March 9, 2011 — Not much is taught about the Caribbean slave trade in secondary schools in this country. That's about to change, thanks to the work of an international group of history teachers.
Ten teachers from Central Virginia and 10 from the United Kingdom have been working together since August through the University of Virginia's new Transatlantic Teacher Scholars Program. They met face-to-face for the first time recently on a program-sponsored research trip in Barbados.
The program, still in its infancy, unites teachers from Central Virginia and another country to explore a particular moment in American history of interest to both nations, explained Andy Mink, director of outreach at U.Va.'s Curry School of Education and manager of the program, which is being funded by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. State Department.
"There's a continued, growing interest in interconnectedness and global education," he said. The program has three focuses, he explained – historical scholarship, history education and collaboration across national borders to share different perspectives.
Because the slave trade was a transatlantic system, Mink said, it was an obvious first choice for the Transatlantic Teacher Scholars Program. He was surprised at the differences between American history curricula in the United States and the United Kingdom.
"We all assume there is 'history' and we all agree on it," Mink said, but that is not always the case. For example, U.K. schools don't teach the American Revolution, he said, but are interested in the development of the American West.
One of the challenges of the program was overcoming different national interests to create a global approach to such a sensitive and important topic.
The teachers have been working together since August via Elluminate, a Web-conferencing program that allows groups to "meet" in cyberspace. The program supports video and audio chats, real-time video and document sharing. Through this website, participants were able to collaborate on long-distance learning activities like working with university historians and professional archives. Teachers met for class time using this application, and also for smaller group projects.
"We spent a lot of time early in the program developing a community," Mink said. To foster relationships, and to more effectively explore the topic at hand, the teachers were divided into small groups of four – two U.K. teachers and two U.S. teachers – to focus on a particular topic. Within each group, each of the four teachers had a smaller sub-topic to study individually.
As part of the project, teachers made their own unique teaching plans based on their research. If deemed worthy of publication, the teachers received an additional stipend for their work. All 20 teaching plans were published, Mink said.
Last week, the project culminated with a weeklong trip to explore Barbados. For the first two days, Mink said, the teachers spent time visiting, exploring and interacting with sites of slave auctions, sugar plantations and other places of interest.
On the third day, the small groups were let loose on the island to perform their own topical research.
"We wanted to create an immersive project that allowed teachers to be hands-on," Mink said. "Each team of teachers invented their own framing question and conducted research to support their work.
"A common theme was to explore the historical memory of the slave trade and unpack how contemporary Barbados deals with the legacy of slavery in its past by interviewing people, working in the National Barbados archives, analyzing sites and commemorations, and talking with teachers and students about the way slavery is taught here."
In effect, Mink said he hopes that students will feel more connected to the topic at hand.
The Transatlantic Teacher Scholars Program is funded by the U.S. Embassy in London, and is an extension of a larger, five-year project titled "America on the World Stage."
This more intensive project is funded by a $1 million Teaching American History grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, and features opportunities for interested teachers to attend speaker series and participate in field research excursions.
Participants in the Transatlantic Teacher Scholars Program Barbados project received a $1,250 stipend for their involvement and the publication of their teaching plan. Their trip to Barbados was free, funded by the program.
Mink hopes to continue the Transatlantic Teacher Scholars Program throughout the duration of the "America On the World Stage" grant. Next year, he is planning to embark on a similar project that will unite Virginia teachers with educators in Malaysia to explore America's expansion and interest into the East. Participants in this trip may spend a week researching in Hawaii. He is currently seeking interested partners.
Depending upon the success of the Malaysia program, the Teacher Scholars Program may also take on a Trans-American perspective as well. Mink said he is interested in collaborating with Argentine teachers to explore American involvement in World War II and the impact of the Holocaust on the Americas.
For information about "America on the World Stage," see the Hands on History website.