Your Favorite Right

The Founding Fathers added a ton of things into the Constitution so it wouldn’t be weak like the Articles of Confederation.  Still, they were afraid their rights would be trampled, and took the next step–debating and adding the Bill of Rights. If we examine the Bill of Rights and the rest of Amendments we get a snapshot of how America developed its ideas about freedom.  Freedom in Colonial and Federal times wasn’t the all-inclusive freedom you consider your right.  That developed through decades of struggle.  Freedom for all Americans–women, African Americans, the poor–those didn’t come until much later.  I think back on some of the people who have struggled for those rights and freedoms.

Roger Williams: left Massachusetts Bay Colony to come to Rhode Island, which he founded upon the principle that all men should be free to worship as they choose.  This idea was not held in isolation–James Madison took that with him when he helped design what would become the United States Constitution.

James Madison: felt strongly about the idea of separation of church and state.

Frederick Douglass: former Maryland slave, author, abolitionist. He traveled the world, crusaded for abolition and women’s rights, and became the United States minister-consul in Haiti.

Mahatma Gandhi:  WAIT. He’s not American.  True.  But, his idea of satyagraha (peaceful resistance) influenced and entire globe, including the great Americans who brought us Civil Rights.  Without Gandhi, Africa might well have stayed under Colonial rule, India might have achieved its independence very differently, and certainly Martin Luther King Jr. would have had no thoughts or inspiration for his struggle. To be fair, Gandhi got his thoughts from Indian history and Hindu philosophy–so let’s give a shout out to his influences as well.

Susan B. Anthony: Suffragist from Rochester, New York, who put herself on the line to get women the right to vote. A detail worth noting is that both she and Frederick Douglas are buried in the same cemetery–Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

I could write about the great people who helped us get our freedom all day. I’ll edit and add to this list as the day progresses, but the point of our discussions on freedom has been this.

1. Freedom is earned. These people fought for your freedom. The men and women of the military continue to do so. You pay them back with your thoughts and respect.

2. Freedom comes with responsibility. If you want freedom in any area, you must act like a responsible citizen. No questions asked.

3. The definition of freedom is ever changing. This site explains what you need to become a web designer as well as some tips and tricks.  If you’re starting from scratch, it will help you begin to focus what you will need to learn to get the fundamentals down, and how to put yourself in the best position to land a job.  During the colonial period, freedom was not “free” as you would imagine it. It got much moreso during years of struggle. Today, we have many freedoms, but we also balance the need for safety against some of those freedoms, causing a dialogue between many people in society today–what freedoms should we have and where does safety trump freedom. It’s an interesting social and constitutional conversation–one worthy of your thoughts and research.


Take a moment to comment on some people who need to be added to the list of those who struggled for our freedom. There are too many to mention, and I just started us out this morning.  Comment on your favorite rights and amendments–those which you could not do without. And pause to be grateful for those freedoms and to the people who ensured they were ours.

Don’t Hate History–Just Find the Type You Like

There are so many areas to study in history that it’s nearly impossible to truly “hate” studying history. For most haters of history, I discuss whether the book was boring, or whether you’re just studying an area of history that’s interesting to someone else.  Often times schools look at themes in history that talk only about Western civilization-Greeks, Romans, Europe, and America.  More and more often, we’re seeing world history expand into other areas–Eastern civilization (China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India), and topical areas in history. Here is a quick snapshot of some of the types of history we study in schools:

1. Military history: This is about all the great battles, their causes and effects on society.  Done well, this provides a snapshot into conflict, conflict resolution, and key turning points in history. Done poorly, it is a column in a book that saves you from having to count sheep before you go to bed.  This type of history is often the “traditional” study of history as we set up the little toy soldiers, reenact battles, and discuss weaponry.

2. Comparative history: This type of historical study allows you to compare two types or periods of history–it allows you to examine evidence and draw parallels between two areas, time periods, people, or regions.  This is often an interesting way of connecting things that you might not otherwise connect. This type of study is used at some of the world’s most prestigious universities, like Oxford, to make large and small connections between things that otherwise might have been missed.

3. Political history: This tells about politics and relations in an area.  It’s often helpful in discovering the root cause of conflict and alliance in the world today. Many political historians study these regional conflicts–like the conflict in the Middle East, and attempt to provide solutions.

