The Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on citizenship and Democracy has been in partnership with the Jackson Public School System on a Teaching American History (TAH) grant since 2008. The grant was just renewed for two more years in June. According to the US Department of Education, “the program is designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge and understanding of and appreciation for traditional U.S. history.”
Each year of the grant, Hamer Institute faculty have conducted four all day workshops during the school year on topics as varied as The New England Town, Slave Resistance, and Labor and the Constitution. Consistent themes in our workshops have been traditional political history, constitutional history, and an overall emphasis on the African American experience as the American experience. In each workshop we have mixed content with careful discussion on pedagogy, particularly focusing on the use of primary documents, careful and monitored use of visual and audio documents, and generally maintaining active learning in the teaching of American History at all grade levels. The TAH project, like so many of our programs, includes travel to relevant historic sites. So far we have had summer travel experiences south to Naches and New Orleans and east to Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham. A constant challenge has been the reconciling the demands of high stakes testing with finding time to tech US history let alone allowing for a democratic form of pedagogy.
It has long been a part of the Hamer Institute programming to bring students and teachers together for the purposes of teaching and learning. We began our first programs back in 1998 with this in mind and our TAH program continues with this legacy. The final three years of the TAH grant will bring veteran students from our Summer Youth Program in contact with our cohort of teachers to participate in sessions on great leaders from the African American experience and to work with teachers on pedagogy and presentations on lessons plans generated from the material covered that summer. We believe we are the only TAH grant in the nation that brings students and teachers into the same seminar and in doing so, we have fulfilled a long standing goal of the Hamer Institute while serving as a model for democratic curriculum development.