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Teacher Q&A: James Buck, Watertown High School

7 January 2010

James BuckJames Buck teaches world history at Watertown High School. A frequent participant in Primary Source seminars, he recently began incorporating an international community service project into the traditional curriculum.

Primary Source: Describe the NGO project initiative that you've developed for students in your world history class.

James Buck: As the course approaches the beginning of the modern era, the focus begins to shift from a strictly top-down orientation to social thinking, and then, social action on the part of the wider citizenry. At that point, students begin to look at contemporary issues regarding reform in particular areas, and they are assigned to do basic research on NGOs working in a particular area. Eventually, students narrow their focus to one particular group, and the final project is a research and technology-based project that is usually done in an exhibition-type format with all classes viewing selected presentations.

PS: How did this project get started? Why did you decide to connect global community service with the world history curriculum?

James: One of the first contacts we made in the NGO arena was a group called Invisible Children, a group dedicated to providing aid to children affected by a civil war in Uganda. After representatives from this group came to the school in the 2005 school year, several students decided to form a committee to raise funds for the group, which they did very successfully. After seeing the positive effect that this work had on broadening the worldview of the involved students, I decided to attempt to allow students, as part of their final project, to actually do a service project for their group. Several groups of students did such a project last year.

PS: What is the most exciting outcome of this work, so far?

James: Several students have come back to visit the high school after graduation and reported that they are involved in working in a leadership role in similar work in student groups at the colleges that they are attending. In students' feedback on the course that they submit when they request letters of recommendation, this is the part of the curriculum that most of them say they found the most meaningful.

PS: How has Primary Source helped you to bring international perspectives into your classroom?

James: I have taken several seminars that have allowed me to continue to explore NGOs in smaller research topics. A seminar on globalization allowed me to explore the contemporary issue of sweatshops, which I use as a companion to our unit on the industrial revolution. I also did a summer institute on the Middle East, and have used that work to plan curriculum involving human rights issues in Palestine. My whole orientation on teaching contemporary events has been changed by Primary Source, especially in terms of seeing American activities through different eyes.

PS: What do you think students learn or gain from this experience that they wouldn't get from a more traditional approach to world history?

James: The main lesson I hope to get across is the idea that history and change are not always made by the wealthy and powerful, but are often made by groups of committed people who have limited resources but great motivation.

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