Proposal for Support of the 2013 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute in Early American History
[This is an example of a proposal sent to corporations and foundations. As a teacher, you may not need to submit anything this lengthy and detailed. Use it for some helpful "words" to address your potential funder.]
One of the most pressing challenges in America is the current crisis in education. While the costs of funding public education continue to rise, students' knowledge of the basics of American history is eroding. As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough has stated, "We in our time, are raising a new generation of Americans who, to an alarming degree, are historically illiterate.... We are losing our story, forgetting who we are and what it's taken to come this far."
Embracing our educational mission for more than sixty years, Colonial Williamsburg strives to engage, inform, and inspire the younger generation about its heritage. We can no longer assume that the founding of our country and the traditions associated with that beginning will continue to reach other generations.
The fundamental premise of our government is that political power derives from the informed consent of the people. Yet, we believe, informed consent can only come from knowledge and understanding of the people and events that shaped American society. For these reasons we must reverse the present trend among students toward historical illiteracy while increasing historical knowledge and the critical thinking skills that come of its careful study.
History also offers more than a compass to help guide us through the thicket of current events. History is a way of finding out who we are and what we can become. It is a story that, when told well, is at once enlightening and inspiring, cautionary and entertaining. A knowledge of history offers young people needed resources that contribute meaning and enrichment to their lives. A knowledge of history, with the perspectives and skills its study can bring, gives courage and leads to a lifetime of learning, civic service, and satisfying work.
Young people can use history as a way of making sense out of their own lives and the lives of their families, their communities, and their nation. When students do not understand the presence of the past, they may think themselves unique. They suspect they can neither understand nor change life's course because it has no precedent, no reference in time. History offers the saving perspective, that all-important vantage point for self-knowledge.
The Declaration of Independence, the U. S. Constitution, and the guarantees in the Bill of Rights set forth the spirit of fair play. Yet many young people have little knowledge of the political values embedded in these documents that continue to hold us together. We believe our young people need to know about the institutions, the ideas, and the persons, known and little known, of our past. Only then can they appreciate this great experiment in human freedom.
A final and critical part: young people need historical knowledge if they are to appreciate our pluralistic society and see other racial, ethnic, and religious groups as part of the nation's genius and strength. Without risk of overstatement, the future of our nation depends on this knowledge.
Colonial Williamsburg has unique resources to help achieve these goals. The mission of this institution, created through the generosity of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is to teach history to a broad audience. Williamsburg is an important artifact of American history because many central events in the formation of the nation occurred here.
Colonial Williamsburg's Summer Teacher Institute
The demand for student and teacher programs at Colonial Williamsburg continues to grow. In 1989 student visitation was 105,326. In 1993 nearly 117,000 students visited the Historic Area, and by 1997 the number has risen to more than 154,000. Today school groups with their teachers account for nearly 15 percent of Colonial Williamsburg's annual ticketed visitation. These students cover a range of ages and interests. The Youth and Group Services staff work with preschools and colleges, home scholars, children with special needs, special interest groups, and public and private schools.
Concurrently Colonial Williamsburg has been developing the Teacher Institute in Early American History. The Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute program began in 1990 as an intensive workshop for elementary and middle school teachers in cooperation with California school districts. As teachers (many of whom may have had little history-teaching preparation in college) struggle to find ways to teach history successfully, Colonial Williamsburg's objective has been to reinvigorate this instruction.
During each session of the Teacher Institute, Colonial Williamsburg educators and interpreters, outside experts, and education personnel from Jamestown and Yorktown help participating teachers:
- Identify significant 17th- and 18th-century events that continue to shape and define our nation.
- Understand how people of various cultural backgrounds interacted with one another during the 17th and 18th centuries.
- Engage students in the exploration of Native American, European, and African economic, cultural, and political heritages.
- Learn and review techniques that develop students' higher-level critical thinking skills by using primary source documents and artifacts.
- Create a network in which they and Colonial Williamsburg staff can acquire and exchange information about 17th- and 18th-century history as well as teaching strategies.
