High School US History Immersion



Teachers:   Stephanie Berry & Jesse Burch

Ages:  14+

Mat Fees:   $30/session


This is a 2 hour class starting at 9:00 am


Class Fees:

Fall:       11 weeks:  $349 or $339 if taking 2 or more classes

Winter:  10 weeks:  $330 or $320 if taking 2 or more classes

Spring:  10 weeks:  $330 or $320 if taking 2 or more classes


Homework:   Plan on 1-2 hours each week


“Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat the 11th grade”                      

 - James W. Loewen


When high school students list their favorite subjects, history invariably comes last.  But why?   Our history is a fabulous story, and an important one.  In fact, our history becomes more and more important as time goes on.   What causes what?   The connections between the actions of a country and the resulting global re-actions have never been more important to decipher.   Immersion in US History is an excellent way to build the abilities to think critically, test ideas, and research deeply.


Outside of school, American history is big business, a serious money maker.   Historical novels are often bestsellers.  Movies and museums of American History alike are exceedingly popular.   So why isn’t history a beloved subject?   Perhaps it lies in the textbook, or the way the class is taught.   Students hate Textbooks, and so do I!  Textbooks are dry, uninviting, and do not question the relevance of history.   But the whole point of studying history is to make it relevant.  So in this class, we will be reading excerpts from Grand Expectations, from the Oxford History of the United States series, the most respected and engaging multi-volume history of our nation, as our spine.  Our high schoolers are quite capable of handling this book, along with many up-to-date online readings that will be used throughout each to broaden our knowledge of our heritage.  As we move through each section of history, we will also be reading other important works; from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Night by Elie Wiesel, or other WWII novels, with several other books in between.  To give us better hooks into pivotal events, we will also watch clips from movies that will help us to better understand the emotions of each time period.  We’ll have lots of opportunities to discuss our reading & research, learn how history is depicted in the movies, debate the effectiveness of crucial decisions, and engage in various projects designed to deepen our understanding.   Our main emphasis will be to understand the relevance of our history. 

What are the causes of war, ignorance, or bigotry, and more importantly, how can we avoid these travesties in the future?  Join us as we walk down the path of US History


Some of the books we will be reading:

Grand Expectations, from the Oxford History of the United States series.  Beginning in 1945, America rocketed through a quarter-century of extraordinary economic growth, experiencing an amazing boom that soared to unimaginable heights in the 1960s. At one point, in the late 1940s, American workers produced 57 percent of the planet's steel, 62 percent of the oil, 80 percent of the automobiles. The U.S. then had three-fourths of the world's gold supplies. English Prime Minister Edward Heath later said that the United States in the post-War era enjoyed "the greatest prosperity the world has ever known." It was a boom that produced a national euphoria, a buoyant time of grand expectations and an unprecedented faith in our government, in our leaders, and in the American dream--an optimistic spirit which would be shaken by events in the '60s and '70s, and particularly by the Vietnam War.  In Grand Expectations, James T. Patterson has written a highly readable and balanced work that weaves the major political, cultural, and economic events of the period into a superb portrait of America from 1945 through Watergate. Here is an era teeming with memorable events--from the bloody campaigns in Korea and the bitterness surrounding McCarthyism to the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, to the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Nixon's resignation. Patterson excels at portraying the amazing growth after World War II.  Of course, not all Americans shared in this economic growth, and an important thread running through the book is an informed and gripping depiction of the civil rights movement--from the electrifying Brown v. Board of Education decision, to the violent confrontations in Little Rock, Birmingham, and Selma, to the landmark civil rights acts of 1964 and 1965. Patterson also shows how the Vietnam War--which provoked LBJ's growing credibility gap, vast defense spending that dangerously unsettled the economy, and increasingly angry protests--and a growing rights revolution (including demands by women, Hispanics, the poor, Native Americans, and gay people) triggered a backlash that widened hidden rifts in our society, rifts that divided along racial, class, and generational lines.