4. Religious history: This is a fascinating area of history, and can often overlap into other areas, like political or military, depending on what you are studying.  Studying the Crusades, for example, forces you to discuss moments in history where conflict meets social injustice, but at the same time, where world travel causes events in history which rippled out through the globe. Many people often feel that they must be religious to study this area of history–not true.  Although some of the best studies in this area have been monks and priests, like the Jesuit order, Some of the best scholars in this area are secular or even nonbelievers.

5. Social history: This is the history of the story of the people. How did people live and work? What advances in history affected the people directly? What is the history of social class and social interaction? Social history is coming much more into the limelight in modern studies of history.  Studying the story of people is fascinating and should never be overlooked as one of the most important branches in history. Please take some time to look at this Learnist board on oral history, an aspect of social history, assembled by our own Kevin Cordeiro and journalist Maggie Messitt.

6. Historiography:  Ever wonder why old textbooks talk about the “dead white guys?”  History accounts have generally been written by people in power, people who had leisure time to write about such things, or by the winning side in any conflict or war. Ever wonder what the British would have written about the American Revolution? Have you studied that? Have you ever wondered why there are so few historical accounts by Africans under Colonial Rule? Have you thought deeply about the difficulty finding primary source accounts from Native Americans during the period of Westward Expansion? Then historiography is for you.  This is the study of the study of history  rather than history itself.  Take a moment to examine this Learnist board about historiography and consider this alternate view of Lincoln, which stands in contrast to the Lincoln in most history books. Consider, judge, and evaluate! You get to decide.

It’s refreshing that history is now being considered from so many more directions and angles.  Historians are considering all of these things and including them into excellent accounts.  Still, it’s important to remember that ultimately, history is something YOU determine in your mind. After reading the primary and secondary sources, you become the authority and you use that material to render your own verdict.  This is the critical point.  Using the evidence, you get to decide–there is more than one right answer.  You have the power to determine what that right answer is!

Do you still hate history?  Yes, you in the front row–I’m talking to you:)

Why You Read 1000 Things About Change and Never Change

This article is by Eric Barker, who is a very good author–he considers pretty much anything, but he always backs it up with science, math, and fact.  I’m not even going to discuss all of his topics, but I will say that it proves a couple of things:

1. You can write about anything, and if you do it well, people will pay you and you will get a large following.  So, write about things you love, do it well, and back up what you say with evidence–that’s basically the bottom line of every class I teach, by the way–I’ve researched some pretty obscure things, and my graduate advisor wrote about baseball in history.  If he can do that, you can do anything!

2. Math and science truly are awesome.  I love science and hated math my whole life. I cried in college–had to take calculus a million times. They had to send me to a special tutor. However, sometimes the way we learn these things is so–not awesome–that we need a word I can’t include here.  Use math and science to back up what you say as often as possible.  Sometimes you’ll be wrong, like half the news broadcasters chucking around numbers, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll sound super smart and no one will ever question you. [Note: I’m just kidding on that. Try to add right.]

3. You should be reading stuff like this more often. I’m not saying you have to read Eric or me, or anyone else for that matter, but the fact is, you all have so much technology at your disposal. When you use it to do smart person things, you get smarter.  I like to be the dumbest person in the room on occasion, because that means I get to listen to really smart people. Reading smart people’s stuff is sort of the same way. I get ideas, vision, and it lifts me up. When you spend your time doing things that don’t increase your brain power, everyone else just got that far ahead of you. It’s a scientific fact. So, research and follow a couple news channels, blogs, motivation sites.  Follow the areas that matter to you–could be anything…the environment, inspirational quotes, sports heroes, public policy people doing the right thing, the Dalai Lama on Facebook…Anything.

So, get out there, and change yourself for the better.  Start by reading Eric’s wonderful article. 

The Bill of Rights

We’ve spent extensive amounts of time discussing why the Articles of Confederation did not work, and why the Constitution had to have some powers built in.  Features of the Constitution include:

  • A Preamble to set the mood and define the objectives
  • Seven articles designed to set up government and tell us what it can do.
  • A Bill of Rights
  • More Amendments

Today’s concern:  The Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution. These outline the rights given to the people, and were modeled after the English Bill of Rights.

