Articles on Heritage Projects & Place-Based Education Projects
From: Folklife Center News,
Arizona Heritage Project Investigates Community Folklife, History,
by Guha Shankar
In November 2004 the Arizona Heritage Project (AHP) held its second
annual planning and review meeting at the facilities of the Arizona
Historical Society, in Tempe, Arizona. In attendance were teachers
and students representing the five high schools affiliated with
the AHP for the 2004-05 school year, along with Dan Shilling, the
AHP executive director, Guha Shankar, AFC folklife specialist and
liaison with the AHP, and the meeting's host, Vicki Berger, director
of the Historical Society. The meeting provided a setting for students
to present initial findings on their research about the folklife
and cultural history of the local communities they had set out to
investigate at the beginning of the school year.
The students' presentations, and the subsequent day-long discussions
regarding the aims and scope of the individual projects, spoke to
the range and diversity of local experiences and traditions extant
in the state. As well, they highlighted the dedication and creativity
of the students who carried out research in their own communities.
The largely student-directed projects reflect the sorts of community-centered,
school-based activities that were envisioned when the AHP was established
as an annual initiative in 2003, and a collaboration between the
Center and its Arizona institutional partners - beginning with the
initial sponsor, Salt River Project, and continuing with the Center's
current partner, Sharlot Hall Museum.
Students and teachers participating in AHP projects are asked to
explore their community's place in national and world events, its
cultural heritage as expressed in traditions and celebrations, its
literature and arts, its relationship to the global economy, and
its everyday life. Accordingly, this year, teacher Barbara Hatch's
students, at Cactus Shadows High School (Cave Creek), are researching
how military veterans and their families have enriched the communities
of Cave Creek, Carefree, Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills. Their project
will include interviews with veterans and their families for a DVD,
book, traveling exhibit, and public presentation honoring the veterans
that will be completed by the end of the school year. Students from
the American Indian Club, at Casa Grande High School, working with
their adviser Fritz Fisher, are investigating the history and culture
of the Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham people. Their project will
feature interviews with elders and analysis of historical documents
that will both be used as the basis for an art exhibit and garden
of native plants. Roxanne May-Thayer's students at Cesar Chavez
High School (Laveen) are conducting research on the history of the
Maricopa (Pee-Posh) pottery tradition and how it has been sustained
over time. The students will interview elders and attend pottery
workshops. They hope to produce a gallery opening at the school
featuring their own work and that of the community artists.
Students in Eric LaDuke's Social Sciences Club, at Corona del Sol
High School, are doing a comparative study of growth and development
among ethnic, neighborhoods in Tempe and s u r rounding communities
fro m the 1930s onward. Their project will focus on migrant workers'
social, economic, and education al experiences in Tempe, and will
result in a traveling exhibit and Website. Finally, students in
Ben Anderson's service class at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership
Academy will examine how food cultivation and preparation traditions
have shaped Hopi community, culture, and identity. Students have
already interviewed a few elders and have learned how to repair
traditional bread ovens. They aim to construct a traditional Hopi
bread oven at the Northern Arizona Museum in Flagstaff as one aspect
of their final project. Their research will also be folded into
a training manual for docents at the museum.
Aims and Scope, Brief History of AHP
Modeled on the AFC's highly successful partnership with the Montana
Heritage Project (See Umphrey 1997, 2002; also consult http://www.edheritage.org),
the AHP represents the Center's most recent effort to develop educational
programs involving research into the folklife and cultural history
of local communities by students in middle schools and high schools.
The basis for the Arizona Heritage Project was formed in 2000,
when U.S. Representatives J.D. Hayworth and John Shadegg, from Arizona,
nominated the educational project initiated by the Salt River Project
(SRP), one of the West's largest utilities, for inclusion in the
Library of Congress's Bicentennial "Local Legacies" project.
Following the conclusion of the Local Legacies project, SRP and
the American Folklife Center further developed the Arizona Heritage
Project in order to serve the entire state (Bartis 2003). SRP funded
AHP activities during the 2003-04 school year and provided day-to-day
management of the project through the efforts of its Community Services
Soon after the culmination of the first AHP, Dan Shilling, noted
Arizona scholar and former head of the Arizona Humanities Council,
came on board as the project's executive director. Also in the summer
of 2004, Sharlot Hall Museum, a highly respected Arizona heritage
institution located in Prescott, assumed day-to-day control of the
Heritage Project. Shilling and Richard Sims, the museum's director,
are actively seeking funding to develop and expand the AHP to include
more school districts outside the Phoenix metropolitan area in future
Role of Partners and Role of Center
The Center and the AHP share the goal of providing educators and
students with the means and motivation to become cultural researchers
and historians of their own communities. The AHP program staff is
chiefly responsible for recruiting local schools for the year-long
project, helping affiliate schools locate local experts and liaisons
who can facilitate community-based research, and providing the financial
and technical resources educators and students need to carry out
their projects. Participating teachers receive grants of approximately
$5,000, which they may use to buy recoding equipment, computer and
exhibition supplies, or other materials for their projects. (The
details of AHP's mandate and operations are available at http://www.azhp.org/).
