Jacob Freeman, GBP Student
The most important lesson learned from not only the Greater Boston Project, but from all history classes in general is to be taught from the choices and mistakes of history, to not make the same mistake twice when history repeats itself. At first I found it strange that the curriculum focused almost exclusively on the story and history of Boston chronologically, but makes students pay attention to the current situation of the city and it’s current events. But now that the year has all but come to a close, it has become obvious that this was all extremely intentional, to walk us through the epic of the new world and to understand the trials and tribulations of the times, and how they were so pivotal and crucial to the hearts and minds of the time, to learn them any other way would be to look at their situations only as a viewer, and understand and truly comprehend only a fraction of forces at play.
This focus on the current state of affairs in the big city and, more importantly, how it seems to have gotten that way is a huge contributing factor to how all of us perceive modern day current events. A raging problem throughout the course of America’s history, and a defining issue of the country is that of immigration. Even though the issue has persisted constantly, we perceive the issue much in the same way compared to decades upon decades ago. Travelers and pilgrims from other regions, especially ones of slightly different ethnic or cultural backgrounds, are seen as undesirable and immediately restrictions are placed on them and their influx into the country, as fear of the others taking over this great country from the inside is as harrowing as any terrorist action to some. But now with historical hindsight, we can dismiss these fears as unsubstantiated, nowadays there is nothing seen as more American than an Irish or European immigrant fleeing to the land of opportunity and beginning their life anew. But even with these learning opportunities and centuries of historical lessons and examples more than comparable to today, individuals continue to hold onto these purely emotional beliefs and shun immigrants and the right side of history.
One of the most remarkable traits of humans and what truly separates us from any other real form of sentient life is our ability to learn from our mistakes as individuals and a species, it is regretfully said that hindsight is 20/20, but this can only help in the future. In the past year with the raging civil war in Syria and the advance of an Islamic state in the Middle East, the issue of immigration to the first world has only multiplied. With most of the entire country being built and inhabited by immigrants and the generations of historical record of migrational benefit to America and the entire populace, one would think that new souls and cultures would be welcomed with open arms upon arrival, but history is never that clear headed. Immediately the public and media exploded with arguments and counters to acceptance of these refugees and fear of the country's goals and morals being undermined by these subversive terrorists. As it stands America has only accepted a few hundred Syrian refugees and plans to yield more have mostly been shut down by the fearful minority.
Events like this are precisely why this class focuses so heavily not only on Boston’s past and present, but how they play into each other. The ability to look at past events and see their connection to the modern day is a skill rarely exhibited in this day and age, which is why the Greater Boston Project makes sure to hammer in this analysis and connection skills so humanity doesn't get caught making the same mistakes.
Rory Kelly, GBP Student
For a recent activity about women in the antebellum era, we were randomly put into small groups of three, thanks to Mr. O’s handy-dandy sorting cards. For this task, we were given four sources to read, analyze and summarize into a brochure. Those sources were “Advice To Young Ladies” by Timothy Shay Arthur, “Ain’t I a Woman” by Sojourner Truth, “Women In The Nineteenth Century” by Margaret Fuller and, the group’s favorite, Maria W. Stewart’s speech to the “African American Female Intelligence Society”. All the sources provided a different point of view about the perceptions of equality, or lack thereof, of the sexes in this time period.
Each group started off by reading the speech given by Stewart and the piece written by Truth. Then, as a group, we had to perform multiple tasks to understand the sources, while at the same time pulling out quotes for the brochure. Once this difficult part of the process was completed, we had to choose the strongest reader from the group to read Fuller’s “Women In The Nineteenth Century”. While the strongest reader was chipping away at Fuller’s text, the other group members didn’t get off so easy. They had to read Arthur’s “Advice To Young Ladies”. We then had to come back and discuss what we took from those sources and create a list of possible quotes and information we could use for the brochure. Now you have heard me say the word “brochure” a few times while reading this blog. Yes, we did have to create a brochure about the Women in the Antebellum Era and you know what? It is not as easy as it seems! The brochure was double side allowing for five places to express your ideas about the readings. I felt that this was a very collaborative process as we used many different viewpoints and ideas from the group that went into the decision process creating the brochure. In doing so, we learned a great deal about women in the Antebellum Era.
