Student historians from East Oakland delve into role of media in the U.S.-Mexico War

UPDATE: The team took first place in one of the “senior group exhibit” categories.

Fatima Ghatala, a teacher at East Oakland School of the Arts (Castlemont), tells us about her AP United States history students’ diligent preparation for tomorrow’s National History Day competition. EOSA is the only school representing OUSD in the contest.

EOSA students, courtesy of Fatima Ghatala

“Who would like to present their project at the county-wide National History Day competition on March 20th?” I asked. The group members excitedly looked at each other to confirm, and enthusiastically raised their hands to volunteer. The class had already spent weeks working on research topics, and this particular group of students were researching the United States-Mexico War. They were first inspired to learn more about the war because of the impact the current U.S.-Mexico border has on their communities.

Ms. Natalie Carrillo, 16, Ms. Evelyn Gameros, 17, Mr. Gerardo Martinez, 15, Mr. Ricardo Cruz, 16, and Mr. Roberto Mendoza, 17 — all AP United States History students at East Oakland School of the Arts (EOSA) — spent weeks researching, including talking to teachers in the community, visiting libraries and reading books, interviewing community organizers and activists, and canvassing internet archives. As historians, they explored primary and secondary sources and developed a thesis: The United States-Mexico War was the first in United States history in which the media was used to generate public support for war.

The five students will be presenting their research project at tomorrow’s competition, where this year’s theme of History Day is “Innovation: Impact and Change.” EOSA has the only high school students representing the Oakland Unified School District.

I have been impressed by their dedication to the project from the first day I introduced it in class. They have embodied the roles of historians and researchers, as students and as of teachers, as they dived in, asked questions, taught each other, and taught the adults around them. As an EOSA teacher, I am privileged to be witness to the brightness and beauty my students present everyday, but oftentimes I feel youth — especially black and brown youth from Deep East Oakland — are overlooked, ignored, or cast off as unable, lacking, and unintelligent.

Evelyn Gameros, courtesy of Fatima GhatalaAs this group of students interacted with adults, including professors, organizers, activists, and educators, I received emails applauding the amazing work by the students, each adult expressing how impressed they were with the students and their critical thinking skills.

Kathy Emery, PhD, Executive Director of the San Francisco Freedom School, was impressed with the research they conducted, and with the questions they continued to ask. Aryn Bowman, an administrator, educator and a part of the Principal Leadership Institute at UC Berkeley, wrote, “This group of students are amazing! I think that one of the most important opportunities we can provide for our students is to present them with meaningful, authentic learning experiences — not an easy task in a test-driven era. It has been a pleasure to watch our students dig into researching for their History Day project — constructing their own knowledge around important historical matter.”

As a history teacher, I was elated to hear their conversations and their connections between the present and the past. “What happened in this war still affects us –- it made a really big change; the war created new borders — now Mexican people are dying trying to come into the territory that was once theirs…” shares Natalie Carrillo.

On behalf of East Oakland School of the Arts and our students, we cordially invite you to attend the Alameda County National History Day Competition occurring tomorrow, Saturday, March 20, 2010 from 12:00-3:30 p.m. at Oakland School of the Arts (OSA), located at 580 18th Street, Oakland, CA. For more information, visit this Web page.

East Oakland School of the Arts is located at 8601 MacArthur Blvd in East Oakland, California.
Follow us on Twitter, at twitter.com/eosahighschool, and on Facebook.

More info on National History Day can be found here.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    One more example of how the Liberal Educrat establishment believes teaching the chillun to continuously work on tribal issues. The subject above is somewhat interesting and yes it might advance research and writing skills. But what it does is continue to make Mexican Students more Mexican (which is probably the point).

    I would like these kids to do some of the things that aspiring professional class kids do – work/school in industrial western civilizations. ECommerce in London, Insurance, Banking or production in Paris or Hong Kong. Work in professions such a Law, Medicine, Lab Sciences around the US or abroad. These Mexican kids do not get closer to such possibilities by working on tribal matters. They would do well to understand the difference and to make sure they are quickly preparing themselves to compete with Ken and Barbie in the military, industry and higher education arena they are to be dumped into at age 18. Studying Mexican history does not cut it like studying other subjects such as Statistics, Physics, Biology, western Civ, Chemistry etc.

