Being Human

If we go back into our past, to understand the idea of human from many points of view–biological, anthropological, archaeological, historical–can that help us understand ourselves better?

Journey of Man portraits 2 editedCan we come to see each other, all over the world, as cousins? Over time, could that change the way we view the notion of race? Or the costs of war? Or the goals of economies and governments and communities?

I asked classes full of young adolescent students what they wanted to understand better about life and the world as they had observed it so far. I asked myself what they needed to consider, with what skills of critical inquiry, as they began to belong to the world.

Nothing else seemed to matter more, to them or to me, than questions about who we are, and what we mean by we.

These posts aren’t in order by the way I wrote them, or by the way various classes experienced their year’s activities. It’s just an order that feels right at this point. Also, I see some holes I want to patch–related things we did, about which I haven’t yet written. More about that at the bottom.

human journey trackersA Reunion of Cousins: Out of Africa   Working with the videos of Spencer Wells and Alice Roberts, we followed our own species, Homo sapiens sapiens, as we spread out across the continents.

JOM timeclap 1 timeline detail editTime Claps: the First 5 Million Years   Using Kate Keller’s ingenious invention of a kinesthetic way to model deep time, we went back to the earliest hominids, and traveled forward.

JOM multicolored mutation streamerTime Claps, Part II    We tracked modern humans from continent to continent, using long crepe paper streamers to represent the paths of genetic mutations.

JOM desert person collageJourneys, Again    I was thrilled to find a collection of student work samples from the Time Claps explorations

Ellis Island Lewis Hine - Italian child gets her first penny, 1926Ellis Island Stories   With the help of one of the best teaching museums anywhere, and stories from our families and friends, we explored what it’s like for people to transplant themselves, by choice or under force.

immigration ancestor pie BenAncestor Pies    We honored each others’ historical identities, and the unfinished transitions in which many of our families and friends are still engaged, and the melting pot project itself.


beninchineseenlargedDown the Turnpike and around the World   Every year for a stretch of years, Janet Entersz welcomed my students to join her English as a Second Language students, come to Boston from all over the world.

 Black StudiesFreedom-s-Children-Levine-Ellen-9780380721146    Exploring some fundamental American issues of self-definition.

 colvincoverLearning by Shape-shifting  “The ability to feel empathy, informed empathy–an understanding of another that begins in earned, respectful knowledge of the other–lies at the heart of our moral understanding. We practice that, in so many ways, through storytelling.”

New England isNew England Change-makers   Individual student presentations about people who redefined social and political inclusion, within a thematic study of New England

Richard in his uniform editBeing a Student Again Myself, at the Joiner Institute  In an old / new challenging role, at the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, I found a lot to think and write about.

My Place Bertie croppedWar and Teaching   Once again, I’m grateful for books that can help kids–and adults–approach challenging topics

In response to student questions, I spent a lot of energy trying to find ways to approach economics, that could make sense to young adolescents. That’s one of the gaps in what I’ve written about so far, so I’ll be looking for pieces of evidence to help me revisit that.  I still haven’t really written directly about evolution and the history of technology, who-are-we themes that became vividly important within our use of The Voyage of the Mimi, and The Second Voyage of the Mimi.

If you’re one of my past students, or one of their parents–or even just an interested bystander!–you can propose other things that should get some more consideration, before I set all this aside. Here’s a reply form, just in case you want one.


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