Even something this simple caused a mental boxing match among the Founding Fathers (and you thought it was just this Congress that failed to get along).   Anti-federalists threatened to vote down the Constitution unless it included a Bill of Rights–remember, they were afraid the federal government would become king-like and gain too much power.

Federalists said that a Bill of Rights wasn’t necessary–if the Constitution didn’t expressly prohibit something, then you could do it, and if you could do it, why did someone need to waste the paper writing about it in funny curly writing that subsequent generations of students wouldn’t be able to read anyway?

I think that might be taken from an Alexander Hamilton speech–I’m not really sure. Don’t quote me on that.

Please review this excellent Learnboard on the Bill of Rights (by my friend Amelia) and comment on or answer the following questions:

Critical Questions: 

1. What freedoms does the Bill of Rights give?

2. Are there any freedoms you consider more essential than others?

3. After reviewing this board, can you research and find a situation in America today or a historical court case that dealt with one of these rights? What was the issue? Which amendment was involved? What ultimately happened?

School of the Future: Science Fiction or Reality?

Two scholars stood before me, indignant.  “Why do I have to come to school to do #E%$#% worksheets? It’s a waste of my time.”

We talked. I listened.  I posed the question:

What would you do if you had to design the school of the future? If it had to motivate, engage, captivate, and produce results?

Is this science fiction? Or could it be reality?

I am throwing down the gauntlet. You know who you are…answer the question and be ready to place it here–a guest post, Prezi, video, series of interviews, or research paper will do.  Who knows, maybe you have an even better idea…


Local History: New York

I like to make my customers happy. In keeping with this we shall take a left turn from Gettysburg into New York.  Incidentally, several Union troops who were on their way to fight at Gettysburg took a detour into New York City to put down the draft riots that occurred in New York that July.

Start out by reviewing this Prezi by Mr. Cordeiro.

There are several things to consider during our snapshots of New York at this time in history:

  • Nativism.  Early generations of Irish immigrants came early in the history of the nation. These tended to be Protestants, or Scotch-Irish. The English Civil War caused a lot of upheval in Britain, and part of the controversy surrounded the issue of religion. As Protestant sects split from the Roman Catholic Church, religion became a political issue rather than a spiritual one. For hundreds of years, the Catholic church represented empires and kings in Europe.  The “Divine Right of Kings, ” was part of this philosphy.  You might dare to rebel against a person, but if GOD HIMSELF made him king, you won’t mess with that.  What? You say… How do we KNOW God made you king? Well, because I’m king–if he made YOU king, YOU’d be king. Seems like flawed logic today, but in those days… well, enough said.   If the king switched religions, everyone did. This was at the heart of the English Civil War, where Catholics were stripped of their land and in some cases sent to colonies.  They were not allowed education, and were relegated to the bottom social classes.
  • Irish history:  Because of the Protestant Reformation, the divide in Europe between Catholics and Protestants became catastrophic.  It, in some neighborhoods, has lasted to this day.  Irish Protestants had land rights and priviledges. Catholics did not.  However, when the Great Famine in 1947–48 starved most of Catholic Ireland, many of the Irish Catholics emigrated to the United States.  This put two social classes of Irish in the United States.
  • Civil war looming in the background: One of the issues that the Constitutional Convention never addressed was the issue of slavery.  This film takes place against the backdrop of the Civil War.
  • Poverty: You’ll notice the clear separation between the haves and the have-nots in this film. Look for the living situations, the close-quarters, the way the fire brigades operated, and the activities of the poor.  Note that many of the poor became well-to-do by buying into the political machine.
  • Tammany Hall: This was the political machine in New York City.  Influential people like Boss Tweed organized the vote, recruiting voters and loyalists to support candidates that under the influence of Tammany Hall. Graft and corruption were the norm. In many cases, Tammany Hall took care of its own in return for patronage (loyalty, voting for the right candidate).

Critical questions:   

1. How have neighborhood, ethnic and religious divisions and rivalries continued locally and throughout the world until today? Examine gang violence, religious strife, or neighborhood divisions.

2. Has our political system improved in terms of graft and corruption? Examine this past election and/or the local headlines.

