Correcting the Textbook!

This week in Social Studies we’ve been learning about government policies in the second half of the 19th century that deprived Native Americans of their land and culture. Students first read a commonly used textbook – Washington: A State of Contrasts – that says this about why it happened:

“By the start of the 20th century, tribes around the country were forced onto reservations. They were taught the white man’s way of life. The Native Americans lost control of their land. Their way of life was lost due to the expansion of a country.”

In thinking about this line, students commented that the fault (according to this account) seems to lie in either the Native Americans themselves (who “lost control” of their land) or to some amorphous “country” that simply absorbed land in its path. To learn more about what actually took place, they then learned about 2 critically important congressional acts: the Donation Land Act (1850) and the Dawes Act (1887). The policies contained in these acts led to the reservation system, boarding schools and the transfer of any un-used land in the west to white settlers.

Students looked at ten commonly held myths about Native Americans and learned the facts that disprove each myth. We watched a documentary clip (PBS: Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools) and listened to a podcast from the NPR series Scene on Radio (Little War on the Prairie). Finally, we read primary accounts and examined photos from boarding schools in the Library of Congress collection.

Students next week will be using all of these sources to write their own chapter summaries to correct the record! The assignment:Setting the Textbook Straight on Indian Policy

What surprised them the most about what they’ve learned?

  • That it didn’t surprise me at all!
  • That people in charge admitted that education in mission schools was not a priority.
  • That someone took the time to condemn Indian schools in a government report.
  • That of the people who called themselves “educators” in mission schools, only 1/10 said the primary mission of the schools was academic.

Be sure to ask questions of the historian/activist in your house!

Special Guest from the Seattle Times

Last week the 7th grade had the opportunity to host Seattle Times environmental reporter Lynda Mapes.  Students have read some of her articles on dam removal at the Elwha, in advance of our trip to NatureBridge.Her series can be found here.

Lynda shared her experiences over the years meeting with tribal elders, the two sole employees at the dam, scientists and various community members who managed to come to consensus.  Their decision to remove two dams in the interest of preserving salmon (and all the species they impact) and restoring the Elwha-Klallam tribe’s access to sacred sites was unprecedented.

Scientists have been monitoring dramatic changes as the Elwha River – having found its natural path – heals the environment and communities. There was truly no manual for destroying a dam, as it’s never been done like this. There is likewise no record of how an ecosystem recovers from the trauma of dam construction in an era with no rules to protect species. (The dams were built in 1911.)

Lynda Mapes was under deadline when she came to SGS. Her front page story in this past Sunday’s issue of the Seattle Times is here. She was about to leave to cover news of the proposed Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil-pipeline, planning an expansion from Alberta to Burnaby. The article is about the thousands who marched last Saturday to prevent this expansion.

Students did a beautiful job of appreciating her in person for coming. Here’s what a few recall:

“She knows a lot and was very informative.” Hannah S.

“I discovered another path of career which is environmental journalism. This would mean being able to go into the wild to see it with my own eyes and document it so everyone knows about it.” Mathilde

“It was inspiring and made me really excited to go to NatureBridge.” Eden

“She knew a lot about the topic and I really like the quality of the pictures.” Helen

“Lynda Mapes was really informative and it was really easy to pay attention to.” Landa

We are all very excited about our upcoming trip to NatureBridge, March 26 – 28, bordering on Olympic National Park. We will see in person the sights and history Lynda spoke of, and will physically take part in bringing the ecosystem back to life.

Pulse Check on the 7th Grade

7th Grade Pulse Check, Feb. 8. 2018

Yesterday in class, students reflected on four questions, and the following are themes from their anonymous responses:

What is stressing them out lately:

  • Finding friends who understand them
  • Peer pressure to be a certain way
  • Staying on top of homework
  • Doing well on quizzes and tests
  • Family dynamics
  • What comes next: doing well in high school and beyond!
  • Having a really busy schedule and wanting to do well at it all

What has brought them joy lately:

  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Pursuing interests (dancing, knitting, horseback riding, reading, playing games, watching Youtube and Netflix, snow, dogs)
  • Good meals and snacks
  • Having unstructured time
  • Being able to be goofy
  • Their parents’ humor
  • Getting sleep
  • Being engaged in school

What are recent challenges:

  • Dealing with interpersonal issues involving peers
  • Understanding math concepts
  • Completing particular assignments
  • Focusing in class
  • Keeping track of binder/planner/backpack/laptop
  • Meeting parents’ high expectations
  • Friend drama
  • Finding what they are passionate about

What they’d love adults in their lives to know:

  • Homework can be stressful
  • Parents’ stress can make them feel more stressed
  • They appreciate that you do know all there is to know – sometimes even more than they know!
  • When to back off, when to step in
  • They need to learn from their own mistakes
  • They are grateful for all the support you give them

As one student aptly summed up: I’m responsible, but I am also just a kid. Kids can change the world, though.” 

And another: “I wish they could know that I’m not always having the best day, and I stress out way to much over even little things.”

Advice?  Keep doing what you’re doing. Embrace their many sides at this age, ask questions, be present, let them know you love them with all of their gifts – and their areas for growth – and find your own joy. It is infectious.

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Our Constitutional Right to Due Process

7th Grade Social Studies centers around an essential question: How has the United States both lived up to and fallen short of its founding ideals. As students are now studying the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, they are beginning to learn ways that constitutional rights have been shaped and challenged over time. They are also learning about periods in our history when large groups of people were routinely denied their rights.

This year’s mock trial will – for the first time – focus on the denial of constitutional rights: to a fair trial and right to counsel (in the 5th and 6th Amendments). It was inspired by the work of Bryan Stevenson, whose book Just Mercy is a compelling account of the ways racial bias and flawed prosecutorial practices have impacted and continue to infect our justice system. The mock trial case won’t directly address his findings, but will afford an opportunity to discuss who in U.S. society tends to be disadvantaged in the legal system.

Each 7th grade student will take on the role of a lawyer or a witness, as they experience “Law School” from December 4 – 14th. I’ve heard from some parents who are willing to generously donate their time and talents to help coach these engaged and engaging future attorneys!!! If you know anyone who might want to join our efforts (which could just be one 2 and ½ hour session in the morning or afternoon), please contact me at wewbank@seattlegirlsschool.org!

One skill emphasized in the 7th grade curriculum is the ability to see multiple perspectives on a topic. Preparing a legal case necessitates really understanding both sides of the dispute. Research shows that perspective-taking exercises enhance young people’s tolerance of political views different from their own. Other goals of this experience are to increase students’ awareness of the importance of law in a democratic society and to provide a hands-on experience in a real courtroom setting with real life judges. Here they will apply their knowledge of law, society, and themselves. They’ll gain confidence and poise in a true “stand and deliver” performance.

Remember that this year’s trial will be December 14, 4 – 6:30 at the King County Courthouse (516 Third Avenue). Here, you’ll even have the opportunity to serve on the jury if you like!

Mock Trial CulminationSGS Yearbook page Mock Trial