De-ALF The Classroom

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Hero Research & Resources |

Teacher Magazine, December 1989 Students need heroes, not furry cartoon creatures VIEWPOINT By Dennis Denenberg Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I love ALF. I enjoy the humor in the show, and I appreciate the character’s underlying’sensitivity. I am wholeheartedly in favor of keeping him on television. But visits to dozens of classrooms as a supervisor of student teachers have convinced me we should see a lot less of him in school. Of course, in calling for “de-ALFing,” I am using ALF to represent the vast array of cute, cartoon-like characters that range from the infamous California Raisins to the famous Wait Disney legends (the Smurfs are persona non grata these days). On bulletin boards and in learning centers in classrooms, these characters often monopolize the display space, both at the elementary and secondary level. The teacher’s purpose in using these figures is usually motivational;. in many instances, teachers believe the students become more eager to learn in class when inspired by Roger Rabbit. But the overabundance of these creatures in school, added to their presence in television, movies, magazines, and slick commercials, has elevated their status far beyond their real significance. It is time, therefore, to lessen their influence by replacing them in the classroom. Replace the ALFs, Care Bears, and the rest with great historical and literary figures, real and legendary. We should see more of the heroes, the caring individuals, in classrooms — the Benjamin Franklins, the Sally Rides, and the Albert Schweitzers. Moreover, recent studies by E.D. Hirsch Jr. and Diane Ravitch convincingly argue that young people today are not exposed enough to the great cultural heritage of mankind, including characters from myths, legends, and folktales. Heroes from these domains can likewise be used to replace the Madison Avenue fad creatures. Opportunities abound to stimulate and teach through creative visual displays using historical and literary figures. Take the “Jobs Board” used in almost every elementary classroom to indicate which child does which job (wash the chalkboard and distribute papers, for example) for the week. Names are switched to different jobs in either a Monday morning or Friday afternoon ritual. The display is often decorated with some cartoon character, usually with the caption, “Do a good job for me” coming from its mouth. Imagine, instead, that the display centered around Benjamin Franklin, “the man of many jobs.” Small drawings representing his various occupations (inventor, writer, mailman, fireman, and so on) could be scattered throughout the bulletin board. When classroom jobs were changed, a few minutes could be taken to discuss briefly one of Mr. Franklin’s jobs. By the end of the school year, the students would have learned about a great American as they accomplished a weekly routine. And, every day, instead of looking at Goofy, they are looking at Ben. Another example: Teachers 0 in elementary school often give names to their reading groups....

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Yes, Harold, There Are Heroes

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Hero Research & Resources |

The Commonwealth Foundation, February 1996 By Dennis Denenberg Can you imagine a world without real heroes? Well, you don’t have to try very hard, because for many kids and young adults, that world already exists. Surrounded at an early age by cartoon fad figures, they later become enveloped by celebrity icons and superrich athletes. Great men and women of the past and present have no relevance for them; the wonderful people who have so enriched our world don’t exist for our juveniles. How did this void come to be? We have no one to blame but ourselves, for we have not done a very good job of introducing heroes to our children, either at home or at school. We have allowed the mass merchandisers and the celebrity packagers to capture the hearts and minds of our kids – and then we wonder why they have no positive role models. For example, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History recently published a new brochure to guide kids through the museum. It is written around the Charles Schulz figures, with their pictures everywhere. So there’s Snoopy leading our kids around our national history museum – instead of Sacajawea who led Lewis and Clark across our nation! We continually think we have to “dumb down” things to amuse kids. Well, we don’t have to. We can challenge them to think, and most of them will love it and rise to the occasion. Our national history museum exists to teach us about our history, and while pop culture is a part of it, it should not dominate the turf. Harriet Tubman risked her life to lead over 300 slaves to freedom — imagine the exciting trail she could lead kids on through the museum. Instead, there’s Lucy entertaining the kids, and probably boring them too. Therein is the crux of the problem. Fad figures and celebrities are everywhere, but the great individuals are hidden away. How many kids know who Jonas Salk was? Had this dedicated man of medicine not persevered, a large number of you reading this page would be doing so in a wheelchair. When he died last summer, we as a nation hardly took notice. Certainly, few young people had any sense of how that great doctor had saved their generation from a crippling disease. We need to work diligently to bring heroes alive for young people, and there are a myriad of creative ways to do so. Quality biographies need to become a part of our kids’ reading at home and at school. Every teacher’s room can reflect the contributions of real people important in the content being covered, and every teacher and parent can introduce their children to the REAL people who have changed this world in positive ways. We sometimes use the excuse that if we teach kids about heroes, and then they learn about a...

