Barack Obama Will Deliver Nationally Televised Commencement Address to the Class of 2020

Obama Rutgers

If you are a member of the high school class of 2020 you can tell your kids and grandkids that Barack Obama was your commencement speaker.

Here is the Chicago Tribune:

Former President Barack Obama will deliver a televised prime-time commencement address for the Class of 2020 during an hour-long event that will also feature LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai and Ben Platt, among others.

ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC will simultaneously air the special May 16 at 8 p.m. Eastern along with more than 20 other broadcast and digital streaming partners, according to the announcement Tuesday from organizers.

Several high school students from Chicago public schools and the Obama Youth Jobs Corps will join, as will the Jonas Brothers, Yara Shahidi, Bad Bunny, Lena Waithe, Pharrell Williams, Megan Rapinoe and H.E.R.

The event is titled “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020.” It’s hosted by the education advocacy group XQ Institute, The LeBron James Family Foundation and The Entertainment Industry Foundation.

Obama will reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of school life, especially for seniors who have missed out on their milestone rites of passage.

Read the rest here.

Out of the Zoo: Young Life

young life leaders

Six of Boiling Springs’ eight Young Life leaders at Lake Champion in Glen Spey, New York.

Annie Thorn is a sophomore history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college.  In this dispatch, Annie writes about her work with a ministry to high school kids. –JF

At the end of March last year I got placed as a Young Life leader at Boiling Springs High School. As a Young Life leader, I spend several hours a week hanging out with high school students. Along with a team of six other leaders, we create opportunities for kids to have fun, build relationships and learn more about Jesus. Whether we’re running our weekly gathering called “club,” leading students through a bible study before school called “campaigners,” or supporting our high school friends at their activities or athletic events, we devote our time to meeting new kids and giving them a chance to hear the Gospel.

The goal of Young Life is to make the Gospel accessible to kids. Some kids–most kids, really–who come to Young Life are just beginning their relationship with Christ. Some students who come to club, campaigners, or fall weekend with us hear about Jesus for the first time through Young Life. And that’s precisely the point of what we do as leaders; we seek out kids who don’t know Jesus in the hopes that they will want to come and see what he’s all about.

So, when we give club talks or campaigner lessons, we don’t try to impress our kids with fancy words or theological debates. Instead, we just try to show them, in their own terms, how much God loves them and wants to be in a relationship with them. We seek to demonstrate, through our own lives and through scripture, just how awesome it is to live life with Jesus. We strive to show them not only what God has done for them, but why he did it, why it matters, and why the story of a man who walked the earth 2000 years ago is still relevant to their lives today.

I think some, if not all, history teachers can learn something from Young Life, namely that there’s something valuable in presenting stories to kids in ways they can understand. There are plenty of historians who know the importance of understanding the past on its own terms–but there are few history teachers who are truly skilled at presenting the past, in all its complexity, to students in their own terms. Of course teachers need to tell their students what happened in the past–just like Young Life leaders need to show high schoolers what Jesus did for them two millennia ago. But if they cannot show students why they are learning what they’re learning, or why what happened in the past is still relevant to their life in the present, they have failed. If students cannot see how the past actively shapes what they experience in the here and now, they haven’t truly grasped a full understanding of history.

I realize this is no easy task. The past is foreign and strange, and the prospect of relating it to what students experience in the world today remains daunting. It takes extra effort for teachers to explain the past in a way that is relevant to students; it requires educators to invest in their pupils, to build relationships with them and uncover their seemingly ever-changing interests. Yes, teaching students why they’re learning what they’re learning is no easy task. Yet it is one worth striving for.

High School Yearbooks are Historical Documents


We learned this during Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings.

John Thelin, a historian at the University of Kentucky, reminds us that “yearbooks are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia.”  Here is a taste of his piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Campus yearbooks are in the news. This unlikely attention came about with recent media coverage of Senate confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court nomination. For several days, The New York Times provided readers with front-page articles featuring clinical dissections of the biographical profiles of graduating seniors. Reporters analyzed yearbook inscriptions with the care usually reserved for decoding the Dead Sea scrolls.

The spotlight was surprising because higher education usually relies on databases such as the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS, which lead to projections on enrollments, percentage returns on endowments, scorecards on institutional compliance or rankings of federal research funding. One of my colleagues, who is a statistician, exclaimed, “Yearbooks? Is this some kind of a joke?”