For me, this lesson was an eye opener, especially Arthur’s account of “Advice To Young Ladies”. One quote from this source that stood out to me was, “Keeping this in view, it may readily be seen, that what makes a man a man, and woman a woman, is not the body, but the mind … mind of man must be different from mind of woman”. This stood out to me because this text reinforced that men and women were basically equal; however, their minds have different approaches on problem solving. Men in this time thought they were smarter than women because their approach to a problem took a different path and men didn’t want to listen to a woman's point of view. While gender is still an important issue today, Arthur’s limited views help show how things have changed today. For example, Hillary Clinton may be the next President of the United States.
Before reading this novel my perception of Southie came mostly from its depiction in the movie Good Will Hunting. I realize that Good Will Hunting is fiction and represents the views of its screenwriters— it is not necessarily an accurate representation of Southie. But, because I had never visited or studied Southie, it was the view I was most familiar with prior to reading All Souls. Seeing as it is such an iconic movie Good Will Hunting has probably shaped the opinions of many people who, like myself, have never visited Southie or had contact with residents of Southie. In Good Will Hunting Southie is poor and run down. The characters from Southie are from large Irish families and have a tight-knit community; they go to their local pub and everyone knows their names. The main character, Will, is very hesitant about leaving Southie because he feels so attached to his friends there. Eventually Will’s friend Chuckie convinces him to leave. Chuckie tells Will that he has an opportunity that all the other boys in Southie would die for, that he must to escape now or he will never leave. Chuckie and the other characters from Southie were trapped there by poverty and lack of education. Characters from Southie seemed to use their pride in the town to hide their despair. This movie shows Southie as a depressing place, loosely disguised by Irish pride, that needs to be escaped from. This is a pretty common depiction of poor, urban neighborhoods and one that I did not question very much when it was presented in Good Will Hunting.
All Souls shows a more complex perception of Southie. Despite the poverty, drugs, and crime that seem ubiquitous in Southie, the author says that he is considering moving back. This is in direct contrast with the narrative I am most familiar with where people try to escape areas like South Boston. The reporter who MacDonald talks with is surprised by this decision; the reporter had researched Southie and concluded that it was dangerous and poor—an undesirable place to live. MacDonald’s claim that he is considering moving back to Southie proves that there is something about Southie that makes up for its negative characteristics.
I’m excited to learn more about MacDonald’s experience living in South Boston. As I read this book it reminds me of our Neighborhood Projects and how we are looking at the neighborhoods the same way the reporter was observing Southie—as outsiders. We are using statistics and outsider observations to understand a town but, as MacDonald shows us, there are some aspects of a town that need to be observed firsthand. As outsiders we have prejudices, which is only natural, but we must recognize these prejudices before attempting to learn about a neighborhood. We need to try to learn about areas that we are unfamiliar with with an open mind; it’s important that we try to see an area like Southie the way an insider would. My prejudice going into our study of Southie was the narrative from Good Will Hunting. I believe that Southie was a place people wanted to escape from but were trapped in due to economic circumstances. As I read All Souls I have to set aside this preconceived notion so I can learn the much more complicated truth about Southie from MacDonald, and insider.
GBP students discuss and roleplay issues from the Lowell Mills (Photos by Ms. Tincher).
Sophia Korostoff-Larsson, GBP Student
When was the last time you were able to make the words in your history textbook come alive? In today’s school system, so much of what we do is read textbooks, take notes, and memorize the information simply to be regurgitated on the next test and then forgotten. Well, in the Greater Boston Project, we make sure to do the exact opposite. We find ways to learn and understand the history of the Greater Boston Area in different fun and engaging ways.
Recently, we welcomed historians from the Lowell Mills Museum into our classes. The class was split into two groups in which we were each assigned a role of a person who was actually involved in the Lowell Mills during the Antebellum Era. There were people of all different types of jobs: mill workers, mill owners, overseers, lawyers, journalists, small business owners, and boarding house keepers. We were asked to impersonate this individual and take on their emotions and opinions of the time. The historian then facilitated conversation amongst the different characters. Through this conversation, we saw the varying opinions of all the different people living during this time periods. We saw that some Lowell Mill girls complained of the long hours and poor working conditions, and went on strike against this lifestyle. At the same time, other mill girls were just glad to have a job to contribute money to their families, so they didn’t actively do anything about the conditions. We saw that many of the mill owners and overseers didn’t seem to care about the treatment of the workers, as they were paying them, and if the workers complained or went on strike, the owners could simply hire new immigrants to work for a smaller amount. However, there were a few members of society that supported of the mill workers. There were lawyers and journalists that wanted to expose the mills for their poor working conditions and poor treatment of the workers. Throughout the facilitated conversation, we were able to see all of the different views and how they contrasted with one another.
