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Articles on Heritage Projects & Place-Based Education Projects

From: Folklife Center News, Fall 2004

Arizona Heritage Project Investigates Community Folklife, History, and Culture
by Guha Shankar

In November 2004 the Arizona Heritage Project (AHP) held its second annual planning and review meeting at the facilities of the Arizona Historical Society, in Tempe, Arizona. In attendance were teachers and students representing the five high schools affiliated with the AHP for the 2004-05 school year, along with Dan Shilling, the AHP executive director, Guha Shankar, AFC folklife specialist and liaison with the AHP, and the meeting's host, Vicki Berger, director of the Historical Society. The meeting provided a setting for students to present initial findings on their research about the folklife and cultural history of the local communities they had set out to investigate at the beginning of the school year.

The students' presentations, and the subsequent day-long discussions regarding the aims and scope of the individual projects, spoke to the range and diversity of local experiences and traditions extant in the state. As well, they highlighted the dedication and creativity of the students who carried out research in their own communities. The largely student-directed projects reflect the sorts of community-centered, school-based activities that were envisioned when the AHP was established as an annual initiative in 2003, and a collaboration between the Center and its Arizona institutional partners - beginning with the initial sponsor, Salt River Project, and continuing with the Center's current partner, Sharlot Hall Museum.

Students and teachers participating in AHP projects are asked to explore their community's place in national and world events, its cultural heritage as expressed in traditions and celebrations, its literature and arts, its relationship to the global economy, and its everyday life. Accordingly, this year, teacher Barbara Hatch's students, at Cactus Shadows High School (Cave Creek), are researching how military veterans and their families have enriched the communities of Cave Creek, Carefree, Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills. Their project will include interviews with veterans and their families for a DVD, book, traveling exhibit, and public presentation honoring the veterans that will be completed by the end of the school year. Students from the American Indian Club, at Casa Grande High School, working with their adviser Fritz Fisher, are investigating the history and culture of the Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham people. Their project will feature interviews with elders and analysis of historical documents that will both be used as the basis for an art exhibit and garden of native plants. Roxanne May-Thayer's students at Cesar Chavez High School (Laveen) are conducting research on the history of the Maricopa (Pee-Posh) pottery tradition and how it has been sustained over time. The students will interview elders and attend pottery workshops. They hope to produce a gallery opening at the school featuring their own work and that of the community artists.

Students in Eric LaDuke's Social Sciences Club, at Corona del Sol High School, are doing a comparative study of growth and development among ethnic, neighborhoods in Tempe and s u r rounding communities fro m the 1930s onward. Their project will focus on migrant workers' social, economic, and education al experiences in Tempe, and will result in a traveling exhibit and Website. Finally, students in Ben Anderson's service class at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy will examine how food cultivation and preparation traditions have shaped Hopi community, culture, and identity. Students have already interviewed a few elders and have learned how to repair traditional bread ovens. They aim to construct a traditional Hopi bread oven at the Northern Arizona Museum in Flagstaff as one aspect of their final project. Their research will also be folded into a training manual for docents at the museum.

Aims and Scope, Brief History of AHP

Modeled on the AFC's highly successful partnership with the Montana Heritage Project (See Umphrey 1997, 2002; also consult, the AHP represents the Center's most recent effort to develop educational programs involving research into the folklife and cultural history of local communities by students in middle schools and high schools.

The basis for the Arizona Heritage Project was formed in 2000, when U.S. Representatives J.D. Hayworth and John Shadegg, from Arizona, nominated the educational project initiated by the Salt River Project (SRP), one of the West's largest utilities, for inclusion in the Library of Congress's Bicentennial "Local Legacies" project. Following the conclusion of the Local Legacies project, SRP and the American Folklife Center further developed the Arizona Heritage Project in order to serve the entire state (Bartis 2003). SRP funded AHP activities during the 2003-04 school year and provided day-to-day management of the project through the efforts of its Community Services staff.

Soon after the culmination of the first AHP, Dan Shilling, noted Arizona scholar and former head of the Arizona Humanities Council, came on board as the project's executive director. Also in the summer of 2004, Sharlot Hall Museum, a highly respected Arizona heritage institution located in Prescott, assumed day-to-day control of the Heritage Project. Shilling and Richard Sims, the museum's director, are actively seeking funding to develop and expand the AHP to include more school districts outside the Phoenix metropolitan area in future years.