Members of the American Folklife Center's staff play an active role
in a weeklong, intensive Summer Training Institute that affiliate
teachers and selected students attend. Institute participants are
exposed to a range of educational issues and practical research
concerns. AFC and AHP staff teach participants basic concepts in
folklife and oral history research, provide training in audio recording
and photography, and conduct workshops on organizing and preserving
research materials. Additional topics covered range from integrating
the study of local history into a classroom curriculum to designing
Websites, multimedia public exhibits, and other educational activities.
The workshops also stress the importance of finding a community-based
liaison in order to conduct field work within a particular community.
Future workshops may include a focused introduction to accessing
the Library of Congress's digitized primary-source materials via
the Internet, techniques for documenting community cultural traditions,
and comparing national and world events with local ones by means
of a timeline.
For more information about AHP, contact Dan Shilling, Executive
Director, at the Sharlot Hall Museum ([email protected];
928-44-3122 ext. 31) or Guha Shankar at the Center ([email protected];
Bartis, Peter. "New Arizona Heritage Project Inspired by Montana
Heritage Model," Folklife Center News 25, no. 3 (summer 2003):12-13.
Umphrey, Michael. "The Power of the Real: The Montana Heritage
Project After Seven Years," Folklife Center News 24, no. 4
_____ "Montana Heritage Education Project Brings Schools Back
Into Community," Folklife Center News 19, nos. 3-4 (summer-fall
Image: Students and teachers from the Flagstaff, Arizona, Arts
and Leadership Academy listen to community liaison Susan Secakuku
(center) as she explains Hopi crop-cultivation techniques during
a field trip to the Hopi reservation in fall 2004. (Photo by Guha
From: Folklife Center News,
The Power of the Real: The Montana Heritage Project After Seven
by Michael Umphrey
The Montana Heritage Project was established in 1995 through
a partnership involving the Library of Congress and a consortium
of Montana organizations: the Office of Public Instruction, the
University of Montana, Montana State University, the Montana Historical
Society, the Montana State Library, the Montana Center for the
Book, the Montana Arts Council, and the Montana Committee for
the Humanities. It is funded by the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg
Foundation. This article was adapted from a keynote speech given
at the National Rural Education Association's annual conference
in Portland, Oregon, October 16, 2002. For more information on
the Montana Heritage Project, visit their Web site at: www.edheritage.org.
"The Montana Heritage Project is not just a class--it's an adventure!"
said Kelsey Miller, high school senior from Harlowton, Montana.
She was one of a hundred high school students gathered at the state
capitol in Helena to present their gifts of scholarship to Montana
governor Judy Martz. She and her fellow seniors in teacher Nancy
Widdicombe's English class had made the Bair family ranch in their
hometown the subject of research, tracing across generations the
rise of one the largest sheep operations in the nation.
Drawing on interviews, research in bank and museum archives, and
documentation of ranching culture today, they published their work
in a book that adds significant detail to the history of Montana
and of their community. Through a multimedia presentation, they
shared the story of their research quest with their community at
a special Heritage Evening attended by more than a hundred people.
These students take their schoolwork seriously in part because
adults take it seriously. Though most schoolwork is thrown away
as soon as it is graded, the work of Kelsey and her fellow students
will be preserved at the Montana State Historical Society archives
as a resource for future researchers.
In her excitement about community heritage research, Kelsey seemed
to be reading from the same page as the project's founder, Art Ortenberg,
who, at the project's September 19, 2002, board meeting, noted that
"the Montana Heritage Project is a research-and-inquiry driven adventure
for students and teachers." Art and his wife, Liz Claiborne, have
fully funded the project since its inception in 1995. For their
intellectual and organizational guidance in developing the project,
they were awarded a special Governor's Award for Distinguished Educational
Leadership in 2001.
It has now been seven years since the American Folklife Center
accepted Ortenberg's challenge to initiate the project. Working
from a proposal created by former Center director Alan Jabbour
and Center folklife specialist Peter Bartis, the Montana Heritage
developed a secondary education project that focuses on local communities
. In the Montana model, the community is both a subject of research
and a network of resources employed to accomplish that research.
Students are guided through a cycle of inquiry, summarized in the
I developed during my graduate research into comprehensive learning
Ask important questions; Listen to
the historical record as it exists in libraries and archives; Explore
beyond the library by conducting interviews, visiting sites
and events, and creating a detailed history of the present; Reflect
on what has been learned and how it fits with or changes
existing knowledge; Tell the story of what has
been found by creating a scholarly product that can be given back
to the community. (see Learning
as Narrative Process: An Alert from the Montana Heritage Project
The model is quite simple and flexible. The real power of heritage
projects flows not from a method or a technique but from the faith
that, in working together, kids and elders can learn what they need
to know, and from a commitment to act on that faith by inviting
others to join the work. Former Montana Governor Marc Racicot told
students that the Montana Heritage Project is a "modern version
of old barn-raising parties," where people came together to share
important work that no one could do alone. The important work we
share is that of gathering, documenting, preserving, and presenting
the cultural and natural heritage of local places. We will never
have enough professional scholars to do this work, and if local
people don't do it, it won't get done. This realization is easy
to communicate to young people, so they know we aren't being patronizing
when we tell them they have real and important work to do.
