The course I teach most often at Cal Poly Pomona is U.S. History since 1877. My version of this course is unique in that:
- I give equal weight to skill development and content mastery. In class and through carefully crafted assignments, I teach students to analyze documents in their historical context, a basic skill of any historical inquiry. My students learn to identify how documents connect with the larger set of ideas, symbols, policies, and movements in U.S. history.
- As part of this skill development, I devote considerable class time to analyzing a variety of images and video clips. I have found that students are already primed to learn through visual imagery but rarely trained to do so thoughtfully. By applying techniques similar to those we they develop for analyzing written documents, students are quickly able to “read” visual imagery from the past in ways that deepen their understanding of the intellectual and cultural context.
- We actually continue to the present (instead of ending in the 1980’s). I close with lectures on the War on Terror and the state of America’s cities (think Ferguson, MO), highlight the immediacy and relevance of the history we have studied.
A significant part of my job is helping first-year students adjust to the higher demands and greater autonomy of college. I take care to be both professional and approachable. I ensure that my class is impeccably organized to aid in their transition. This is also essential for managing my student load. When, as in the Fall 2014 quarter, I teach three full sections I have almost 200 students, including all responsibility for grading and assessment.
In the Spring 2014 quarter I taught United States Civilization to 1865 at CSU Los Angeles. The course structure and focus were similar to that of my survey course at Cal Poly Pomona, though it also provided some unique challenges. Because students see the American Revolution (and, to a lesser extent, the Civil War) as encapsulating timeless American values, I spent more time ensuring that they understood the shifting historical meanings of key ideas such as freedom, slavery, and race. My usual dual emphasis on content and skill development was crucial in accomplishing this more mature historical understanding.