Education preparation students learn to teach difficult histories at Pebble Hill

Published: April 24, 2023

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Students in College of Education teacher preparation programs recently participated in “A Day at Pebble Hill” to tour and learn about the history of the 1847 former plantation cottage in Auburn. It currently serves as the home of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts and provides valuable learning opportunities for educators, students and the community.

“Experiences like this help us show students the power of field trips and examining spaces for themselves instead of just relying on certain technologies or textbooks to center and focus student learning,” said Jesús Tirado, assistant professor of social science education. “It is also a chance to see how to orchestrate a complex view of how to work with hard histories in a learning environment.”

Tirado and Sara Demoiny, assistant professor of elementary education and president of the Social Science Education Consortium, have created experiential learning opportunities for students at Pebble Hill since 2021, teaching future educators how to talk with their K-12 students about difficult histories including slavery and the Indigenous removal from the area.

“Research shows that teachers often struggle with teaching the histories of enslavement and Indian removal or expulsion, especially when these histories are part of their local community history,” Demoiny said. “Our goal is to help prepare our students to teach these histories honestly and in humanizing ways.”

Students toured the former plantation cottage and surrounding grounds and explored artifacts on display.

“The event at Pebble Hill was an amazing learning experience,” said Alana Brown, elementary education major. “I want to be able to teach my students real history from all narratives so that they know the whole story — not just parts of it.”

Studying topics such as slavery at Pebble Hill, much of which was built by enslaved people, provides a unique experience and creates opportunities for students to understand history in new ways.

“The event reinforced the idea that as educators we need to teach history for what it is, even when it may make us feel uncomfortable,” said Nathan Shaw, social science education major. “As educators, we're obligated to provide students with multiple perspectives and bring light to the dark history of our state and country, even if it does make us feel uncomfortable, because these stories deserve to be told in the best way possible, rather than being forgotten or ignored.”

The resources and artifacts at Pebble Hill provide an opportunity for students to examine the history at the site for themselves.

“As a future educator, especially one who is going to teach social sciences, I worry about how I can teach hard history to my students,” said Ainsley Wallace, secondary social science education major. “Learning how to present information and hard history to students through stories, primary and secondary sources, maps, art, music, and many other mediums can help students get a deeper understanding of these complex topics.”

Elementary education major Michael Morgan discovered valuable information that will impact the way he creates lessons for students in the future.

“This will help me to teach counter-narratives in the classroom and bring perspectives to these hard history conversations,” he said. “This event will help me have more knowledge and know where to find resources, to help teach young students about narratives we might not have heard. This experience really made me stop and think about what I will be teaching and how I need to teach it.”

Demoiny and Tirado will continue providing experiential learning opportunities and challenging their students to think critically about history as they encourage their future K-12 students to do the same.

“It is encouraging to see our students learn historical content knowledge while also considering the legacies of these histories still in this space,” Demoiny said. “As they recognize the legacies, they begin to question and dream about creating a more equitable and just space in our community.”

Following the field trip experience for teacher preparation students, Demoiny and Tirado also organized a panel and discussion sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Alliance, Auburn’s Department of Curriculum & Teaching, Department of History and the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities. Auburn faculty, students and community members, including K-12 educators, joined the event with guest Indigenous history scholars, including the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who led a discussion of how to teach the intersecting difficult histories of Muscogee Creek and enslaved people in the community.

Submitted by: Sheryl Caldwell

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Students in College of Education teacher preparation programs recently participated in a “A Day at Pebble Hill” to tour, learn and discuss the history of the 1847 former plantation cottage in Auburn.