At each stage in the process, adult community members are invited
to become mentors, co-researchers, and guides, so students are engaged
in a comprehensive learning model while community members are invited
to help document and research their own lives and to tell their
stories in their own ways.
Some years ago, Education Secretary Richard Riley said that the
nation needed "high educational standards and effective strategies
for reaching them." Most states have now developed content and performance
standards --lists of things students should know and be able to
do-- and debate has come to focus on how student learning should
be tested. To the chagrin of most people with a passion for teaching,
tests have become the main topic of conversation at many schools.
It might help to remember at this point what Marie Montessori told
us decades ago: "to test is not to teach."
The second half of Riley's statement, that we need "effective strategies"
for teaching, often gets overlooked. The Montana Heritage Project
is helping teachers take an important step: designing rigorous projects
that require deep learning and provide accountability through public
exhibitions of mastery. In rigorous research projects high standards
are embedded in every stage of the work. Rigorous projects hold
the key to deep learning.
When Secretary Riley spoke at the project's teacher institute in
Great Falls, Montana, he said that "every state in the country should
follow Montana's lead with its Heritage Project." As director of
the Montana Heritage Project since it began, I've watched enthusiasm
grow for the Montana model. This past year, for example, educators
from Wyoming, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Washington have drawn
on our work to begin their own projects. They join others working
in Louisiana, Oregon, and Alberta, Canada.
Ken Evans, Director of Community Outreach for the Arizona Salt
River Project, attended our annual teacher institute to gather materials
and ideas to implement a similar project in Arizona. "The tremendous
population growth and somewhat transient community over the last
fifty years has made it easy to lose our customs and rituals," he
said. "The Arizona Heritage Project will benefit Arizona by enlisting
students in recording remaining folkways and in identifying developing
In New Hampshire, Christa McAuliffe Fellow Kay Morgan has spent
the past year building a team of scholars and educators who will
offer the New Hampshire Heritage Project's first summer institute
in June 2003, one that will focus on "the theory and the practice
of using their community as a basis for studying history, literature,
and the environment."
As I've visited rural communities over the past seven years, the
reasons people both young and old are drawn to community- centered
education have become increasingly clear to me. People everywhere
are sensing a loss of community, and amid the troubles that follow
such loss are searching for ways to regain what they know they need.
The only way we can meet the long list of adolescent "needs" that
researchers have identified for our nation's high schools is to
revitalize our communities. In trying to meet every need by developing
a special program dedicated to it, we've inadvertently undermined
the power of community. It becomes second nature to think that "they"
should do something, when quite often only "we" can get it done.
Much of the success of the Montana model derives quite simply from
bringing the power of community to bear on teaching.
It may be that the greatest risks to "at risk" adolescents emanate
from the absence of strong communities. Adolescents are trying to
construct identities on the threshold between family and the larger
society, and substantial research indicates that when the various
adult groups that surround teenagers--parents, teachers, employers,
church leaders, community leaders--send coherent messages about
the things worth wanting and the right ways to get them, teens are
better able to make the transition from youth to adulthood.
On the other hand, when those groups lose faith in one another,
many young people become lost, causing tremendous pain to themselves,
their families, and their communities. One
of the most vivid signs of failed community is a large population
of troubled youth. As our schools have become larger and more distant
from their communities, to the extent that teachers and neighborhood
adults inhabit different realities, the effectiveness of schools,
especially for troubled youth, plummets. Study after study has found
that over half of secondary students make no consistent effort to
learn anything in school. Student disengagement is epidemic. At
bottom, the problem is that many young people do not understand
the story of their lives as having any meaningful connection with
school. That is, school does not seem real to them.
Sociologist Elijah Anderson has argued that we've left behind a
strong sense of community that once brought young and old together,
and we now suffer from "cultural amnesia" (Elijah Anderson, Place
on the Corner, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).
The young were helped to grow up by wise elders ("old heads," Anderson
calls them) who acted as "a kind of guidance counselor and moral
cheerleader." Children met these old heads in small jobs, at church,
in school, or simply on the street corner. The old head might be
a police officer, a scoutmaster, or a grocer. The old heads took
interest in the community's young people. For children without available
fathers and mothers, the old heads were sources of consolation,
advice, occasional help (including financial), and, above all, sources
of moral values well laced with doses of real life wisdom.
Among the primary messages of the old head, said Anderson, were
those about good manners and the value of hard work: how to dress
for a job interview and deal with a prospective employer, how to
work, and how to keep the job. Through stories, jokes, and conversations,
the old head would convey his conception of the "tricks of the trade."