Role of Partners and Role of Center

The Center and the AHP share the goal of providing educators and students with the means and motivation to become cultural researchers and historians of their own communities. The AHP program staff is chiefly responsible for recruiting local schools for the year-long project, helping affiliate schools locate local experts and liaisons who can facilitate community-based research, and providing the financial and technical resources educators and students need to carry out their projects. Participating teachers receive grants of approximately $5,000, which they may use to buy recoding equipment, computer and exhibition supplies, or other materials for their projects. (The details of AHP's mandate and operations are available at Members of the American Folklife Center's staff play an active role in a weeklong, intensive Summer Training Institute that affiliate teachers and selected students attend. Institute participants are exposed to a range of educational issues and practical research concerns. AFC and AHP staff teach participants basic concepts in folklife and oral history research, provide training in audio recording and photography, and conduct workshops on organizing and preserving research materials. Additional topics covered range from integrating the study of local history into a classroom curriculum to designing Websites, multimedia public exhibits, and other educational activities. The workshops also stress the importance of finding a community-based liaison in order to conduct field work within a particular community. Future workshops may include a focused introduction to accessing the Library of Congress's digitized primary-source materials via the Internet, techniques for documenting community cultural traditions, and comparing national and world events with local ones by means of a timeline.

For more information about AHP, contact Dan Shilling, Executive Director, at the Sharlot Hall Museum (; 928-44-3122 ext. 31) or Guha Shankar at the Center (; 202-707-4430) .


Bartis, Peter. "New Arizona Heritage Project Inspired by Montana Heritage Model," Folklife Center News 25, no. 3 (summer 2003):12-13.

Umphrey, Michael. "The Power of the Real: The Montana Heritage Project After Seven Years," Folklife Center News 24, no. 4 (fall 2002):3-8.

_____ "Montana Heritage Education Project Brings Schools Back Into Community," Folklife Center News 19, nos. 3-4 (summer-fall 1997):3-9.

Image: Students and teachers from the Flagstaff, Arizona, Arts and Leadership Academy listen to community liaison Susan Secakuku (center) as she explains Hopi crop-cultivation techniques during a field trip to the Hopi reservation in fall 2004. (Photo by Guha Shankar)

From: Folklife Center News, Fall 2002

The Power of the Real: The Montana Heritage Project After Seven Years
by Michael Umphrey

The Montana Heritage Project was established in 1995 through a partnership involving the Library of Congress and a consortium of Montana organizations: the Office of Public Instruction, the University of Montana, Montana State University, the Montana Historical Society, the Montana State Library, the Montana Center for the Book, the Montana Arts Council, and the Montana Committee for the Humanities. It is funded by the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg Foundation. This article was adapted from a keynote speech given at the National Rural Education Association's annual conference in Portland, Oregon, October 16, 2002. For more information on the Montana Heritage Project, visit their Web site at:

"The Montana Heritage Project is not just a class--it's an adventure!" said Kelsey Miller, high school senior from Harlowton, Montana. She was one of a hundred high school students gathered at the state capitol in Helena to present their gifts of scholarship to Montana governor Judy Martz. She and her fellow seniors in teacher Nancy Widdicombe's English class had made the Bair family ranch in their hometown the subject of research, tracing across generations the rise of one the largest sheep operations in the nation.

Drawing on interviews, research in bank and museum archives, and documentation of ranching culture today, they published their work in a book that adds significant detail to the history of Montana and of their community. Through a multimedia presentation, they shared the story of their research quest with their community at a special Heritage Evening attended by more than a hundred people.

These students take their schoolwork seriously in part because adults take it seriously. Though most schoolwork is thrown away as soon as it is graded, the work of Kelsey and her fellow students will be preserved at the Montana State Historical Society archives as a resource for future researchers.

In her excitement about community heritage research, Kelsey seemed to be reading from the same page as the project's founder, Art Ortenberg, who, at the project's September 19, 2002, board meeting, noted that "the Montana Heritage Project is a research-and-inquiry driven adventure for students and teachers." Art and his wife, Liz Claiborne, have fully funded the project since its inception in 1995. For their intellectual and organizational guidance in developing the project, they were awarded a special Governor's Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership in 2001.

It has now been seven years since the American Folklife Center accepted Ortenberg's challenge to initiate the project. Working from a proposal created by former Center director Alan Jabbour and Center folklife specialist Peter Bartis, the Montana Heritage Project developed a secondary education project that focuses on local communities . In the Montana model, the community is both a subject of research and a network of resources employed to accomplish that research. Students are guided through a cycle of inquiry, summarized in the ALERT process I developed during my graduate research into comprehensive learning models:

Ask important questions; Listen to the historical record as it exists in libraries and archives; Explore beyond the library by conducting interviews, visiting sites and events, and creating a detailed history of the present; Reflect on what has been learned and how it fits with or changes existing knowledge; Tell the story of what has been found by creating a scholarly product that can be given back to the community. (see Learning as Narrative Process: An Alert from the Montana Heritage Project )

The model is quite simple and flexible. The real power of heritage projects flows not from a method or a technique but from the faith that, in working together, kids and elders can learn what they need to know, and from a commitment to act on that faith by inviting others to join the work. Former Montana Governor Marc Racicot told students that the Montana Heritage Project is a "modern version of old barn-raising parties," where people came together to share important work that no one could do alone. The important work we share is that of gathering, documenting, preserving, and presenting the cultural and natural heritage of local places. We will never have enough professional scholars to do this work, and if local people don't do it, it won't get done. This realization is easy to communicate to young people, so they know we aren't being patronizing when we tell them they have real and important work to do.