    There is a reason this sort of thing is being promoted to children of color and never to Ken and Barbie. The imagination of the educrats as to what these students might do in the near future to support themselves and the family they hope to form is limited. The future to these liberals for minority children is limited by the lack of experience and lack of imagination the Educrats have.

    Can you imagine the anger my great grandparents, grandparents and parents if my schools had encouraged me & my parents to take black studies rather than Physics, Chemistry and Biology? One counselor refused to enroll me in Chem which resulted in a furious confrontation with both parents. I took the Chem (nobody asked for my opinion). The counselor thought it would be too much to take Chemistry alongside the other UC solids in the same year. I did fine and I now realize that I had to take those courses together to get everything done in time for applications to University. If I’d listened to the Counselor I’d have been short requirements.

    Anyway, public school counselors steering minority kids into tail-chasing survey classes, subjects and ethnic feel-good (for them) projects and themes is as old as racial integration. It’s just a form of racism.

    If this goes on the students become professional blacks and mexicans which is exactly what the educrats intend.

    I’m more interested in Condelezza Rice’s education/career path. You use education to get what you want, just like Ken and Barbie do. Minorities do not need education intended to make them more authoritative as minorities – we have too much of that in Education already.

    Brave New World.

  • Pepe

    Nextset, give it a break–these students are in AP history. I would think that even a lawyer could appreciate that. I bet they are also in higher level math and science classes as well.

    It sounds to me that this “ethnic feel-good project” was a great experience for these outstanding students–one that is equipping them with tools to deal with the rigors of college level education and beyond. Maybe you should check out the competition to see for yourself.

    I’m glad that you are satisfied with the old school, dead white man history you were fed in your time. But there is much more to learn when the definition of history is expanded beyond the one-sided, often inaccurate, and stale subject it once was. Sounds to me that these students are learning high level and real world applicable skills rather than the low level inane facts you seem to prefer for them.

    Keep up the hard work EOSA scholars!

  • Gordon Danning

    Nextset and Pepe: You’re both wrong.

    Nextset: As the article mentions, the students’ thesis was the following: “The United States-Mexico War was the first in United States history in which the media was used to generate public support for war.” That’s not a “tribal” topic.

    Pepe: The hallmark of intellectual maturity is being able to exercise intellectual curiosity regarding a topic that does not personally affect you. IN that regard, Nextset has a valid point.

    Also, for the record, the student’s observation that, “What happened in this war still affects us –- it made a really big change; the war created new borders — now Mexican people are dying trying to come into the territory that was once theirs” is NOT acceptable AP-level analysis, and no one in OUSD should be bragging about a high school student who makes such a statement.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Congratulations to the EOSA team. I remember some of you from your time at Frick.
    Nextset, both my sons (who would qualify as Kens in your categorization) studied the U.S. War with Mexico and were taught that the war was disapproved of by many Americans, including Congressman Abraham Lincoln. Knowing some of the students involved, I can also echo Pepe’s excellent point about the range of classes they are probably taking.
    Gordon, it is also a sign of intellectual maturity to connect an historical event to current conditions, and it seems unfair to critize a student or a teacher based on a single statement in an article, when you have not seen the entire presentation the students created. History Day presentations are different from writing AP essays, and preparing those presentations requires a great deal of research and work, and the students’ product received favorable notice from several judges. They deserve all our support.

  • Alice Spearman

    Congratulations to these students. They have learned many critcal thinking skills that will help them further their education. Mr. Weinberg is right, they have developed a intellectual maturity which again will help them when they take their education further. Good Work!

  • aly

    this is indeed an exciting way to learn and grow in the test-prep era, and it makes me happy to see students growing in ways that reading the textbook and taking tests simply doesn’t allow. the skills it takes to develop a question, collect sources, interview experts, synthesize information and produce a thesis and presentation will most definitely help them in the “brave new world.” i will agree with both pepe and steve that these featured AP history students are likely in the high level classes mentioned by nextset; i’m not sure why it would be assumed otherwise.

    what i really hope is that next year OUSD teachers are inspired by this submission and get more students involved, because i guarantee you that history day is a lot more ken and barbie and a lot less oakland.

  • Nextset

    I’ll try to restate my issue and make it more clear. I’m not knocking the students – and there is some academic value in what they are doing. I find it interesting that I’m the only one that raises this issue on the blog so far. I do wonder if the primary reason people are passing through here is to try to feel good about OUSD and everything that is happening as far as the academic programs there.