It was no joke. Yearbooks from high school and college are an American tradition, familiar to alumni whose photographs and captions lead them to say, “Thanks for the memories!” They also are documents that can go beyond casual nostalgia. Yearbooks have potential for serious research, but only if handled with care in analyzing their scripts of stilted, ritualized images and selective coverage of student life. Reliability, consistency, validity and significance — the concepts that shape statistical analysis — are equally pertinent in the content analysis of yearbooks.

These dusty, heavy bound volumes that end up in used bookstores, garage sales and library storage centers can be thoughtfully mined to reconstruct campus life and student cultures. They are simultaneously a source about the biography of an individual as well as a key to understanding the statistics of group patterns and dynamics of a college or high school class.

Read the rest here.

Episode 31: Searching for Christian America in a Boston High School

The practice of historical thinking requires training. In this episode, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss this crucial habit of the mind, especially within a political climate where historical claims run rampant regardless of whether there is evidence to back them up or not. They are joined by high school teacher Mike Milway, who teaches at the prestigious and socio-economically diverse Boston Trinity Academy in Boston, Massachusetts, as well as three of Dr. Milway’s students, to discuss how they cultivate historical thinking in their classrooms.

Episode 31 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is Almost Here!

BTA students

I am really excited about Episode 31!  We talked with Boston Trinity Academy (BTA) history teacher Mike Milway and three of his senior students about studying history at the secondary-school level.  Some of you may recall my recent visit to BTA.  The episode drops on Sunday.  In the meantime, get caught up on previous episodes here.

As always, we could use your patronage.  Head over to our Patreon campaign and learn about the different ways you can support our work. Help us reach our goal!  You may even qualify for a free mug or signed book!

Why the Best History Teachers in Your Department Should Be Teaching Freshmen

The number of high school students who want to major in the humanities is on the decline. 
The number of college freshmen interested in majoring in the humanities is on the rise.
Yes, you read those sentences correctly.
Here is some context from Inside Higher Ed:
A new analysis published late Monday by the Humanities Indicators Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences may point to a key paradox for those trying to predict the future behavior of college students. The data show a decline in the proportion of high school students (as they take the SAT and as they prepare to graduate) who say they plan to major in the humanities. But something seems to be happening to those students when they actually enroll in college — and interest in majoring in the humanities goes up.
Robert Townsend tries to explain what might be happening:
Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, offered a few theories.
One is that high school students are encountering “a Common Core era of humanities, very test driven,” that may not be encouraging the passion and excitement that the humanities disciplines generate with many others.
Then the numbers may go up once students arrive in college and, even if they don’t intend to major in the humanities, they take an introductory course to fulfill a general education requirement. “They are jazzed by it and it engages them,” he said.
If this theory is correct, Townsend said, it becomes more important for humanities professors and their advocates to focus on entry-level courses and to fight changes in requirements that allow students to avoid or have only minimal exposure to the humanities.
Townsend’s theory makes perfect sense to me. It also contradicts the way most professors think about their teaching careers.  We all want to teach the upper-division seminar to a group of advanced history majors.  The teaching of freshmen survey courses has long been seen as a kind of purgatory. If Townsend is correct, such a mentality just may be somewhat counterproductive. While upper-level courses are essential for delivering the history major, unless we get more freshmen excited about majoring in history there will be no one to enroll in those upper-division courses.

The Goalkeeper: A Man For All Seasons

I have never played competitive soccer.  I am not a big fan of soccer despite the fact that the college where I teach has the best NCAA Division III soccer program (men’s and women’s) in the country and has been chosen as the third best place in the country to watch college soccer.

But I am a sports fan and as a result will probably watch some World Cup matches this summer with my 13-year old daughter.  She has been playing since she was five. She plays during the Spring for her middle-school team and the rest of the year for a traveling club team.

The only thing I really enjoy about soccer is when the goaltender makes a great save.  For some reason I have always had a strong connection to the position of goaltender.  When I was a kid playing ice hockey on the ponds of Montville, New Jersey I used to always play goalie (probably because I was not a very good skater).  After the U.S. Olympic Hockey team won the gold medal in 1980 I took to the ice at Masar Park in Montville in the hopes of becoming the next Jim Craig.  I played with a cracked Northland goalie stick in one hand and a baseball mitt in the other.  Since the goalies in my neighborhood could not afford goalie masks there was a “no lifting rule” that applied to all shots on goal.

Then when I got to high school I became a lacrosse goalie.  I was never that good, but I did manage to play four years of high school lacrosse and had a lot fun doing it.  (I was recently inducted into my high school’s Hall of Fame, but not for my unremarkable lacrosse career). You need to have a certain mentality to play goalie in the sport of lacrosse.  Hard rubber balls are fired at you at speeds that sometimes reach 100 miles per hour.  Goalies wore a helmet, a chest protector, and some protection for the lower extremities, but that was it.  In other words, we did not wear the kind of protective gear worn by hockey goalies.

