From Real World History to the Real World

February 29, 2016

(Photo: second from left, 2014 Real World History student Zawadi Carroll shown with (L to R) her mother, Real World History course instructor Mr. Cosby Hunt, and Zawadi’s brother and 2015 Real World History student Kenneth Carroll )

This piece was written by Zawadi Carroll. Zawadi, a native Washingtonian, attended DC Public Schools and was a Real World History student in school year 2014-15. She is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

There are certain moments in our lives that make us conscious of the fact that we’ve grown; that we are growing. Adulting can be hard, but it’s in these moments that we become our own proud parent, truly appreciating the strides we’ve made.

My moment came this January in a Real World History interschool seminar at Cardozo High School in my home city of Washington, DC. I was sitting in a circle with high school students from different DC Public, Public Charter, and private schools. On the desk in front of me were writing utensils, the passage we’d all read (from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me), and some evaluation sheets. These were almost the exact items that’d been on my desk in a Cardozo High School classroom a year prior when I was a senior at the School Without Walls taking Real World History myself. Except this time, instead of a student evaluation sheet, I had a facilitator’s script and discussion questions. There I was, just a year after graduating, facilitating a discussion I’d previously been a participant in. I saw my younger self in each of the students sitting in front of me. With the knowledge I’d gained and experiences I’ve had since high school, I was ready to plant in them what’d been planted in me a year prior by Mr. Hunt. As the facilitator, my job was not simply to lead the discussion, but to stimulate ideas – helping those students take everything they had learned thus far, develop that information into an argument, and then apply that to the real world.

Being back in DC for winter break was nostalgic in a lot of ways. I was not the same Zawadi that I’d been when I left. I had a lot of new perspectives and a new appreciation for DC and what it had to offer me. One of those things was Real World History. The Great Migration is something so few people know about, yet it is something that that transformed American society in the North and the South. If this class didn’t change my life, it most definitely changed the way I think about history; it solidified the fact that Black history is American history.

Participating in the interschool seminar as a high school senior was nerve-wracking. I had so many ideas, opinions, and concepts in my head that I was worried about sharing. I did not know if my peers’ thoughts would align with mine and wanted to be cautious of offending anyone with conflicting views. What made all the difference and gave me the space to be okay with sharing all my thoughts, even the not-so-popular ones, was having a good facilitator. Mr. Hunt was my facilitator that year as we read “The Case for Reparations” with students from Maret High School. Mr. Hunt was able to create a platform for all students to share their own ideas and present parts of the text for discussion. Everyone’s voice mattered. This facilitation not only allowed me to share some of my thoughts, but also allowed me to learn from my peers. By the end of our discussion I had received almost more than I’d given. My mind was filled with new insights and information. This was the kind of mind I would need to succeed in college.

My younger brother, who is now taking Real World History, mentioned to me over winter break that it was time in the course for interschool seminars. I was probably more excited for him than he was for the seminars. I knew this would be a pivotal moment in his learning career, helping him apply history to the present day and form educated opinions surrounding controversial topics. This excitement led me to call Mr. Hunt to ask if I could attend. When I called, Mr. Hunt not only highly encouraged me to attend, but also asked me to be a facilitator for the group reading Between the World and Me. Of course, I jumped on the opportunity. I knew how important facilitation was in creating a safe space and ensuring that learning along with listening are constants.

Attending the Real World History interschool seminar for the second time, I could tell the students were nervous. I saw some scribble or look over notes, re-read parts of the text, and fiddle with writing utensils as they waited for the discussion to start. I was worried that my young age would result in a lack of respect or trust from the students, but the exact opposite occurred. When Mr. Hunt announced that I, a former Real World History student, would be facilitating, I saw some faces light up and some backs become a little less slouched. Conveying to the students that they could incorporate their own personal experiences and ideas in relation to the text – as opposed to using the text solely to develop an opinion – was vital. I loved having the power to stimulate students’ minds in a way that was accessible for each of them. It was so appropriate to be discussing the issue of race and its intersections as many of them were minority students, most likely going to enter an institution of higher learning where they would probably not be the majority and would possibly be subject to racism. Having these difficult discussions now amongst a diverse group before being thrown into that environment is so necessary.

I feel sure that each student left the discussion I facilitated more confident in his or her ability to express ideas in a group, respectfully challenge opinions, and use history as context for the issues of the modern day. I was told by Mr. Hunt and other adults that my facilitating was very strong, but it was from the dialogue between students, their trust, and their readiness to take chances and step into some of the final stages of adolescence that we all learned the most.

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