    Since racial integration of the public schools I believe there is a process of white liberals trying to teach minorities to “be” minorities. That process is now aided by black and brown liberals who don’t know any different.

    Under (1950’s era?) segregated schools – such as Dunbar High School in Washington DC and the like, minority students were directed into more mainstream work which they were going to really need in order to compete alongside Ken and Barbie in military, industrial and higher learning pursuits.

    One posted claimed that his son is a “Ken” (no, he is Jewish and Ken is decidedly not Jewish he’s WASP) and studied such projects also – so this is just fine. Well it’s is in no way the same when a hypothetical WASP does minority studies. I’ll not bother to explain why at this time, maybe later.

    There is a danger in turning out your minority students especially the brighter ones who could have done mainstream industry and commerce studies, laden with Ethnic Studies on their resume (and by that I also mean Ethnic Projects of all kinds).

    For one thing, such students are not seen as competitive in mainstream areas and they are also actually not competitive in those areas. History of Mexican American wars aside. This isn’t about the specific ethnic-centered topic of the day.

    What I am not hearing about at OUSD are high school internship type projects where students are spending time with professionals or government agencies, or perhaps stories about concurrent college class placement during high school, or maybe students participation in industry and professional associations or conventions. I would like to see evidence that OUSD is connecting it’s minority students in Explorer Posts, Travel events (and not to Mexico either), Congressional Page and Service Academy events, seminars with people such as Dr. Teller, all those things that get one on the ladders they need to connect to.

    And as you may have guessed I am extremely wary of Ethnic Centered studies for the chillun where they are not being connected into the ladders with Ken and Barbie.

    Because those connections are important and useful and minority students are not getting enough of them from their own homes. The segregated black schools such as Dunbar (haven’t heard of similar Mexican segregated schools) put a premium on placement of their bright students. Placing the students include getting them ready for the placing. I assume the students referred to in this thread expect/want a University Level 4 year degree.

    In my day I saw plenty of minority students go to UC Berkeley and fall apart for lack of preparation & socialization to handle such a university (Black and Mexican students). I saw the same thing in law school. Ethnic studies is just one more way public schools make sure their students are never made ready for the handoff.

    If you are not good at the subjects at hand at University level you are roadkill. Ethnic Studies is not one of those subjects. No one in their right mind is going to get a $150,000 + 4 year degree in that.

    Save us from White Liberals and from Ethnic Studies.

    Sorry to be the skunk at the garden party, but the contrary view should be discussed especially to give detractors something to disagree with.

  • Gordon Danning

    Steve Weinberg:

    I did not mean to criticize the student; there is nothing wrong with what she said; it is pretty standard, 9th to 10th-grade level analysis. But that is all it is, and it therefore should not be held up as an example of high level student achievement. For example, I had a study session today, and a (10th grade AP World History) student developed the following thesis for an essay comparing Marxism and Fascism (I am paraphrasing): “Both Marxism and Fascism wanted to create a government that was more fair to those whom they saw as oppressed or alienated.” That is far, far more sophisticated than the observation made by the student in the article, yet it is STILL below the level of analysis expected of AP students at “Ken and Barbie” schools. If we want our kids to perform at high levels, we need high expectations.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: We need higher expectation all right and we also need to talk to the older high school students in a more adult manner including on occasion dissaprovals or rebukes.

    By the time a high school student approaches 12th grade there should be no babying them for thoughtless, shoddy or substandard work. A job well done should draw mere acknowledgement not over the top praise. Substandard work should be directly marked down with no consolation prizes. If a students is exhibiting no talent at all in an area after appropriate time and study they should be told in very clear terms.

    One of the hallmarks of public education is the students not having a true realization of how they are doing relative to their peers statewide and nationwide, a false sense of accomplishment.

    The sooner students realize where their talents do not lie the sooner they can move on to areas where they do have talent – or maybe make the required change to bring marks up.

    So yes, you should “criticize” students. That’s what teachers do in teaching (with the understanding that you give your best professional opinion which is your own).

    If these kids are brought up to not be able to take criticism they aren’t going anywhere in life.

  • Katy Murphy

    UPDATE: These students won one of the “senior group exhibit” categories, according to Claudia Medina from the Alameda County Office of Education.

    Congratulations to the EOSA team!