Tag Archives: UCLA

Summer Reading for Teachers: Forbidden Love: The Hidden History of Mixed Race America

Frederick Douglass, himself of mixed race, with his second wife Helen Pitt Douglass, and their neice Eva.

The strength and flaw of an immigrant society is its heterogeneity.

The societies that sprouted across the American continent were not one-note masses of people, but rather a chorus of different voices that, for good or ill, must learn to live together.  For the most part, this mix of people has been a boon to the economic, social and cultural progress of our country.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the concept of races—and their “inherent” differences—has led to an uneasy existence.  Different people can work together, live side-by-side, play together.  Yet romantic relationships and racial “mixing” was far too often considered taboo.

Yet according to Gary Nash, history professor at UCLA and a friend here at the Neighborhood, mixed-race relationships have a long history in America—and just as long a history of fighting for acceptance in a society preoccupied with racial purity.

Like a previous book of his I reviewed, Professor Nash’s Forbidden Love: The Hidden History of Mixed-Race America offers a window into a world most Americans know little about.  In this case, it is the often submerged undercurrent of multiracial family relationships.  Nash paints a wide swath, starting with Pocohantas and ending in the multiracial heritage of our current President.  Along the way, by identifying the lives of extraordinary mixed-race Americans, he shows the currents of race and racial identity that have prevailed in this country.

Nash writes that the early history of the United States showed great promise for an interracial society, or at least one where race was less relevant than it would become centuries later.  Yet due to the settler nature of North America—as opposed to the conquistador/exploitation model of Central and South America—the United States would populate itself with whole families who saw survival, especially ethnic/racial purity, as paramount to their existence.

This obsession with racial purity would prevail well into the first half of the 20th century.  It dictated how white America would deal with millions of Africans, once enslaved and later as free persons.  It also determined the relationship between European settlement and Native Americans who predated them on this continent.  Finally, the need for racial purity would affect how America received millions of immigrants from Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Nash’s choice of subjects covers many ethnic groups and various periods of American history.  He starts with Pocohantas’ marriage to the Virginia planter John Rolfe, and also includes maritime entrepreneur Paul Cuffe, the Healy family (also discussed in a previous post), Elizabeth Hulme, Peggy Rusk, and of course Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.  In each, their lives are juxtaposed with the rising and ebbing tide of racial rigidity and consciousness in this country, culminating in the election of a multiracial President in 2008.

One particular area that Nash sheds light on is the 18th century Mexican paintings known as “casta” paintings, and how they reflect racial mixture and hierarchy in Spanish America.  These didactic paintings demonstrate the nomenclature of the union of persons of different racial makeup, i.e. a Spaniard and a black woman make a mulatto; a Spaniard and a native woman make a mestizo, etc.  I remember seeing something similar in a textbook on a visit to Ecuador, yet I was astonished at the bewildering permutations—and labels—that categorized the racial makeup of colonial Mexico.

However, this open demonstration of racial mingling did not mean racial equality.  The lack of Spanish females, larger populations of native and black persons, coupled with a Catholic Church that had a more permissive view of interracial marriage meant a more fluid mixing of peoples.  Yet according to Nash, this mixing would not mean the end of racism:

“The offspring of mixed-race marriages could expect a life of discrimination and thwarted ambition.  And those with African ancestry faced more limited chances than those with Indian bloodlines.  Above all, Spanish blood counted the most.” ~ Gary Nash, in Forbidden Love, Revised Edition, page 48.

Unlike his last book we reviewed, The Unknown American Revolution, Forbidden Love makes a remarkably seamless addition to a high school classroom syllabus.  This is largely due to its imprimatur, the National Center for History in the Schools, of which Professor Nash is director.  NCHS works to connect academic scholarship in history with classroom instruction at all grade levels. 

In the case of Forbidden Love, the book was revised from its original 1999 version to both add a modern prospective and to make it more suitable for the classroom.  Although the book bursts with the hefty research worthy of an academic tome, its tone, vocabulary and short length make this material easily accessible to high schoolers.  Even more impressive are the discussion questions located near the end.  Each chapter contains these useful questions to continue discussion and to offer differentiation for various student groups. 

In the multi-racial populations of students in America, research and biographies like those found in Forbidden Love are more crucial than ever.  Many cities have populations where racial intermingling has been the norm for centuries, and are now coming into contact with American populations where interracial acceptance has been halting, at best. 

