Social Education 58(3), 1994, pp. 171-172
National Council for the Social Studies

The Impact of Industrialization on American Society: Alternative Assessments

Alan Singer
Edward R. Murrow High School is a magnet (educational option) high school specializing in communication arts that is open to Brooklyn, New York, residents. Of its more than 3,000 students, 16 percent read below grade level, 16 percent read above grade level, and 68 percent read on grade level. It is an ethnically diverse high school. Approximately 40 percent of its students are white, and the other 60 percent is divided among Asian, Latino, and African-American students. Many of its students are either immigrants or the sons and daughters of immigrants. Ten percent of the school's students are in the special education program.
A special feature of the school is the unusual level of freedom experienced by its students. No factory bells signal the time to move to the next workstation (classroom), and students are permitted to remain in the corridors during their free periods. Class length varies from day to day to make possible a variety of lesson styles. Competition among students is minimized by a grading schedule that allows only Excellent, Good, and Satisfactory as passing grades. In addition, the school operates on a cycle system. Students are reprogrammed four times a year, so they have a greater opportunity to select elective courses.

While Murrow offers honors and advanced placement courses, it is not a rigidly "tracked" school. Students can opt to take courses on any level of difficulty. As a result, students in a regents preparatory class have a broad range of reading and writing ability. For both students and their parents, Edward R. Murrow is one of the most highly desirable high schools to attend in Brooklyn. It has been designated a School of Excellence by the United States Department of Education.

The school's principal, Saul Bruckner, and its social studies chair, John MacNamara, are both advocates of alternative assessment programs in social studies. In the academic year 1992-93, I (as a social studies methods teacher at Hofstra University and a former New York City High School teacher) returned to high school teaching at Murrow. There I helped develop alternative assessment activities to motivate student interest in social studies, to utilize student talents from other areas to increase their participation in social studies classes, and to evaluate student understanding of complex social studies concepts.

During the second fall cycle of their junior year, most Murrow students study the impact of industrialization on American society. As part of a &Mac222;nal project, students in my United States history classes were assigned to write or draw a political cartoon, poem, song, rap, poster, button, or flyer that illustrates the impact of industrialization on one group in American society. The assignment was part of the package of work that they submitted for evaluation and counted as an "essay" on their final exam.

To prepare for the project, students examined political cartoons by Thomas Nast; they listened to and sang labor songs like "John Henry," "Paddy on the Railway," "The Farmer Is the Man," and "Solidarity Forever"; and they discussed the meaning of poems including "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus, "Unguarded Gates" by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and "The White Man's Burden" by Rudyard Kipling.

At the end of the cycle, sample student political cartoons and edited versions of their poetry were assembled into a magazine for distribution to the next cycle's social studies classes. We include several samples of their work here.

As social studies teachers, I think we have to find alternative ways to assess our own work. Part of the reason for these assignments was to find a way to discover what my students were actually thinking about what we had been discussing in class. When I look at samples of their work, I see insights and connections that were difficult for them to express in a class of 34 or in more structured writing assignments.

Some teachers have questioned the value of these types of activities in the social studies classroom, especially the investment in time. At the end of the school year, 10th and 11th grade students in New York State take standardized statewide exams in Global Studies and United States history. Teachers, worried how students will perform on the tests if they are not adequately prepared, stress factual knowledge in their lessons and on their own exams. By the end of the year, learning social studies often becomes drudgery.

I found that, in classes where students are actively engaged in projects like these and where I used multiple forms of assessment, students remained interested in learning until the end of the year and had a strong sense of their ability to understand the ideas we were talking about. In effect, we had both greater student involvement and more time to explore social studies. On the statewide exam, these Murrow students had at least as high a passing percentage as students in comparable classes.

by Danille Athineos

Visions of gold-paved sidewalks,
Thoughts of jobs, opportunities,
But soon faced with realities,
The good and the bad.
Long tedious hours,
Sweatshops fill our immigrant days,
But we never earn quite enough pay.
Change that comes and goes,
A revolution that seems to flow,
Right into life's unexpected action,
But not knowing which way to go.
Diligence, integrity, and trust,
These were quite a must.
Seems hard most of the time,
But each day we take the corporate climb.
New lives are being formed,
Even though we feel quite worn,
New influences, trends, and ideas,
Many seem to quickly appear.
Life in America is zealous,
It is full of new excitement,
Industrialization is a new delightment.
New concepts add to our patriotism,
Of America we are very proud,
There are new meanings and words,
Words like citizenship and freedom.
Both the old and new,
Can be anything they want to be,
American brings new opportunity.
Factories, suffrage, construction come with change,
Industrialization brings out a whole new range,
For everyone to live, challenge, and learn,
Higher incomes we can proudly earn.
Without industrialized society,
We couldn't fulfill the true
Meaning of work the way we do.
Faced with opportunities each day,
Choices made our own way,
These are things we could not live without,
Industrialization means change, without a doubt!

One Man's Cry: "Union!"
by Latoya Simmons
You believe that we're content with our lot.
For this idea you ought to be shot.
"Just ten cents more-not anything less."
We demand you honor this small request.
Mr. Bossman, you tell us: "Go To Hell!"
Maybe we'll just join the A.F. of L.
An eight-hour work day,
"What do we hear?"
That sounds like something
We can cheer.
A six-day work week!
Work only six days a week.
Now that is exactly
What we workers seek.
We hoped the A.F.L.
Would treat us well.
But we lost our strike
To monopoly's might.
Some say:
"I need my old job back!"
They cry: "I'll sign a yellow-dog contract!"
But I say: "We have just begun to fight.
We'll build the union,
It's our right."

Newspaper Men
by Nicole Paciello
The busy hustle of the city streets,
The noise, the excitement, keys to the big city.
The trains make my insides rattle-
People run to catch it,
Or stop at the stand for the morning paper.
So easy in their strides, people hardly notice
Newspapers are dwindling in number.
Newspaper men on the sidelines,
Machines have their jobs now.
They watch the game,
Waiting to be called in,
They sit in their cardboard shelters
Watching the world run by.
The noise, the excitement,
The strange faces hurrying by are noticed easily-
Your eyes fix on their attaché cases, their hardhats,
And the morning paper under their arms.
The others are overlooked,
Others who don't read the morning paper,
They wear it.
I never noticed these people before,
When they were out in the cold clutching their cardboard homes,
Or inside their concrete houses, yet still cold.
One day, I stop and take a long hard look
As I hear the train above me.
The train drowns out all else
As I pass by the newsstand and head home.
My father's waiting for me,
Way before the 5:15 train.
There's a carpet mark behind the corner,
Where his attaché used to be.
I ask him what he's done today.
He looks at me,
With his glassy eyes,
And his five o'clock shadow.
He tells the youngest of his three daughters,
"I pressed the clothes in the dryer."
I reassure him-again,
A machine can do many jobs,
But it can't replace him as my father.
Newspapers are dwindling in number.
Newspaper men on the sidelines,
Machines have their jobs now.
They watch the game,
Waiting to be called in,
They sit in their cardboard shelters
Watching the world run by.

Alan Singer is a professor in the department of curriculum and teaching at the Hofstra University School of Education, Hempstead, New York, and a member of the social studies department at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, New York.