July 17, 2009
Textbooks are nice, but nothing beats a history lesson that includes original documents, eyewitness accounts and participants, a group of Virginia teachers is finding out this week.
The 19 educators from across the state are learning about Massive Resistance — Virginia’s attempt to keep from desegregating schools in the 1950s and 1960s — as participants in the annual weeklong E. Claiborne Robins Jr. Teachers Institute at the Virginia Historical Society.
“It’s up to us to take these stories and pass them on,” Veola Glover, a fourth-grade teacher at Richmond’s Oak Grove Elementary School, said during a group discussion about a field trip to Farmville in Prince Edward County, where for several years schools were closed rather than integrated.
For the first four days of the institute, teachers met with and listened to presentations from people who suffered through Massive Resistance and others who have studied and taught the subject. Today, the teachers travel to the Capitol to watch part of a daylong symposium on Massive Resistance that is being put on by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“That’s what I’ve gotten out of it, the stories I can tell the kids,” Mack Scott, a history teacher at Meadowbrook High School, said during the group discussions. “Facts and dates are just facts dates. But they’ll remember” hearing personal anecdotes.
Other teachers mentioned access to original documents and trips to the sites.
“I want to try to replicate it with my students,” Beau Dickenson, a history teacher at Spotswood High School in Rockingham County, said of the trip to the Moton Museum in Farmville.
That’s good news to William B. Obrochta, the director of education at the Virginia Historical Society.
“As our president likes to say, we’re in the retail history business,” he said. “But we’re also in the wholesale business. These teachers reach 1,600 students. And they’ll keep reaching them for years.”
He said he recently ran into a teacher who participated 11 years ago.
“She said she’s still using those lessons,” he said.
Caroline Legros, the student program coordinator at the historical society, said the institute is a way for teachers to add depth and context to issues that were often covered quickly, if at all, while they were in school.
“This is a subject that for a very long time has been marginalized,” she said. “Teachers find it challenging. It’s something they might have to cover in an afternoon.”
Getting a closer look, she said, helps “it resonate a bit more fully with them.”