For those coming of age, which is largely a process of weaving
one's individual story into the larger tapestry of community, a
neighborhood's folkways may be more powerful educative forces than
the school's formal curricula, for good or ill. This is why serious
educators are turning their attention to community-centered teaching,
looking for ways to reconnect their schools with their communities.
Teachers in the Montana Heritage Project demonstrate ways schools
can build or rebuild relationships between young people and their
communities simply by establishing projects that get the young and
old working together. Such teachers remain true to their academic
mission by focusing such projects on inquiry into the community
itself: defining events and persons of the past, its relationship
to the natural environment, its place in national and world events,
its current challenges and its future prospects.
A few of last year's projects illustrate the possibilities:
- Renee Rasmussen's students in Chester wrote a regular local-history
column for the community newspaper.
- Phil Leonardi's freshmen geography classes partnered with the
U.S. Forest Service to research how the community of Corvallis
has been affected through the decades by forest fires.
- In Libby, history teacher Jeff Gruber's classes have developed
a close working relationship with the Heritage Museum, and students
have completed an extensive set of research projects on various
topics for the archives, and also developed interpretive displays
for the museum.
- Jerry Girard's Montana history class in Dillon compiled a history
of Beaverhead County's rural one- and two-room schools. Students
created a map showing the location of each past and present school
in the county, as well as a detailed timeline of educational events
in the county from 1863 to the present. This was the basis for
a permanent exhibit at the Beaverhead County Museum that features
video interviews with students and teachers from the past and
- Darlene Beck's English class in Townsend completed an eighty-five-year
history of Broadwater High School. Students used local newspaper
archives, courthouse records, school yearbooks dating from 1916
to the present, and the archives of the Broadwater Historical
Society and Museum for background research. They conducted interviews
with former students, teachers, principals, clerks, and board
members, and produced a slide show for parent conferences and
a book that was placed in the local museum and library.
- In Roundup, art teacher Toni Gies led her advanced photography
class to create an exhibit featuring historic barns in the area,
including interviews with people who knew the histories of the
buildings and how their uses had changed through time as the economic
and technological context of farming on the Great Plains changed.
- Also in Roundup, English teacher Tim Schaff and librarian Dale
Alger helped English classes create a museum at the school. Students
drew on their grandparents and other community elders as sources
of family heirlooms and information for interpretive labels, and
served as docents when elementary students toured the museum.
Several Heritage Project classes are participating in the American
Folklife Center 's Veterans History Project (www.loc.gov/vets).
The chance to act as partners with the Library has been a powerful
motivator for both students and veterans, and the supporting resources
provided by the Library have embedded professional standards for
Christa Umphrey's freshmen published a book, We Remember, featuring
photographs and oral histories of fifteen World War II veterans.
New print-on-demand technology was used to create 150 high-quality
paperbacks, and the book, available through online bookstores such
as Amazon, should never go out of print.
Dottie Susag organized her classes at Simms High School into research
teams with community mentors and they researched this century's
wars. They published their writings, which were based on library
research and interviews, in a literary magazine. Their high schools
in the center of the Sun River Valley, a rural community without
a town as such, but over two hundred people regularly attend the
school's Heritage Festival each spring. This showcase for student
research rivals athletics in community popularity.
In Bigfork, Mary Sullivan's juniors gathered vivid stories from
World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf War veterans. They borrowed
photographs from the veterans, scanned them, and combined them with
narratives drawn from oral histories in order to create a multimedia
presentation that was shown to a standing-room-only crowd at the
435-seat Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts.
Since 1995 more than a hundred such projects have been completed
throughout Montana. By attempting original research of lasting value,
teachers reverse the tendency of schools to allow tedious routines
to fill up the days. As poet Marvin Bell put it, in many schools
"moments of glory pass into study" (Marvin Bell, The Escape
into You: A Sequence, New York: Atheneum, 1971). This is why
"academic" is so often used as a synonym for "unreal." From time
to time, every school needs to revitalize itself, returning to the
sources of learning, which are first-hand engagements with life
in the raw. "I don't like busy work any more than the students do,"
said Corvallis teacher Annemarie Kanenwisher. "I'd rather do the
real work, too."
In attempting real work, some Montana Heritage Project teachers
have become important community leaders. They've done this by remaining
teachers, practicing a form of "invitational leadership." They initiate
projects that others can join, and they practice being "personally
and professionally inviting," in William Purkey's phrase (see William
W. Purkey and John M. Novak, Inviting School Success: A Self-Concept
Approach to Teaching, Learning and Democratic Practice, third
edition, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1996). They demonstrate that any
classroom can be a catalyst for community revitalization. Indeed,
they've led me to believe that the art and craft of being inviting
and of forming powerful invitations should be part of all teachers'
pre-service training. By keeping the focus of their invitations
on inquiry, they tend to turn problems into common work that people
can share. They give people a chance to join.