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Real Heroes

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Hero Research & Resources |

American Educator, Spring 2001 By Dennis Denenberg William Penn was an obsession for Elaine Peden, the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine reported in 1991. Peden had devoted enormous time and energy to promoting recognition of Pennsylvania’s founder. In 1984, she had persuaded Congress to extend honorary United States citizenship to both Penn and his wife, Hannah. But Peden’s successes in bringing Penn into the consciousness of Americans had been soured for her by disappointments. When she visited the restored William Penn statue on top of Philadelphia’s City Hall, she expected to see again in the waiting area the 75 paintings of events in the life of the Penns done by high school students. Instead she found a blowup of the Phillie Phanatic, the cartoonish mascot of the city’s professional baseball team. The city’s founder was out; the city’s newest fantasy figure was in. The situation is not much better at our country’s official museum. A few years ago, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History published a new brochure to guide kids through the museum. It is written around the Charles Schulz “Peanuts” characters, with their pictures everywhere. So, today we have Snoopy leading our kids around our national history museum instead of Sacagawea who led Lewis and Clark across our nation! Two years ago, the U.S. Mint began issuing special quarters (five a year for 10 years) to honor all of our 50 states. Guess who the Mint is using in its advertising campaign to call attention to this worthwhile endeavor? Perhaps one of the heroes pictured on some of the quarters, such as Delaware’s Caesar Rodney who, despite suffering from asthma and cancer, rode 80 miles on horseback to Philadelphia, arriving at Independence Hall just in time to cast the deciding vote in favor of our nation’s independence. Or perhaps the famous Minutemen — a statue of one graces the Massachusetts quarter — those always-at-the-ready farmers and colonists who rallied together to help defeat the British during the Revolutionary War — Or perhaps those who risked their lives to settle the West, build the railroads, or design our great bridges. No, none of these. The U.S. Mint chose instead, as the icon for its honor-the-states educational initiative — are you ready –Kermit the Frog, decked out as what appears to be (although no one seems to know for sure) George Washington — or one of those guys in the funny colonial hats and cape. Classrooms and homes around the United States duplicate this pattern. Pictures of great people have given way to fantasy creatures. At one time many — if not most — public school classrooms in America displayed portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Today, if such portraits appear at all, it is usually for a two-week period in February, during Presidents’ Day commemorations. I have visited hundreds of classrooms over the past 20 years. I...

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The Role of Heroes in Character Education

