||Lesson Plan: Context
Alice Chandler has been a social studies and special education teacher
at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. since 1994.
She holds a Master of Arts in special education from the University of
the District of Columbia, a Bachelor of Arts with a major in sociology
and a minor in history from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and
has done graduate work in American history at Howard University. For a
number of years, Alice Chandler worked on the Integrated Curriculum Development
Project at Ellington, developing social studies lessons for a Smithsonian
Institution-developed curriculum. She is also a consultant to the local
affiliate of the National Writing Project.
The Duke Ellington School of the Arts is a public magnet school within
the District of Columbia Public Schools that began in 1974 to provide
an environment where students of color could gain tools to achieve cultural
equality. In addition to seven arts disciplines--dance, literary and media
arts, museum studies, music, theater, technical theater, and visual arts--the
school offers a full academic college preparatory program. Students come
to Ellington with various levels of academic achievement; this class includes
several special education students. Ellington provides classes ranging
from basic reading and math refresher courses to college-level English,
pre-calculus, advanced U.S. history, and advanced biology. Ellington’s
social studies department is reputed to be one of the best in the city.
Because the school is in the middle of Washington, D.C., its students
are probably more exposed to politics and political activity than most
high school students, including seeing Washington’s monuments on
a regular basis, passing through the area of the city in which most foreign
embassies are located, witnessing numerous traffic stops as the President
and other dignitaries pass through the city, and seeing and/or participating
in a variety of political rallies.
U.S. Government is a one-semester course for seniors taught on a block-period
schedule. Alice Chandler often organizes the course in what she calls
“portfolio mode,” a series of papers or examinations that
the students complete during an advisory period. In one advisory period,
she might focus on the U.S. Constitution, in another--on political parties.
Teachers at Ellington are encouraged to integrate academic subjects with
the arts. During the advisory period prior to this lesson, for example,
students had to choose a book and/or video that dealt with both the United
States government and the art form they are studying. A theater major,
for example, might have done a project on Paul Robeson that explored both
his acting and his political activism.