Tuesday’s Inauguration

In a stack of papers called Connections.

  • Jan
  • 16
  • 2009

It’s an important event. I want to watch it. I can’t think of a reason to show it to my students, though. Barack Obama’s inauguration happens on Tuesday (interesting that a Google of “obama” returns an image of Bush as the first result today).

As it ends up, I don’t have a class during that time, so I couldn’t show it to my students even if I had a good idea. Thing is, I don’t think I would show it to my students. What’s the relevance to my curriculum? There are lots of other things I think are important. Should I show those, too? How do I get students to by into it? What’s to keep them from simply wasting the time? Why should they care? Where do we go with it? These exact same questions should be asked of anything I do, but I can think of answers to them if we’re doing something interactive and that builds up to something. Beyond Tuesday, what will you do with the inauguration in your classroom?

This all gets at the problem I have with ever showing TV shows or films in class: there’s plenty of value, but it’s much easier to space out and much harder for me to correct it. Even showing Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest relates to what we’ll do tomorrow and where we were yesterday. I just have a really hard time fitting such things in because of these conflicts. Is my thinking too limited here?

Are you planning to show Obama’s inauguration? What are you planning to do with it? How do you hope to answer the likely legion “so what” stares you’ll get at the end of the hour? Do you use handouts or anything tangible?


1. Kate says:

[1/16/2009 - 12:37 pm]

Are you serious? How about because it may be the most important historical event that will happen in their lifetimes? They are Americans! They deserve to join the rest of the nation to witness the historical moment! First person of color gets the most influential job on Earth! When their grandkids ask them where they were during President Obama’s famous inauguration speech, they will say they watched it live with everyone else in the country!

Any other day I’d agree with you, really I would. The only movies I show are short clips that motivate or illustrate the math I’m trying to teach. Tuesday will be an exceptional day. We should all make an exception.

2. Sam says:

[1/16/2009 - 12:56 pm]

As a social studies teacher, I have an easier time making that connection. If I were to follow my unit plan for Tuesday, I’d be teaching about basic economic principles. However, I think as teachers we have to grab ahold of these “teachable moments.” I’m not really sure I can think of a better one than the inauguration of the first African-American president.

Unfortunately, none of it matters. Due to a snow day last week, my students will be completing exams on Tuesday instead of watching one of the most historic inaugurations this country has ever seen.

I’m seriously considering spending Wednesday talking about the inauguration and Obama’s speech. Perhaps orienting it with other famous inaugurations speeches. Then again, my next unit is on the presidency, so maybe I’ll just wait until then. I just kind of want to hit it while it is still somewhat fresh.

3. Todd says:

[1/16/2009 - 1:21 pm]

Will you refer to it later? Does it promote/develop your curriculum? Will it help students later in life? Will it better enable students to think critically? Do students care? If the answers those are negative (or even *mostly* negative), then why do it? Why should we all make an exception?

The fact that it’s a historical moment isn’t a strong argument because there are lots of other historic moments that we don’t bother with. Why this one? Is it important enough to cover in every classroom? Mind you, I’m honestly asking. I think I’ve got my mind made up on this, but I’m open to compelling arguments.

Kate, I suspect that the response, “I watched in on YouTube!” will be just as awe inspiring by the time their grandkids ask. Sam, bummer about snow days. C’mon out to California; you won’t have that problem!

4. Kate says:

[1/16/2009 - 2:24 pm]

I think we are just not seeing eye to eye on the import. I don’t see it as any old historical moment. It doesn’t matter that I’m not going to make a contorted attempt to tie it to my curriculum. It’s the moon landing. It’s “I Have a Dream”. Something _that_ significant is happening Tuesday afternoon, and I’m not going to introduce DeMoivre’s theorem instead, which is what I’d otherwise be doing at the time.

But, we all have to decide these things for our own classes, of course. It’s cool if we don’t see it the same way. Enjoy your long weekend!

5. Todd says:

[1/16/2009 - 5:37 pm]

It’s not that I don’t think it a historic moment. I get that and we certainly see eye to eye on that (as jaded as I am). It’s just that I’m not sure the place historic moments have in the classroom. And I don’t ask this thinking that they have no place. I’m just not sure what the place is. What if I thought that Springsteen’s half time performance were of such import (nice use, Kate)? What does historic significance have to do with what I’m teaching? And by that I mean what I’ve asked before: how will I use this in the future? How will I extend it past a single moment in time? When it’s all over, then what?

I hope you have a great weekend, too, Kate. Any thoughts on what you’ll do with the Obama moment on, say, Wednesday? I don’t mean to frustrate you, I’m just curious what any long-term goals are for anyone showing their classes the inauguration.

6. Nancy says:

[1/16/2009 - 7:40 pm]

I agree with all that has been said by your commenters about the event itself. I teach gifted kids in a special ed pullout program and we are going to watch the speech. My sixth grade students are going to write an essay comparing Obama’s speech to another president’s speech. Why? I want them to have the opportunity to analyse and sythesis information, I want them to struggle because the assignment is too hard, I want them to feel proud that they have opinions about two of our American presidents and understand the challenges they face, I want them to talk with their parents, I want them to put their thoughts in order….and I want them to discuss their opinions with their peers. That’s all.

About the watching films–IMHO you are way wrong on that one!! haha I am a very visual learner, I learn more from watching and listening to a series on John Adams than I would reading about it. I’ve used all kinds of videos over the 25 years I’ve been teaching. During our robotics unit we are watching Scientific Frontier American where Alan Alda interviews scientists from MIT, NASA etc. We cannot go to NASA or MIT. When we studied Lewis and Clark we watch a wonderful PBS series, why should I assume I know more than the historians interviewed in the series. We’ve even read books and gone to the movie after school to see how the movie is “worse” than the book. My kids always rip on the movie–never as good as the book!!