People like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, etc. are demystifying what it means to be multiracial in America.  As Professor Nash shows, Americans have been mixing together long before they gained acceptance in the wider society.  Race, says Nash, is an artificial categorization that has no basis in science.  It should, therefore, be natural for humans to accept when races mix and procreate.

It’s a shame it took so long to reach that acceptance.

NOTE: Any teachers and students wishing to read the newest edition of Forbidden Love can order a copy by contacting Marian Olivas, Program Coordinator at the National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA — molivas@ucla.edu

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Summer Reading for Teachers: The Unknown American Revolution

The last thing teachers want to do during the summer is plan for next year. 

Yet if you’re like me, stuck in a massive heat wave with no motivation to brave the rain forest-like conditions, then maybe some planning in the AC could help—especially when you have a resource like today’s selection.

I just got back from a conference at UCLA on the American Revolution.  Yes, I’ve heard all the stories: what does California have to do with the American Revolution?  Well, between UCLA and the Huntington Library, there is a massive concentration of primary source material on the subject. 

Secondly, the main lecturer of the conference helped tie all that material together.  UCLA’s Gary Nash is a true master of the subject, particularly in areas that get little attention.  Professor Nash teaches history at UCLA and is the director of the National Center for History in the Schools, an organization devoted to making meaningful connections between classroom teachers and university academics.  Witty, soft-spoken, and incredibly approachable, Nash makes a wonderful guide through an increasing thorny subject—the “other” stories of the American Revolution that often get buried in textbooks.

Nash’s 2005 work The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America serves as a worthy guidebook through this material.  In it, he details many of the conflicts, struggles, debates and battles that have received little attention, making the Revolution a far more complex subject—and far more real experience—than is often depicted.

According to Professor Nash, the American Revolution is not simply a war of independence between the colonies and Great Britain, but a large, unwieldy, often conflicting web of movements and struggles that affect our national character even today. 

As the battles raged, radicals, conservatives and moderates were jostling to create a new nation and offer voices to new groups of people: immigrants, women, blacks, poor whites, etc.  State constitutions were the first real experiments in representative democracy, scoring victories and defeats in the advancement of freedom and suffrage.  Shortages would see a struggle for economic power as bread riots would rage in northern cities.

The Revolution also set the stage for what Nash argues is the largest black rebellion in American history, as thousands of enslaved Africans made a flight for freedom—mostly heading for the British lines.  The need to control the black population also caused a drain on recruitment in the south, as white landowners worked to keep control of their property.

It would also be a turning point in the Native American struggle to maintain independence and sovereignty in the face of encroaching white development, creating unforeseen tensions, alliances and rivalries.  The Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy, would split up forever over the Revolution, and tribes in the Ohio valley and the southeast would fight as independent actors in a stage largely seen as two-sided.

Finally, the Revolution really began the era of westward expansion, as the population explosion of the 18th century would force settlers farther into the American hinterland.  Conflicts arise, with native populations, eastern colonial elites, and the British military. 

The need for a “popular history” of the American Revolution is expressed by Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York’s Central Park and quoted by Nash in his introduction:

“Men of literary taste…are always apt to overlook the working classes, and to confine the records they make of their own times, in a great degree to the habits and fortunes of their own associates or to those people of superior rank to themselves. The dumb masses have often been so lost in this shadow of egotism, that, in later days, it has been impossible to discern the very real influence their character and condition has had on the fortune and fate of nations.”

History is about telling the whole story, and according to Olmstead, half the story is usually hidden by those at the top of society.  Their narrative, the one that has prevailed so many centuries, has filled our textbooks and the addled minds of so many schoolchildren—children like mine, who look nothing like the Founding Fathers.

So how can The Unknown American Revolution be used in the classroom?

Obviously, this work is much too complicated for most students, even high schoolers.  We’ve covered popular histories of the Revolution before here in the Neighborhood, and Thomas Fleming’s work Everybody’s Revolution is still a great book for elementary and middle-school children in covering much of Nash’s premise.  Fleming’s book is best for any classroom assignments.

Where Nash’s book really excels is both as a resource for high school students in research and as a reference for student questions.  High schoolers, who so often cut corners in research papers, can use Nash’s book as a valuable tool in rounding out any topic about the Revolution, giving a nuance scarcely found in the shelves of typical high school libraries.

For younger students, The Unknown American Revolution provides some explanation to questions many children have about the time period.  In the South Bronx, few children can feel a tangible connection to the Revolution.  In looking at women, the poor, Africans—people that they can relate to—my students can see the Revolution as an event that affected everyone, and that mattered to everyone.   