At each stage in the process, adult community members are invited to become mentors, co-researchers, and guides, so students are engaged in a comprehensive learning model while community members are invited to help document and research their own lives and to tell their stories in their own ways.

Some years ago, Education Secretary Richard Riley said that the nation needed "high educational standards and effective strategies for reaching them." Most states have now developed content and performance standards --lists of things students should know and be able to do-- and debate has come to focus on how student learning should be tested. To the chagrin of most people with a passion for teaching, tests have become the main topic of conversation at many schools. It might help to remember at this point what Marie Montessori told us decades ago: "to test is not to teach."

The second half of Riley's statement, that we need "effective strategies" for teaching, often gets overlooked. The Montana Heritage Project is helping teachers take an important step: designing rigorous projects that require deep learning and provide accountability through public exhibitions of mastery. In rigorous research projects high standards are embedded in every stage of the work. Rigorous projects hold the key to deep learning.

When Secretary Riley spoke at the project's teacher institute in Great Falls, Montana, he said that "every state in the country should follow Montana's lead with its Heritage Project." As director of the Montana Heritage Project since it began, I've watched enthusiasm grow for the Montana model. This past year, for example, educators from Wyoming, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Washington have drawn on our work to begin their own projects. They join others working in Louisiana, Oregon, and Alberta, Canada.

Ken Evans, Director of Community Outreach for the Arizona Salt River Project, attended our annual teacher institute to gather materials and ideas to implement a similar project in Arizona. "The tremendous population growth and somewhat transient community over the last fifty years has made it easy to lose our customs and rituals," he said. "The Arizona Heritage Project will benefit Arizona by enlisting students in recording remaining folkways and in identifying developing rituals."

In New Hampshire, Christa McAuliffe Fellow Kay Morgan has spent the past year building a team of scholars and educators who will offer the New Hampshire Heritage Project's first summer institute in June 2003, one that will focus on "the theory and the practice of using their community as a basis for studying history, literature, and the environment."

As I've visited rural communities over the past seven years, the reasons people both young and old are drawn to community- centered education have become increasingly clear to me. People everywhere are sensing a loss of community, and amid the troubles that follow such loss are searching for ways to regain what they know they need.

The only way we can meet the long list of adolescent "needs" that researchers have identified for our nation's high schools is to revitalize our communities. In trying to meet every need by developing a special program dedicated to it, we've inadvertently undermined the power of community. It becomes second nature to think that "they" should do something, when quite often only "we" can get it done. Much of the success of the Montana model derives quite simply from bringing the power of community to bear on teaching.

It may be that the greatest risks to "at risk" adolescents emanate from the absence of strong communities. Adolescents are trying to construct identities on the threshold between family and the larger society, and substantial research indicates that when the various adult groups that surround teenagers--parents, teachers, employers, church leaders, community leaders--send coherent messages about the things worth wanting and the right ways to get them, teens are better able to make the transition from youth to adulthood.

On the other hand, when those groups lose faith in one another, many young people become lost, causing tremendous pain to themselves, their families, and their communities.   One of the most vivid signs of failed community is a large population of troubled youth. As our schools have become larger and more distant from their communities, to the extent that teachers and neighborhood adults inhabit different realities, the effectiveness of schools, especially for troubled youth, plummets. Study after study has found that over half of secondary students make no consistent effort to learn anything in school. Student disengagement is epidemic. At bottom, the problem is that many young people do not understand the story of their lives as having any meaningful connection with school. That is, school does not seem real to them.

Sociologist Elijah Anderson has argued that we've left behind a strong sense of community that once brought young and old together, and we now suffer from "cultural amnesia" (Elijah Anderson, Place on the Corner, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981). The young were helped to grow up by wise elders ("old heads," Anderson calls them) who acted as "a kind of guidance counselor and moral cheerleader." Children met these old heads in small jobs, at church, in school, or simply on the street corner. The old head might be a police officer, a scoutmaster, or a grocer. The old heads took interest in the community's young people. For children without available fathers and mothers, the old heads were sources of consolation, advice, occasional help (including financial), and, above all, sources of moral values well laced with doses of real life wisdom.

Among the primary messages of the old head, said Anderson, were those about good manners and the value of hard work: how to dress for a job interview and deal with a prospective employer, how to work, and how to keep the job. Through stories, jokes, and conversations, the old head would convey his conception of the "tricks of the trade."