The chance to join--this more than anything is what young people
are looking for. Gangs, drugs, and promiscuity are symptoms of a
hunger to belong. These symptoms are unlikely to diminish because
we create harder tests with harsher consequences for failure.
Guests at the Heritage Project student conferences and presentations
often comment on the enthusiasm of the young people. In a good high
school, real challenges form a good part of the curriculum, and
young people meet them with the help of their elders. They build
the council fires and think together. When school classes are organized
into research teams that work with community members and organizations
to form questions and find answers, community ceases to
be a buzz word in a mission statement and becomes a way of life.
Young people are drawn to the adventure. They wake up and join the
conversation, excited by the power of the real.
Michael Umphrey is director of the Montana Heritage Project.
He is also the author of two books of poetry, The Lit Window
(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1987) and The
Breaking Edge (University of Montana, 1988), and a former high
school principal. He may be contacted at [email protected].
From: Folklife Center News,
Montana Heritage Education Project Brings Schools Back Into Community
by Michael Umphrey
Students in Libby, Montana, have been collecting, cataloging,
and preserving the vast number of unsorted and poorly stored historical
photographs in the community library and the community museum. Students
in Corvallis have been gathering the history of the gold rush town
of Rochester, taping interviews, and working under the direction
of the Bureau of Land Management to conduct archeological site surveys.
In Chester, high school students researched and wrote the histories
of the oldest buildings in town for the Liberty County Historical
Museum and are currently trying to get two of the buildings listed
on the National Register of Historic Places. Students in St. Ignatius
have started a museum, which at present consists of a file cabinet
in the community library that is slowly filling with articles, photographs,
and other documents. Young people in Broadus identified veterans
of World War II still living in the Powder River area, then conducted
interviews with them and wrote biographies for the Powder River
Across the state, schools participating in the Montana Heritage
Project are gathering, preserving, and displaying their community's
cultural heritage. In doing this work, young people have a chance
to learn and practice a range of academic skills, but they also
become valuable community workers, accomplishing much that might
otherwise not be done.
The project began in 1994 when businessman Arthur Ortenberg with
his wife, Liz Claiborne, approached the Librarian of Congress, James
Billington, with an idea. The couple owned a ranch in Montana, and
they were looking for a way to help people maintain what is best
about Montana's cultural heritage. The history of every community
includes what Mr. Ortenberg called "the arts of social living"
as well as "sites and events that have been transforming."
By paying attention to these arts, sites, and events--that is, their
own collective experience-- Ortenberg hoped that communities could
pass on to the next generation the defining narratives necessary
for cultural continuity.
Dr. Billington liked the idea, so Alan Jabbour, director of the
American Folklife Center, worked out a more detailed proposal with
Center folklife specialist Peter Bartis and John Y. Cole, director
of the Library's Center for the Book. They suggested that the heritage
approach would guide students through four learning stages. First,
they would be asked to pursue answers to basic questions about their
communities, such as: What has changed and what has stayed the same?
Is the occupational culture changing? Are the various cultural traditions
in good health? How does the community fit into the state? What
does it mean to be a Montanan? How does Montana fit into the national
Second, they would be taught to use the tools of library research
to find books, letters, journals, photographs, newspapers, and other
records that shed light on the people and the world of the past,
including such topics as the local economy, local government, foodways,
architecture, arts and crafts, medical practices, clothing, transportation,
schooling, environmental resources, sports and recreation, celebrations,
Third, they would practice the documentary techniques of interviewing,
photography, videotaping, drawing, painting, and note-taking in
order to gather and preserve information about the people and the
world around them.
And finally, they would be guided toward critical thinking through
the work of creating such products as exhibits, prose and photographic
essays, dramatic scripts and performances, radio programs, public
seminars, and video tapes. Such products would deepen the students'
understanding of their own research, help community members understand
each other and their own experiences better, and preserve research
findings for future generations.
With Mr. Ortenberg's full support, Alan Jabbour flew to Montana
in early 1995 for a series of meetings with the leaders of the state's
major cultural agencies. Subsequently, the Office of Public Instruction,
the Montana Historical Society, the Montana Arts Council, the Montana
Committee for the Humanities, the Montana State Library, and the
state's two major universities agreed to sponsor the project. "It's
something we should have done a long time ago," said University
of Montana president George Dennison. Governor Marc Racicot said
the program would provide the most aggressive look into Montana's
past since the ground-breaking "Montana Study" research
project of the 1940s.* "It will allow our young people to seize
control of their own futures by studying what has happened in the
past," he said.
Assured of support from the highest levels in state government,
the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg Foundation pledged over $100,000
per year (for three years), and communities were recruited to begin
immediately. During the 1995-96 school year, six schools completed
heritage projects. Last year, projects were underway in Broadus,
Chester, Corvallis, Libby, Red Lodge, St. Ignatius, and Townsend.
This year, Bigfork, Fort Benton, Roundup, and Simms will join the
English teacher Stuart Garrick in Broadus wanted a project that
would engage the students in research and writing at the same time
it allowed them to serve the community. He teamed up with Don and
Bobbie Heidel, directors of the Powder River Historical Museum.