What was especially interesting about the roleplay was how invested our classmates got in their roles. Although each person did not necessarily agree with what their character believed, everyone embraced it and fought for what they “believed” in. This made for a very interesting and intense conversation. As people would immediately respond and contradict what others were saying, there was a growing sense of tension. At one point the historian even said, “Don’t worry girls, he’s just acting,” as one of the boys acting as a mill owner said that the girls could live through the harsh conditions. Because of this aspect of our conversation, we were all able to completely comprehend the difficulties and conflicts that existed during this time period regarding working conditions. If we had simply been reading a textbook, we wouldn’t have been able to get this complete sense of what life was like.
Maddi Terry, GBP Student
There are only a handful of books that resonate with individuals regardless of the time period, content, or genre. These famous works of art are seen to outlast shifts in culture and societal norms, changes the composition of our nature as humans, and even what we value as a community of human beings. Often times the author of the book is the source of the fame and success, but sometimes the book is so well written, so diverse in nature, that it is able to resonate with individuals over a wide span of time. From Moby Dick to The Great Gatsby, from Hamlet to The Odyssey, these works span a wide range of genres.
(Image from Black History 101.)
Among this great collection of books is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a story written in the 1850s about slavery in the South and Stowe’s perception of the slave industry. Unlike the majority of people of her time, Stowe was against slavery and the ideas that it stood for and was willing to publicly share her opinion. Being a woman in a time when women were financially and socially powerless under men, it was unusual for Stowe to publish a book, nevertheless go against one of the most prosperous industries in our nation’s history.
As we read and discuss the book as a class, we have begun to uncover the many controversial topics that make this book so well known. One aspect of the novel that stood out to the class was the way Stowe narrates the story by interweaving third person and second person voice. For example, when the author is writing about a slave named Eliza having her child taken away from her Stowe relates this idea to the reader by saying: “...such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe. For, sir, he was a man,—and you are but another man. And, woman, though dressed in silk and jewels, you are but a woman, and, in life's great straits and mighty griefs, ye feel but one sorrow!” (Stowe 103). The use of second person creates a bond between the reader and the slave characters that was not found in any other published book at the time.
Another major idea that we have identified throughout the book is that Stowe uses Christianity and faith in God to connect the reader and the characters, similarly to how she uses second person. The significance in this connection between the two communities is that it merges the gap between the white and the black people in the story and puts the white slave masters in the slaves’ shoes. For example, the character Eva stands as a icon for an angel that sees the good in people despite their race. When talking about a slave to her aunt Eva says, “But, mamma, isn't God her father, as much as ours? Isn't Jesus her Saviour?” (Stowe 773). During our group discussions we were able to come to the conclusion that Stowe purposefully uses a young, white character to be able to relate more to the readers. By having the white child say that the two races share the same God it relates to the reader while challenging the general opinion of slavery.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has helped us to understand the views of white people at the time of slavery, and has showed us how the beginning of the end of the slave industry was sparked.
Mackenzie Breen, GBP Student
We’ve all learned about the “separate but equal” concept the Jim Crow Laws support, but where did the term “Jim Crow” come from and how is it still relevant today? Thomas Dartmouth Rice portrayed Jim Crow an exaggerated stereotypical black character. In Blackface Minstrel shows Rice danced around with his face painted black singing the words:
Of course these laws were extremely prominent in the Southern States; however, it cannot be denied that Massachusetts took part in the Jim Crow laws. Until as late as 1843, Massachusetts blacks were prohibited from marrying whites, sitting in the same pew at church and up until 1850 could not attend the same schools as white children. One area of segregation that used the tactic peaceful disobedience of the law was transportation. Numerous blacks tried to challenge the Jim Crow laws by sitting in the car or seat of their choosing. Many times this turned out badly causing the blacks to be beaten or kicked off the train. In 1843 it was the Governor with the help of public opinion that ended segregation on trains in Massachusetts. While the Jim Crow Laws are no longer enacted, I still see the original idea of blackface in the media. Often times people plead that they did not know what blackface was or that it is even offensive. Ignorance should no longer be plausible reason for why people are wearing blackface. It is important to talk about this dark part of American history in order to educate people about this past
The Needham Historical Society, including the old schoolhouse in red on the left.
