"So think about what you would want to know from someone who was actually there."
September 8, 2012 7:21 AM   Subscribe

In school, most grades have a favorite teacher. For Rockport-Fulton Middle School's seventh grade, it's Bobby Jackson. He teaches Texas History. (Via)

From the article: While many US states don’t specifically teach their own history, Texas has required kids to take two full years since 1946. UT historian H. W. Brands has likened it to Catholic confirmation and Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs: the kids are old enough to grasp the material but not so mature that they question the orthodoxy.

The magazine has a photo of Mr. Jackson portraying Enrique Esparza. He was profiled by the Rockport-Pilot right before the Texas Monthly article was published.

This issue of Texas Monthly is titled "How to Raise a Texan." Other articles available online include:
* The Education of Mi Hijita: My daughter is only two, but I’m already planning to teach her what it means to be a Texan—and a Tejana.
* The Exile’s Lament: Even after I moved to Los Angeles, there was no question that I’d always be a Texan at heart. But what about my daughter?
* The Boys of the Dipper Ranch: On 50,000 acres that they have mostly to themselves (not including their hounds, mules, horses, cattle, chickens, piglets, and parents), Jasper, Trevor, and Tanner Klein live a life almost untouched by the modern world.
* And Away They Go: Sending a Texan off into the world—and hoping he’ll return.
* I Shall Never Surrender or Retreat . . .: . . . from teaching my fifteen-year-old daughter about her Texas roots. So when I realized I was failing to accomplish this most sacred of duties, I did what any well-meaning parent would do: loaded her (and her friends, of course) into the car and hit the road.

Previously: Happy Texas Independence Day, The Spanish Missions of San Antonio
posted by zarq (39 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
In my Junior High, the favorite teacher for 7th graders was Mr. Alba, who taught New Mexico History. He had a way of teaching which involved great storytelling, in the very old traditional sense of the word. He really made it all come alive, and I remember much of what he covered during the year I had him. His telling of the Battle Of Acoma stands out particularly in my mind.
posted by hippybear at 7:32 AM on September 8, 2012

(Which makes me wonder how many of these favorite teachers at that age are history teachers.)
posted by hippybear at 7:33 AM on September 8, 2012

Mine was.
posted by notyou at 7:34 AM on September 8, 2012

I remember -- fondly, for some reason! -- having to memorize the names of all the counties of Maryland.
posted by escabeche at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2012

I live here but this is the first I've heard of the guy. But, it doesn't surprise me. Growing up in Texas I had to take a lot of Texas history, naturally, and most of the teachers were VERY passionate about it. It was one of my favorite classes.
posted by Malice at 7:39 AM on September 8, 2012

hippybear: "(Which makes me wonder how many of these favorite teachers at that age are history teachers.)"

Science here.
posted by zarq at 7:42 AM on September 8, 2012

In my experience, a good history teacher is almost always a favorite, while a bad one is always the least favorite. It is a tricky subject to teach right.
posted by absalom at 7:56 AM on September 8, 2012

My SO has just developed an addiction to Friday Night Lights (S1), the Texan culture portrayed seems pretty alien to me even though I have watched a fair amount of US TV. We are both kind of fascinated by it...is it a fair representation of Texas small town life?
posted by biffa at 7:56 AM on September 8, 2012

Science. Ms. Baker, whose classroom had one wall devoted to small animals. Detention in her class meant cleaning the cages and feeding them. On the last day of eighth grade, she made fireworks from scratch for us. She made the in an inch thick slab of marble, and she was just as surprised as we were when it cracked down the middle. Great teacher, taught junior high general science, but spent her summers getting qualified to teach as many branches of science as she could.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:01 AM on September 8, 2012

Really, though, find any kid's favorite teacher and you find a good human being who enjoys kids.
posted by absalom at 8:30 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was in private school so I did my Texas history in sixth grade, but I took the college level course when I thought I was going to be a teacher (har-de-har). They made us read James Michener's Texas where they talk about the kids memorizing all the Texas counties (254!). It really is an indoctrination into what it means to be a Texan.

And having trained toward doing Bobby Jackson's job, respect. That's a tough thing to do for a living and he sounds like he's doing a fantastic job.
posted by immlass at 8:52 AM on September 8, 2012

I never enjoyed Texas History (loved loved loved all of the other history classes, just didn't give even half a shit about Texas history, and I had ancestors in those battles) but that teacher, Ms. Pahacek, was still my favorite of that year.