The Jungle.  Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle to expose the appalling working conditions in the meat-packing industry. His description of diseased, rotten, and contaminated meat shocked the public and led to new federal food safety laws.   Before the turn of the 20th century, a major reform movement had emerged in the United States. Known as Progressives, the reformers were reacting to problems caused by the rapid growth of factories and cities. Progressives at first concentrated on improving the lives of those living in slums and in getting rid of corruption in government.   By the beginning of the new century, progressives had started to attack huge corporations like Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, and the Armour meat-packing company for their unjust practices. The progressives revealed how these companies eliminated competition, set high prices, and treated workers as "wage slaves."   Theodore Roosevelt was the president when the progressive reformers were gathering strength.  Roosevelt favored large-scale enterprises. "The corporation is here to stay," he declared. But he favored government regulation of them "with due regard of the public as a whole."  Even so, Roosevelt had to admit, "There is filth on the floor, and it must be scraped up with the muck-rake." The term "muckraker" caught on. It referred to investigative writers who uncovered the dark side of society.   We’ll be using The Jungle as an introduction to the Progressive Movement, Unionization and other issues of the early 20th Century.


Lies My Teacher Told Me.  We will be reading excerpts from this entertaining re-telling of American History written by James Loewen, who spent two years at the Smithsonian Institute surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American History. What he found was an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple.  This book is a wonderful retelling of American history as it should - and could - be taught.  Loewen supplies the conflict, suspense, unresolved drama, and connection with current-day issues so appallingly missing from textbook accounts. 


The Butter Battle Book.   Is Dr. Suess Political?   You better believe it!   For young readers, The Butter Battle Book is a book teaching us all to respect differences in others and to be curious about different customs.   For older readers, this is an anti-war story; specifically, a parable about arms races in general, mutually assured destruction and nuclear weapons in particular.  This book was written during the Cold War era, and reflects the concerns of the time, especially the perceived possibility that all life on earth could be destroyed in a nuclear war. It can also be seen as a satirical work, with its depiction of a deadly war based on a senseless conflict over something as trivial as a breakfast food.  The Butter Battle Book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.


Night:  Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about his feelings of the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver. "If only I could get rid of this dead weight ... Immediately I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed forever." In Night, everything is inverted, every value destroyed. "Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends," a Kapo tells him. "Everyone lives and dies for himself alone."



Movie clips we’ll watch will include:

John Adams:  An amazing movie about the founding of our country.   We will watch particular excerpts from this movie as we move from learning how the Enlightenment and other eras factored into the ideas used by our Founding Fathers.

Lincoln:  Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is a well-researched work of historical fiction and focuses on the events of January 1865.  Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is by far the best characterization of the man recorded on film. The acting and writing for the character of Thaddeus Stevens should lead to a new appreciation for this almost forgotten leader of the Radical Republicans. Stevens' view of race relations was a hundred years ahead of its time. The movie contains one of the best historical extrapolations, whether on film or in print, of Lincoln's reasons for demanding that the 1865 lame-duck session of the House of Representatives join the Senate in proposing the 13th Amendment to the States.  Because of the tight focus on that, we will preface this viewing with a thorough look at the abolitionist movement outside of the White House during the Civil War.   We will also be looking at famous speeches and writings on the issues of this war, both slavery AND state’s rights.


Iron Jawed Angels:  Most people don't know that in order to get the vote American women suffered imprisonment and torture. It's not taught in the history books but Alice Paul and the women who picketed the White House developed the tactics and techniques of non-violent mass action which Mahatma Gandhi was developing independently on the other side of the globe. For picketing the White House they were arrested on false charges and tortured in prison. The scandal that resulted was one of the major factors in forcing President Wilson to support votes for women..


The Grapes of Wrath:  This classic tale of the Oakies, forced off their farms in the mid-West, and their mass migration to California, brings to life what many Americans faced during the 1930’s.