I think there are lots of ways for kids to learn and video and film add richness to the experience. That’s for letting me blather on. N.

Ps I hope your going to be watching during your prep time or lunch.

7. Todd says:

[1/16/2009 - 8:50 pm]

No problem, Nancy. This is a place for more than just me to blather on. And it’s not that I don’t understand the value of video. But there are lots of little 2 or 3 minute clips that I don’t show because I don’t know how to answer the “so what” question that nags me, the look on the faces of the class after I hit stop and turn the lights back on. Great, we watched this video. How does that make what we do in class any different than if we hadn’t watched the video? You mistake me if you think I don’t see the power of video. I really do and I do try to make use of that.

It sounds like you’ve got a nice piece of writing where students walk through a structured comparison to some other inaugural speech. That’s great and precisely the kind of thing I wondered about. Does everyone have such a plan?

And Nancy, do you have a digital copy of the assignment sheet you’ll give your sixth graders? Care to share it?

8. Tamara says:

[1/17/2009 - 10:25 am]

Hi there,
This is likely my first time commenting on your blog, so “Nice to meet you”.

I think that the fact that this is just SO important is enough reason. When I think back to my high school years, I wonder how many of my fellow students had ANY clue of what was going on in the world. Teachers didn’t necessarily discuss world issues, and it’s a great loss. I was a bit odd and very socially conscious and politically active so I remember the Berlin wall coming down, I remember (just after I graduated) Mandela’s release…but most kids don’t…and for that you should show it.

I’m shocked and impressed that the LAUSD superintendent sent out an email URGING schools to publicly show the inauguration. My school is filling the 900 capacity with students to watch it live. They are also setting up the gym for teachers to bring classes. Because I’m being observed by my AP that day and am entering into our finals week, I won’t be bringing my students down but you can guarantee I’ll be “rushing” through my lesson and then watching it online with my classes!

9. Laurie says:

[1/17/2009 - 2:50 pm]

Isn’t part of our curriculum is to teach this young people to think critically? How can you not justify watching the inauguration as an opportunity to explore critical thinking?

10. Todd says:

[1/17/2009 - 3:57 pm]

I think you’re all mistaking my question or I worded things poorly. Sure, I have issues with showing something unrelated to the direct curriculum for which I have been hired. Larger than that, though, is this: what are you going to do with the inauguration past Tuesday?

And thanks for posting a comment, Tamara. I’m happy to read your thoughts.

11. Laurie says:

[1/18/2009 - 1:55 pm]

It did seem like you were asking us to justify watching it in class. So here are some of my ideas:
Connect it to Animal Farm or Julius Caesar in a Socratic Seminar discussion.
Create a CAHSEE type writing prompt.
Analyze a speech given that day for language, parallel structure, etc.
Have them write about how it connects to our theme of “the outsider” this year.
And that is just the beginning.

12. Todd says:

[1/18/2009 - 3:08 pm]

The justification of watching it in the class and what you plan to do with it afterward are the same thing, in my head. Good ideas. I’m wondering about actual plans to make those things happen. Are you going to replay it for every class on Tuesday or only show it live to that period?

13. Nancy says:

[1/18/2009 - 4:58 pm]

Todd, Coming clean here–the assignment was not an original idea, I stole it from Mrs. Chili who teaches at a community college. I told her I was going to try it with my 6th graders. Here’s her assignment post and rubric to assess the assignment. I just c/p into a word doc and changed a few words. http://teacherseducation.wordpress.com/

Do you read Dan Meyer’s blog? He uses just that kind of video snippets in the math classroom to develop critical thinking. I wonder if it’s the video itself that’s wrong for the point you’re trying to make or it the lead-up or autopsy that gets the blank stares.

14. K says:

[1/18/2009 - 5:51 pm]

My school is having a modified schedule so that all classes are going to watch it live as it happens, and the rest of the day is devoted to community-building activities around the inauguration. (We have c-b days about 3 x a year anyway). We are linking it to MLK Day and I know for all the literacy and history teachers it is coming up in their curriculums (I developed a short nonfiction reading unit – I teach middle school – around social justice leaders to tie in). During the afternoon after the inauguration the kids are going to do some writing comparing the I Have a Dream speech and Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech (and presumably discussing whatever Obama says on Tuesday) and writing their own inaugural addresses.

If we weren’t showing the inauguration I imagine we’d have very low attendance on Tuesday…our kids wouldn’t and shouldn’t miss this!

15. Todd says:

[1/18/2009 - 8:49 pm]

Nancy, I’m a charter member of the Dan Meyer fan club. I’ve got a patch, sticker, and everything. And for the record, I’m sure it’s my autopsy that gets blank stares. I really just don’t know where to go after showing a video that’s any different than I would have gone otherwise, so the video feels superfluous. But I’m working on it. Crazy to say that after 11 years I can’t logically and consistently incorporate a piece of video into a lesson, but there it is.

K, that sounds awesome. Now that’s commitment to the event. And just by it being a schoolwide effort, it’s going to be memorable and work much better than it would otherwise. That’s the kind of stuff I love to hear.

16. Inauguration and the Classroom | Inner Education for Inward Educators says:

[2/7/2009 - 9:49 pm]

[…] Seal of Throughts for Teaching has a good discussion going over whether to show the Presidential inauguration in the classroom Tuesday.  It is a good discussion.  Our principal may take the issue out of my hands as there are […]