For those coming of age, which is largely a process of weaving one's individual story into the larger tapestry of community, a neighborhood's folkways may be more powerful educative forces than the school's formal curricula, for good or ill. This is why serious educators are turning their attention to community-centered teaching, looking for ways to reconnect their schools with their communities.

Teachers in the Montana Heritage Project demonstrate ways schools can build or rebuild relationships between young people and their communities simply by establishing projects that get the young and old working together. Such teachers remain true to their academic mission by focusing such projects on inquiry into the community itself: defining events and persons of the past, its relationship to the natural environment, its place in national and world events, its current challenges and its future prospects.

A few of last year's projects illustrate the possibilities:

  • Renee Rasmussen's students in Chester wrote a regular local-history column for the community newspaper.
  • Phil Leonardi's freshmen geography classes partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to research how the community of Corvallis has been affected through the decades by forest fires.
  • In Libby, history teacher Jeff Gruber's classes have developed a close working relationship with the Heritage Museum, and students have completed an extensive set of research projects on various topics for the archives, and also developed interpretive displays for the museum.
  • Jerry Girard's Montana history class in Dillon compiled a history of Beaverhead County's rural one- and two-room schools. Students created a map showing the location of each past and present school in the county, as well as a detailed timeline of educational events in the county from 1863 to the present. This was the basis for a permanent exhibit at the Beaverhead County Museum that features video interviews with students and teachers from the past and present.
  • Darlene Beck's English class in Townsend completed an eighty-five-year history of Broadwater High School. Students used local newspaper archives, courthouse records, school yearbooks dating from 1916 to the present, and the archives of the Broadwater Historical Society and Museum for background research. They conducted interviews with former students, teachers, principals, clerks, and board members, and produced a slide show for parent conferences and a book that was placed in the local museum and library.
  • In Roundup, art teacher Toni Gies led her advanced photography class to create an exhibit featuring historic barns in the area, including interviews with people who knew the histories of the buildings and how their uses had changed through time as the economic and technological context of farming on the Great Plains changed.
  • Also in Roundup, English teacher Tim Schaff and librarian Dale Alger helped English classes create a museum at the school. Students drew on their grandparents and other community elders as sources of family heirlooms and information for interpretive labels, and served as docents when elementary students toured the museum.

Several Heritage Project classes are participating in the American Folklife Center 's Veterans History Project ( The chance to act as partners with the Library has been a powerful motivator for both students and veterans, and the supporting resources provided by the Library have embedded professional standards for research.

Christa Umphrey's freshmen published a book, We Remember, featuring photographs and oral histories of fifteen World War II veterans. New print-on-demand technology was used to create 150 high-quality paperbacks, and the book, available through online bookstores such as Amazon, should never go out of print.

Dottie Susag organized her classes at Simms High School into research teams with community mentors and they researched this century's wars. They published their writings, which were based on library research and interviews, in a literary magazine. Their high schools in the center of the Sun River Valley, a rural community without a town as such, but over two hundred people regularly attend the school's Heritage Festival each spring. This showcase for student research rivals athletics in community popularity.

In Bigfork, Mary Sullivan's juniors gathered vivid stories from World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf War veterans. They borrowed photographs from the veterans, scanned them, and combined them with narratives drawn from oral histories in order to create a multimedia presentation that was shown to a standing-room-only crowd at the 435-seat Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts.

Since 1995 more than a hundred such projects have been completed throughout Montana. By attempting original research of lasting value, teachers reverse the tendency of schools to allow tedious routines to fill up the days. As poet Marvin Bell put it, in many schools "moments of glory pass into study" (Marvin Bell, The Escape into You: A Sequence, New York: Atheneum, 1971). This is why "academic" is so often used as a synonym for "unreal." From time to time, every school needs to revitalize itself, returning to the sources of learning, which are first-hand engagements with life in the raw. "I don't like busy work any more than the students do," said Corvallis teacher Annemarie Kanenwisher. "I'd rather do the real work, too."

In attempting real work, some Montana Heritage Project teachers have become important community leaders. They've done this by remaining teachers, practicing a form of "invitational leadership." They initiate projects that others can join, and they practice being "personally and professionally inviting," in William Purkey's phrase (see William W. Purkey and John M. Novak, Inviting School Success: A Self-Concept Approach to Teaching, Learning and Democratic Practice, third edition, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1996). They demonstrate that any classroom can be a catalyst for community revitalization. Indeed, they've led me to believe that the art and craft of being inviting and of forming powerful invitations should be part of all teachers' pre-service training. By keeping the focus of their invitations on inquiry, they tend to turn problems into common work that people can share. They give people a chance to join.