(Photo from the North American Reciprocal Museum Society)
Sam Cruickshank, GBP Student
On a frigid morning in January, the GBP class headed over to the Needham Historical Society. Located directly next to the Newman Elementary School on Central Ave., the Needham Historical Society is often overlooked or mistaken for a regular house. Founded in 1915, the information that the society has in the form of many historical maps and documents is immense for such a small venue and non-profit organization. On this specific visit, our second one this year, our class focused on several documents and maps from the Antebellum Period, which is the period in U.S. history that goes from the early 1800s all the way up until the Civil War. As we entered the Historical Society, half of our forty four student class crammed into the old one room schoolhouse that the Historical Society uses as an educational space for students, shedding jackets and coats as soon as we felt the warmth.
Right away, we started looking at documents, which were set up into various stations around the room. I found two of the stations’ documents particularly interesting on this visit. The first was a selection of four maps of the town of Needham. These maps were from the years 1771, 1836, 1856, and 1854. I paid special attention to the maps from 1836 and 1856, because there were two interesting changes between those maps. The first was that the town of Wellesley, which borders Needham, was a part of the map in 1836, but not in 1856. My group joked about this, referencing the recent Thanksgiving Day Football Game played at Fenway Park, noting how we “didn’t want them anyway” and that “they were better off as West Needham in the first place.” All jokes aside, this was a major development in the suburbs of Boston, as it allowed for two different communities to develop, and eased the space clenches on a growing population. Additionally, the addition of a railroad to the town of Needham was very significant on the map from 1856. My group noticed that there were many streets and roads located around the railroad stops, and it was clear that the railroad led to population growth in Needham. The railroad and the train is still an integral part of the town of Needham today, as many people (including the Greater Boston Project classes, on occasion) take the MBTA Commuter Rail into Boston every day to get to work.
The second document that piqued my interest was a document that talked about an anti-slavery meeting that was held in the Unitarian Meeting House in Needham. We recently finished reading the book Ten Hills Farm by C.S. Manegold, which talks about how slavery existed in the North, basically to the same degree that it existed in the South. I found the book somewhat disturbing, and I was confused as to why I had not learned this history before. I found the document from the Unitarian Meeting House reassuring. It showed me that the community of Needham did realize the injustices of slavery,and they were going to try and do something about it.
Although we mainly focus on the history of the city of Boston, it was nice to slow things down and take a look at our local history right here in Needham. We took the time to look at and analyze specific documents, a hallmark of the GBP experience.
Brainstorming about all these tragedies got me thinking about how many tragedies could be happening all over the world that no one knows about or pays attention to. There is now so much more news coverage on media that we have more exposure to news stories, but we don’t always pay attention because it might not be concerning to us. All of these news stories could even be considered desensitizing to us because there is always something drastic on the news, it just depends what we pay attention to, or care to watch or read. It made me realize that we also can’t always trust what we read. Some textbooks may have mentioned some events as minor details, but that doesn't mean that all the facts were present or that there isn’t a whole other side to the story. Many textbooks seem to brush off real events like they were nothing, just a couple million people dead or a few thousand went missing, like the Armenian Genocide or the Haitian Revolution.
While we were finishing up the activity, Mr. Brooke brought up a good point about what we think will be forgotten years from now. With all the technology present today it is difficult to have anything go unnoticed. But, as I explained, news can be desensitizing because every extreme that has happened is reported out. Throughout the journey of reading Ten Hills Farm, we are forced to question whether or not we really see every event in history for what it is. This lesson helped us think about how that happens now with our own media.
A modern day photo from Ten Hills Farm in Medford, MA. (Photo from the Tufts University Magazine.)
