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Reading "The Idea of America" in 7th & 8th Grade Social Studies

In honor of Black History Month, 7th and 8th Grade students recently spent time in their Social Studies classes examining an excerpt from “The Idea of America” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, and engaging in a discussion around Hannah-Jones’s claim that Black Americans “are this nation’s true ‘founding fathers.'" In addition to sharing whether they agreed with this assertion, students reflected on what they know about slavery and where that information comes from, as well as what they know about the contributions of Black Americans and where that information comes from. They examined the ramifications of slavery in contemporary U.S. life and considered how the story of the nation changes if we mark the beginning of U.S. history in 1619 – the year enslaved Africans first arrived in Virginia – instead of in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

For 7th Graders, these conversations offered an opportunity to review their learning on the values stated in the Declaration of Independence and explore the effects of including slavery in the Constitution, while 8th Graders engaged in a broader examination of why we celebrate Black History Month and other months dedicated to historically marginalized groups. All students, however, emerged with a more nuanced understanding of the nature of national memory – how it is created, and how it is changed.