As promised earlier, today I am going to blog about my Fulbright inquiry project and how it has been progressing since I got here. For those of you unaware, when you apply to be a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher you have to select a specific focus for your program – global awareness or international best practice – and explain why you need to go to the country you have selected to do what it is you propose to do. For my experience, I chose the U.K. in order to work with scholars at UCL-IOE (specifically my advisor Dr. Robin Whitburn and his colleague Abdul Mohamud) who are advocating for the creation of a more inclusive history curriculum in secondary schools here. Long story short, I am here to learn about how teachers are considering the nexus between national identity and diversity, race, immigration, and multiculturalism in U.K. secondary level history classrooms. My Fulbright inquiry project is to produce five lessons that can be used in U.S. history classrooms that look at this issue from our perspective and ultimately make our secondary curriculum more inclusive.
Robin and Abdul, authors of Doing Justice to History: Transforming Black History in Secondary Schools and coordinators of the Justice2History project, are advocates of a method of teaching called historical enquiry. Essentially, this pedagogical approach encourages teachers to interrupt the psyche by getting their students to think critically about past events and the roles of individuals throughout history. A good historical enquiry begins with an essential question that informs the interruption. Through conversations with them, my inquiry project has morphed into an historical enquiry which I will be teaching in March at the Convent school and then bringing back to the U.S. for usage in my classroom and for anyone else interested. As mentioned above, my program concerns national identity and diversity. My historical enquiry has this as its central focus. The historical figure I am using to help illuminate the nexus between the two is Muhamad Ali.
I am currently in the process of constructing five lesson plans that aim to help students understand two things: 1) What ideals underpin the term “American” historically and in terms of the contemporary discourse? 2) Can the experiences of Muhammad Ali be used to help students better understand these ideals? Through my research on these questions and early construction of my lessons, I am slowly starting to envision Ali as an archetypal figure in terms of what it means to be an American. Though a controversial figure during much of his early life, his experiences are illuminating in terms of several ideals we have claimed and continue to assert as fundamental to our nation.
Ali presents incredible opportunities to discuss with students issues surrounding religion and association, civil disobedience and conscientious objection, agency and empowerment in terms of individual identity, and possibly my favorite – the power of pugilistic poetry in terms of providing a voice for the voiceless. Although not a hero (nor should he be considered one), he is iconic and a figure of global prominence. Since his passing a year ago, his reverential status has increased with eulogies across the world proclaiming his awesomeness. In my opinion, Ali presents incredible lens through which to look at many of the issues and concerns that are at the heart of America. It goes without saying, I am very excited to put these lessons together and teach them. As I continue to plan and prepare I will share more here and through my twitter handle @RobertFitz74. If anyone has any comments, questions, suggestions, or potential resources please feel free to share.