Over the past ten years, we have seen a move towards green thinking in almost every aspect of life. At the grocery store, we are encouraged to bring reusable bags. We are given free recycling bins and encouraged to reuse materials in our homes. Increasingly, we are being asked to invest in local businesses and farms as a means of saving gas and other non-renewable energy sources. It seems like everyone is going green and going local!
In North Carolina, we have a strong history of investing in our local communities, and education is no exception. Within the school curriculum, we have emphasized North Carolina history and the unique strengths of the many communities residing within it. In grades 5, 8, and 11, we even require that teachers go local by teaching local North Carolina history throughout the year.
Well, there is a new movement within the field of education to have students in every grade and in every subject engage with the unique histories, landscapes, and people living within their local area. This form of teaching, often referred to as place-based pedagogy, emphasizes that students are better able to learn and improve their communities when they understand their local environment.
In collaboration with the University Library and the Carolina Digital Library and Archives, LEARN NC has developed resources that will help you and your students go local, whether you are teaching North Carolina History or another subject. LEARN NC has developed resources using the Commemorative Landscapes digital collection, complete with never-before-compiled photographs and primary documents of monuments and other commemorative sites across North Carolina, to encourage student understanding of North Carolina, their local place, and the role of commemorative sites within it. And like all of LEARN NC’s lessons, all of the resources are aligned with state and new Common Core standards.
As teachers, it is increasingly difficult to find topics that both interest our students and integrate the many learning goals addressed in the state and new Common Core standards. Often, the material that interests our students lacks a direct connection to the learning goals outlined in the curriculum. In addition, the topics that integrate a variety of learning goals often fail to interest students. So what is a teacher to do?
Many teachers have witnessed how the arts, whether they be musical, visual, or dramatic, have the potential to wake up students and engage them in thoughtful and meaningful learning. Art offers a powerful medium through which teachers can grab the attention of our students, engage the various learning modalities in our classroom, encourage student creativity, and prompt rich and critical understandings within the various academic subjects.
As an English teacher, one of my favorite pieces of art to introduce was Rodin’s The Thinker. I would display the image on my white screen and ask my students: Why is it green? Why is his hand on his chin? What is he thinking about? My students would look up from their hidden phones or their upcoming test notes and think with me: I think he’s thinking about a Math problem. I think he’s thinking about a family member that passed away. And in taking part in this discussion, my students developed skills necessary for understanding any text. They made observations about what they saw, engaged with the text by posing questions, made hypotheses, identified what they didn’t understand, figured out how to find what they didn’t know, thought creatively, and collectively affirmed or rejected one another’s hypotheses. In one short discussion, I was able to connect to my students’ interests, engage my students in a variety of learning objectives, and affirm different learning styles in my classroom.
A monument, like a sculpture, is capable of promoting even deeper understanding! Like a statue or a sculpture, a monument is a 3-D artistic representation of an individual, event, or object, and its creator uses various materials and techniques to represent its subject. However, unlike many forms of statues and sculptures, monuments are not purely aesthetic. They represent with the aim of remembering. The artist is asking the viewer to remember a valuable person or event. It is like a big string tied around one’s finger, asking the viewer to remember the past and honor it in the present!
In fact, the German word for “monument” is translated as “thought piece.” While a statue or sculpture might ask the viewer to think about its subject or methods of representation, they are not asking the viewer to think explicitly about why that subject is being represented and what it asking the viewer to remember. A monument requires a student to think about both the artistic elements of the object and its message: What was I supposed to remember? What am I supposed to do? As such, monuments invoke the history in which they are created and offer teachers a rich opportunity to engage with students’ artistic interests while also encouraging them in the rich “thought work” required by a monument’s viewing.