“Boys and Girls:”

Oh my gracious, look what I found.

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Stuffed into the bookshelves of my local antique junk store, waiting for discovery, hid this treasure of a pamphlet: an undated “Guidance Bulletin” for DC public schools. Just how much of an actual “treasure” it is I don’t know – maybe the Washingtoniana Room at the MLK branch of the DCPL is overrun with the things – but to me, it really is a treasure.

You see, this bulletin was written for children. Children who went to school. The verso of the dedication page reads, “Boys and Girls: This Bulletin was prepared especially to help you in choosing your courses in the Junior High School and to aid you in selecting your future vocation.” Although it is undated, it references “The Armstrong High School.” Some internet sleuthing places the pamphlet circa 1957, reveals that Armstrong Manual Training School was a segregated African-American institution, and explains that it was “illustrative of the national campaign for vocational training for African-Americans promoted by Booker T. Washington.”

But this isn’t the only school featured in the pamphlet. One can also read about Cardozo High School and Dunbar High School (both of which many DC kids still attend today). Many of the school buildings discussed in the work are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A review of the classes advertised shows that boys could look forward to classes in Electricity, Shoe Repair, Engineering, and Chemistry. They might pursue occupational tracts like Auto Mechanics or Auto Painting, Electrician, Printing, or Sheet Metal Making. Girls could take classes in Home Economics (Food or Clothing), Nursing, Child Care, and Dietetics. Potential careers would include Household Arts, Dressmaking, Laundress, or Chef.

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If you are still not seeing why I’m excited, I’ll try to explain – wouldn’t this pamphlet make an unbelievably fantastic classroom resource for teaching local DC history? Kids connect to things that they can relate to. What’s more relatable to a kid at school than, well, other kids at school? Other kids from long ago that attended some of the same schools still attend today!

As I explained in an earlier post about primary sources in K-12 education, kids often need extra mediation in order to fully understand an historic resource. So just handing out these pamphlets to a Social Studies Classroom and saying, “Go!” probably wouldn’t do anything. In order to make it an effective teaching tool, other resources would be necessary. But think about all the topics this little pamphlet covers or supplements: Booker T. Washington, segregation and desegregation, race and gender discrimination, the sphere and/or cult of domesticity, education, historic preservation, and the role of these schools in the community.

This pamphlet was geared towards African-American students. Was there a similar one for White students? Would the contents be different? If a more accurate date were established, would students have photos of their family members from that period of time? Would period job postings or product advertisements shed light on gender discrimination? What if we added letters or photos of Booker T. Washington when discussing his work and views on education?

The possibilities seem endless! And maybe not all of them would be successful. But this is the kind of material that is perfect for K-12 education – and I’m really nerding out about it.

 

By Kelsey Conway

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