Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hazel Hunkins, Billing Suffragist, a Primary Source Investigation

I am delighted to announce our newest lesson plan: Hazel Hunkins, Billing Suffragist, a Primary Source Investigation.

Created by Billings school librarian Ruth Ferris with partial funding through the National Endowment for the Humanities' National Digital Newspaper Project, this primary-source based lesson plan challenges students to analyze and contextualize historical evidence; consider how authorship, intention, and context affect meaning; and construct an argument about the contributions of Billings, Montana, high school graduate Hazel Hunkins to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Why do I love this lesson?

1. It gives Montana students a model civic engagement. Jeannette Rankin, Rosa Parks: these activists seem unapproachable. We place them on a pedestal and know we can never make a difference like they did. But Hazel Hunkins? She graduated from Billings High School in 1908 (and we have her yearbook photo to prove it). She worries that her mom disapproves of her picketing the White House. She desperately misses her cat. In other words, Hazel Hunkins is a normal person, who chose to do something extraordinary.

2. It introduces students to a wide range of sources: secondary sources, excerpts from a memoir, photographs, telegrams, newspaper articles and editorials, cartoons, a response to charges, and personal letters. That's how we find out what Hazel's thinking and feeling: from the very personal letters she wrote to her mother back in Billings that are reprinted as part of the lesson plan.

3. This diverse source set also shows us that history is messy. Looking back, women's suffrage seems inevitable and the White House pickets seem noble--but not everyone saw them that way at the time. Even suffragists disagreed as to which tactics would advance the cause most quickly.

4. And interpreting history is messy too. Textbooks smooth out the stories they tell, but piecing together that story is hard work. Because people have different perspectives and purposes for recording information, accounts of events sometimes diverge. It's not always easy to figure out what happened and why.

5. The lesson plan is thoughtfully designed. Ruth modeled the lesson on the UMBC's History Labs. As their website explains, "History Labs are research and investigative learning experiences that provide teachers with the necessary information, resources, and procedures to teach a full range of historical thinking skills by taking students through a process that is methodologically similar to that employed by historians."

6. Because students are "actively investigating the past, rather than passively memorizing ready-made facts or accounts assembled by others," they will "strengthen their critical reading and writing skills, and improve their ability to handle and retain vital content information. They also develop a sense of control and ownership of the knowledge they assemble that fosters genuine and lasting interest in the subject."

7. It's a civics lesson as well as a history lesson. We haven't done enough for our government teachers. This starts to fill that gap--and I would especially like to hear from any government teacher who chooses to use this in his or her class.

8. It's adaptable. It might seem daunting at 89 pages--but the lesson is designed so that groups of students work with different sets of documents--and most of those pages are document reprints. In addition, teachers short on time can just use Part 1 of the Lesson Plan (though it would be a shame to miss out on all the great sources that we've included in Part 2.)

9. It's tremendously interesting! The lesson opens with a parody of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" music video, "Bad Romance: Woman's Suffrage." Need I say more?

If you teach 8-12 grade history or government, I hope you'll check the lesson out. It is now online but we're thinking of printing some copies if there's interest. If you'd like a printed copy, let me know (and make sure to include your snail mail address!)

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