The museum had several stations that featured collections of artifacts
but few interpretive materials. So teams of students each chose
a station, conducted interviews with folks who knew the area's history,
researched collections of the library and the county courthouse,
then wrote scripts for an audio walking tour of the museum. Students
recorded the tapes, and donated them to the museum.
Meanwhile, Paula Nisley began her heritage project in the sophomore
English classes fairly conventionally by using the literature of
World War II. The students viewed films, read novels, and discussed
the war as it was presented by artists. Then, instead of moving
on to another topic, she sent the young people into the community
to interview veterans about their experiences and reflections. The
students wrote biographies of those veterans, which were donated
to the Powder River Historical Society Museum.
Art teacher Connie Barnhart decided to turn the art club's annual
fund-raiser into a heritage project. She invited students to research
historical topics in the community and use what they learned as
inspiration for artwork that focused on Montana's heritage. The
club then published and sold a heritage calendar featuring the students'
art. The money raised was used to take the students on a tour of
galleries and museums in Denver.
Freshman David Scoles chose for his subject his own grandfather,
who had been the most decorated veteran from Powder River County
during World War II. He found photographs of his grandfather's war
years, not in a family album but in the Powder River Historical
Museum. As David planned his drawing, he interviewed his grandfather
several times. His Grandfather Patten had wanted to serve his country
when the war began but didn't want to shoot anyone, so he became
a medic. While serving on Los Negroes Island, he was forced to evacuate
forty wounded men through enemy territory. He accomplished the task
with no casualties and was awarded the Bronze Star. He was also
awarded a purple heart after being wounded in the jaw and in both
legs. "I got the medals for being there," the older man
modestly explained to his grandson.
David completed a drawing showing three views of his grandfather.
The next day, Mr. Patten died. "This drawing helped me understand
him," David said. "And it will help me remember him."
Such stories of students finding personal meaning through their
school work in heritage projects are common among the participating
teachers. A host of school reformers have urged schools to find
ways to make school work personally meaningful to young people,
which is an easier suggestion to make than it is to implement. But
by making their home communities the focus of study, teachers find
that many students become motivated. Furthermore, local studies
projects generate enthusiasm and collaboration from adults that
is rare for academic work. As every successful coach knows, the
motivation of many students is directly related to the attention
their efforts receive from the community. Community recognition
lets students know that what they are doing matters, and they begin
to feel a stronger sense of belonging and responsibility.
This self-reinforcing process was seen clearly in teacher Marta
Brooks's experience in St. Ignatius. Her first goal was to help
her students establish a personal connection with the work she was
asking them to do, so she took her class of senior English students
on a walk through town, looking at various places, encouraging reverie.
As they walked, she asked them to remember things they knew had
happened in those places. This led to each student's taking a research
topic related to the town's history. Each student was to include
citations both from texts and from interviews in his or her final
paper. By the end of the nine-week project, each student had a resource
file containing photographs, maps, and other documents as well as
a ten-page research paper. And the community had the beginnings
of a historical archive.
Along the way, the young people practiced many valuable academic
skills--library research, note-taking, interviewing, and writing.
But other things were happening as well. On the night the students
were to present their research findings back to the community, winter
storm warnings forced some agency representatives from the state
capital to cancel their plans to attend. Marta Brooks worried that
the sub-zero weather would keep people at home. As it turned out,
the high school library was warm, bright, and crowded. People who
had not been in the school for decades showed up. The community's
stories were told in formal presentations and informally in the
halls between presentations. Student Angela Posivio noted that several
elders told her "these projects evoked the memories that had
been set aside and forgotten." In dozens of ways, students
heard from the adults in their world that the work they were doing
was real and that it mattered. Many people mentioned that the evening
was both educational and entertaining. The mood was one of celebration.
At its simplest level, heritage education is a community paying
attention to itself by paying attention to its children.
It is a love of place and the local people that provides the motivation
for most of the teachers. Heritage teacher Bob Malyevac, a thirty-four-year
classroom veteran, said he settled in Libby because he found the
same beliefs there that he had learned while growing up in a working-class
neighborhood in Butte. "Perseverance and the work ethic"
still matter to people, he said. Those values "are still here
and can still be saved." People are still committed to the
project of building families over generations. By "having faith
that the younger generation can do better than the previous generation,"
some families teach young people to accept bonds of obligation beyond
the self, to their parents and grandparents as well as their children
and grandchildren. The rudiments of historical consciousness are
taught early and deeply in such homes, along with other fundamentals
such as brushing teeth or sharing cookies.
Can schools build on such family and community foundations by
supporting high levels of academic achievement while teaching the
disciplines necessary to join and enhance living communities? Heritage
teachers think the answer is yes. Logging has always been central
to community life in Libby, and English teacher Rose Goyen asked
her creative writing students to discuss the work with an adult,
write a story or essay based on that conversation, and then take
it back to the adult for a signature before handing it in. The assignment
stimulated considerable discussion between some young people and
their "mentors." One student's father began laughing as
he read her essay about him. This prompted her mother to read the
story as well, and she also signed it. "It was amazing,"
the girl said. "I had no idea of what my father had accomplished."