Using an interdisciplinary approach and a multicultural perspective to tell the story of Virginia's shift from British rule to self-government, Colonial Williamsburg staff members give teachers a wealth of primary source documents about 18th-century Williamsburg, its residents, and key events. Each teacher is assigned an identity for the week; the teacher investigates and becomes that particular 18th-century person, periodically reporting to the group from that person's perspective.
Each session of participants includes a peer teacher who participated in a prior Teacher Institute. This outstanding individual serves as a mentor during the week, presents lesson plans she or he developed after attending the Institute, and is available as a resource and sounding board: What works? What was the most effective way to use this document? How did you get across this concept? The peer teacher has been there and heard it all and then put it into practice in the classroom. She or he can speak realistically about the practical application of all the knowledge and resources gained.
Participants begin their week at Jamestown with the first settlers -- Native Americans -- and England's first permanent New World settlement. The teachers devote much of their week to the people -- both white and black -- and activities in Williamsburg during the crucial years before the Revolution. Their study ends at Yorktown, where they examine the site of the last decisive battle of the war.
During the course of the week, participants study the geography of tidewater Virginia, its political institutions, the economy of this region dominated by the cultivation of tobacco, the role of religion, class distinctions between the gentry and tradespeople (or "middling sort"), growing consumerism, and the influence of slavery on all aspects of colonial life.
Most importantly each day through the study of primary source documents, presentations, and interactions with character interpreters representing both famous citizens and ordinary townspeople, participants are encouraged to share ideas about ways to involve students, to help them draw conclusions from the letters, maps, and diaries, and to make critical judgments based on the information they gain. The focus is always on how this information can be used to engage students and to illustrate the relevance of what happened two hundred years ago in terms of today's institutions of government and the important role citizens play. The teachers are energized by their activities, their surroundings, and their peers, and by their own admission they return home forever changed as teachers.
The 2012 participants felt their week was further enriched by staying in colonial lodgings within the Historic Area, making a kind of total immersion in the 18th century possible. During their free time the teachers had opportunities to participate in the activities taking place around them: talking with military reenactors from all over the country, who camped out in Market Square one weekend portraying members of the Continental army, which was regrouping after British troops left the city; talking to character interpreters, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as they strolled the streets; meeting members of the "middling" class, slaves, and freed blacks as well as the gentry; hearing from colonial printers who supported the Crown and those whose papers argued for separation.
Impact of the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute on the Teaching of History
Although the focus of the Teacher Institute is colonial Virginia history, the interdisciplinary approach, use of primary source documents, introduction of period artifacts, and peer teacher's lessons all combine to underscore teaching techniques that are applicable to any history subject matter. The teaching strategies are closely linked to, if not directly stated in, the Standards in Historical Thinking emphasized in the report National Standards for History by the National Center for History in Schools. In brief the standards set forth in the report that are deemed important for all students of history to acquire are:
- Chronological thinking -- distinguishing between past, present, and future time.
- Historical comprehension -- appreciating historical perspectives, identifying the source(s) of historical documents or narratives, and utilizing visual and mathematical data presented in charts and graphs.
- Historical analysis and interpretation -- differentiating between historical fact and historical interpretation; comparing and contrasting different ideas, values, personalities, and institutions; and understanding causes and effects in analyzing historical actions.
- Historical research capabilities -- formulating historical questions, interrogating historical data, and constructing a sound historical interpretation.
- Historical issues analysis and decision making -- analyzing the interests and values of various people involved, identifying the causes of a problem or dilemma, and evaluating alternative courses of action and the consequences of a decision.
In sum we think Colonial Williamsburg has an important message to impart, and the teaching of our country's history in the context of acquiring critical thinking skills is a crucial element in the educational experience of our nation's youth. The Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute provides teachers with new enthusiasm, new methods, new resources, and a supportive network so that in their classrooms they can impart the excitement and relevance of the story of our nation's beginnings while helping their students acquire valuable historical-thinking skills.