And Biffa, Friday Night Lights is pretty fair and accurate, yeah, for small town West Texas of a certain sort. Texas is massive and very very diverse. Friday Night Lights is like setting a show about Australia in the Outback. It could be accurate as can be, but it would still not be representative of very many people's experiences.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:13 AM on September 8, 2012

They make up in history what they lack in science, particularly biology and evolution.
posted by Renoroc at 9:14 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was taught evolution in public school in Texas. Quite comprehensively, actually.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 AM on September 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mr. Rawls, American history/civics, 8th grade.
posted by pxe2000 at 9:41 AM on September 8, 2012

Is there a map somewhere of which states have a state history requirement? When I was in middle school history was a subset of "Social Studies". In seventh grade we had world geography and in eighth grade we had American History. I don't think I even saw history of the state of California as an elective on any curriculum through high school.

Also I wonder what this guy really teaches those students about the Texans who were living here when the white guys showed up with guns. The article didn't cover that. The Karankawa who were living in Rockport in the 1700's are now extinct.

(I look at that wikipedia page every once in awhile. There is now an item on there from the Brownsville newspaper with a story about a guy who claims he had Karankawa grandparents. Wow.)
posted by bukvich at 9:43 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did anyone else think it was weird that he put on the makeup to portray a Tejano person? It comes off to me as a form of black face, but perhaps I'm in the minority with that opinion.

Aside from that, he sounds really fantastic.
posted by raccoon409 at 9:57 AM on September 8, 2012

As a transplanted Yankee who grew up in Texas, the specifics of exactly why I should remember the Alamo escape me (besides the whole "desperate battle where everyone dies" part), but I do remember that the Yellow Rose of Texas was celebrated because Santa Anna was caught with his pants down in his tent thanks to her...
posted by romakimmy at 10:00 AM on September 8, 2012

That's outrageous. Two years learning about the history of just one state? Wouldn't those students be better-served by studying just about anything else?

Let's mess with Texas.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:13 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wonder what this guy really teaches those students about the Texans who were living here when the white guys showed up with guns.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, Grade 7 include:
(2) History. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues through the Mexican National Era shaped the history of Texas. The student is expected to:
(A) compare the cultures of American Indians in Texas prior to European colonization such as Gulf, Plains, Puebloan, and Southeastern…
(6) History. The student understands how individuals, events, and issues shaped the history of Texas from Reconstruction through the beginning of the 20th century. The student is expected to:
(A) identify significant individuals, events, and issues from Reconstruction through the beginning of the 20th century, including the factors leading to the expansion of the Texas frontier, the effects of westward expansion on American Indians, the buffalo soldiers, and Quanah Parker;
posted by grouse at 10:17 AM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most states teach their state history class in 4th grade. Texas and Georgia teach it in middle school.

Here's the general social studies curriculum that a lot of US schools follow:

K-2: Kid, you live in a community.
3: There are communities in other countries. By the way, this is what a country is.
4: This is our state history. The history of our state is the history of our country, we're that important!
5: US History, the first attempt: American Indians, Colonists, and the American Revolution. Don't tell your friends you cried at the end of Johnny Tremain.
6: Ancient Civilizations. Quit complaining about homework, you don't have to build a pyramid.
7: World Cultures. We'll force your parents to cook a meal in a cuisine they are not familiar with and serve it at an after school event.
8: US History, the second attempt: We made it all the way through the Civil War and it's only June!
9: World History I: We can somehow manage to cover everything from hunter/gathers through the Renaissance. By the way, all world religions can be reduced to lists: 7 Pillars of Islam, 4 Noble Truths, etc.
10: World History II: Renaissance to the Present, but we'll be lucky if we can cover the Cold War. Nation-states are fun!
11: US History, the third attempt: This time we swear we'll be able to get to the present. Details are for college.
12: US Government. Holy shit some of you are 18! We should probably teach you about citizenship so this country can long endure! What do you mean we only have 1 semester to teach this?
posted by ifandonlyif at 10:39 AM on September 8, 2012 [16 favorites]

1adam12- I believe the two years is referring to 4th and 7th grade. Most states have a semester or just the year in elementary school. Considering you don't learn/ remember much from the 4th grade class, the second year isn't that crazy.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:41 AM on September 8, 2012

grouse that is an amazing document. Glad I never had to take that class. It would have made me one unhappy 7th grader I can tell you that. I spent enough time being miserable about all the "stupid" and "useless" stuff I had to study as it was.
posted by bukvich at 10:43 AM on September 8, 2012

I had a great Western Civilization teacher senior year in high school.. when we studied Dante's Inferno he had month long "Hell Game" where there were some extreme rules you had to follow, with many avenues for failure. If you failed, you were banished from the game and therefore free to sit in the back of class and not participate, however you still had to show to class. I think I made it to Canto 18 or something. Extremely engaging and I've never felt like a LEARNED a text more deeply. And when we were studying ancient Rome there was another huge game where the class was split into four teams and each had to elect an emperor. The groups each had one entire class period to demonstrate a number of skills. There was a catapult contest, you had to make an election speech, you had to compose and perform a campaign song, etc etc. To the annoyance of all the other classrooms, we had to parade the hallways yelling our support for our emperor. Quite fun, that teacher. I think the school secretly hated him but they knew that getting rid of him would cause a small uproar. He was unorthodox but extremely knowledgable. He even come to class "in character" as Socrates to engage us in Socratic dialogue and destroy our arguments against him. It's great to see there are still some creative teachers out there. I'd love to have been in Jackson's class.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:55 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I remember that studying the different Native American groups/tribes was a HUGE percentage of my Texas History. A big part of it was hammering home the understanding that Native Americans were not at all monolithic, and understanding different regional conflicts, economies, resources and migrations.

