Textbooks & A Student’s History Education

By Griffin Monahan, SED 2016

Helen Keller was a socialist. Squanto was more heroic than Batman.

The statements above may surprise you. You may think that they are ridiculous and cannot possibly be true. Why do you think that they are untrue? If your answer is because you never learned these facts, then you are right. Fear not, it is not your fault: blame your textbooks. Major textbooks used in middle school and high school history classes paint history as a black and white picture, when in reality there are rather many shades of grey. Authors of history textbooks want their student readers to take their printed words as facts, thus removing the conversation to be had with historical events. Omitting some events or figures and overemphasizing others can shift how history is presented thus providing students with at times an inappropriate version of history. Here are two examples:

Helen Keller is known by many for her perseverance in overcoming her disabilities to become a productive member of society, but there is more to her story. Displeased with how women, workers, and people with disabilities were treated by early 20th century America, she joined the Socialist Party of America. Yes. that’s right– Helen Keller, American hero, was a socialist. This major feature of Keller’s life is often not included in textbooks because American heroes (in the eyes of the textbook’s authors) can only be freedom loving, apple pie eating, hardworking capitalists. By removing much of the story of Helen Keller, she is molded into a single dimensional figure embodying only the hardworking traits that we should value according to certain authors.

Illustration by Jason Gan

Illustration by Jason Gan

Squanto, the friendly Native American who helped the settlers who arrived on the coast of Massachusetts, was a great guide because of his ability to communicate with the newcomers to North America. How did he learn English? Many textbooks answer this question by stating that Squanto learned English by interacting with English fishermen off the coast of Massachusetts. In reality, Squanto’s history is far more interesting. English sailors captured Squanto in 1614 and he was sold into slavery in Spain. He then escaped slavery, made his way to England, and convinced Thomas Dermer in 1619 into taking him along on a voyage to Cape Cod. He escaped slavery and arranged a trip back home covering the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Why is this American action hero left out of our history textbooks? If he were included as he lived, then the underlying tone of Native American savages brought to civilization by the Europeans would be defeated. Throughout the tale of the Pilgrims, they are painted as the good guys who conversely need an inferior group, authors fill the void by using the Native Americans.

As a future history teacher I want to change how history is presented. First, I want to present a history with a wider spectrum that does not only depict the European side, but rather the history of all peoples. Secondly, I want to make history less black-and-white fact and more conversational. When you present issues that carry controversy, you encourage conversation. These conversations are essential to the lively and academic classroom that students deserve.

*Griffin Monahan is a junior at Boston University School of Education studying social studies education.

10 Things I Wish I Knew as a Freshman

By Rachel Ann Jensen, SED 2014

As a current senior, I am in the process of wrapping up my time as an undergraduate at BU and reflecting upon my time so far as a Terrier. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to take on the next point in my life, I came into BU with big dreams and great ambitions. With few regrets through my college career, I can say that I would not have changed much about my experience. However, I guess a few tips to myself would have put things into a different perspective early on. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

With a little bit of patience, a list of questions, and a lot of initiative, you will get what you need. There are people at BU who are here to help you and to be there for you. This also goes for professors. I have always been terrified to ask professors for additional help, but this helps them too because they get to see what might not have been explained clearly in class. Ask questions!

2. There is more to BU than Comm Ave.

Photo of Copley Square

Photo of Copley Square

Commonwealth Avenue is home for BU Terriers, with the CITGO sign as our Northern Star. That being said, we’re in the middle of one of the best cities in the world: Boston! You live here, but don’t forget to be a tourist as well, and then learn to be a local. No, that does not mean you need to park your car in Harvard Yard. In fact, don’t bring your car.

3. You will miss the dining halls when you no longer have a dining plan.

BU Dining is fantastic. Have you seen Marciano Commons at 100 Bay State Road? Never again will you have access to so many choices and not have to do the dishes. The dining hall is where I learned so many food hacks and got my creative juices flowing.

4. Needing to call home is not a weakness: it is a sanity check.

As much as college can be about gaining your independence in a relatively controlled environment, don’t forget to call those who helped you get there. My parents may not be able to understand everything about my life at BU, but they want to hear about my successes (and failures). They know me best and even if they did not have the answer for me, my parents always pointed me in the right direction and helped me refocus.