We started lacrosse season in the late winter.  Because of the cold and the off-season it always took a few weeks before my reflexes reached maximum efficiency.  Until I developed something akin to quickness I tended to stop more balls with my body than my stick, resulting in welts all over my arms and legs. (Although some of my teammates might say that I stopped more shots with my body even after my reflexes had warmed up).  We called the indentation made by the ball a “donut” because of the black and blue circle that always formed on the skin.  Again, it took a unique person (read “crazy person”) to play goalie and I always took it as a badge of honor to be one of the proud and the few.

So needless to say, when I saw Howler Magazine‘s article “Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Goalkeeper,” I had to at least acknowledge it.  Here is a taste:

WE ALL KNOW IT: GOALKEEPERS ARE DIFFERENT. And good thing, too. They prompt a special affection or loathing from fans, and even their nicknames—a solid indicator of devotion—carry a yearning that other players struggle to match. The Iron Curtain (Rinat Dasaev), the Always-Standing Little Hercules (Aldo Olivieri), the Elastic Wonder (Ángel Bossio) the Ballet Dancer with the Hands of Steel (Vladimir Beara). Even at their most obscure or unimaginative —the Cat of Prague (Frantisek Planicka), the Cat of the Maracanã (Antoni Ramallets), the Black Panther (Lev Yashin), the Black Spider (Lev Yashin), the Black Octopus (Lev Yashin) —these alter egos suggest a mythical quality not easily dismissed

That of can you have alcohol with fluconazole popular worth convinced, original?alter egos suggest a mythical quality not easily dismissed.
Our fascination with the position—and the oddballs and iconoclasts it attracts—has spawned a small library of books, ranging from how-to manuals, histories, and manifestos to novels and memoirs. A survey of the literature takes us deep into the soul of the game and reveals the onlookers as much as it does the keepers themselves.
Read the rest to learn about:
  • The goalkeeper as national identity
  • The goalkeeper as victim
  • The goalkeeper as crazy person
  • The goalkeeper as tireless craftsman
  • The goalkeeper as prisoner of fate
  • The goalkeeper as intellectual
  • The goalkeeper as tragic figure

A High School Teacher "Warns" College Professors

Kenneth Bernstein is a retired high school government teacher.  He has spent most of his career teaching AP courses at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, MD.  He was the 2010 Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher.

In a revealing piece at The Washington Post (originally published in Academe) entitled “A Warning to College Profs From a High School Teacher,” Bernstein describes how No Child Left Behind and Advanced Placement courses have made students unprepared for college.  He writes: “Please do not blame those of us in public schools for how unprepared for higher education the students arriving at your institutions are.  We have very little say in what is happening to public education.”

Here is more of his piece:

My primary course as a teacher was government, and for the last seven years that included three or four (out of six) sections of Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics. My students, mostly tenth graders, were quite bright, but already I was seeing the impact of federal education policy on their learning and skills. 

In many cases, students would arrive in our high school without having had meaningful social studies instruction, because even in states that tested social studies or science, the tests did not count for “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind. With test scores serving as the primary if not the sole measure of student performance and, increasingly, teacher evaluation, anything not being tested was given short shrift. 

Further, most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure. Thus, students arriving in our high school lacked experience and knowledge about how to do the kinds of writing that are expected at higher levels of education. 

Recognizing this, those of us in public schools do what we can to work on those higher-order skills, but we are limited. Remember, high schools also have tests—No Child Left Behind and its progeny (such as Race to the Top) require testing at least once in high school in reading and math. In Maryland, where I taught, those tests were the state’s High School Assessments in tenth-grade English and algebra (which some of our more gifted pupils had taken as early as eighth grade). High schools are also forced to focus on preparing students for tests, and that leads to a narrowing of what we can accomplish in our classrooms. 

I mentioned that at least half my students were in AP classes. The explosive growth of these classes, driven in part by high school rankings like the yearly Challenge Index created by Jay Mathews of The Washington Post, is also responsible for some of the problems you will encounter with students entering your institutions. The College Board did recognize that not everything being labeled as AP met the standards of a college-level course, so it required teachers to submit syllabi for approval to ensure a minimal degree of rigor, at least on paper. But many of the courses still focus on the AP exam, and that focus can be as detrimental to learning as the kinds of tests imposed under No Child Left Behind.