Celebrating Roberta Logan: Primary Source Supporter for Over 20 Years

17 September 2014

Roberta LoganAs a middle school educator for Boston Public Schools (BPS) in the early 90's, Roberta Logan was aware of a cultural shift taking place. "The focus was on transforming schools through multi-cultural education," she said. "My school [Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School] and the William Monroe Trotter Elementary School received a multiyear grant to foster collaboration among teachers and across the two school communities, and Primary Source agreed to be one of our collaborating partners." Recognizing Roberta's expertise in African American history, and in particular the laws around slavery, co-founder Anne Watt asked her to lead a Primary Source weekend workshop on the Underground Railroad. Soon after, she met co-founder Anna Roelofs and a partnership was born that has lasted over two decades and counting. "There's a synergy in our relationship that continues to amaze me year after year," says Roberta.

What was Primary Source like in those early years?
In the 1990's the educational landscape was very different than today. Teachers were often isolated in their classrooms. We had few opportunities to collaborate with each other and almost no time to engage with scholars. Though a tiny organization at the time, Primary Source believed in developing collaborative relationships that empower teachers. The staffs of the King and the Trotter had a central question that we wanted to explore: "How do we create more culturally-sensitive, inclusive curriculum so that students perceive themselves as part of the curriculum?" At the end of a weeklong summer institute, teachers from both schools were energized by the experience. I remember what I wrote at the end of that week: "I am always impressed with the powerful commitment of teachers from urban schools, and my week with Primary Source was no exception. It was an opportunity to discuss issues that I have been struggling with this past year. I have a lot to learn about multiculturalism…one consultant, Anna Dunwell, reminded me of a very important ingredient to this process: positive energy. She brought hers and shared it with us!"

How did the African American History Project get off the ground?
The short answer is two curious minds and one fabulous question adds up to weekend workshops, summer institutes and five source books focused on the African American experience.

Stories of the Underground Railroad hold a particular power in American history and Harriet Tubman is often the central figure in the narratives that are shared with children. Before becoming acquainted with Primary Source, I had begun to stumble upon the stories of other formerly enslaved people who had escaped. At that time I was reading about the laws, which constricted the lives of black people, both free and enslaved. That first workshop I presented for Primary Source, Slavery, Slave Codes and Biography, was the beginning. The other very important ingredient came from Marilyn Richardson, the former curator of the African Meeting House. I was not familiar with the history of Boston's 19th century African American community and she introduced me to the people who led the community’s activism. I was fascinated!

When I met Anna, my questions began to bubble up. Our first step was to enlist the advice and counsel of several local scholars: Robert Hayden, whose work is focused on local history, Marilyn Richardson, and Robert Hall of Northeastern University Our first question was "If there was such a dynamic community with a clear vision of the importance of freedom, how were their beliefs communicated to a broader audience?" Hence the title of our first two-day workshop: Speech Across the Podium; Pen Across The Page. The feedback from teachers was passionate curiosity and eagerness for a more in-depth workshop than could be provided over a weekend. The workshop evolved into a two-week summer institute, whose title was borrowed from the work of William Pierson, Black Yankees.

The rich, teacher-created curriculum that emerged from these summer institutes clearly fit into the larger narrative of American History, and begged for broader dissemination. Through a generous a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the invaluable support of our summer institute participants, we were able to create a body of work that would be a lasting resource for educators teaching African American history. The 5-book series Making Freedom was published in 2004. It was exciting to play such a big part in developing this series because it brought together scholars and colleagues who were equally passionate about sharing this part of history.

Tell us about your current work co-leading Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) with [Primary Source Co-Founder] Anna Roelofs.
Now in its 10th year, BTR spends a year preparing new Boston Public Schools teachers for their work with elementary students. These interns come to our course having had a range of experiences as learners. Some enter excited about the possibility of teaching Social Studies and History; others enter with trepidation. Many of the interns' experiences of Social Studies as young learners did not invite them to ask questions or use their imaginations. Anna and I have an opportunity to expose young professionals to an array of possibilities. The first year in a classroom can be a challenge for new teachers, and we want them to know that extensive resources, across all grade levels, are available throughout the city. At the end of the course, it is our hope that teachers will have an enhanced personal and professional interest in history and social studies and a beginning repertoire of pedagogies for young learners.

Any final thoughts on Primary Source and our 25th anniversary?
Although Primary Source has grown its offerings to encompass a global perspective, it has not swayed from its vision of offering historically accurate, culturally inclusive social studies. It remains a place that supports educators and offers invitation to delve into areas of study that reflect our ever-changing world. I can sum up my experience with three words: synergy, collaborative, invaluable. Primary Source has offered me many opportunities to learn and grow as an educator. It's a place that I enjoy sending teachers, because I know they'll return energized. If an educator is looking for an invaluable resource to support his/her work, Primary Source is the place.





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