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Telling Stories and MTEL Preparation

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Telling Stories and MTEL Preparation

In my over 25 years of preparing people for various standardized tests, I’ve found that it’s best to get creative. Using humor, telling stories, and sharing experiences are effective ways to engage all students when they are suffering through a topic they detest like science, math, or history

I have many stories I share when teaching; I tell (and retell) jokes, make fun of my kids, dump on my ex-wife, and tease my students. The COVID pandemic and chaos of President Trump’s final months have given me fresh material with which to engage my MTEL classes – especially when discussing American history.

One important thing to know about the MTEL tests is that they really do not require you to memorize dates. You need to know relative time frames and the relevant people and events, but they will give you the dates. 

For example, they won’t ask, “On which of the following dates did the American Civil War begin?” Instead, you would see, “On April 12, 1861, the attack on Fort Sumter signified the beginning of which conflict?”  Having a general timeline and understanding of the issues surrounding important events is the key to success.

The America of 2021 is as divided as it ever has been in my lifetime. The split may have been worse between the right and the left in the late 1960s. This was when Vietnam War protests dominated college campuses and civil rights and political leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.  One hundred years earlier in the 1860s, things were certainly worse as the Civil War raged and the nation was literally split for a time.

A Quick Look At History

Making sense of history is often more difficult than making sense of current events. Sometimes, however, when we understand history, current events can be seen as long-standing patterns of behavior and less of a mystery.  Conversely, we can use current events and look backward to understand our history. 

Current events of 2020-21 – such as the great mask and vaccine debates and the storming of the Capital Building – should not have surprised students of American history. The roots of these issues date back to before July 4, 1776.

When our Founding Fathers wanted to split from England and King George in the 1760s and 1770s, they believed him to be a tyrant who dominated the individual natural rights of his subjects in the Colonies. This distrust of a strong, centralized national government influenced the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States which was in effect from 1781-1789. 

The Articles proved ineffectual; the national US government did not have the power to tax, raise an army, nor enforce laws. There was no national court system. It was as if the colonies were 13 independent countries saying they were one nation. The fledgling nation needed a stronger central government.

So in 1787, delegates gathered to develop what became the US Constitution. After the document was drafted, two camps emerged. The Federalists advocated ratification while the Anti-Federalists opposed the document’s adoption. 

The Anti-Federalists had two major concerns about the Constitution as drafted: 1) the Federal government was much more powerful than it had been under the Articles of Confederation and 2) the Constitution lacked protection of individual’s rights. These issues of states’ rights vs. national supremacy and the battle for individual rights have never been resolved.

We do not live in a democracy. The USA is a democratic republic. The power is (on paper at least) held by the people (the voters) and their elected officials. The goal of a democratic government is “to protect the common good.” This generally isn’t a problem until people start disagreeing with what is “common good” and believe that the government’s definition of “common good” interferes with individual rights or the natural rights (“life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”) alluded to in the Declaration of Independence and protected in the Bill of Rights.

Police departments “protect the common good.” What happens when one group believes that they are targeted by police to protect another group’s “common good” disproportionately? Local and national public health agencies (CDC) mean to “protect the common good.” What happens when voting citizens believe that the effects of an illness is exaggerated by these agencies and restrictions on a community or society are politically motivated, therefore violating individuals’ freedoms and liberty?

What happens is we get the craziness of 2020: racial division and unrest, “fake” and extremist “news” becomes mainstream. Rampant distrust of the media and government runs amok.

How MTEL Test Preparation Makes Sense Of History

Understanding the roots of the American is important to passing the MTEL exam. Many test questions deal with these issues – and for good reason. As a teacher, helping students connect the past to the present will teach them to be more critical thinkers. Right now, we can see how early history is affecting our country.

Those who resist wearing masks and refuse to get vaccinated for COVID are the descendants of the Anti-Federalists. Anti-Federalists first pushed back against what they feared would become a tyrannical Federal government that would over-regulate and control the population without regard to the individual natural rights promised in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.  

We can trace these themes back through time. Many events and issues of the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement, Reconstruction, the Civil War, and the American Revolution are all better understood by looking through this Federalist/Anti-Federalist lens.

As our nation becomes more divided, we are called to understand those with whom we disagree. Pointing fingers and blaming “the other” for the current mess only widens the divide.  The Left and Right are both becoming more extreme. We may be dealing with “lunatic fringes” on each side.

I consider myself a moderate; I’m fairly fiscally conservative but left-leaning on social issues. I find that true conservatives and true liberals think I’m their opposite.  We’ve become so extreme the middle appears so far away from one’s views that it appears well-centered.

Let’s start doing better.

For more stories to help you learn and understand history, science, and many other topics, joinETI.com and become a member of our growing community of MTEL students who become certified educators.

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