In an unusually ambitious project, social studies teacher Jeff
Gruber organized more than thirty citizens, including the mayor,
a Forest Service archeologist, church and business leaders, and
a city council member to join forces with his high school seniors
in the evenings to conduct an intensive ten-week community self-study
following the model Baker Brownell and Joe Howard created for the
Montana Study in the 1940s. Gruber organized the study because he
felt that young people were disenfranchised. "They see that
things are changing, and they feel powerless to affect the changes,"
he said. He wanted them to understand the way citizens in a free
democracy, including themselves, can meet their challenges by educating
themselves and by linking their efforts. Libby had been one of the
communities in the original Montana Study, and Gruber had spent
much time visiting with the chair of that committee, Inez Herrig.
She visited Gruber's classes to tell the seniors about the study
she had participated in fifty years before and to encourage them
to get involved. "We can't pursue future goals until we discuss
them as a community," she said.
Libby's economy has been devastated in recent years by the loss
of timber industry jobs, and each meeting combined historical reports
co-researched by adults and students on such topics as the history
of the logging mills in the area, and the town's relationship to
the timber industry, with discussions about the town's past, present,
and future. They also studied and discussed religion, recreation,
and education, focusing on what could be done to make life better.
This was not simply another school assignment. In fact, the students
who participated received neither grades nor credit. They were motivated
by their hunger for community and meaning. Senior Sarah Fisher said
that she joined the project because she had read the minutes of
the 1947 study. "I was amazed at what they did," she said,
"and I wondered if we could do it again."
At the end of the study, Jeff Gruber commented, "I'll be
doing heritage teaching in one form or another for the rest of my
In Red Lodge, English teachers Lori Bremer and Helen McKay decided
to collaborate on their heritage project. Lori would have students
in her Montana writers class conduct library research and interviews
on a variety of topics concerning the town's history: agriculture,
arts, mining and ethnic heritage. "The kids are responsible
for setting up interviews, assembling information, and transcribing
their notes," Bremer said. Then, during the second semester,
the students in McKay's creative writing class used these materials
as catalysts for the creation of poems, short stories, and other
literary works. In addition to doing research at the Carnegie Library,
the Western Heritage Center in Billings, and the offices of the
_Carbon County News_, the students conducted numerous interviews
in town. Senior Eric Lynn decided to follow his interest in the
arts, and his work on a history of the local arts guild led him
to tape thirteen interviews (so far), scheduling them on his own
time after school and on weekends. Other students have other motivations.
One boy was delighted when his interviews with third-generation
ranchers Ron and Marianne Yates resulted in an invitation to come
back to the ranch to hunt.
Some of the experts on Red Lodge history now live in the local
nursing home, so Lori Bremer arranged with patient services coordinator
Kim Waples to conduct interviews there. Before the visit, Waples
visited the school to give the young people an orientation to issues
that arise when working with the elderly. Waples sees that the project
is as valuable for the older folks as it is for the students. The
older people receive help "in resolving some of their life
issues" by telling their stories to a young audience. She feels
it is important for young people to understand that in asking for
information they are at the same time giving a gift.
English teacher Renee Rasmussen in Chester teamed up with Pat
Ludwig, president of the Liberty County Genealogical Society, to
bring young and old together. Renee asked her class to research
the history of the oldest buildings in town, keeping a focus on
learning what this said about what the people in town cared about.
Meanwhile, Ludwig began teaching classes on writing autobiographies
at the senior citizen center, so as the young people went looking
for the history of their place, their elders were invited to bring
that history to the fore. She also organized a corps of adults from
the community to pick students at school and drive them to their
The heritage approach to education includes dozens of ways to teach
all the academic skills that young people these days need to learn,
but it also includes dozens of ways to educate their hearts. The
investigation and documentation of the lives of communities provides
a rich context for heritage reporters to find personal meaning in
the work they do.
In an age when a concern for how to teach values to the next generation
dominates many educational discussions, heritage teachers recognize
that there is no such thing as value-free teaching. The act of teaching
itself is an attempt to change another person, and all teaching
is a value-laden activity. Heritage teachers are explicit about
the values they are trying to teach, and strive to be sure that
these values are enacted at every level of their teaching. Values
identified by the teachers in the Montana Heritage Project include:
- Community itself is an important value.
- Attentiveness to the worth of each person, especially the elderly.
- Valuing differences as a way of getting along with one another.
- Awareness that the experiences of "ordinary" individuals
and the understanding they have brought to those experiences are
important sources of learning.
- Knowledge of the past is a means to understanding human experience.
- Individual responsibility in helping to preserve and perpetuate
those things that contribute to the well-being of the community.
