History Education in Practice Series Opens with Roundtable on “Youth, Identity and the Power of History”
On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, the Center on History and Education (CHE) and the Program in Social Studies Education launched the History Education in Practice Series with a roundtable, “Youth, Identity and the Power of History: Insights Gained from the Out-of-School Space.”
Focusing on the interrelationship between youth, the formation of positive cultural identity, and historical literacy, the roundtable considered the work of two locally based out-of-school programs, Youth Historians in Harlem (YHH), directed by Barry Goldenberg, and the Schomburg Junior Scholars Program, directed by Deirdre Hollman.
In opening remarks, Thomas James, Provost of Teachers College and Acting Director of CHE, noted that the out-of-school space gives educators new ways to think of curriculum that is both vital and alive. Likewise, William Gaudelli, Chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities and Program Coordinator for Social Studies Education, made the point in reference to John Dewey, that learning that takes place “outside of school is just as important as what goes on in school.” In the presentations of their programs, Goldenberg and Hollman conveyed the importance of looking closely at alternative classroom spaces where historical literacy is a principle goal.
Goldenberg, who is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) and Ph.D. student in the Program in History and Education at TC, discussed the evolution of YHH (the youth-centered component of the initiative, Educating Harlem). Goldenberg has worked for three years with a group of eight students or so (now mostly 12th graders), who attend the Frederick Douglas Academy II in Harlem and learn history twice a week after school in the IUME offices at TC. Unbound to history textbooks, the Program encourages “youth historians” to identify historical concerns that are important to their lives and communities, to develop historical research skills that sharpen academic literacies, and to be producers of new historical research through developing collaborations with scholars.
The Junior Scholars Program also incorporates strategies to learn history and culture not easily accommodated in traditional classroom settings. Hollman, who is too Director of Exhibitions and Education and an Ed.M student in the Program in Social Studies Education, identified Junior Scholars as a college-preparatory black studies program that recognizes the critical importance of historical literacy and encourages in students an enduring commitment to civic engagement. Now, in its 13th year, the Program, held on Saturdays and free to middle school and high school students, draws on the extensive collections of the Schomburg to support inquiry-based learning. Hollman noted that an important part of the Program is to encourage students to engage with and challenge ideas about personhood and citizenship and connect the realities of their lives to the larger national experience.
During panel response time, Cynthia Copeland, public historian and adjunct professor at New York University, made note of the strong pedagogical aspects of these programs. They allow for the study of history that is relevant to the lives of individual students, promote collective identity, and facilitate collaboration between teacher and student in the production of knowledge. In a similar vein, TC Professor Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz commented how the programs support the formation of collective memory and enable students to be agents in defining their own identities. Associate Director of the Center on History and Education, Bette Weneck wrapped up the discussion, remarking that each program enables students to counter the dominant historical narrative that all too often veils students’ identities as they are rooted in the past. She also noted that the roundtable made clear how important it was to pursue conversations about the relationship between learning in the public school classroom and in out-of-school spaces, such as these.