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Memory and American History

Today we as a nation seem to be facing daily turmoil. However, NCSS as an organization has a clear mission, like a sturdy ship with a competent crew and a clear chart to navigate by.

Social studies educators teach students the content knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic values necessary for fulfilling the duties of citizenship in a participatory democracy. The mission of National Council for the Social Studies is to provide leadership, service, and support for all social studies educators. (

NCSS was founded in 1921, and our 100th birthday will be celebrated at the Annual Conference in 2020. A couple of weeks ago, a sign of our steady and positive influence appeared: Social Education arrived in our Post Office box—the first issue of 2017—which features “Teaching and Learning African American History.” This theme, discussed with solid research and pedagogy in our flagship journal, reminded me of the research I did for my political science master’s degree, which focused on ethnicity and economic diversity in my state of New Mexico.

I faced a cultural shock when I moved from Texas to New Mexico as an adult. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a multicultural environment. In contrast, growing up as the daughter of a West Texas rancher, my world was rural and white, except for the African American woman who worked on the ranch. She taught me so much by example, the most important thing being respect. For example, she bowed her head and prayed at the dough board in our kitchen. Spirituality was important in her life.

Sadly, as I was growing up, she didn’t eat at the table with my family. When I was a teenager and able to drive, she said she couldn’t ride in the front seat with me when I drove her home. Although I did not use these words, I sensed that she was following the oppressive, racist traditions of my hometown. How things have changed. Her daughter is today a middle school principal in that same Texas town.

When addressing the 2016 NCSS Annual Conference, civil rights icon and U.S. Representative John Lewis said that we have to be prepared to “Get in the way” of injustice. “Get in trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble,” he extolled the audience.

All of these memories came to mind as I read through the January/ February 2017 issue of Social Education. These experiences are a part of me, as is the memory of marching for civil rights as a college student.

All of these memories are valuable. Let’s send our students out with recorders to interview their elders as they conduct oral history projects for National History Day and for the StoryCorps Big Listen during the Thanksgiving break each year. Students can dig into the archives of local history associations, public libraries, places of worship, and public schools to uncover and examine primary source documents and artifacts. The narratives we discover and rediscover during Black History month are stories about hard-fought struggles for freedom. This is American history.