The chance to join--this more than anything is what young people are looking for. Gangs, drugs, and promiscuity are symptoms of a hunger to belong. These symptoms are unlikely to diminish because we create harder tests with harsher consequences for failure.

Guests at the Heritage Project student conferences and presentations often comment on the enthusiasm of the young people. In a good high school, real challenges form a good part of the curriculum, and young people meet them with the help of their elders. They build the council fires and think together. When school classes are organized into research teams that work with community members and organizations to form questions and find answers, community ceases to be a buzz word in a mission statement and becomes a way of life. Young people are drawn to the adventure. They wake up and join the conversation, excited by the power of the real.

Michael Umphrey is director of the Montana Heritage Project. He is also the author of two books of poetry, The Lit Window (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1987) and The Breaking Edge (University of Montana, 1988), and a former high school principal. He may be contacted at

From: Folklife Center News, Summer-Fall 1997

Montana Heritage Education Project Brings Schools Back Into Community
by Michael Umphrey

Students in Libby, Montana, have been collecting, cataloging, and preserving the vast number of unsorted and poorly stored historical photographs in the community library and the community museum. Students in Corvallis have been gathering the history of the gold rush town of Rochester, taping interviews, and working under the direction of the Bureau of Land Management to conduct archeological site surveys. In Chester, high school students researched and wrote the histories of the oldest buildings in town for the Liberty County Historical Museum and are currently trying to get two of the buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Students in St. Ignatius have started a museum, which at present consists of a file cabinet in the community library that is slowly filling with articles, photographs, and other documents. Young people in Broadus identified veterans of World War II still living in the Powder River area, then conducted interviews with them and wrote biographies for the Powder River Historical Museum.

Across the state, schools participating in the Montana Heritage Project are gathering, preserving, and displaying their community's cultural heritage. In doing this work, young people have a chance to learn and practice a range of academic skills, but they also become valuable community workers, accomplishing much that might otherwise not be done.

The project began in 1994 when businessman Arthur Ortenberg with his wife, Liz Claiborne, approached the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, with an idea. The couple owned a ranch in Montana, and they were looking for a way to help people maintain what is best about Montana's cultural heritage. The history of every community includes what Mr. Ortenberg called "the arts of social living" as well as "sites and events that have been transforming." By paying attention to these arts, sites, and events--that is, their own collective experience-- Ortenberg hoped that communities could pass on to the next generation the defining narratives necessary for cultural continuity.

Dr. Billington liked the idea, so Alan Jabbour, director of the American Folklife Center, worked out a more detailed proposal with Center folklife specialist Peter Bartis and John Y. Cole, director of the Library's Center for the Book. They suggested that the heritage approach would guide students through four learning stages. First, they would be asked to pursue answers to basic questions about their communities, such as: What has changed and what has stayed the same? Is the occupational culture changing? Are the various cultural traditions in good health? How does the community fit into the state? What does it mean to be a Montanan? How does Montana fit into the national picture?

Second, they would be taught to use the tools of library research to find books, letters, journals, photographs, newspapers, and other records that shed light on the people and the world of the past, including such topics as the local economy, local government, foodways, architecture, arts and crafts, medical practices, clothing, transportation, schooling, environmental resources, sports and recreation, celebrations, and ceremonies.

Third, they would practice the documentary techniques of interviewing, photography, videotaping, drawing, painting, and note-taking in order to gather and preserve information about the people and the world around them.

And finally, they would be guided toward critical thinking through the work of creating such products as exhibits, prose and photographic essays, dramatic scripts and performances, radio programs, public seminars, and video tapes. Such products would deepen the students' understanding of their own research, help community members understand each other and their own experiences better, and preserve research findings for future generations.

With Mr. Ortenberg's full support, Alan Jabbour flew to Montana in early 1995 for a series of meetings with the leaders of the state's major cultural agencies. Subsequently, the Office of Public Instruction, the Montana Historical Society, the Montana Arts Council, the Montana Committee for the Humanities, the Montana State Library, and the state's two major universities agreed to sponsor the project. "It's something we should have done a long time ago," said University of Montana president George Dennison. Governor Marc Racicot said the program would provide the most aggressive look into Montana's past since the ground-breaking "Montana Study" research project of the 1940s.* "It will allow our young people to seize control of their own futures by studying what has happened in the past," he said.

Assured of support from the highest levels in state government, the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg Foundation pledged over $100,000 per year (for three years), and communities were recruited to begin immediately. During the 1995-96 school year, six schools completed heritage projects. Last year, projects were underway in Broadus, Chester, Corvallis, Libby, Red Lodge, St. Ignatius, and Townsend. This year, Bigfork, Fort Benton, Roundup, and Simms will join the project.