5. College is about getting a degree: this means work.

Jensen studying

photo credit: notashamed via photopin cc

It is great that you have all these clubs and sports and are growing outside of the classroom, but remember that you need to walk across the stage and get that diploma at the end of the day. For School of Education students, a group of overachievers, this means quite a bit of work and self-discipline.


6. Always take a minute to remind yourself why you’re here.

The work in college can be overwhelming. You’re taking a lot of courses and you feel like each day should be 48 hours instead of just 24. Take a deep breath. Why are you here? Are you on track to meet your goals? Take a minute to refocus and put everything back into perspective.

7. Your friends during freshman year may not be your friends during your senior year, but people will surprise you and have your back.

My friends and I have changed a lot throughout college, but those that I have met throughout my journey have always been there. During the city-wide lockdown last year following the Boston Marathon, my roommate from freshman year came over to my brownstone to help me and my fellow residents get food after I messaged her for help. She had my back even when I did not expect it.

8. Summer Leadership and other leadership opportunities are so important.

Some of the greatest learning experiences that I have had in college was through Summer Leadership with the Office of Orientation and the Community Service Center. These leadership positions challenged me in ways that really taught a lot about myself. The social and professional skills that you learn will follow you wherever you go. Who knows? You might just inspire someone else in the process.

9. Going abroad is transformational. Go.

photo credit: ccarlstead via photopin cc

photo credit: ccarlstead via photopin cc

Everyone that I have talked to had a unique and different abroad experience, but we can all agree on one thing: it changed our lives. I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, and absolutely fell in love with the city and all it had to offer. I stepped out of my comfort zone and flourished. Coming back to BU, I saw how much I had grown during my time in Sydney and how it had rekindled my love of travel and learning through experience.

10. The only limits in college are time and the limits you impose on yourself.

The limit does not exist. If there is a will, there is a way. There are all sorts of opportunities, and if you truly want to accomplish something, go out there and take it. Don’t be afraid to carve your own path.

Just as each person is different and unique, every individual college experience is unique, as well. This has been my experience at Boston University and at the School of Education, and I hope this list resonates with you or gives you a few things to think about moving forward. As always, go BU!

*Rachel Ann Jensen is a senior at Boston University School of Education studying mathematics education. 

Alignment of Education and Industry

Headshot 2011 -hi resDean Hardin Coleman discusses the challenges of aligning education with developing industry. Dean Coleman argues to improve education we must think about how we can align surrounding industry to best serve our education systems.

What are my students reading? – Students Outside of the Classroom

By Sarah White, SED 2016

Ask a group of middle or high school students what they like to read. Many will name a book title or an author; several will say they like to read articles about their interests. Some will tell you that they don’t know, that they don’t like to read much at all.

I bet none of them will include sending or receiving text messages, scrolling through their social media accounts, browsing various websites, or studying textbooks for school. They will fail to mention what they read every day.

Today, adolescents face a variety of literary formats, both formal and informal, yet many still think of reading in the traditional sense, involving books, poems, and stories. Considering that English classes are predicated on such formats, I’m not surprised that students in particular don’t view checking Twitter as reading.

From pixabay.com

From pixabay.com

Sometimes, even I have to remind myself that reading extends far beyond books and English classrooms. Growing up, my dad told me that if I can read, I can do anything, and I believe that is resoundingly true today. I take for granted that all of what I do is because I can read and comprehend. Students, too, take for granted that they are always reading. The scope of their literary world is limited because they only consider literature as a form of reading. In some respects, this connotation may deter many students from reading as they think it will be boring, difficult, or too much like school. As educators, we should show students that reading can extend out of the classroom and into their private worlds.

Research presented in one of my classes this semester claims that only reading novels on a regular basis outside of school has a positive correlation with student grades. The numerical grade a student receives, though, is not the only indication of his or her literacy. Instead, I believe that there needs to be a starting point for students’ reading abilities and comprehension. Today, Larry might be reading Facebook posts. Next week, he’s suggesting articles about his favorite animal to his classmates. Eventually, he’s finished a book, one that he truly enjoyed. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? My greatest hope is that students’ literacy continues to improve, which can only happen with cultivated interest, knowledge, and motivation.