Fat Man and Little Boy:  This film is an account of the Manhattan Project, the super-secret crash program by the United States to make the first atomic bomb. It centers on the relationship between General Leslie Groves, the military man in charge of the entire project, and its scientific director, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer led the scientific and engineering team that solved the physics and technical problems involved in creating and delivering the bomb. The movie also explains the development of "Little Boy," the uranium bomb detonated over Hiroshima by a gun-type device, and "Fat Man," the plutonium bomb detonated through implosion at Nagasaki.. Through the dialogue we hear much of the debate concerning the use of atomic weapons and whether the U.S. should have dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   We’ll use this as a platform for learning about the beginnings of the war, the rationale for Japan to enter the war, and why America decided to take such drastic measures.   It will lead us to a debate on this critical decision.


Schindler’s List:  This film depicts the heroism of Oskar Schindler, who saved more than 1,100 Jewish people from death in the Holocaust. The film is based on the historical novel by Thomas Keneally, in which only the dialogue and certain details are fictional. Mr. Keneally based the book on events reported to him by the "Schindlerjuden", people whose lives had been saved by Schindler and who were eyewitnesses to Schindler's heroic actions..This film draws viewers into the reality and horror of genocide and better prepares them for clarity about the several cases of ethnic cleansing that have occurred in more recent times.


Good Night and Good Luck:  In the early 1950's, the threat of Communism created an air of paranoia in the United States and exploiting those fears was Senator Joseph McCarthy.  CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his producer Fred W. Friendly decided to take a stand and challenge McCarthy and expose him for the fear monger he was. Their actions took a great personal toll on both men, but they stood by their convictions and helped to bring down one of the most controversial senators in American history.


The Butler:  The Butler gives us an overview of pivotal events over several Presidencys, from Eisenhower in 1957 through the Reagan administration.   Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, integration in Little Rock, the Black Panthers and more appear in this well done movie.  We’ll watch it as we approach the Eisenhower Presidency to give us some context of what’s to come!


Thirteen Days:  In 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. discovers that the Russians are secretly installing nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba. President John F. Kennedy convenes a team of advisors to help decide how to respond. The challenge: how to force the Russians to withdraw the missiles without provoking nuclear war.  But this story began much earlier than 1962. At the end of World War II, relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. deteriorated, ending the cooperation which enabled the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany ushering in The Cold War.  Americans were alarmed at the spread of Communist regimes in East Europe and East Asia. The Soviets were worried about postwar unity among the U.S. and powerful West European nations. The Communist bloc and the capitalist democracies lurched from crisis to crisis.   In the effort to stop the spread of communism, America mounted an invasion of Cuba. Using Cuban exiles as the initial landing force, the target was the Bay of Pigs on the Cuban coast. This poorly planned and failed invasion led to a destabilization program for Cuba and eventually to the Nuclear Stand-off known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Freedom Riders:  In the spring of 1961, despite the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and two Supreme Court decisions specifically outlawing segregation in interstate travel, black Americans, traveling by bus across state lines in the South, were still forced to sit in separate sections and made to use separate facilities in bus terminals. More than that, as civil rights activist Diane Nash explains, Traveling the segregated South, for black people, was humiliating. The very fact that there were separate facilities was to say to black people and white people that blacks were so subhuman and so inferior that we could not even use public facilities that white people used. It was also dangerous.


As Freedom Rider Charles Person recalls, “You didn’t know what you were going to encounter. You had night riders. You had hoodlums . . . You could be antagonized at any point in your journey.”  Students of American government might ask, “If the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, ruled that segregation was illegal, why didn’t the government enforce the law?” The film Freedom Riders addresses that complicated question.



Mississippi Burning:  It was an old-fashioned lynching, carried out with the help of county officials, that came to symbolize hardcore resistance to integration .  Dead were three civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. All three shot in the dark of night on a lonely road in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Many people predicted such a tragedy when the Mississippi Summer Project, an effort that would bring hundreds of college-age volunteers to "the most totalitarian state in the country" was announced  in April, 1964.  The FBI's all-out search for the conspirators who killed the three young men, depicted in the movie "Mississippi Burning," was successful, leading three years later to a trial in the  courtroom of one of America's most determined segregationist judges.