GBP students debate the issue of slavery as it was contested in the 1700s, looking at four of the prevailing perspectives on the issue at the time. (Photo by Ms. Tincher)
Abby Kahn, GBP Student
There is nothing like engaging in a good natured class debate. These sort of thrilling debates take place in almost every classroom in our school, except for maybe science or math classes, where I’ve come to learn over the years that teachers in said subjects do not enjoy debating the validity of math laws! But other that than, I think it is safe to assume that every student at Needham high school will graduate with at least one formal in class debate under their belt. In GBP alone, we have conducted a few debates thus far. We debated current issues such as the impending legality of Fireworks and changes to taxes on cigarettes, as well as historical ones like whether or not Puritans intended to push Native Americans out of New England.
Last Friday, we debated the institution of slavery in the 1700’s. Each student was been assigned a certain perspective on the issue, a perspective that would have been commonly encountered and debated amongst citizens in the 1700’s. This distinction that students were assigned commonly encountered perspectives in the 1700’s is crucial. If we were advocating for our beliefs in the present day, it would be a very one sided debate, as the paradigms of race have drastically shifted. So in this historical context, the assigned perspectives included advocates for the continuation of slavery as it was, advocates for the gradual emancipation of all slaves, advocates for the return of all slaves to Africa, and advocates for the immediate manumission of all slaves.
As soon as positions were assigned, it was clear that some students were uncomfortable with arguing the historical position they were assigned, specifically those who had to argue that slavery should continue. Many students would now have to advocate for something that they know is totally wrong present day! However, as the preparation for the debate continued, the value of the lesson has become clearer. It is extremely easy to look back on our history of slavery and just say that it was an atrocity and should have ended sooner. However, as this fact is very clear for us today, it is more important for us as learners to understand that it was not so clear-cut back in the past. This debate encouraged students to understand all sides of the argument, and forced us to place ourselves in a position where we must fully understand and convey our assigned perspective, whether or not we believe in it now.
Furthermore, the skill and other prowesses utilized in this debate have useful implications in the work force. Constructing a sophisticated argument, researching opposing viewpoints and being able to understand alternative perspectives are just some examples of skills that might be useful to us down the road. After this debate, I think we will have enhanced our persuasive argumentation skills as well as better understand why the issue of slavery was so disputed, and why it didn’t come to an end sooner.
Colby McMahon, GBP Student
As we most often go back in time to study the history and progression of the Greater Boston area, coming back to the present time in GBP can be a nice change. Current Event Discussions (or CEDs, as we call them) are a way we connect with present day issues. Each student is given a specific presentation date where they will share something interesting and important that is of current interest in the Boston area. Breaking up into three small groups within our larger class, each person presents their story and questions, often sparking great responses and debates. Their main goal is to summarize the issue to provide background knowledge for the listeners, then to provide engaging questions for the listeners to respond to that relate to one of our two content learning goals: identity and perception or cultural change. An important part of The GBP curriculum is developing Oral Communication skills; the frequency of these mini presentations, as well as the small group settings, provide a great time to better these skills. And with all of the stories brought up and the diversity of views on them, the class debates always spark a very interesting discussion.
So far, there have been a large majority of stories involving political events, local business issues, and police brutality. The implementing of body cams on police officers, in particular, was addressed by many presenters and seemed to be something that everybody seemed to share a different view on. With all the different stories involving law enforcement in the world today, police brutality is an issue being talked about across the news. The differing viewpoints the debates often lead to arguments within the group. I can specifically remember looking at certain classmates and watching as their facial expression made it clear they did not agree with what another person had said; personally, I can also remember some comments that made me rather frustrated. With that being said, however, the issues brought up always spark interest and a conversation that can be informative. It’s important for people to consider these big issues.
The CED setting brings up issues that cause people who often don’t speak to come out and share a topic they feel strongly about. Being in the small groups provides a place of comfort for people to speak out in this way as well as work on their oral communications. The small group aspect provides a place to practice so when the “big stage” ( or speaking to the whole class) comes around, people feel confident and ready from the feedback and practice they got within their small groups. Taking time to reflect on present day issues is something we don’t do enough in school now and is a very positive thing we’re able to experience in GBP.
GBP Students Colby McMahon (left) and Eliza Corderman (right) present their CEDs to their small groups. (Photos by Ms. Tincher)
This blog is powered by both the students and teachers of the GBP course. Check back often for features on what we've been up to in class!