Declaration and Meaning

Fair Oaks, CA  |  By Jacqueline Fox
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The entire class worked together to write their Declaration of Independence. Photo by Jacqueline Fox

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“Typical stuff there,” says Pantalone, who added that he remained 100 percent neutral on all of the issues. Photo by Jacqueline Fox

Andrew Carnegie Eighth-Graders Declare Independence

Orangevale, CA (MPG) - History lessons are always taught through the lens of hindsight. But to get a real feel for how one important event involving the formation of a liberated United States of America took shape, this lesson shifted into real time. 

James Pantalone’s eighth grade U.S. history students at Andrew Carnegie Middle School have a real appreciation for the multitude of challenges and setbacks the crafters of the Declaration of Independence incurred because they’ve recreated the process with declarations of their own.  And the issues at play are serious: No more Common Core instruction. Abolish the school rules that require us to show up on time and infringe upon our creative spirits. And, surprising as it sounds, some even suggested that the time had come for them to declare their freedom from the myriad pressures of ….wait for it: Social Media! Not an abolishment, mind you, but a separation from the undesirable parts, such as bullying and invasion of privacy.

Crafting a declaration demanding freedom from something was intended to offer students the experience of what it must have been like to work as a group, find common ground on the issues and then, finally, put them to paper and sign it into action.  For Pantalone’s home room class, which chose to see the abolishment of Common Core, the dreaded standardized teaching and testing requirements that, arguably, as revered by students as some educators, the process was eye-opening.

“I learned that there must have been a lot of disagreements and challenges between the people who wrote the Constitution and the real Declaration of Independence,” says Shaelyn Crichton, 12.  She explained that each class was broken up into four or five groups and each group was assigned to craft certain parts of their document.  Crichton’s group was challenged with writing the preamble for the declaration, which she says was easier said than done.

“It was kind of hard because we had the part that leads you into the declaration,” Chrichton said. “It really gave me an appreciation for the hard work the original creators of the declaration put in. They must have had arguments and all kinds of challenges trying to agree on the basic principles, because our group did. We would agree on something and then we had to take it out later when we couldn’t all agree on the next part.”

Ethan Montgomery, 13, said his group, which was asked to craft the statements outlining the challenges against their cause, achieved some beneficial insight into the degree to which those guys Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, among others, must have gone to ensure the document was fair and honored by all involved.

“It really put it into perspective how difficult it must have been to go through multiple versions of the original document and keep working on it until you got it done,” Montgomery said. “They didn’t give up. They worked until they all agreed on it and it was right.”

So, with countless things to declare independence from, why in the case of Pantelone’s home room, was Common Core targeted?

“We decided to declare independence from Common Core because it was just pushed on us really fast and it was all so over-complicated,” said Chrichton.  “We all feel that the curriculum got really hard for us and all of a sudden there was all this homework and it seemed really unnecessary.”

Interestingly enough, two other periods declared independence from Common Core, as well.  Two demand a separation from the pressures and negativity created by cyber bullying, hacking and invasion of their privacy online.  And one class just went after the entire school system, demanding their independence from the pressures of conformity, and other typical teenage rebellion.

“Typical stuff there,” says Pantalone, who added that he remained100 percent neutral on all of the issues, giving each class the freedom to craft their document independently and void of restrictions.  “I wanted them to create an authentic document,” says Pantalone. “We studied the original document in class first and we talked about and how important it was. We watched a movie on the making of the declaration and then I said OK, here’s your challenge. And I am really proud of them. They learned a lot in the process and I think they truly have an appreciation for what it took and the personal risks that were involved.”

It is fitting that Pantalone’s students would be asked to create their own “living” document as a teaching exercise.  His approach to teaching history is to make it fun and keep students engaged and coming back for more.

“I want my kids to come running to my class,” says Pantalone, who has been teaching at the school for 19 years. “I want them to feel the events as if they were living them.”

That’s not too difficult a challenge. Pantalone’s classroom looks and feels like a life-size diorama of every important cultural, social and political event shaping the country between the Civil War and World War II.  Photos, memorabilia and even uniforms and kitsch from the eras studied adorn the walls, ceiling, desktops and bookshelves.

Now, there is a new addition: Five hand-inked, sepia toned, signed and laminated student declarations of “independence,” taped to the top of a bookshelf, surrounded by reproductions and original WWII era keepsakes, such as metal signs encouraging enlistment in the U.S. Army, others urging civilians to buy bonds, as well as donated items, such as a glass-encased set of military stripes, a gift from a former student earned by his grandfather.

“My students bring me all kinds of things,” says Pantalone. “They get into it and they bring me all kinds of things to add to the collection, which is great. That means they are inspired.”