English teacher Stuart Garrick in Broadus wanted a project that would engage the students in research and writing at the same time it allowed them to serve the community. He teamed up with Don and Bobbie Heidel, directors of the Powder River Historical Museum. The museum had several stations that featured collections of artifacts but few interpretive materials. So teams of students each chose a station, conducted interviews with folks who knew the area's history, researched collections of the library and the county courthouse, then wrote scripts for an audio walking tour of the museum. Students recorded the tapes, and donated them to the museum.

Meanwhile, Paula Nisley began her heritage project in the sophomore English classes fairly conventionally by using the literature of World War II. The students viewed films, read novels, and discussed the war as it was presented by artists. Then, instead of moving on to another topic, she sent the young people into the community to interview veterans about their experiences and reflections. The students wrote biographies of those veterans, which were donated to the Powder River Historical Society Museum.

Art teacher Connie Barnhart decided to turn the art club's annual fund-raiser into a heritage project. She invited students to research historical topics in the community and use what they learned as inspiration for artwork that focused on Montana's heritage. The club then published and sold a heritage calendar featuring the students' art. The money raised was used to take the students on a tour of galleries and museums in Denver.

Freshman David Scoles chose for his subject his own grandfather, who had been the most decorated veteran from Powder River County during World War II. He found photographs of his grandfather's war years, not in a family album but in the Powder River Historical Museum. As David planned his drawing, he interviewed his grandfather several times. His Grandfather Patten had wanted to serve his country when the war began but didn't want to shoot anyone, so he became a medic. While serving on Los Negroes Island, he was forced to evacuate forty wounded men through enemy territory. He accomplished the task with no casualties and was awarded the Bronze Star. He was also awarded a purple heart after being wounded in the jaw and in both legs. "I got the medals for being there," the older man modestly explained to his grandson.

David completed a drawing showing three views of his grandfather. The next day, Mr. Patten died. "This drawing helped me understand him," David said. "And it will help me remember him."

Such stories of students finding personal meaning through their school work in heritage projects are common among the participating teachers. A host of school reformers have urged schools to find ways to make school work personally meaningful to young people, which is an easier suggestion to make than it is to implement. But by making their home communities the focus of study, teachers find that many students become motivated. Furthermore, local studies projects generate enthusiasm and collaboration from adults that is rare for academic work. As every successful coach knows, the motivation of many students is directly related to the attention their efforts receive from the community. Community recognition lets students know that what they are doing matters, and they begin to feel a stronger sense of belonging and responsibility.

This self-reinforcing process was seen clearly in teacher Marta Brooks's experience in St. Ignatius. Her first goal was to help her students establish a personal connection with the work she was asking them to do, so she took her class of senior English students on a walk through town, looking at various places, encouraging reverie. As they walked, she asked them to remember things they knew had happened in those places. This led to each student's taking a research topic related to the town's history. Each student was to include citations both from texts and from interviews in his or her final paper. By the end of the nine-week project, each student had a resource file containing photographs, maps, and other documents as well as a ten-page research paper. And the community had the beginnings of a historical archive.

Along the way, the young people practiced many valuable academic skills--library research, note-taking, interviewing, and writing. But other things were happening as well. On the night the students were to present their research findings back to the community, winter storm warnings forced some agency representatives from the state capital to cancel their plans to attend. Marta Brooks worried that the sub-zero weather would keep people at home. As it turned out, the high school library was warm, bright, and crowded. People who had not been in the school for decades showed up. The community's stories were told in formal presentations and informally in the halls between presentations. Student Angela Posivio noted that several elders told her "these projects evoked the memories that had been set aside and forgotten." In dozens of ways, students heard from the adults in their world that the work they were doing was real and that it mattered. Many people mentioned that the evening was both educational and entertaining. The mood was one of celebration. At its simplest level, heritage education is a community paying attention to itself by paying attention to its children.

It is a love of place and the local people that provides the motivation for most of the teachers. Heritage teacher Bob Malyevac, a thirty-four-year classroom veteran, said he settled in Libby because he found the same beliefs there that he had learned while growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Butte. "Perseverance and the work ethic" still matter to people, he said. Those values "are still here and can still be saved." People are still committed to the project of building families over generations. By "having faith that the younger generation can do better than the previous generation," some families teach young people to accept bonds of obligation beyond the self, to their parents and grandparents as well as their children and grandchildren. The rudiments of historical consciousness are taught early and deeply in such homes, along with other fundamentals such as brushing teeth or sharing cookies.

Can schools build on such family and community foundations by supporting high levels of academic achievement while teaching the disciplines necessary to join and enhance living communities? Heritage teachers think the answer is yes. Logging has always been central to community life in Libby, and English teacher Rose Goyen asked her creative writing students to discuss the work with an adult, write a story or essay based on that conversation, and then take it back to the adult for a signature before handing it in. The assignment stimulated considerable discussion between some young people and their "mentors." One student's father began laughing as he read her essay about him. This prompted her mother to read the story as well, and she also signed it. "It was amazing," the girl said. "I had no idea of what my father had accomplished."