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Hero Research & Resources |

Millersville Review by Fred Smedley Dr. Dennis Denenberg recalls the epiphany he experienced nearly 12 years ago. Visiting numerous classrooms as a supervisor of student teachers, Denenberg was struck by the number of cartoon characters adorning walls and giving life lessons to elementary students. “I would see all of these cartoon characters and wonder, what are we doing?” he explains. “Why couldn’t these kids see real people? After all, they were already drowning in cartoon figures outside of school. “It was as if only furry creatures could have compassion.” Thus began Denenberg’s crusade. It started innocently enough with an article published in the December 1989 edition of Teacher Magazine entitled “DeALF the Classroom!” Then came the incorporation of heroes into his own classroom, the creation of the now-incredibly successful Heroes Fair at Millersville, the publication of the book, 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet, and a speaking schedule that finds him winging to all parts of the country. Still, Denenberg himself smiles, “I never imagined it would develop into this kind of crusade.” The fact that it has, however, re-affirms a crucial trend. “Schools are now, more than ever before, in the character-education business,” Denenberg says. “Of course, they were before, but they were only one part of it. Now, schools are spearheading the effort.” Dr. Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist and professor of education at the State University of New York at Cortland, who sits on the board of directors of the national Character Education Partnership, agrees. Discussing character education in Early Childhood Today, Lickona says he believes qualities “such as honesty, compassion, courage, kindness, self-control, cooperation, diligence or hard work [are] the kinds of qualities that we need to both lead a fulfilling life and to be able to live together harmoniously and productively. “Character education,” Lickona explains, “develops these virtues through every phase of school life. In our work, we promote what we call a comprehensive approach to character education. We encourage schools to think about the moral life of the classroom in the school or center as a whole.” And what better way than to use real heroes? “The strongest way,” Denenberg emphasizes. “is to teach the lives of people who exemplify traits we admire. “Through them we teach that real people can be honest, that real people can be compassionate.” So when Denenberg’s book explores the life of Roberto Clemente, it begins with his most important baseball statistics. “But if that’s all you know about him, you don’t really know what makes Roberto Clemente a hero,” the book cautions. “It’s more than MVP honors. It’s the quality of his life and his giving.” From there, Clemente’s biography delves briefly into his childhood then moves directly to how Clemente was killed when the airplane, chartered to deliver food and supplies to earthquake-torn Nicaragua, crashed shortly after takeoff. Highlighted within the text is a box of...

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Teaching with Heroes

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Hero Research & Resources |

Millersville Review, Winter 2000-2001 Dr. Dennis Denenberg knows why the great majority of people remember their high school history class as an experience as joyful as, say, getting their teeth drilled. “First, history textbooks are deadly dull,” he explains. “History is a story and textbooks eliminate the story. Second is the deadly dull way history has often been taught. Lecture, read the chapter, do the questions at the end…” His voice trails off and his intent is clear: Anyone in his right mind would be bored to death by such a regimen. Which is why Denenberg’s approach is so successful. “In my classes we have a lot of fun,” he declares. Denenberg, a professor in the Department of Elementary and early Childhood Education, teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in history social study methods for elementary education students. He has delivered his message during presentations in 25 states (“My goal is to hit 50,” he confides.) And has won legions of fans and supporters. He is also co-author (with Lorraine Roscoe) of one book, Hooray for Heroes, a collection of biographies of famous historic characters and 120 activities people can use to bring those heroes alive. A second book, also written with Roscoe, Fifty American Heroes Every Kid Should Meetis due out February 2001 and is already winning favorable reviews. Both are the offspring from his famous Real Heroes for Kids program, which he developed 11 years ago and has subsequently, he remarks, “mushroomed into my life’s work.” The concept is simple: Bringing heroes alive. ‘Too often, famous heroes are seen as non-entities on a page,” he explains. So each of his students must choose a personal hero” from history and develop two content-rich projects, Then, twice a year, they stage a Heroes Fair for elementary students to come and interact, first-hand, with over 100 “heroes.” My class motto is a Will Rogers quote,” Denenberg laughs.”You can’t teach what you don’t know anymore than you can come back from where you ain’t been.” They [his students] learn it the first day, it’s the last question their final exam, and we recite it many times during the year.” In addition to making heroes come alive, the fair has other advantanges. His students, for instance, receive great intrinsic rewards from their work. “The feedback from the kids is wonderful,” he says. “We receive record numbers of letters from small children” who were thrilled by the fair. Teachers who use the concept in their classes also write letters of thanks. “It’s heartwarming, to me, to see the ripple effect,” Denenberg remarks. His message is simple. “For future teachers, this is something that can reallv enliven their classroom,” he notes. But he doesn’t stop there. “This type of leaming should start in pre-school, and in fact it should start at home. Of course,” he adds with a smile, “that’s part of my message,...

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