Louisiana teachers dive into history (9/8)

By CLIFF SEIBER
AMERICAN PRESS

Teachers of history can get some help explaining the history and cultures of Louisiana, a group of Calcasieu Parish middle school social studies teachers was told in an in-service training class last week.

Patricia Duncan, an architectural historian, and Donna Fricker, National Register of Historic Places coordinator, both with the Division of Historic Preservation in the Louisiana Department of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, explained the division's Web site to the teachers.

The division's site includes a section titled "Louisiana Studies in Historic Preservation," designed as an aid to teachers, Duncan said. The section is divided into eight units: Creole Heritage, Plantation Life, Pioneer Settlement, the Age of Mechanization, the Acadians, African-American Life, 20th century and Victorian Era. The first four have been completed; the others are "under construction."

Material in the site was created to go along with the standards and benchmarks established by the Louisiana Department of Education what students should learn in school, Duncan said. Field trips to local sites on the National Register of Historic Places can be planned around the list and descriptions the site is linked to.

Fricker said she is particularly enthusiastic about the section she is working on, African-American Life.

"The goal is to make African-American children aware they have a history," Fricker said. She said she has been meeting with educators around the state and has learned that so many children are not aware of anything in their cultural past between slavery and Martin Luther King.

One teacher said African-American children need role models, everyday heroes.

Pinelle Spain, coordinator of middle school social studies for the Calcasieu Parish school system, said when she taught social studies at Moss Bluff Middle School and came to studies about slavery, the black children put their heads down. The white children had an attitude of "Don't blame me."

"Nobody wanted to hear about it," she said. "You have to discuss it in a positive manner in your teaching about slavery. Some teachers make a mistake of teaching it as a 'put-down,' but they should realize it is a very sensitive subject."

"Use the term 'enslaved people' instead of 'slaves,' " Fricker said. "Show what they had to do to exist, that it was a horrible institution and that they had a hard life."

"But don't overlook that they were people and they did have a culture, a very rich culture," she said.

Spain and Fricker are national fellows in an education network, Let It Shine. The network is sponsored by the Thomas Day Education Project in Durham, N.C.

As teammates, they worked on a plan for improving the teaching of African-American history.

Oak Park Middle School teacher Greg English will help with the development of two units of the Historical Preservation Division's heritage education Web site, Duncan said.

On a dare, English showed up after the lunch break in the in-service class dressed in American Revolution-era costume, complete with a replica of a muzzle-loading rifle.

He was one of 10 Calcasieu Parish middle school teachers who participated in the Teaching American History Project by visiting Colonial Williamsburg, Va., during the summer for intensive study of the American Revolution period.

The project is financed with a grant of more than $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Education.

It also includes studies by Calcasieu teachers at the Gettysburg Institute in Pennsylvania and the D-Day Museum in New Orleans and through local workshops conducted by visiting consultants. Beatrice Hopkins, coordinator of the project, wrote the grant application.

The day-long in-service workshop included presentations on the social studies fair by Dale Schanz of LeBlanc Middle School; "Celebrating Louisiana With Central Library" by Susan Gehrig and Michelle McInnis; "Exploring a Middle School's World With Newspapers" by Karen Alexander; "National History Day" by Carolyn Berchier, director of education for the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans; and "ABC-CLIO and the Memory Game" by Carol Ponthieux and Suzie Johnson of J.I. Watson and Reynaud Middle Schools.

On the Web: http://www.laheritage.org/