Finally, I’ll end with a warning Professor Nash gave all of us at the beginning of our week together.  He told us that the most dangerous word in history is “inevitable.”  In our textbooks, we often think that the events that happen were inevitable and could not be stopped.  In doing so, the actions of human beings are conveniently marginalized. 

I always tell my students that history is the story of how humans solve problems, and the consequences of these solutions.  People, all sorts of people, have an active role in not only creating problems, but also in finding meaningful solutions.  The guys on the money were not perfect; and it’s important that kids understand that sooner rather than later. 

It is up to us as teachers to take the premises presented by professors like Gary Nash and make them real and meaningful to our children.

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The Educational Legacy of John Wooden

John Wooden (1910-2010)

For each of his practices as coach of UCLA’s mens basketball program, John Wooden used a set of 3 x 5 index cards.

On those cards was the sequence and duration of each drill he wanted to practice.  It was the same practice every day, and everyone worked on the same skills—there was no need to differentiate.  Wooden saw no need to mess with what worked, a system in development since his earliest coaching days at Indiana State in the 1930s.

It is one of many lessons Coach Wooden has for us as educators—especially since he himself saw himself as a teacher more than a coach.

Former players, coaches, and sports pundits will be busy expelling reams of print on the legacy of John Wooden, who died this past Saturday June 5 at age 99.  They will laud his 10 national championships, his 88-game winning streak that still stands as an NCAA record, as well as the stars under his tutelage such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. 

Many more will praise his impact beyond the basketball court as an educator and motivator.  They will extol his timeless virtue and humility; his steadfast beliefs and conservative demeanor that were at once folksy and endearing.  His legacy on this front is ironclad: the Seven-Point Creed, the Pyramid of Success, and the endless maxims that made him an icon to millions of Americans beyond the confines of sports.

 Along will all his usual parade of well-wishers, the Neighborhood is not alone in celebrating the life work of one of the most remarkable men in America’s last century. 

Yet in the spirit of our journal, we seek the virtues of Wooden as teacher, educator, and mentor. 

To that end, I’ve selected a few of Coach Wooden’s most poignant and perceptive maxims so they can be applied to our own practice as educators.  Wooden, like any good teacher, believed in the learning power of self-reflection, and it would do us good—and honor him—to reflect on our practice this last month before summer.

“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

Probably one of Wooden’s most famous, if not the most famous quote.  Its complexity is in its apparent simplicity.  How many times do we get bogged down on lessons based on needless minutia?  On the other hand, how often do we rush into covering a unit while many of the students still have trouble grasping the concept?  Timing is based on both the needs of the teacher and the needs of the students.  The material has to be covered, yet one should never go so fast as to leave students behind. 

“Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

His other well-known maxim, this quote is fairly obvious to most teachers.  It’s been paraphrased in numerous ways by numerous characters, including a Navy officer that alluded to Slavic toilet habits.  The results are always the same.   We can ad lib all we want, but the best learning experiences are those that are planned and managed in advance.  Even if you have to change things on the fly, the plan will always keep you oriented towards the learning goals of your students.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do”

Every classroom has the kid that doesn’t want to learn.  Often, a student doesn’t want to perform due to shame at their lack of ability or comprehension.  The above maxim is the basis for special education: use your abilities to their utmost, and with proper training you can overcome those shortcomings.

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

We all mess up once in a while.  Teachers, students, administrators: we all have times when we come up short.  That lesson didn’t come out as planned.  You did poorly on a test.  That conflict wasn’t resolved in the best way.  Mistakes happen—it’s how we react to mistakes that really matter.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

So much can fit into this category: those hackneyed homemade greeting cards used to waste time.  A busy assignment used to discipline an unruly child.  Standardized tests designed to derive meaningless data to make the suits feel better.  Just because things are happening does not make it meaningful.  True achievement involves activity and purpose, focusing work toward a real, organic end.

“Young people need models, not critics.”

This is especially true where the role models are few and far between—the South Bronx, for example.  My students have plenty of people hassling them, harassing them, even abusing them.  Yet so few of those adults that get on their case actually model the right form of behavior themselves.  Boys need to see men act as gentlemen.  Girls need to see smart, confident professional women.

 “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

One of the sad casualties of modern education is the dearth of moral or character-building education among young people.  In a media-driven world where reputation is not only easily attained, but easily disposed, today’s students need ethical guidance more than ever.

“Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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