3. How has the infrastructure of major metropolitan areas changed? You can use a city like New York and examine the building of subways, zoning, commercial areas, sanitation systems, and other things that made the city modern, or you can consider the building and decline of your local mill villages, built to support the industrial machine in the region.  Look for hints:  factory houses near the river, larger houses up the hill, and the Victorian mansions located up the hill far from the factories. What does all this mean?

“What If…”

Guest Post by Alexandra Gamarra, scholar and artist extraordinaire. 

What if suddenly, out of nowhere–could possibly be tomorrow, or whenever we wouldn’t expect it, we had an outbreak of a disease? Would we be ready? How would we prepare for this ordeal? With all the panic around the world, would the government and health authorities know what to do right away? Or would they panic as well and would we all be doomed?  It’s a very frightening thought, right?

From past pandemics in history, we all learned that a disease can really spread fast and we must protect ourselves. We must be aware when there’s a pandemic around the world, and we must use universal precautions. It is extremely important for healthcare professionals to protect themselves while caring for patients.  The CDC, the nation’s leading public health agency dedicated to protecting the health of Americans, educates and trains doctors in the use of protection, disposal of personal protective equipment and other issues.  Healthcare professionals should always put their personal safety first. Doctors must do their job to protect themselves with proper gear, not exposing their health to an unknown disease.  They must be aware and prepared in order to save lives. 


The timing of a pandemic in society today is unknown.  One year, five years, ten years from now–we don’t know when it will happen. Experts have no doubt some pandemic will occur, the only question being when.  We do not know what the impact of a new pandemic could be.  There is nothing like a best estimate scenario for its likelihood or for the frequency.  The only possibility is to work with “what if” scenarios with different levels of severity.  It seems really scary to think about it, but it won’t be as bad as past pandemics.  I believe we are now better prepared for a pandemic. 

I wouldn’t know EXACTLY how we will do better when it comes to preparing ourselves for pandemics, but I believe the United States and world would do everything possible.  After many years of alerts and expectations, most countries should now have preparedness plans and the capacity of manufacturing vaccines should have increased sharply.  Large stocks of antiviral drugs have been produced and procured. We would be aware of the pandemic as soon as possible and be able to prevent diseases from spreading to anyone else by taking precautions and quarantining the sick. 


The Least You Need to Know About The United States Constitution

Stop complaining–I’m not asking you to go to Harvard Law School here… just to know a few basic facts about the US Constitution.   I decided to invoke the “The Least You Need to Know” series here.

The United States Constitution was created because the Articles of Confederation didn’t work. They didn’t work because they didn’t have any centralized power–imagine if everything in your household was done by popular vote.  It would be chaos.  You need some adult in the house to smack you down when you get out of line.  The Articles of Confederation was like a house with no adult.

The Constitution had to provide leadership–a strong federal government that could get the job done without turning into a tyrant or a king.  This was the key. Remember Shay’s Rebellion.  People had guns. They were not afraid to use them.

Meanwhile… the British and the French were sitting on the horizon waiting for this great experiment in democracy to fall apart, at which point they were ready to recolonize. If you need additional proof, just check the world map during this period–it was starting to be carved up into nice colonial chunks.

Back to the Constitution.

  • It is organized into Articles, Sections, and Clauses. Think of these as the units, chapters, and sections of the textbooks you don’t read very often.
  • There were lots of arguments on how to create the structure of government–whether big or small states got more or equal representatives.
  • Whether it should create a strong or moderate federal government and what its powers would be.
  • Whether there should be a method to change it if it should be necessary.
  • It never addresses the issue of slavery.

Here’s what we ended up with: 

  • Seven articles. The first three set up the branches of government.
  • A bicameral congress (two-parts). Senate has the same number of members from each state and the House of Representatives has a different number according to the population of the state.
  • A “Bill of Rights.”
  • Amendments


Epidemics in World History

In both Science Fiction and Reel to Real, we have been discussing several issues related to health, public policy, and the role of government in national emergencies and disasters.

Our most recent journey has been in the pandemic department–only fitting as we attempt to outlive the Mayan calendar and continue our species into the future.  Research and discuss the following:

  1. Origin of a major pandemic in history.
  2. How human interaction spread that pandemic
  3. The consequences of that pandemic (remember–consequences are not all bad–some are positive.  What effects can a sudden elimination of overpopulation bring for the next generations?)
  4. The resources necessary to prepare for and stop the spread of disease today.



Epidemics and Diseases