One spring day in 1975, as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington approached, Carol Pixton’s eighth grade history class decided to write a play about the battle. For inspiration, they turned to their innovative history curriculum, From Subject to Citizen, an EDC series that emphasized primary historical materials and experiential learning.
Drawing from the curriculum’s first-person reports and on Henry Longfellow’s famous poem, Pixton’s class, at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, PA, took off like “a runaway train. The kids were so excited they stayed after school. One brought a real horse in for the final performance,” she recalls. “As a teacher it was a great learning experience. This would never have occurred if I had just told them what happened.”
In truth, no one really knows what happened at Lexington; the students, like professional historians, struggled to reconcile the conflicting British and Colonial accounts—three of each—included in From Subject to Citizen. “The important thing,” Pixton says, is that the curriculum “didn’t tell us what to think; it just put the information in front of us and let us draw our own conclusions, the way practicing historians do.”
Pixton, who teaches European history at Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California, says From Subject to Citizen was a “fundamental influence” in shaping her view of good pedagogy. She recently contacted EDC to see if the 30-year old curriculum is still in print. Unfortunately, it isn’t; the curriculum’s publisher—KDI Instructional Systems—went out of business several years ago.
Unlike textbooks of its time, From Subject to Citizen wasn’t a massive single volume by a team of authors, but a sequence of five modules. Each covered a set of issues germane to early American history, with titles that evoke the whole story in miniature: Queen Elizabeth: Conflict and Compromise. The King vs. the Commons. The Emergence of the American. The Making of the American Revolution. We the People.
All of these strategies and activities were designed to guide teachers away from the historical lecture. In the Teacher’s Guide, Dr. Jean Grambs of the University of Maryland wrote that “the major burden for learning rests upon the students’ analysis of the materials rather than upon a teacher’s presentation.” For that reason, Pixton suggests, “It should be a model for beginning history teachers. It covers group work and the process of learning. It’s a tremendous help in terms of classroom learning and one’s own learning.”
“It’s criminal that this is out of print,” Pixton concludes. Fortunately, she notes, today’s textbooks include much more primary material than before, although they are far from the historical adventure that From Subject to Citizen provides. “Here was an exemplary and lovely uniting of primary sources and thoughtful and important questions that extended well beyond the purview of the class,” Pixton says. “It influenced the way I have taught all my courses. It’s more challenging, and more daring, but more true to what historians do.”
EDC’s own archive of From Subject to Citizen is incomplete. If you have any of the materials—particularly the games and recordings—please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Originally published on April 30, 2001