April 2019

"Have To" History: The Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement (1856 - 1857)

Nongqawuse & FriendThree Big Things:

1. The Xhosa were a South African people threatened by European encroachment beginning in the 17th century.

2. In 1856, a young Xhosa girl encountered two supernatural strangers who told her a time of renewal was coming but must be preceded by the slaughter of their existing cattle and crops.

3. The resulting Cattle-Killing Movement left the Xhosa destitute and divided against themselves. Over a century and a half later, they remain one of South Africa’s poorest demographics.

The Ghost Dance Movement(s)

Three Big Things:

Ghost Dance Green1. The tribes of the Great Plains faced confinement or extermination as the 19th century drew to a close; they were desperate and confused in the face of ongoing U.S. expansion, aggression, and manipulation.

2. The “Ghost Dance” promised to bring back their former way of life, to raise their dead, and to bring peace and prosperity to all who believed.

3. Variations in tribal interpretations of “Ghost Dance” teachings and white fears of Amerindian uprisings led to unnecessary death and violence, most notably at Wounded Knee in 1890 – the effective end of Native resistance on the Great Plains.

It's About What You Believe (Wonder Woman)

Wonder Woman Movie CoverI’m a sucker for superhero movies. They’re a sub-genre of sci-fi, and the best sci-fi takes us out of our reality, out of our time and place, to better comment on that reality and force fresh eyes on our time and place. A good superhero picture isn’t about the cool powers and mega-battles; it’s about becoming better versions of our boring ol’ selves.

The Second Boer War ("Have To" History)

Rhodes ColossusConveniently for future history students, the complexities of Anglo-Boer relations coalesced at this point into two colorful personalities. Representing Transvaal was President Paul Kruger, a Boer nationalist whose street cred went all the way back to the Great Trek. Flying the Union Jack was Cecil Rhodes, Premier of the Cape Colony and founder of DeBeer Diamonds. You’ve probably seen that political cartoon of him standing spread-legged across Africa – claiming the continent for Queen, country, and white culture everywhere.

The Boers & The First Boer War ("Have To" History)

Three Big Things:

Armed Boers

1. The Boers were white descendants of Dutch, German, and French Protestants who settled the Cape of Good Hope in the mid-17th century. They were farmers and ranchers who believed they were among God’s most favored elect. 

2. There were two distinct wars between the Boers and the British – the Boers won the first using superior horsemanship and marksmanship combined with a willingness to run and hide.

3. Neither side thought much of native Africans, who were attacked, enslaved, or exploited as necessary to achieve Boer or British goals. This created some long-term racial tensions in Southern Africa.

What Not To Wear: Joan of Arc Edition

Joan on HorsebackJoan of Arc has meant a wide variety of things to many different people over the centuries, but it’s this detail that most resonates with me. Joan knew the mores, but she had a larger mission; the tender scruples of others simply weren’t a priority. Thus, in a century of warfare, political strife, economic claims, and divine rights of kings, fought with swords, rituals, and betrayals amidst questions of faith, education, social status, and gender roles, a young girl who heard voices from God and saved a nation with her stubborn faith was executed… for not taking off her pants.

Sometimes Fences Set Us Free

Rather Large FenceMonday, I began to share the good news with my kids. “You’re going to be doing a project over Chapter Twelve. You’ll have today to read through the chapter, figure out what sorts of things are important or which parts you find interesting, then you’ll have the next few days to decide how you’re going to show me that you understand the content. It will be due sometime next week once we see how it goes. Any questions?”

There was silence for what seemed like an oppressively long moment. I knew they’d be excited at this new freedom, but I hadn’t figured on such extended awe or their apparent reverence at my technique and benevolence. Finally, Colby raised his hand.

Making Good Choices (Reposted for My Students)

Teachers love framing everything in terms of “making good choices” and “that’s your choice.” Why do you have a ‘D’? Well, you chose not to turn in work. Why are you in lunch detention? You made some poor choices about your behavior in class.

If we’re being completely honest, we sometimes overdo it. When our rhetoric ignores your reality, we breed cynicism, not inspiration. That’s why I wanted to touch base with you today, if you don’t mind, and talk plainly about making good choices. And I’ll try to keep it brief.