In an unusually ambitious project, social studies teacher Jeff Gruber organized more than thirty citizens, including the mayor, a Forest Service archeologist, church and business leaders, and a city council member to join forces with his high school seniors in the evenings to conduct an intensive ten-week community self-study following the model Baker Brownell and Joe Howard created for the Montana Study in the 1940s. Gruber organized the study because he felt that young people were disenfranchised. "They see that things are changing, and they feel powerless to affect the changes," he said. He wanted them to understand the way citizens in a free democracy, including themselves, can meet their challenges by educating themselves and by linking their efforts. Libby had been one of the communities in the original Montana Study, and Gruber had spent much time visiting with the chair of that committee, Inez Herrig. She visited Gruber's classes to tell the seniors about the study she had participated in fifty years before and to encourage them to get involved. "We can't pursue future goals until we discuss them as a community," she said.

Libby's economy has been devastated in recent years by the loss of timber industry jobs, and each meeting combined historical reports co-researched by adults and students on such topics as the history of the logging mills in the area, and the town's relationship to the timber industry, with discussions about the town's past, present, and future. They also studied and discussed religion, recreation, and education, focusing on what could be done to make life better. This was not simply another school assignment. In fact, the students who participated received neither grades nor credit. They were motivated by their hunger for community and meaning. Senior Sarah Fisher said that she joined the project because she had read the minutes of the 1947 study. "I was amazed at what they did," she said, "and I wondered if we could do it again."

At the end of the study, Jeff Gruber commented, "I'll be doing heritage teaching in one form or another for the rest of my career."

In Red Lodge, English teachers Lori Bremer and Helen McKay decided to collaborate on their heritage project. Lori would have students in her Montana writers class conduct library research and interviews on a variety of topics concerning the town's history: agriculture, arts, mining and ethnic heritage. "The kids are responsible for setting up interviews, assembling information, and transcribing their notes," Bremer said. Then, during the second semester, the students in McKay's creative writing class used these materials as catalysts for the creation of poems, short stories, and other literary works. In addition to doing research at the Carnegie Library, the Western Heritage Center in Billings, and the offices of the _Carbon County News_, the students conducted numerous interviews in town. Senior Eric Lynn decided to follow his interest in the arts, and his work on a history of the local arts guild led him to tape thirteen interviews (so far), scheduling them on his own time after school and on weekends. Other students have other motivations. One boy was delighted when his interviews with third-generation ranchers Ron and Marianne Yates resulted in an invitation to come back to the ranch to hunt.

Some of the experts on Red Lodge history now live in the local nursing home, so Lori Bremer arranged with patient services coordinator Kim Waples to conduct interviews there. Before the visit, Waples visited the school to give the young people an orientation to issues that arise when working with the elderly. Waples sees that the project is as valuable for the older folks as it is for the students. The older people receive help "in resolving some of their life issues" by telling their stories to a young audience. She feels it is important for young people to understand that in asking for information they are at the same time giving a gift.

English teacher Renee Rasmussen in Chester teamed up with Pat Ludwig, president of the Liberty County Genealogical Society, to bring young and old together. Renee asked her class to research the history of the oldest buildings in town, keeping a focus on learning what this said about what the people in town cared about. Meanwhile, Ludwig began teaching classes on writing autobiographies at the senior citizen center, so as the young people went looking for the history of their place, their elders were invited to bring that history to the fore. She also organized a corps of adults from the community to pick students at school and drive them to their interview appointments.

The heritage approach to education includes dozens of ways to teach all the academic skills that young people these days need to learn, but it also includes dozens of ways to educate their hearts. The investigation and documentation of the lives of communities provides a rich context for heritage reporters to find personal meaning in the work they do.

In an age when a concern for how to teach values to the next generation dominates many educational discussions, heritage teachers recognize that there is no such thing as value-free teaching. The act of teaching itself is an attempt to change another person, and all teaching is a value-laden activity. Heritage teachers are explicit about the values they are trying to teach, and strive to be sure that these values are enacted at every level of their teaching. Values identified by the teachers in the Montana Heritage Project include:

  • Community itself is an important value.
  • Attentiveness to the worth of each person, especially the elderly.
  • Valuing differences as a way of getting along with one another.
  • Awareness that the experiences of "ordinary" individuals and the understanding they have brought to those experiences are important sources of learning.
  • Knowledge of the past is a means to understanding human experience.
  • Individual responsibility in helping to preserve and perpetuate those things that contribute to the well-being of the community.

