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Local history experts to train state teachers under federal grant

RELEASED: May 28, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — A $1.67 million grant will bring 40 Wisconsin educators to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley Museum in June to receive intensive training in U.S. history. The summer institute will kick off a three-year program to investigate how the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness became universal among Americans — not immediately in 1776, but over the next decades of debate, struggle and even war.

"Constructing and Reconstructing 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness' from the Age of Revolution to Present" is designed to improve instruction and raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge of traditional U.S. history.

The program is funded through the Department of Education's Teaching American History program. Activities include the summer institute, workshops throughout the academic year, opportunities for online discussion and a five-day trip through Wisconsin and Illinois to explore historical events and people who contributed to the liberties people enjoy today.

"The Declaration of Independence enumerated some of the rights for all people," said Dr. James Oberly, professor of history at UW-Eau Claire and lead instructor for the summer institute. "However, in practice, the Constitution included some people but excluded most adults — women, slaves, Native Americans. Over our history as a nation, rights have expanded, albeit unevenly."

Oberly is the author of "A Nation of Statesmen: The Political Culture of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans, 1815-1974" and "Sixty Million Acres: American Veterans and the Public Lands before the Civil War."

He explained that Congress authorized and reauthorizes the Teaching American History program annually because it believes that all American public school students should learn U.S. history from the best-trained teachers.

Mary Ann Lynnes, master teacher for UW-Eau Claire's Center for History Teaching and Learning, will advise participating teachers on incorporating project content into their classrooms.

"I'm a former public school history teacher myself, and I've seen the ways the Teaching American History grants provide teachers with the best possible professional development — interesting, new content for their classrooms and new teaching strategies and resources to help make history come alive for their students," said Lynnes.

Susan McLeod, director of the Chippewa Valley Museum and project director for the grant, noted the value the UW-Eau Claire history department faculty and staff bring to the program. "University faculty guide the content development of the institute and fall workshop. Not only is their content knowledge deep, but their teaching experience is critical as we transfer that content to the elementary and secondary level classrooms."

During the summer trip, teachers will visit the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Madison, meet the justices and hear about Wisconsin's own legal battles over the Fugitive Slave Act. In Springfield, Ill., they will visit the new Abraham Lincoln Museum and meet with interpretive staff behind the scenes. The tour also includes Lincoln's New Salem State Historic site, the Mormon settlement at Navoo and the Black Hawk State Historic Site. Another stop includes the Mining Museum in Platteville.

A fall course, which will reach hundreds more teachers, will be led by Dr. Oscar Chamberlain, senior lecturer in history at UW-Eau Claire, whose fields of expertise include constitutional history and early national and antebellum U.S. history.

Instructors from the Chippewa Valley Museum include curator Carrie Ronnander, who for 13 years was an American history instructor with the University of Minnesota's independent and distance learning program; and author-editor Frank Smoot, whose work on the Chippewa Valley Museum's book "Farm Life" earned him a 2005 Wisconsin Historical Society Book Award.

The Cooperative Educational Service Agency for school districts in northwest Wisconsin, CESA 10, is also a partner in and the fiscal agent for the grant.

For more information about the program, contact Mary Ann Lynnes at liberty@cvmuseum.info.

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FS/RD/DW

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