Bill of Rights Institute’s president, David Bobb, spoke with Jessica Culver, a social studies teacher for 17 years at Ozark High School in rural Arkansas, and Christopher Evans who has taught social studies for 12 years at Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona in suburban Phoenix. Ozark serves around 400 students, and Basha has an enrollment of 2600. Both teachers helped pilot BRI’s new, free digital U.S. History textbook, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. An unabridged version of this conversation can be found here.

David

Thank you both for joining me today. When does school begin for each of you, and what does that look like?

Chris

July 29th is the first day for teachers, and our students will begin on August 5. They have the option of either starting virtually or entirely online. Entirely online would be run through an online academy that uses a fully formed, self-paced curriculum. The virtual model will be run through Google classroom.

Jessica

Our start date has been moved to late August with teachers back mid-August. Students have the option to come back in person, or to do our online option. The teachers will teach both the online and the in-class, and we hope the online to essentially be as comparable to in-person as we can get it.

David

What does having an online resource mean for you at this time?

Jessica

We are a one-to-one school (each student has a laptop, netbook, tablet, etc), so I’ve decided to use Life, Liberty this year because I anticipate we’ll have a good number of kids come back. During a pandemic year, having something that is “no-touch” is a life-saver.

David

What kind of online resources have you used in the past?

Chris

As a teacher, you find whatever resources you can, so I’ve used a number of different free courses from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Portrait Gallery, Street Law, and others.

Jessica

Schools finances are tight right now and textbooks are a giant expense, even at a tiny school. So I think people are hearing about resources like Life, Liberty and are realizing that this is the wave of the future and it’s so much more valuable than a physical textbook.

David

What does that mean for A.P.? Life, Liberty was designed to satisfy the College Board’s new standards.

Jessica

At my school, I am the concurrent (dual enrollment) college history teacher, so the students can get 12 hours of college history through me before graduation. So for those students, it’s the perfect bridge between those two worlds,

David

There are about 466 components that are part of Life, Liberty, a design intended to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of teachers and provide more flexibility. How important is this feature?

Chris

The adaptability is really what I think a teacher is looking for. Life, Liberty is a huge timesaver because you have the ability to pull whatever you might need for your individual class from a single resource.

Jessica

I also like that I don’t necessarily have to teach everything in the order exactly as written. I am able to assign things that are going to meet the individual needs of individual classrooms

David

How has the pandemic impacted your teaching both in the short and long term?

Jessica

It’s hard to be positive right now, but one positive I see is a greater value than ever before in education. I’ve never had so many people tell me, “I appreciate you for being a teacher.”

Chris

What the pandemic has shown me the most is that flexibility is a huge asset when it comes to education. We understand that we are living in an unprecedented time, but we have the resources we need. If we pair that with creative thinking and determination, we can find a solution to work our way through it.

David

One of the things that we tried to do with this resource was to build viewpoint diversity into its DNA. When you touch on some of the very controversial debates around history, do you feel like you have parental support?

Jessica

I think parents want diverse viewpoints. I think the more diversity you have in education, the better educated you are.

Chris

Parents want their students to be skilled. So if you are teaching students to approach a debate by using all of the material that is relevant to that conversation to come up with their own ideas, parents value that skill.

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