As the Montana Heritage Project illustrates, the heritage approach is one teachers can use effectively to address problems of great social importance: how to teach high-level academic skills in a context that allows students to find personal meaning; how to provide a sense of belonging to searching youngsters; how to involve parents and other community members in the real work of education; and how to use emerging technologies to provide young people with a historical consciousness. As the work goes on, the teachers continue to find that a living community is an inexhaustible educational resource--that, in the words of Arthur Ortenberg, can be "a continuing voyage of discovery." .

*Editor's note: The Montana Study was a Rockefeller Foundation- funded project (1944-47) conducted by the University of Montana System to enrich the quality of life in Montana by using the humanities to contribute to improving the lives of people in small communities. Chancellor Ernest O. Melby believed that by creating a common awareness of Montana's heritage, the people of Montana would develop a deeper devotion to the welfare of their community, state, and country, and consequently act to address social and community problems.

Michael Umphrey is the director of the Montana Heritage Project

From: Folklife Center News, Spring 1995

Montana Heritage Workshop: New Project Looks to "The Next Generation"
by Alan Jabbour

Montana is a state rich in history and tradition--and also, like America generally, a state facing the challenges of demographic, occupational, technological, and social change. Nowhere is the challenge of reconciling change and continuity greater than among the young people of the state. They are the next generation, and how the state will prosper and develop depends heavily on the new skills they acquire and the cultural continuities they reaffirm.

A new project sponsored by the American Folklife Center (in cooperation with the Library's Center for the Book), the Montana Heritage Workshop creates a partnership between a consortium of Montana agencies and the Library of Congress to help Montana's "next generation" assume responsibility for maintaining the state's heritage. The project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg Foundation. Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg are ranch owners in Montana, and Mr. Ortenberg is a member of the Library's Madison Council.

Entitled "The Next Generation," the Montana Heritage Workshop is a student and community education project that will encourage high-school students to compare and contrast the community life of Montana in past generations with community life today. The project has cultural heritage as its subject matter and field and library research as its educational strategy.

Students will use materials in the Library of Congress, the Montana State Library, the Montana Historical Society, the libraries of the University of Montana and Montana State University, and their local libraries and museums as a window into Montana community life and culture in past generations. To compare that record with cultural life today, they will be trained to interview and document members of their own communities, including some of the same people, families, and communities whom they encountered in their historical research.

Montana agencies participating in the project are the Office of Public Instruction, which will serve as the administrative home base for the project in Montana; the Commissioner of Higher Education and the state's two major universities, University of Montana and Montana State University; the Montana Historical Society; Montana State Library and the Montana Center for the Book, which is based at the State Library; the Montana Arts Council; and the Montana Committee for the Humanities.

Envisioned as a three-year effort, the project will begin with a teacher-training workshop in August 1995. The workshop will be held at the University of Montana. An effort will be made to locate teachers from communities or areas where there is known documentation in the Library of Congress or Montana agencies. The teacher workshop will include both classroom instruction and a brief field experience.

The project will ask broad questions: What has changed, and what remains the same, in the life of the various cultural communities that make up Montana? Is the environment changing? Has community life changed in significant ways? Is the occupational culture of the state changing? Are the various cultural traditions of the state in good health? What does it mean to be a Montanan? Where does Montana fit in the national picture? Student teams will seek to provide at least tentative answers in the form of final products that can be shared with the communities within which the students conducted their investigation--exhibits, booklets, radio programs, and public seminars conducted by the students in the community, for example.

One resource for the project will be the documentary photographs, tape recordings, and fieldnotes from the Montana Folklife Project, conducted in 1979 by the American Folklife Center in cooperation with the Montana Arts Council. The project visited many Montana communities and documented ranching life, miners, loggers, and cultural communities as varied as the Hutterites of the High Line and the Crow community at Crow Fair. The schools and communities in areas visited by this project a generation ago would make ideal candidates for undertaking the "Next Generation" initiative in the 1990s. Many other Montana documentary materials and publications are also available in the Library of Congress and in various Montana libraries and museums for the purposes of the project.

In the course of the project, participating students will also learn concepts relating to history, cultural anthropology, folklife studies, ethnography, literature, musicology, art--concepts to which few are exposed during their K-12 years. As a result of the required preliminary research, they will also acquire familiarity and experience with library research techniques that will benefit them in other educational arenas.

The Montana State Library and the Montana Center for the Book will develop a core collection of appropriate publications for distribution to the local or school libraries of all participating schools. Copies of documentary materials from the Folklife Center's Montana Folklife Project will also be made locally available for the participating schools. Students in project schools will go first to their local libraries, archives, and other repositories, then to state agencies like the Montana State Library, the Montana Historical Society, or the state university libraries to conduct preliminary research preparing themselves for fieldwork. If possible, a delegation of teachers and students will also visit the Library of Congress in pursuit of their research.


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