How will I help my students understand that they don’t need to be analyzing lines of poetry or decoding Shakespeare to be reading? How can I instill a sense of excitement in reading? How can I provide greater encouragement and motivation to my students? How can I integrate the multiplicity of literary formats into my classroom? As a future teacher, I know that a single “one size fits all” answer to these questions does not exist. Rather, through reading research and learning from both professors and experiences, I will build a repertoire of techniques and strategies. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the answers.

*Sarah White is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying English education and Teaching English as a Second or Other Language.

One Math Class – The Value of a Single Class

By Sophie Klein, SED 2016

Math. If you cringed seeing that word then you are like me. When I found out that I only had to take one math class for all of college I was ecstatic. After having countless years of horrible math class experiences I was excited to finally get math class done with. When it came time for that one math class, I started to get anxious. I was nervous because I know how important math is and how a good teacher can make all the difference, I did not want to be that bad math teacher that everyone remembers.

photo credit: rbbaird via photopin cc

photo credit: rbbaird via photopin cc

When I told my friends about how the only math class I had to take was on how to teach children in preschool through second grade how to do math they laughed and said “That’s so easy.” Wrong. It is hard, and I figured that out quickly. However, instead of being discouraged like I usually am in math classes I was determined and interested in what I was learning. I never thought I would say this, but math was my favorite class last semester.

I learned about ideas that seem to be simple, but are actually so complex. I learned a whole new way of doing math, and I loved it. Instead of memorizing facts, I am learned why math rules work and how they work. Rather than looking only for the correct answer, my class learned why the answer is correct. I never thought a math class could be so interesting. I also learned how differently each student thinks about math, and why it is important to understand where certain rules in math come from, so I can help students understand their mistakes. By really going into detail about simple topics, such as addition, I now understand what I am teaching and why it is important for me to know.

I genuinely feel confident now in my abilities to teach math when I become a teacher. I know that because of this class and professor I will be able to effectively teach my students so they understand what they are learning. Although some students are internally motivated to learn, others take a little more encouragement. I think that knowledgeable, confident, and enthusiastic teachers are what students need and deserve in subjects that may be harder than others. As a student who has always struggled with math, I was lucky enough last semester to have a professor that possessed those qualities and showed me that math is not as scary as it seems.

*Sophie Klein is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying early childhood education.

Against the Grain – Being a Male Teacher

By Will English, SED 2016

“Teaching is a woman’s profession.”

It’s statements like this that define my career choice. The moment I tell someone about my major here at Boston University, they’re shocked to hear that I want to be a teacher, let alone an elementary school teacher.

Yet the more I think about it, all I can ask is, why? If society places such a heavy emphasis on education, then where are all the male teachers? MenTeach, a non-profit organization formed to promote an increase in the number of male teachers in U.S. public schools, conducted research and found that the percent of male teachers in elementary and middle school classrooms across the nation has hovered around 16% to 18% for the past 20 years. And while it is slightly more equal in secondary schools (42% of teachers being male), it is still an accepted notion that teaching is a woman’s job.

But what is it that turns men away from becoming a teacher? Is it the salary? Or the often harsh stereotypes that follow a male teacher? Or maybe it’s simply the fact that teachers have historically been women? It’s concerns like these that cause men to shy away from teaching, especially at the elementary school level, and create the burning need for more male teachers within our public school system.

While it can be tough to overcome these obstacles as a male teacher, it is important that we work towards a more equal distribution of male and female teachers. And it all starts at the university level, recruiting more men to go into the field of education and showing them the benefits that teaching can have on their own lives, as well as the lives of countless children.

For instance, we all know the stereotypes about elementary school boys (and I was one of them): they’re the trouble makers and class clowns who never want to be in school. But as a male teacher, I can show a young boy that it’s “cool” for a guy to be in the classroom and to work hard in school. Acting as a role model for these young boys can be the push they need to find success in school.

This is what makes being a teacher so rewarding. I teach because I love working with children. I love the big smile on every child’s face after that fantastic moment of discovery. I love knowing that I have the ability to make a difference in the lives of all my students. That’s why I teach; not just to foster the knowledge of young children, but because of the personal satisfaction I find knowing that I have made a difference.

All students deserve the best education possible, whether that comes from a man or a woman, and a good teacher can make all the difference. So regardless of how female dominated the education field is, I’ll keep going against the grain and doing what I love– teaching.

*Will English is a sophomore at Boston University School of Education studying elementary education.