Students Examine History through Journalistic Lens

One of the tasks of the History and Social Sciences Department at The Williston Northampton School, according to history teacher and Dean of Faculty Peter Valine, is to encourage students to develop an “understanding of history as a perspective on events.” As Valine points out, newspapers accurately describe events but also have bias, so in order to explore issues of historical and political perspective, students enrolled in World Civilizations are divided into groups to work on a newspaper project.

Peter Valine
Dean of Faculty Peter Valine

The assignment requires students to create their own newspaper, focusing on a certain point of view. This teaches students to research and write from different perspectives on the same situations and historical events. Every student paper is required to have the elements of a newspaper, such as a masthead; several journalistic articles on politics, culture, and political figures; editorials; and reviews and political cartoons. Working in groups of 2 or 3, students divide the assignments and proofread one another’s work. They can also get creative by adding their own elements such as horoscopes, photography, arts and entertainment reviews, and sports reporting. See examples.

Typically the newspaper project is assigned as part of the course unit that studies Southwest Asia and students write from either an Israeli or a Palestinian point of view. However, this year’s class had a different culminating experience connected to reading Three Cups of Tea prior to Greg Mortenson’s campus visit. The students will be creating their newspapers this spring as part of the unit on the history, culture, and geography of Africa.

world civilizations newspapersThe newspaper project was developed by Valine and other members of the History and Social Sciences Department over 10 years ago, and continues to be a relevant tool today, refined by the collaborative efforts of World Civilizations teachers David Koritkoski, Sarah Klumpp, Jason Sport, and Andrew Syfu. It is one element of the World Civilizations curriculum, a year-long required course for ninth and tenth graders at Williston, which aims for students to develop a variety of skills including note taking, researching, essay writing, oral presentation, and analyzing primary source documents.

That last goal is increasingly important now that, as Valine underscores to his students, finding information is no longer a question of searching through microfiche. Now that students have countless sources of information available through every Internet search, evaluation is even more important. Just as newspapers have evolved due to the Internet age, so have our faculty and our curricula. The department provides students with a rubric for examining source documents and the school as a whole is working to increase media literacy for both faculty and students.