As the Montana Heritage Project illustrates, the heritage approach
is one teachers can use effectively to address problems of great
social importance: how to teach high-level academic skills in a
context that allows students to find personal meaning; how to provide
a sense of belonging to searching youngsters; how to involve parents
and other community members in the real work of education; and how
to use emerging technologies to provide young people with a historical
consciousness. As the work goes on, the teachers continue to find
that a living community is an inexhaustible educational resource--that,
in the words of Arthur Ortenberg, can be "a continuing voyage
of discovery." .
*Editor's note: The Montana Study was a Rockefeller Foundation-
funded project (1944-47) conducted by the University of Montana
System to enrich the quality of life in Montana by using the humanities
to contribute to improving the lives of people in small communities.
Chancellor Ernest O. Melby believed that by creating a common awareness
of Montana's heritage, the people of Montana would develop a deeper
devotion to the welfare of their community, state, and country,
and consequently act to address social and community problems.
Michael Umphrey is the director of the Montana Heritage Project
From: Folklife Center News,
Montana Heritage Workshop: New Project Looks to "The Next
by Alan Jabbour
Montana is a state rich in history and tradition--and also, like
America generally, a state facing the challenges of demographic,
occupational, technological, and social change. Nowhere is the challenge
of reconciling change and continuity greater than among the young
people of the state. They are the next generation, and how the state
will prosper and develop depends heavily on the new skills they
acquire and the cultural continuities they reaffirm.
A new project sponsored by the American Folklife Center (in cooperation
with the Library's Center for the Book), the Montana Heritage Workshop
creates a partnership between a consortium of Montana agencies and
the Library of Congress to help Montana's "next generation"
assume responsibility for maintaining the state's heritage. The
project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Liz
Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg Foundation. Liz Claiborne and Art
Ortenberg are ranch owners in Montana, and Mr. Ortenberg is a member
of the Library's Madison Council.
Entitled "The Next Generation," the Montana Heritage
Workshop is a student and community education project that will
encourage high-school students to compare and contrast the community
life of Montana in past generations with community life today. The
project has cultural heritage as its subject matter and field and
library research as its educational strategy.
Students will use materials in the Library of Congress, the Montana
State Library, the Montana Historical Society, the libraries of
the University of Montana and Montana State University, and their
local libraries and museums as a window into Montana community life
and culture in past generations. To compare that record with cultural
life today, they will be trained to interview and document members
of their own communities, including some of the same people, families,
and communities whom they encountered in their historical research.
Montana agencies participating in the project are the Office of
Public Instruction, which will serve as the administrative home
base for the project in Montana; the Commissioner of Higher Education
and the state's two major universities, University of Montana and
Montana State University; the Montana Historical Society; Montana
State Library and the Montana Center for the Book, which is based
at the State Library; the Montana Arts Council; and the Montana
Committee for the Humanities.
Envisioned as a three-year effort, the project will begin with
a teacher-training workshop in August 1995. The workshop will be
held at the University of Montana. An effort will be made to locate
teachers from communities or areas where there is known documentation
in the Library of Congress or Montana agencies. The teacher workshop
will include both classroom instruction and a brief field experience.
The project will ask broad questions: What has changed, and what
remains the same, in the life of the various cultural communities
that make up Montana? Is the environment changing? Has community
life changed in significant ways? Is the occupational culture of
the state changing? Are the various cultural traditions of the state
in good health? What does it mean to be a Montanan? Where does Montana
fit in the national picture? Student teams will seek to provide
at least tentative answers in the form of final products that can
be shared with the communities within which the students conducted
their investigation--exhibits, booklets, radio programs, and public
seminars conducted by the students in the community, for example.
One resource for the project will be the documentary photographs,
tape recordings, and fieldnotes from the Montana Folklife Project,
conducted in 1979 by the American Folklife Center in cooperation
with the Montana Arts Council. The project visited many Montana
communities and documented ranching life, miners, loggers, and cultural
communities as varied as the Hutterites of the High Line and the
Crow community at Crow Fair. The schools and communities in areas
visited by this project a generation ago would make ideal candidates
for undertaking the "Next Generation" initiative in the
1990s. Many other Montana documentary materials and publications
are also available in the Library of Congress and in various Montana
libraries and museums for the purposes of the project.
In the course of the project, participating students will also
learn concepts relating to history, cultural anthropology, folklife
studies, ethnography, literature, musicology, art--concepts to which
few are exposed during their K-12 years. As a result of the required
preliminary research, they will also acquire familiarity and experience
with library research techniques that will benefit them in other
The Montana State Library and the Montana Center for the Book
will develop a core collection of appropriate publications for distribution
to the local or school libraries of all participating schools. Copies
of documentary materials from the Folklife Center's Montana Folklife
Project will also be made locally available for the participating
schools. Students in project schools will go first to their local
libraries, archives, and other repositories, then to state agencies
like the Montana State Library, the Montana Historical Society,
or the state university libraries to conduct preliminary research
preparing themselves for fieldwork. If possible, a delegation of
teachers and students will also visit the Library of Congress in
pursuit of their research.