What is JADE? An Educational Philosophy

Joyful, Authentic, Dynamic, Effective

Teaching and learning, for me, are paths deeply linked to the goals of joy and authenticity. My students and I walk down this path together because I make every attempt to turn education into an experience. I cultivate a classroom culture that allows all students to find joy in their learning and to pursue authentic forms of expression of their historical knowledge. The result is that students recognize that joy and authenticity actually bring more rigor to their learning. When they are engaged in true historical work they strive to reach for more and to excel in ways that they had not previously imagined. In other words, I teach so that students and I find joy in our work together, creating real historical products, and consequently reaching higher-levels of achievements.

One of the ways in which I bring joy and authenticity into the room is through role-play. In our French Revolution role-play, students become the topics, people, and ideas that they are studying. One student might be a watchmaker in the Third Estate, another could be a female baker, and a third might be an Enlightened nobleman. They must evaluate their decision and determine whether to join a bread riot, whether to support the sans-culottes, or whether to attempt to end the privileges of the Catholic Church. I teach because I see joy in students bringing history alive and I see authenticity in how they take on real people’s roles to make tough decisions and to grapple with moral ambiguity.

Mock trials provide a similar experience in which we are all imbued with enthusiasm. We are no longer just students and teacher -- we are lawyers and witnesses, judge and jury. History leaves the wall of the classroom and enters into the courtroom. We feel the tingling anticipation of a student prosecutor as she begins her closing statement in a Nuremberg Trial of Julius Streicher (a Nazi newspaper editor and propagandist) or in the oohs of the audience as a student pursues a nimble line of cross-examination. The joy is inevitable as students realize they are taken seriously as intellectuals, as people who can dissect a source and engage in high-level legal questioning. We culminate the trial with a discussion of responsibility and justice. What does it mean to achieve justice? To what extent are we responsible for the consequences of our words?

 

For me, rigor is not an answer to a multiple-choice question. Instead, I ask myself before developing each assessment the following question: what authentic products do people create to express historical knowledge within the context of this topic? I recognize that authentic historical work is not limited to an essay, but rather includes the paintings of Jose Clemente Orozco, the poems of Pablo Neruda, the songs of Neil Young, and the historical activism of those who ask us to remember and recognize the Armenian Genocide. As such, I ask students to write letters to the Museum of the American Revolution asking for a statue for a particular historical figure, to create artwork and artist statements about colonial resistance movements, to create film proposals and silent films about early 20th century America, and to write essays that engage with the historical debate on some of the following questions: Who freed the slaves? Why did the Holocaust happen? Does Frantz Fanon’s view of colonialism and resistance capture the reality of Indian colonialism?

 

Classroom discussions are not merely “ping-pong” interactions between teacher and students in which I ask and they answer. Instead, the learners engage in dynamic student-centered “fishbowl” conversations meant to stimulate real conversation around deep historical questions based on primary and secondary sources: Was Stalin truly a totalitarian leader? Was the U.S. right (and successful) in entering the Korean War? Students on the outside “coach” their teammate in the fishbowl and then tap-in to join the conversation. 

 

This intersection of joy, authenticity, and rigor reaches its peak during the students’ research project. It is at this moment that I fully display why I am in the classroom: my belief that the best student learning happens by providing them with agency, choice, and trust. I open up the shades of history for them so they can see a far vaster horizon of potential topics. I provide guidance, I help them choose, but I allow them the explore their interest in their topic choice -- just like real historians do. The outcome was an astounding array of fascinating research questions. The research paper became more than an obligation for us; it became the culmination of a path of exploration, of enthusiasm for learning, and of personal growth.