The Cemetery as a Classroom
I can distill my teaching philosophy down to a single phrase: education and practical experience go hand in hand. Of course this means I want my kids to get their hands dirty, to connect the dots, to go down the rabbit holes, and to engage in any other number of metaphors - always understanding that they are doing what historians do. This is learning...and though a lively lecture certainly has a place in the classroom, real investigation beats the hell out of having them sit and listen to someone (um...me) lecture them day in and day out.
In a couple of weeks, I am going to put the broadly defined United States narrative on the side for a day or two and delve deep into the history of Los Angeles - our very own City of Angeles, as it were. I want them to get to know some of the foundational voices - some of the people who contributed to the character of this city...those who made it what it is today, for better or worse.
Part of this investigation will involve a cemetery project. I have taken images of a number of prominent graves at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and I will task them with uncovering (through Internet research) the various ways in which individuals buried there contributed to the city's history. They are to leave no stone unturned...and I am quite certain that they will discover, as I have, that one can learn quite a bit about a city's history by investigating its dead.
I have done a little preliminary research and so far found out about LA's early banking and real estate development, the sugar industry, the foundation of artistic and academic institutions, and I even found a cenotaph placed by a very prominent LA family who's son perished on the Titanic. How about that?
I am sure the kids will get a kick out of this once they peel back a few layers (I'm really featuring the metaphors today). I'll keep you posted on how they do.