04 Mar The Federalist Papers: Understanding History is Hard Work
Last week I took my yearly, virtual trip back in time to the summer of 1787, to observe the proceedings of the constitutional convention of the United States of America. Playing the roles of the delegates were the Schechter Manhattan 7th grade students, who reenacted the convention as the culmination of their Humanities Exhibition project. This unit of study is remembered fondly by Schechter Manhattan alumni as one of the most challenging academic tasks that they tackled in their years as Schechter Manhattan students. It is a rigorous learning project that stretches the students to new levels of achievement and after weeks of hard work leaves them with a strong sense of satisfaction. As I observed some of the exhibitions last week I was struck by a number of elements of the project that make it so worthwhile and memorable.
The students prepare for their roles in the constitutional convention by studying primary sources, the Federalist Papers, a collection of articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay promoting the ratification of a new constitution. Reading and annotating selected essays, written for an adult audience in eighteenth century English, is really hard. It is also really important. It affords the students a direct window into the issues and rhetoric of the time and the effort exerted to understand the papers leads the students to their own understandings of the writers’ positions.
As the students consider the Federalist Papers they begin to see how the issues and concerns debated in the past have an impact on and relationship to the present and future. For example, after one presentation about the separation of powers in the federal government the students considered how the positions of the federalists and anti-federalists might apply to the current question of President Obama appointing a new Supreme Court justice and the role of the Congress in that process. The deep connections between their studies and the news of today enriches the students’ understanding of history.
Throughout the process the students build and apply vital academic and thinking skills. They read complex texts in unfamiliar language, drawing on and extending their experience doing just that in their Jewish Studies classes. They write in various genres, including a formal essay, notes, and scripts for their dramatic reenactment, and some students even write letters to the editor in the style of the Federalist Papers. They practice the thinking skill of holding multiple perspectives at once, articulating both the federalist and anti-federalist positions around varied issues. They further apply the skill of understanding someone else’s perspective by role playing the delegates in the re-enactment of the constitutional convention, answering unseen questions from fellow delegates in character. And as in the other exhibitions throughout the grades at Schechter Manhattan, they practice public speaking, presenting to peers, parents, and other adults.
Even as the 7 grade Humanities exhibition is academically rigorous, it is also developmentally appropriate. Thirteen year old students enjoy being playful. They relish the opportunity to put on the wigs and caps appropriate for their reenactment of late eighteenth century America and to use the feather quill pens for note taking. As they display their knowledge, understanding, and skill they also have fun, trying to speak using the turns of phrase they picked up in their reading of Federalist Papers, at times to great comic effect.
All of this makes for a rich and rewarding learning experience, filled with moments of challenge, breakthroughs of understanding, and in the end a meaningful sense of accomplishment. This year was no exception. I expect that the 7th grade students, members of the class of 2017, will remember with nostalgia their trip to 1787.
This week we are featuring work by some of our students in Kitah Gan, Kitah Bet, Kitah Dalet, and Kitah Vav.
The students in Kitah Gan have been learning about how an author describes characters and how sometimes characters have problems that need to be solved. Kitah Gan was asked to draw and write responses to these prompts.
“I LOVe PiNKaLiSHS” (I Love Pinkalicious)
“This is a lion from The lion cing” (This is a lion from The Lion King)
“LEO CD NOt BLOOM” (Leo could not bloom) – referencing Leo the late bloomer
Kitah Bet published their hardcover nonfiction books last week. Here are a sample of questions and answers from their books.
Click here to read some of the excerpts from Kitah Bet.
Kitah Dalet just completed their eco tours unit. Check out some of the amazing things they learned.
Click here to read Jaden’s Eco Tour research.
Click here to read Yaeli’s Eco Tour research.
Click here to read Shoshana’s Eco Tour research.
Over the past couple weeks Kitah Vav has been reading various African folktales. They have had the opportunity to create their own stories using the elements and structures they observed in the folktales they read. In the coming days they will be reading and sharing a creative component with Kitah Bet.
Click here to read Josh F.’s folktale.