Real World History hosts second annual interschool seminar, discussing works by Ta-Nehisi Coates

January 20, 2016

(Photo credit: Sarah Hughes/Center for Inspired Teaching)

Real World History hosted its second annual interschool seminar at Cardozo High School on January 14. Guest high school students from School without Walls and Georgetown Day School, as well as middle school students from LaSalle-Backus Education Campus, joined the Real World History class to discuss the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Three separate discussions happened simultaneously in separate rooms: one room discussed Coates’ 2014 Atlantic magazine article, “The Case for Reparations;” another room discussed his 2015 article, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration;” and the third room discussed excerpts from his book, Between the World and Me, the 2015 National Book Award winner. Each room utilized a Paideia seminar format with students organized to create an inner circle (for discussion) and an outer circle (for note-taking). The Between the World and Me seminar benefitted from facilitation by one of last year’s Real World History students, Zawadi Carroll, who is now a first year student at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

After the seminar, Real World History students wrote personal reflections. The following was written by one student to describe her experience:

I arrived at Cardozo Friday afternoon apprehensive and unsure of what to expect. I had read and enjoyed the assigned text, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, but I wasn’t sure of the context in which we’d be discussing it. As soon as the seminar began, though, I realized I had nothing to worry about. It was guided by a former Real World History student, Zawadi, and she guided us with text-related questions and encouraged us to share our own reactions and interpretations of the passage. The other students in my circle were really articulate and voiced thoughtful, interesting ideas.

I was impressed by how good of a job we did at staying focused on the reading because it’s easy to get off topic during a seminar. (I know this from my experiences in English classes.) That said, the personal experiences that some of my peers shared to bolster their takes on the reading were incredibly powerful to hear. For example, when discussing Coates’ question of what it is like to be African-American, one student described how he has to change all of his mannerisms – voice, posture, facial expression – when he enters a room of white people because he knows that otherwise they will make assumptions about him and treat him differently. Recognizing the reality of racism in America is jarring. Coates’ argument that racial justice can never exist is not one I have frequently heard, and it changed my entire thought process on racial and class relations in the country. Ultimately, I agree with him, but wouldn’t argue against the advances made by the Civil Rights Movement and the fact that change can keep happening.

The first interschool seminar was hosted last year with students from the Maret School. Following the seminar, the students from public, charter, and private schools organized a viewing of Selma, followed by another discussion. Senior Teaching & Learning Specialist and Real World History instructor Cosby Hunt reflected, “To me, their interest in continuing the conversation validates a belief that’s at the core of my identity as a longtime social studies teacher: the belief that history is relevant, meaningful, and alive in the minds and imaginations of students today.”

Students attending public and public charter schools across Washington, DC apply to be part of Real World History, a yearlong honors course designed to bring history to life. Having completed an intensive first semester of academic coursework, Real World History students will now enter internships at historic sites across the city, putting their skills into practice.

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