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People Need to Know

Confronting History in the Heartland


Robert M. Lucas

People Need to Know follows a group of students as they study the defining event in their community’s history – a 1930 lynching that was captured in one of the century’s most iconic and disturbing photographs. With ambitions of contributing to public understanding, the students set out to create a collection of online resources about the lynching. As they encounter troubling information and consider how best to present it to others, the students come to better understand the complex ethical ramifications of historical work and to more fully appreciate why their learning matters. Through the stories of these students, their teacher, and an author re-immersed in the town of his own childhood, the book develops an approach to curriculum in which students create products of value beyond the school walls. In a time of educational standardization, when assignments and assessments often fail to deliberately engage the ethically charged and locally particular contexts of students’ lives, Robert M. Lucas proposes that we see learning in their creation and appreciation of public value. The book will be of particular interest for courses in curriculum studies and in history and social studies education.
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Chapter 3. History in the Act


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I arrived in Marion in the closing days of March 2011 and was immediately surrounded by people and places from an earlier stage of my life. I unpacked a suitcase into my childhood bedroom and soon found myself walking the halls of Marion High School, from which I had graduated twelve years earlier. In this chapter, I explain how the project unfolded over two months in the spring of 2011, providing evidence of the project’s scope, the time allotted, and the activities and teaching that took place. I also explain the sorts of data collection that I undertook, clarifying my role in the project as both a participant and an observer and providing context necessary to understand later chapters, which examine the nature and degree of value that this work had for students and members of the public. This narrative is far from a “how-to” manual, but I hope to provide some practical sense of how a project like this can be carried out.

Over the course of this description, it will become clear that the classroom differed from the norm in important ways, not least among them the fact that Mr. Munn and I—two adults—were both present. At the same time, however, the research site was a real classroom in an ordinary public high school. I aim to present a balanced analysis of the project and to reflect on what lessons are to be...

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