Basically, Texas History as I remember it was:

Native Americans
Texas Revolution
Westward Expansion and Settlement
Barbara Jordan
posted by Navelgazer at 10:56 AM on September 8, 2012

I took South Carolina history in 4th grade, I believe. I'm pretty sure the College of Charleston offers a major in SC history too.
posted by blaneyphoto at 12:14 PM on September 8, 2012

I do not remember taking two years of Texas History, just one, but that may be because our teacher that year was really wonderful and awesome and loved the subject matter. And I think it's really the only class where I studied local geography/geology, flora/fauna, cow breeds (that was a super fun unit), the oil production cycle, and real local history. And yeah, the Native American and Mexican-American history was thoughtful and sensitive and actually fairly complex for a bunch of 12-year-olds.

For us, too, that class was super hands-on because I grew up in Nacogdoches, The Oldest Town In Texas(tm). So we could read about something, and then walk down the street and see many of those names and places. Outside of Austin and Houston, I probably got one of the cooler Texas History experiences.

I find myself now driving around California thinking, "I wish I knew what the hell that tree was, or why that little mountain over there is just dirt but the one right over there is completely studded with boulders." I always knew that kind of thing about Texas, because of Texas History. I should probably go hunt down a California History textbook as a primer.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:15 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

when we studied Dante's Inferno he had month long "Hell Game" where there were some extreme rules you had to follow, with many avenues for failure. I think I made it to Canto 18 or something.

Attacking Florence was probably a bad idea.
posted by ersatz at 12:35 PM on September 8, 2012

The real gem here is Texas Monthly. I've been a fan from day one and the stories helped me get over a bad experience in Southeast Asia. There are literally thousands of interesting places and things to do in Texas. Most notably the Terlingua Chili cook off. Try Wick Fowler's 2 alarm chili mix for a real taste of Texas...No, I don't own the stock...
posted by crushedhope at 12:55 PM on September 8, 2012

It also makes sense that Western states do more state history. If you live on the East Coast, state & national history are pretty much the same. Out here, we had to learn Massachusetts state history (aka "Colonial History") and then do all the contemporaneous things in California. From what I've known of smart East Coasters, they know nothing of the missions and other early California settlement, but we know all about both.
posted by dame at 2:31 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should also mention our most memorable history lesson in Houston Middle School, which was actually in 8th Grade World History (American History was in 9th Grade, with another fantastic teacher.)

I've probably told this story before, but in our spring semester, while we were covering WWII, at the beginning of one of our classes one of the other History teachers threw our classroom door open and started barking orders at us, and corralled us out of the room while berating us very harshly. We were shoved off to another, large classroom illuminated only by a few candles at the blackboard, with one aisle splitting the chairs down the middle. other teachers were there, randomly yelling at us to sit on one side or the other. once they slammed the doors shut on us, the teacher who had come into our room at the start of class announced "those of you on this side of the room are going to the gas chambers. Those of you on this side of the room are going to the labor camp."

And thus started our terrifying, 90-minute immersive lesson on the holocaust, with an emphasis on how nationalistic fervor can happen anywhere. It's kind of stuck with me.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:35 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

North Carolina (at least when I was in school) did a year of North Carolina geography (4th grade) and a year of North Carolina history (8th). It's got the kind of pro-NC bias you'd expect; stuff like how North Carolina was the really first state to declare independence, but we let Virginia take the credit because we were nice like that. Or how we were the last state to secede, but lost the most citizens in the Civil War, so obviously we're good no matter what how you feel about the war. Also, we learned a lot about the production of tobacco and turpentine.*

*North Carolina: First basketball, first in barbecue, first in the production of naval stores in the 1770s
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:51 PM on September 8, 2012

Lone Star: A History Of Texas And The Texans by T. R. Fehrenbach was a very interesting read. I highly recommend it.
posted by chillmost at 3:06 PM on September 8, 2012

My 7th-grade Texas history teacher spent most of the year building a scale model of the Alamo in red clay. He would only let the boys in the class work on it. He was also the football coach. And a dick.
posted by jeoc at 5:24 PM on September 8, 2012

