Yesterday, the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies (via the Fairfield County Regional Council) and the Fairfield University American Studies program came together to host a full day workshop for teachers about authentic inquiry and research. My head is still spinning after listening to A-list scholars share their passion for and dedication to their work. So while this post includes some of my thoughts about the day, it is essentially a massive THANK YOU to Fairfield University and the American Studies program.
We started the day with Dr. David Lerner, Professor of Film, Television, and Media Arts sharing this quote, which Rebecca and I will have to revisit multiple times. He discussed the importance of persistence throughout the research process, especially when faced with dodgy interviewees, and challenged us to think deeply about what it means to explore “text” when researching.
Dr. Philip Eliasoph, Professor of Art History, then presented about the importance
of understanding the historical context of art over time (rapid speed!) and challenged every educator in the room to embrace the rich resources in Connecticut and the tri-state area to further explore American history and inspire students to engage with visual sources. His questions about defining America, specifically “What defines Americanness?” resonated throughout the room.
Dr. Anna Lawrence, Professor of History, arrived and described feeling like a detective when she is doing her work. Her ability to ask questions about early American women and find documents both written by and about women provided invaluable insights into women’s lives and the history of our nation. The best part was at the end when she revealed that her book had an anti-climatic ending because she had more questions and more research to do.
Brian Torff, Professor of Music and Music Center Director, brought the music of Duke Ellington and his own talents with the harmonica to welcome us back from lunch! He talked about American music, saying, “We bring the past forward…that is a magnificent part of who we are and what we do.” Teachers, like musicians, artists, and scholars, have the difficult job of bring the past forward too. What a wonderful way to think about our work in the classroom.
Dr. Peter Bayers, Professor of English and chair of the American Studies program, who was instrumental in making this day happen (extra thanks!), illustrated for all of us that research is never linear. The spiral of his research on American masculinity through literature, gender studies, history, and geography got me thinking about how important both passion and persistence are during the research process. His current research relates to Native American hip-hop artist, Frank Waln, which is a relevant and engaging inquiry topic that had teachers scribbling in their notebooks.
Dr. Marti LoMonaco, Professor of Theater, brought one of her students with her to talk about using theatre in the social studies classroom. She built upon a common theme of the day with layers of research and parallel narratives by showing educators how plays can be paired together to demonstrate that one is an outgrowth of another and a reflection of a historical moment or issue. For this reason, she made very clear that plays belong even more in a social studies curriculum than an English one! While performing plays in the classroom might make some teachers a little uncomfortable, they were really thinking about how theater can be an important part of inquiry and research.
We finished the day with Dr. Yohuru Williams, Professor of History and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, who brought a contagious energy and passion for public education. He modeled his strategy for historical fingerprinting and built upon themes from the day about historians as detectives, the importance of incorporating social justice in classrooms, and the need to encourage student inquiry when evaluating the American narrative. As Rebecca noted on Twitter, we stopped taking notes to simply listen and be inspired. It was the perfect way to wrap up the day.
As I am writing this, I am filled with gratitude and many, many more questions. Countless thanks to Dr. Bayers for helping to create a meaningful dialogue among K-12 educators and Fairfield University scholars. Thank you to the professors who spoke so passionately and left us with big questions about our own practices and the role of authentic inquiry in our classrooms. It was a professional experience that left us all energized and filled with new ideas and questions to explore.
We can’t wait to do it again next year!