“Hands-On History” is designed to support educators and develop, deliver, and inspire meaningful learning experiences for local students that promote curiosity, empathy, and a connection to the freedom history of the region.
Over time, we aim to develop a full-fledged three-season field trip program to the JohnBrown Farm State Historic Site (Farm) that involves outreach to educators, librarians, homeschooling parents, and summer program, museum, and historic site partners across the region; professional development and support for teachers; and the creation of nine high-quality lesson plans, materials, and activities designed to engage young visitors and support educator goals.
There are precious few places on the American landscape that offer living testament to the belief that “all men (and women) are created equal” or where children can learn about their forebears who believed in, sacrificed, and in some cases died for full human freedom, equality, and racial justice. The humble farmhouse of abolitionists John and Mary Brown and their many children, neighbors to the free Black settlers of “Timbuctoo,” is one such place.
But few schools bring their students to the site though this comes as no surprise. Truthful teaching about slavery is challenging, and John Brown can be a tough sell. Teachers generally is not sufficiently prepared, and textbooks give slavery short shrift, at best. Students consequently lack “a basic knowledge
of the important role it [slavery] played in shaping the United States and the impact it continues to have…” (“Teaching Hard History,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2018). Without understanding what the late historian of African Americans James O. Horton called “slavery’s diversity, longevity, complexity, and centrality,” one can hardly begin to understand—and teach students about—the motives, values, actions, and shared sacrifices of John Brown and his family.
Complicating matters, the interpretive program offered at the Farm has not been updated in many years. But working closely with educators, historians, and our partners at NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, John Brown Lives! aims to change that and enliven learning through “Hands-on-
Additionally, through Parks Connect Kids program, districts are eligible for reimbursement for transportation, admission, and program fees for field trips to state parks and historic sites. Project Description: Well-crafted field trips are proven to increase students’ knowledge and improve their ability to retain new knowledge. Research also shows an increase in historical empathy, tolerance of dissenting ideas, and critical thinking after experiencing a quality field trip. Therefore, the centerpiece of the project will be well-organized field trips to the Farm bookended by pre-/post- classroom visits, either in person or via zoom, and a range of resource-supported activities.
“…many of the hard-won lessons learned on this mountain landscape in the past
are of too great a value to us now to let them be forgotten and lost.”
Dr. Curt Stager, author, educator, scientist