4th grade for me included a unit on New Hampshire history, culminating in a visit to the Museum of NH History (WITH A STAGECOACH!! And Franklin Pierce memorabilia. AND A STUFFED MOOSE!) and, even better, New Hampshire Day. The 4th grade classrooms were full of fake Abenaki Indians, a few Franklin Pierces and Daniel Websters, John Starks, Molly Starks, Celia Thaxters, and even an Old Man of the Mountain carved out of styrofoam. I dressed up as a Mill Girl, having done my project on the Amoskeag Mills, at one point in time the largest textile compound in the world but since then just large, mostly abandoned brick buildings. It was awesome and I refused to play outside during the day for a few weeks before New Hampshire Day so I could work up a nice pale Child Labor pallor.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:11 PM on September 8, 2012

This is really A Thing.

My middle school's fave teacher was Mr. Horlacher, who taught Nevada History. He taught it in a totally fascinating way, in front of usually noisy, usually disrespectful kids. In his classes you could have heard a pin drop. One of his ideas was to have us read aloud from Ordeal By Hunger, the historical treatment of the Donner party. Yes, even the cannibalism. It was right up a middle schooler's alley.

On one field trip, we went out to the Forty mile Desert and walked around on foot looking for artifacts. I was the only one who found something. It was a large, rusted iron staple-looking thing. Mr. Horlacher said it was probably a fastener on a wagon. It was the high point of middle school.
posted by telstar at 1:21 AM on September 9, 2012

This is in drastic contrast to our course on Washington State history in junior high in 1987, which was so boring that most of us fell asleep, drooling, during it. It could be summed up as, "The glaciers came. Then, there were the various Native American tribes, with their potlucks and totems! Then Narcissa Whitman died! And then Boeing came."

Yeah, that was literally about it. Boeing actually got several chapters in our brand spanking new textbook. Thrilling stuff.

Nowadays, it's probably mostly about Microsoft.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:43 AM on September 9, 2012

Weird, my Washington State history textbook talked mostly about the local tribes, the Denny Party and the influx of white settlers that built Seattle. There was also a fair amount about the building of the Grand Coulee Dam, irrigating the farmlands of the east side of the state... the only mention of Boeing that I can remember, honestly, was how they would hide their plants during wartime with elaborate draperies made to look like residential neighborhoods when viewed from a spy plane. There was also info about the Japanese internment camps in that chapter -- not much, frankly, but my history teacher that semester used supplemental material that covered the camps much more in-depth because it was an area of history that particularly interested him. I remember pictures in the textbook of a mess hall at a CCC camp up in the mountains and realizing, oh shit, that's the dining hall at Camp Waskowitz.

When did you take WA State history, and where in the state? For what it's worth, I went to school at an underfunded school in a poor district and our textbooks were, like, hella old. Printed in the 70's but still in use in the 90's, old.
posted by palomar at 9:39 AM on September 9, 2012

Ah, never mind about the when, I see 1987 in your comment now. Still waiting for the coffee to kick in... but I am curious about where in the state you were? With brand new textbooks it sounds like maybe you were in a better school than me, but I had a way better experience in that class than you did. Whether that was from arguably more interesting material or a more interesting/interested teacher is hard to tell, but I definitely did not find that class boring in the slightest. Actually, it's been twenty years since I was in that class (1992, 9th grade), and I still think of it as one of my favorite classes in high school.

I had kind of a strange history class experience during the required year of U.S. History in 11th grade... my teacher was sexually harrassing me and I quit attending class during the second semester, failing that semester for the year and forcing me to retake the second semester during senior year. I got to take that class with a different teacher and the difference between my first semester experience and my second semester experience were night and freakin' day. Creepy teacher from first semester was lousy at his job, couldn't keep the students engaged, used Casablanca as a factual teaching tool, not a supplemental "here's an interesting viewpoint" tool (he showed us the colorized version. That still pisses me off.)... the teacher from my second semester, by contrast, was deeply interested in the material and it showed. His students were engaged, class discussions were actually productive, questions were encouraged and the answers provided were not simply "here is what the textbook says," but "well, that's a very interesting question, and we can look at it from a few different angles..." and then he would start making notes on the overhead projector and showing how the particular concept or event we were asking about tied into other parts of history and how it effected society then and in the current day, often referencing books that were not our textbook and very strongly recommending that we seek out other sources of information. He encouraged us to interview our grandparents and great aunts and uncles about their lives and experiences, when we got to the civil rights movement he had his daughter come in to talk about apartheid as a comparison to segregated life in America (she lived in South Africa and happened to be visiting him when that unit came up in class).

I should go look that guy up and write him a letter or something. He was awesome.
posted by palomar at 10:03 AM on September 9, 2012

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