In the summer of 2013 I had found out about an NEH sponsored History and culture workshop for school teachers. Its catchy title “Forever Wild” and its description had intrigue and made large promises. The website read:
“Only a few Americans at the turn of the century ever received the engraved invitation to join these Gilded Age elites at their “great camps” nestled deep in New York’s Adirondack forest. For those favored guests of Uncas, Camp Pine Knot, and Sagamore, the trip by train, steamboat and carriage brought them out from soot-choked skies clouding industrial America to the pristine and unspoiled wilderness. But what did they see when they arrived?”
I applied and six weeks later received my engraved invitation (well a somewhat standardized response from the program’s administrator explaining I would need water shoes for the shower and the camp was BYOB). So I embarked out of my “soot-choked skies” and onto a bus up to the Adirondacks not knowing what to expect.
Kevin Sheets and Randi Storch, two college professors from SUNY Cortland hosted us at a camp once visited by the likes of Theodore Roosevelt and J.P Morgan. In one adventurous week our hosts, school teachers from around the country, local tree hugging experts and myself debated the concept of wilderness. Through the eyes of politicians, big business, academia and recreationalists we understood the lands of Upstate New York. There were scholarly inquiry in our discussions relating civilization’s connection to wilderness. There was debate on how land that is in the public’s trust can and should be used. There was a six passenger sea plane that gave us a bird’s eye view of terrain that could not be easily seen in any other way.
Looking back, the experience has helped me to define not only what wilderness was, but also the NEH. Drawing from Mary Rizzo’s post “Finding the roots of civic engagement in the public humanities, I can safely say that I experienced first hand NEH’s striving to be non elitist. The location was one of many little known landmarks in the United States that the NEH was helping to make accessible. In addition, I felt the program’s objectives were in fact both equal parts civic engagement and debate of public policy. These lessons have now found their way in my classroom here in New Jersey, and across the country in the classrooms of the other participating teachers.
When STEM (now STEAM) came to my district I had petitioned to have it renamed STEMSS. The SS would stand for Social Studies, a subject near and dear to my heart. My suggestion fell on deaf ears. In addition, I was recruited to chaperone one of the trips. Not only do I see a push for the STEM subjects, I sense that the humanities in the eyes of the State boils down to reading comprehension scores. This all made me very much depressed. Then I viewed “The Heart of the Matter”, an inspirational plea to inspire the world with Humanities. Yes, we are flower, and we don’t need an acronym like STEM to tell everyone how important we are. We have John Lithgow.
I think the biggest mistake we can make is to begin to separate and isolate any field of study. There has been huge pushes to create an across the curriculum approach to learning. Math teachers, language arts teachers and social studies teachers are constantly coordinating their efforts.
STEM does not in fact live in a tech bubble. Although it is not on the marquee, there are plenty in the way of humanities occurring in the world of STEM. Stem projects are full of language, art and even history. It just would be nice if we got some sort or credit for it.