Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How to Handle the Post-Civil War/Reconstruction Period


A few years into my first job teaching U.S. History, our department made
a unanimous decision to switch our semester "cut-off" to roughly 1900
in order to allow for more time for the twentieth century. Our school
calendar was similar to most: students took finals a couple of weeks after winter
break. This meant we had an awkward two-week break in the middle of our
"Industrial America" unit. The challenge was to accommodate the
calendar and final exams on the one hand, and create a logical unit of
study on the other.




Below is an example of what we came up with (ours was a very
collaborative department in the best sense).  I will use this year's
calendar dates as an example, (which allows me to see how behind I am in
my blogging!)




Mon. Dec 8 - Railroads, the West and Industrial Revolution


Tues. Dec 9 - continued (I usually included some specifics about Chicago)


Wed. Dec 10 - Big Business (here's where we'd look at Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.)


Thurs. Dec 11 - continued


Fri. Dec  12- Social Darwinism




Mon. Dec 15 - Immigration


Tues. Dec 16. - Anti-Immigration: The Nativist Response


Wed. Dec 17 - Labor and the New Industrial Working Class


Thurs. Dec 18 - Labor vs. the Capitalists (here's where I might do a
simulation or debate activity centered around the Pullman strike. I like
to use the Pullman strike as an example here in the Chicago area. But
of course, there were lots of other strikes.)


Fri. Dec 19 - continued



Mon. Jan 5 - The "End of the Frontier" and the Indian Wars

Tues. Jan 6 - The Indian Reservation System

Wed. Jan 7 - Farm Problems and Protest

Thurs. Jan 8 - Government Regulation in the "Gilded Age"

Fri. Jan 9 - Populism and the Election of 1896



Mon. Jan 12 - Fri. Jan 16  This would be the week of exams, which would
mean I'd probably do a day or two of review, and then the three days of
exams.  Obviously, middle school teachers don't have this problem,
though they usually seem to lose more days due to special assemblies and
testing. 




I can't tell you how painful it is to put this into print-- I have left
out so much. How can I do justice to Rockefeller and Carnegie in just 2
days?? How can students learn half of what there is to know about the
immigrant experience and prejudice against them in just 2?? Is there
time to discuss Obama and his recent executive order during those 2
days, or would I have to add a 3rd? What about other contemporary
concerns about immigration reform? What if half my class is of immigrant
or 2nd generation background? Wouldn't I want to spend more time
comparing historic immigration to their experiences?




And while it sort of makes sense to segue from immigrants to labor to
strikes, it also makes sense to discuss Indian policy right after the
railroads and the West.  But then I would have to move labor to
post-winter break, separating it from big business. Or move immigration
to post-break, separating it from labor. And what activity will work
well on the Friday before winter break? How many students will even be
here? When/how/should I include a test in this unit? Do I really want to
have students studying for a test right before winter break? Right
after? Right before finals? How do I connect the Indians to the problems
of the farmers? Do I really want to end my semester with the Populists?
(Do I really want to teach the Populists at all?) Maybe that would be a
better way to begin next semester's unit on the Progressives? 




Does anyone share my pain?




Even if your unit on this period doesn't start until second semester--as
many teachers do--you will still have the "coverage problem" and the
problem of what order to use.




But enough moaning. After all, this is one of favorite time
periods. I joked about the Populists, but really, William Jennings Bryan
is such a character. He can even make the Populists fun.



So time for some suggestions to help you in your unit planning. Just a few in this post, and I will include more in the next.




The key to both the coverage problem and the what-order-to-use problem
is to develop your unit around a FEW BIG IDEAS/QUESTIONS and MAKE
CONNECTIONS. As I mentioned above, how does the development of the
railroads lead to big business and the wars with the Indians? How do the
problems of how to assimilate the Indians compare to the situation of
immigrants coming to the U.S.? How do those immigrants help fuel the
labor demands of big business? If you can tell yourself the story about
why you are moving from topic A to topic B to topic C, but how topic C
also connects to topic A, then you are in business.



I like to use clips from episode 5 of Ken Burns's series, The West.  Click here for an interesting analysis of the series from the American Historical Association's Perspectives on History.
Episode 6 is good for the Indian Wars. You could assign students a
short essay or a few paragraphs that would answer the question, how did
the railroad change the United States? Make sure they consider both
positive and negative aspects. Probably your textbook has additional
information they could use. This will force them to consider how a
variety of things connect: buffalo, Chinese immigrants, Indians, women
and the vote, Mormons, growth of a national economy, the role of the
government, etc.



Looking for a way to connect Andrew Carnegie and the topic of immigration? This excerpt from Carnegie's autobiography describes his own immigrant experience.



Looking for Ellis Island info? Check out the National Park Service's info on Ellis Island and The Liberty Ellis Foundation (which is privately funded).



Don't forget to teach about Asian immigration during the late 19th century! The Library of Congress has a complete unit on Chinese immigration. Check out the Angel Island website. On the home page, there is a virtual tour. And under the Education tab they have a curriculum guide for teachers, a photo gallery, book and film recommendations, and lots more. Also check out books by Ronald Takaki, including his A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America.



How to connect immigrants and Indians to what you discussed in Reconstruction about African Americans? I created this chart
for that very purpose. You can use it by having students brainstorm
first on their own or in groups, and then fill in the gaps as you
discuss the other groups. I have included at least some of the "answers"
on the second page. You can follow up by having students write a
compare/contrast paper or have a discussion. A caveat: you can find
yourself in murky waters when you make some of these comparisons. The
goal is NOT to decide "who had it the worst." It is not up to us to
judge whether or not someone's experience of witnessing a beloved family
member die from lynching or in a war was "worse." Avoid comparisons of
personal pain and suffering.


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