Ruth’s Workshops for Videregående Students

All workshops can be adjusted to meet the language level of any class, just ask!

1. HAMILTON: The Politics of Belonging
Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical HAMILTON, called it the “story of America then told by America now.” Miranda’s interpretation of the founding fathers, use of contemporary musical styles like hip-hop, and multi-racial casting reclaim the American past for Americans who may not have seen themselves reflected in the typical history books. HAMILTON has won 11 Tony Awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize. First lady Michele Obama called it “the best art I have seen in my lifetime.” Amateur and professional artists have made hundreds of HAMILTON parodies, interpretations and additions. HAMILTON also inspired angry tweets from president-elect Donald Trump and calls for a boycott after the cast addressed vice-president elect Mike Pence from the stage. Political demonstrations feature signs and posters with quotes from HAMILTON.  Reactions to this musical reveal deep divisions about who owns both the nation’s past and its future. This multimedia lecture on HAMILTON and the politics of belonging is adaptable to larger groups. There is an optional follow-up exercise.

2. History Lab: Norwegian Americans
There are almost as many Norwegian-Americans as there are Norwegians. Norwegian immigration to the US began in the 1820s but peaked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was a clear Norwegian presence in New York City, Texas and the Pacific Northwest, but most Norwegians headed to the prairies, the area now the states of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. This lesson examines these Norwegian immigrants to the prairie frontier, farming areas and small towns. A short lecture leads up to a map and census exercise and the workshop will end with letters between immigrants and their families in Norway—Amerikabreve. Students will work in groups to translate portions of letters from handwritten Norwegian into English and we’ll use their findings from the letters, maps and censuses to discuss both immigration and the process of studying history from primary documents. This workshop is for classes up to about 30 students and would not work well for larger groups.

3. Guarding the Golden Door: American Opposition to Immigration
The United States is a “nation of immigrants” and many Americans warmly embrace their families’ immigrant past. There are, for instance, 4.5 million proud Norwegian-Americans. But as long as there has been immigration to the United States, there has also been opposition to that immigration. Recently introduced legislation and presidential orders and executive priorities seek to restrict legal and illegal immigration to the United States and also to re-write the fundamental basis for immigration that has characterized American immigration law since the mid-1960s. High-profile rhetoric opposing immigration seems to undermine a central core of American identity, as when Presidential spokesperson Steven Miller publically repudiated the famous poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty. But today’s anti-immigrant sentiment echoes opposition to Irish immigrants, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the National Origins Acts, the repatriation programs of the 1930s, and the WWII Internment Camps. This workshop examines anti-immigrant attitudes throughout US history through a selection of primary documents.

4. Playing American Utopia: New Harmony, Indiana
Role-playing games are a powerful pedagogy. Role playing enlists student interest and engages competitive natures. Role playing develops both empathy and interpretative skills. Students in role-playing games work with primary sources. They practice public speaking and networking. Some students can draw on skills not always recognized in academic classes. The Reacting to the Past Consortium promotes role-playing in history classes. This lesson is a very short Reacting-type role-playing game based on the utopian socialist Owenite community at New Harmony, Indiana. One-page roles and victory conditions will be sent in advance for students to study before class. In character, students will meet to discuss a plan for the re-organization of the community in 1825. As the class unfolds, new elements will be introduced to the game and students must respond in character and attempt to meet their victory conditions. This workshop is for groups of 16-25 students and cannot be adapted for large groups.

5. Thanksgiving: Beyond Pilgrims and Indians
Thanksgiving is the most symbolically important American holiday. Americans go to great lengths to observe this holiday even when outside their country and have even sent Thanksgiving dinners to space. In this workshop, we will examine the holiday’s putative roots in a meal shared by Pilgrims and Wampanoag and the fundamental Native American criticisms of Thanksgiving. We will also study the political motivations for establishing this holiday during the American Civil War. We will discuss Thanksgiving as a means of Americanizing immigrants in the early twentieth century and the meaning of Thanksgiving during the World Wars. Finally, we will explore the holiday’s connection to shopping, parades and football. Students will do a typical Thanksgiving art project for young children. This workshop could be adapted to a larger audience. It is especially appropriate for fall. Thanksgiving is November 23 this year.

6. Diagnosis: Why doesn’t the United States have National Health Insurance?
Recent efforts to repeal Obamacare highlight current political divides in the United States, but Americans have struggled over national health insurance for more than a hundred years. This workshop will explore the historical reasons the United States does not have national health insurance and how those underlying causes are reflected in contemporary political positions. During this lesson, groups of students receive cards about events and documents relating to health insurance debates and then work together in groups to see what kind of interpretations emerge from their evidence. This workshop is about national health insurance but also about the use of primary documents and evidence and about developing analytical skills and evidence based interpretations in order to make sense of the past. This workshop is for classes up to 30 students and cannot be adapted to larger groups.

7. What Caused the Great Depression?
While the US had had depressions before, the one that began in 1929 was deeper and longer than others and had widespread global effects. This workshop explores the causes of the Great Depression:  contractions in global trade, the effects of WWI reparations payments, speculation on Wall Street, and growing income inequality. Students will receive very unequal amounts of money to spend in a model mass-consumption economy role-playing game. They will attempt to buy Ford cars, Westinghouse stoves, Zenith radios and Kotex. Many students will be unable to participate in the economy, leading to overstocks. If companies can’t sell their products, they will have to lay off workers, who will then be unable to consume. This lesson concludes with a quick look at current income distribution in the United States. This lesson suits groups of 20-40 and cannot be adapted to larger or smaller groups.

8. Rags to Riches: The Meaning of Social Mobility in America
In 1868, Horatio Alger began writing short novels that each feature a good but poor boy who struggles until his efforts are rewarded, usually by a powerful older man.  The “Gilded Age” saw rapid economic growth accompanied by extremes of wealth and poverty and a series of depressions. Horatio Alger’s destitute heroes go from “rags to riches,” benefitting from industrial capitalism.  In this lesson, about 10 of the students will participate in a reader’s-theater play based on an Alger novel. Following the reading, the students who formed the audience will discuss Alger’s advice to industrial workers. The workshop will conclude with a broader examination of the American belief in social mobility and reasons for regarding Horatio Alger’s prescription skeptically both when he wrote and today. This lesson works well for students with basic English and history backgrounds because the students in the play get scripts to read from. The scripts are very short and there is a lot of repetition. The plot is simple and the play provides a basis for the following discussion.

9. The Politics of Sex Education
The United States was once a leader in sex education but has long since ceded leadership to Scandinavian countries. In the US, sex education varies from state to state and from school district to school district so there are a wide range of approaches. However, in the past few decades the federal government and many state governments have offered incentives favoring abstinence-only education. Government policy and non-governmental organizations have also exported this approach to other countries. Sex Ed has become a key cultural battle between religious conservatives who are protective of ideas about morality and parental rights and others who worry that abstinence-only education leaves young people more vulnerable to teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abusive relationships. This workshop is reciprocal. We begin with American approaches and the political nature of sex education in the US and end with workshop participants explaining sex education in Norwegian schools.

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Ruth’s Workshops for Videregående Teachers and Teachers-in-Training