University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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Nov. 25, 2003


Renowned Histrical Author to Speak at UW-River Falls

Renowned author Joy Hakim will speak at UW-River Falls on Dec. 5-6. A former teacher, editor, and the first woman editorial writer for Norfolk's Virginia-Pilot, Hakim is the author of the Michener Prize-winning 10-volume series: "A History of US".

Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "the liveliest, most realistic, most well-received American history ever written for children," "A History of US" has sold over 4 million copies nationwide and is used by social studies and language arts teachers at the elementary, middle and secondary levels.

Hakim is also author of "Freedom: A History of US", an elegant single volume survey of American history rich in biographical detail and primary documents that served as the inspiration for a television series by the same title. Sixteen episodes hosted by Katie Couric aired on PBS last year. With Christopher Reeve as creative consultant, the voices of Julia Roberts, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks and over a dozen other celebrities contributed to the groundbreaking enterprise.

Hakim will serve as keynote speaker for Freedom to… Freedom For… Freedom From …, a weekend workshop for K-12 teachers and college instructors interested in livening up their teaching of history, literature, humanities, and other subjects. In addition to presentations and readings by Hakim, numerous experts will engage teachers in intellectual dialogue about the American character as well as hands-on experiences with effective teaching strategies.

The weekend workshop runs from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5 and from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6. Initial meetings are in the Wyman Education Building at UWRF and participants may park in any lot on campus. Graduate credits and clock equivalency hours are available for teachers. Except for Saturday lunch, there is no cost for the workshop.

The workshop is open to teachers, students, and the general public. For more information or to register, contact Geoffrey Scheurman at 715/425-3520 or geoffrey.scheurman@uwrf.edu.

Hakim's latest literary effort, a six-part series based on the history of science, is due out next year.

Responding to the problems of traditional history textbooks, Hakim has argued, "Kids shouldn't have to read anything that adults wouldn't want to read." She has worked extensively with teachers and parents and has taught elementary school, high school, and special education. She has shared her contagious enthusiasm for history with a variety of people, from 15-year-olds in inner-city schools to adults discovering the pleasures of America's collective past. Believing that history should be fun for people of all ages, Hakim takes readers from 9 to 90 on breathtaking journeys and continues to promote the idea that "to find the story in a subject is to discover its essence." A reviewer for the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, "[Her] books are written in the warm and chatty voice of a grandmother telling stories and leaving in all the good stuff."

One of Hakim's unique contributions to the fields of history, writing and teaching is what she describes as the concept of "exact imaging." Since history is first and foremost an adventure, it should be told with as much imagination about the dreams, thoughts and feelings of historical figures as possible. This process is committed to the process of historical accuracy without over-emphasizing trivial facts.

Hakim's efforts to balance vivid and accessible story telling with credible scholarship apparently works. Historians, from James McPherson to David McCullough, routinely lavish praise upon her work. David Herbert Donald of Harvard University said: "I think this is the best American History written for young people that I have ever seen. It combines a thorough mastery of the facts with an engaging, accessible style, and Ms. Hakim's numerous biographical sketches will be sure to hold the attention of her readers. What I find most refreshing about Ms. Hakim's books is the total lack of condescension – of talking down to young people or of oversimplifying ideas or language. Obviously history is for her an exciting, absorbing enterprise, and she makes it so for those who read her book."

Such commentary is probably music to Hakim's ears. In her own words: "If we want children to read, we need to give them books worth reading. … Kids are enormously bright. … The 10-year olds I meet are just as capable of handling complex issues as you and I. They just don't know much. Give them material to work with, and the discussions are dynamite. … What we aren't doing in schools is exciting children with the printed page and the wonders it can offer. We continue to present reading as a boring school subject that can't compete with television. Yet, as any reader will tell you, it is TV that is ultimately boring, and books are what can transport you to other worlds. …"

Despite numerous accolades, Hakim's books have neither avoided controversy nor failed to attract critics. Consider this sample of her summary of President Clinton's role as a public figure: "Clinton's presidency, begun with so much promise, turned into a personal and national disaster. The ancient Greeks wrote tragic dramas about great leaders who had fatal flaws. … Yet Clinton's fall was more soap opera than Greek tragedy. It was about personal gratification. It was about lying. There was nothing heroic about it."

With such honest reporting, she has been criticized by some as too easy and by others as too difficult, by some as too controversial and by others as too much fun. Such diverse critiques are often the hallmark of a superb, if enigmatic, writer. When she first went public with her momentous achievement, numerous major textbook publishers in America initially rejected Hakim's books. The prestigious Oxford Press finally made a deal but proceeded to give Hakim directives for changes: "only say "African-American" and never "black"; use only "enslaved person" and never "slave." Hakim refused and Oxford finally published the series on its own in 1993, almost a decade after she had started writing it.

Hakims visit to UW-River Falls is part of a four-year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. "Still Searching for America: Conversations on National Identity" has provided opportunities for teachers to engage in rigorous conversations about the meaning of the evolving American identity, including experimentation with new ways to teach about America. In particular, teachers are introduced to standards for evaluating their own instruction and methods of assessment as well as final student performances. These standards stress the importance of constructing meaningful knowledge through disciplined inquiry in ways that connect subject matter to students' lives outside the classroom.

Other presenters include: Phil Roden, author of "Document Based Questions in American History," an engaging curriculum that involves mainstream students in the authentic activity of a real historian; David Milne, associate professor of music who will provide a live musical session on the importance of jazz to the development of American identity; Kurt Leichtle, author of a new 4th grade text on the history of Wisconsin and expert in web-based resources for K-12 teachers; So-young Tikoo, associate professor from DePaul University who will lead a discussion on acculturation strategies of new immigrants and an exercise to help students understand prejudice; Mike Yell, Hudson Middle School teacher and national middle school teacher of the year who will demonstrate strategies for enhancing the substantive conversation of students using primary documents and artifacts.

Additional presenters include Ogden Rogers, who will share ideas from "Exploring Humanitarian Law," a curriculum development initiative developed under the auspices of the American Red Cross; Professor Emeritus DeAn Krey, who will share her expertise on how to use children's trade books to teach about national identity; Jon Peterson, alternative school teacher from Roseville who will share a project for reaching at-risk kids titled "The Broken Truth: Examining Identity Through Allegory"; and Geoff Scheurman, professor of teacher education and project director who will engage teachers in a powerful discussion strategy for getting students to develop critical thinking skills while interacting over controversial issues.

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