his vote to Adams in exchange for a Cabinet post, namely Secretary of State. It was neither confirmed nor denied, and we won’t know the whole story, but such a deal would make sense: Adams and three previous Presidents had been Secretary of State, making it a logical step for an heir to the top office.

House Votes in the 1824 Election. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

So promises were made, deals were struck, cigars were smoked and hands were shook. When the votes were counted on February 9, 1825, all of Clay’s glad-handing and backslapping paid off. Adams won on the first ballot, with 13 states. Jackson wins 7 states, with Crawford bringing up the rear with 4.

Jackson and his supporters were shocked at the vote. For the next four years, the Jacksonians, soon to evolve into the modern Democratic Party, would hound and harass the Adams administration, accusing them of colluding into a “corrupt bargain” to secure the Presidency.

Adams, for one, immediately offered Clay the Secretary of State job. This did nothing to help his reputation, as the increasing number of states using popular votes would make a second term difficult. It also didn’t help that Adams attempted a principled, prudent set of policies with a Congress packed with his enemies. It virtually ensured that Adams would lose the rematch to Jackson in 1828—which is exactly what happened.

Jackson would win two terms as President, and would be decried and applauded for extending executive power in the federal government. His exploits, both good and bad, were so famous that the era itself adopted his name—“The Age of Jackson.”

Adams would serve 17 years as a US Congressman after he left office in 1829, this time as a member of the Whig Party. His last years were incredibly productive: Adams would be a steadfast champion against slavery and the slave trade, especially serving as counsel in the famous 1841 Amistad case. All of this, of course, made Jackson the slaveholder hate Adams even more.

Crawford, the third man in the voting of the 1824 election, recovered very well from his stroke—even though it was too late to convince the voters. Adams offered Crawford to stay on as Treasury Secretary. Crawford, sensing his own mortality and probably the changing political winds, declined and returned to Georgia. He served as an active state superior court judge until his death in 1834.

So what happened to Henry Clay, the man whose backroom deals vaulted Adams to the White House?

Well, the Department of State was no longer the stepping stone it once was.

Clay, who became a US Senator after he left the Adams administration, would try four times for the high office. In 1832, the Clay campaign was thrashed by the ever-popular Andrew Jackson. He would try to get the Whig nomination in 1840, but another war hero stopped him in William Henry Harrison. Clay would get the Whig nomination in 1844, but James Polk would beat him in the general election. Finally, yet another war hero, Mexican War general Zachary Taylor, would beat Clay yet again for the Whig nomination in 1848.

So what are the lessons we learn from the clusterfuck that was the 1824 election?

First, the laws are necessarily meant to produce a popular result—just ask Andrew Jackson.

Second, when someone is felled by a near-fatal illness, it’s hard to convince an electorate otherwise—just ask William Crawford.

Third, even when the contest it’s over, it’s never really over—just ask John Quincy Adams.

You don’t have to remind Henry Clay twice about the best laid plans of mice and men.

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Slaves, Oranges and Arithmetic: The Dangers of Too Much Content Integration

In that ever-growing list of educational untouchables, the enslavement of African Americans is among the most sensitive and nerve-rattling.

So why in Hell would a teacher build a set of math problems based on slavery? The misguided belief that social studies can—and should—be integrated into everything.

One of the offending questions, courtesy of ABC News

If ever there was proof that social studies deserves to remain a separate and distinct subject, it is the recent “slave math” controversy. Luis Rivera, a third grade teacher in the Atlanta suburb of Gwinnett County, Georgia resigned when he assigned math homework that included problems involving slavery and beatings. Samples of the controversial work include:

“Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

“If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

The story made headlines across all the news outlets and provided prime fodder for the early morning gabfests. Many clearly found the incident offensive, and others thought one careless act shouldn’t mar an entire career in education…and so on, and so on.

Bullshit. The guy should’ve known better: both as a tolerant American and as a teacher of sound pedagogical practice. Rivera gets an “F” on both accounts.

The use of such a sensitive topic is appalling in it of itself. As a teacher, however, it is the casual, even careless use of history that is most repulsive. The teacher claimed they were attempting a “cross-curricular” activity, supposedly integrating social studies and math.

If this is what passes for “integration” or “multidisciplinary”, then here come the division problems using cattle cars and European Jews (prepare to use high numbers), probability questions involving Christians thrown to lions (advantage: lions), and fractions involving Crusaders slaughtering Muslims in the Holy Land (i.e. “What fraction of a merchant in Jerusalem is left after Sir Godfrey cleaves him to pieces with a broadsword?”).

Not only are these examples equally disgusting, but teach absolutely nothing about the content being used.

As much as it twists in my gut like a rusty bayonet, districts will still be pushing for integrating social studies and science into reading and mathematics. Understandably, each content area fits better with a certain skill set: social studies is basically just focused reading and writing, scientific analysis rarely doesn’t involve at least basic math skills.

Yet when the subjects are reversed, the integration can be a little tricky—and no more so than with social studies and math. The Georgia example, to be honest, was more of an example of lazy, slipshod integration than any real malice. It was probably based on the notion that the content itself doesn’t matter so long as the skills taught are understood.

Thus, in Rivera’s mind, the slaves being beaten and picking cotton and oranges could have been anything and anyone, so long as the math algorithms were internalized.

This in not integration. It is the hijacking of one subject to further another.

If true integration is the goal, the student materials, assessments and lessons should:

1. Align with content material or units that are either being taught at the time or previously covered. According to the Georgia Performance Standards in Social studies for 3rd Grade, students should be covering the impact of various important Americans. Even if the American in question was a slave (i.e. Frederick Douglass) the content was inappropriate and didn’t really tie into the curriculum at all. The content you use has to make sense to the students in some way; otherwise both your math and your social studies objectives will be lost.

2. Utilize settings, actors and scenarios appropriate to the historical period or unit. This sounds a lot easier than it is. Many times, problems are created that in no way resemble the reality of the time. Even amongst the offending problems, the second one makes no historical sense: if Frederick needed two beatings a day in order to work, he would have probably been sold. A little research into primary sources can go a long way in justifying your use of historical content.

3. Enhance understanding of BOTH the skills/standards and the content area. Okay teachers and administrators, I’ll say it: social studies and science are not your personal call girls designed to fleece students for their respective pimps, reading and math. If you create a division problem involving the supplies of a pioneer family, students should learn a thing or two about the hardships of frontier life in the process. That reading assignment about volcanoes should not only enforce main idea, author’s purpose, etc. but also the scientific concepts of volcanic eruption and its role in land formation on Earth.

Since the remorseless monolith of integration is with us for the foreseeable future, educators have to learn to effective join content and skills together for mutual benefit. With so much time in the school day devoted to reading and math—plus that ever-growing period of test prep—many find it hard-pressed to even find time for social studies and science. Thus, integration often becomes the only way content is taught in many classrooms.

The best way to find great material for integrating social studies content into your lessons is to amass a vast library of primary source materials. Many of the websites featured here have incredible databases and clearinghouses of newspapers, diaries, account books, ledgers, captains’ logs, ship manifests—all with enough numerical data to torture your students for months.

Use common sense, fit them into your lesson plans where appropriate, and if you’re in any doubt as to whether you’ve crossed the “Rivera Line”, as we’ll now call it, ask a colleague.

Ideally, these subjects should stand alone. Certain things can only be taught in the isolation of a period devoted to social studies or science. Yet the NCLB monster squeezes the day to the point that integration has become a necessary evil in our everyday lessons.

Just use your head, unlike poor Luis Rivera. The only job he’ll be doing now is picking oranges and cotton for slave wages.

(…pun was completely intended.)

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