Category Archives: socialstudies

How many slaves work for you?

If you haven’t seen the Slavery Footprint site (, you should. I had my 7th graders to this survey, as we started our unit on the causes of the Civil War. Slavery seems like such a distant concept to most of us. This site surveys your consumption of various goods, how big your house is, etc., and then tabulates how many slaves work in the production chain of your stuff. Selected responses from my students follow:

I was very surprised that so many slaves worked for me. To be honest I though that there were no more slaves, I knew there were bad work situations, but I didn’t think there were slaves. Overall I thought that it was very very shocking.

Ahhhhhhh! That’s crazy! I am mad at slave owners!

I was glad that I didn’t have to much technology.  But when I thought about it I felt a little bad about it, but then when I went to school I wanted to be the one with the most slaves.  I feel like that’s how people felt like would you rather impress your friends or be left out and have no slaves!!!

I had 41 slaves working for me. This kind of scared me to know that there were that many slaves for each person in the world. That is a lot of slaves. The product that most effected me having so many slaves was that I had towls and a bedroom. It said that towels were woven by hand.

I had 49 slaves working for me. I thought this was really surprising because in the amendments it’s says that slavery has been abolished but..there’s still slavery.

I was very surprised and upset that 94 slaves worked for me. I didn’t realize how bad slavery was, even now, in 2013.

I think that it is saddening that there is still slavery in the world most of which we didn’t know about. The way to avoid this is hard because they make the things that make life easier.

I was surprised. I was surprised because that is a lot of people that are suffering because we have a couple thing from different places.

I am amazed that there are that many slaves working for me.  Up until yesterday I thought that I had nothing to do with slaves.  Despite hating slavery I technically own 37 slaves.

I had 53 slaves and I thought that was very sad because I don’t like slavery but in fact I’m supporting it. It’s really interesting that buying things from regular stores here is still associated with slavery.


Three things I learned in colonial Williamsburg

Last week, the 7th grade made its annual 3-day trek to Jamestown and colonial Williamsburg. As a 7th grade advisor, I get to go for free. There is the small matter of supervising 24/7, but hey… I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Here are the top three things I learned, in no particular order:

1. Our kids are awesome. I actually had a tour guide come up to me and shake my hand, saying “You’ve done a fantastic job with these kids. They are polite, respectful, and engaged”. It was kind of embarrassing, since I know I can’t claim sole credit! But unsolicited compliments like that from people who work every day with school groups is nice.

2. There is such a thing as a sugar high. I saw it in action. Normally normal 7th-graders were transformed before our eyes into crack  sugar addicts, thanks to the candy store in Merchant Square, and the cotton candy machine at the Golden Corral. Yow! Maybe a little bit of sugar in the diet would help lessen the effect of forbidden fruit.

3. Slavery doesn’t get mentioned much. Colonial Williamsburg is sometimes referred to as Colonial Disneyland for Adults, a land where everything is awesome and nothing unpleasant intrudes. I know they are working on correcting this, but I saw very little evidence of that in our tour. My eye-opening moment came a couple of years ago when I learned that the population of Williamsburg in 1774 was about 50% slave. Half the population wasn’t represented much.

Having said that, it’s always a great trip, and the students learned so much that that surely beats reading it out of a book.

Class Constitution #2

We the people of Mr. Irving’s class, in order to form a more perfect History class, establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility to ourselves and Mr. Irving to ordain, and establish this Constitution, the United Students of Mr. Irving’s B Block History class. These are our rules:

Everyone has a right to opinion and a vote

If Mr. Irving becomes destructive of these ends, we may complain to him and ask him to make changes to make our History class more enjoyable for the community at large

You can’t insult people or be annoying to them purposefully

Thou may not speak profanities

Mr. Irving chooses our tables and they must change once a month

Plagiarism and copying is illegal

Mr. Irving has the responsibility to foreshadow tests and put homework on Moodle and hand out study guides before the test

All devices shall be used for educational purposes only.

Every month, around the time when we get to change seats, we will be able to have a meeting to decide what rules need to be altered or changed. (This meeting can take a maximum of 1 class period).

If anyone does not follow these laws, Mr. Irving decides their consequence.

Robert’s Rules of Order

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: kids always amaze me. I really believe that students will perform up, or down, to our expectations.
Case in point: we’re studying the US Constitution in my two 7th grade history sections. To give them a taste of how this all works, I tasked them both with coming up with a “constitution” for the class. They worked in 3-4 groups, developed a set of rules and guidelines in each group, and then dumped all the suggestions into a Moodle wiki.

Then I said they could choose 10 out of all of them. I walked out of the room and left them to it. I actually suggested using Robert’s Rules to see if they would pick up on the hint. They didn’t. Guess I should have been more direct!
One class (the bigger one) was loud. Really loud. They did accomplish some things. But there was also lots of grumbling, complaining about not being heard, some people monopolizing the discussion, etc. So I went over a very simplified version of Robert’s Rules of Order with them, and then left them to it again. What a difference!  It ran smoothly, much more quietly, and they finished on time. All seemed pretty happy with Robert and his Rules, as well as proud of their accomplishments. I told them I was proud of the work they had done, and the mature way they had done it.

So the takeaway? Sometimes we expect young people to act in a certain way without giving them the tools by which to do so. Once they “got” the Robert’s procedure, they went with it and did a fantastic job. And yes, we all signed the document and will post it in a prominent place in the classroom.

1876 cover of Robert's Rules of Order , a book...
1876 cover of Robert’s Rules of Order , a book containing rules of order intended to be adopted for use by a deliberative assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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