Black history from many angles Exhibition: Students at two schools do original research, take photographs, interview grandparents, preachers and teachers, then put the results on display in a museum.

The Education Beat

February 23, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WHAT'S THE BEST way to lead students to learn about -- and appreciate -- the nation's African heritage? It's a good question for the waning days of Black History Month.

If you're a Baltimore social studies curriculum writer, you make every Africa-America connection you can, trying to convince your students (and perhaps yourself) that everyone and everything in God's creation originated in Africa.

But if you're Janet Lane, a teacher at Diggs-Johnson Middle School in the city, or Quentin Wyatt, a teacher at Milford Mill Academy (nee High School) in Baltimore County, you set your students to exploring their lives and communities, doing original research, taking photographs, interviewing their grandparents, preachers and teachers. Reading about it. Writing about it. Poeticizing about it.

Then you put the results on display at the Maryland Historical Society, where the Diggs-Johnson exhibit opened a six-week run yesterday as part of the West Monument Street museum's observation of the Baltimore bicentennial.

The student-written labels accompanying the photographic exhibit bespeak learning that's occurring at several levels. For // example, accompanying a photo of Kinsey's Lamb and Veal stall in the Hollins Market is this notation: "As the sign says, Mr. Kinsey's butcher shop has been in the market since 1889. He will be the last person in his family to run the shop. He will have to sell it soon." There's a lesson in sociology!

There's more: Courtesy of Union Baptist Church, there's a grand photo of the Rev. Harvey Johnson, a prominent black clergyman who gave Diggs-Johnson half its name. (The other half came from Josiah Diggs.) There's a photo of the street signs at Warner and Barre, site of the original Diggs-Johnson, which was razed several years ago to make way for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Few Baltimoreans know, or care, that a historic black school's ghosts reside at Oriole Park along with those of Babe Ruth and his family. It's this kind of "history by omission" that fascinates Wyatt, the veteran Milford Mill teacher.

Wyatt's high school students are working on their own projects, which will go on display at the historical society in the spring. Wyatt urges them to seek the truth and ferret out myth, even if it means historical backlash. For example, he says, Charles R. Drew, the famous African-American blood researcher, was not denied a transfusion (as many a textbook claims) at a white hospital after a 1950 auto accident that proved fatal.

Last week, Wyatt's students and those from Francis Scott Key Middle School and City College visited the historical society's acclaimed "Mining the Museum" exhibit, where they were invited to browse the 1992 creation of African-American artist Fred Wilson.

In the early '90s, Wilson was invited to review the museum's holdings with an eye for what was missing. A good deal, he found. A museum with Maryland as its first name lacked images of such black heroes as Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker and Harriet Tubman, Marylanders all.

From the society's collection, Wilson created an exhibit of art and artifacts -- he's called an "installation artist" -- that says more about what's not in the museum than about what is. Flanking the entrance, the busts of three famous white Americans stand opposite the bust-less pedestals of Douglass, Banneker and Tubman.

Elsewhere in "Mining," 19th-century slave shackles made in Baltimore rest amid a shining collection of silver bowls, also made in 19th-century Baltimore. A Ku Klux Klan hood lies in a baby carriage, a startling juxtaposition. A doll house is filled with the violent scenes of a bloodless slave rebellion. On one wall are "Wanted" posters for missing slaves.

In a session with Wilson after the tour, Tiffany Countess, a Milford Mill senior, said the exhibit "gives you the interest to want to be educated about your history." Wilson, who traveled from New York to talk to the students, said he deliberately wanted viewers to make their own interpretation. "This is how meaning is made," he told the students.

All of the students receive credit toward the 75 hours of "service learning" required by the state Education Department. Wyatt, an African-American who has been experimenting for years with ways to teach black and white students about their past, said, "In their final products, these students are giving back to their communities. That's the real meaning of service learning."

And one of the real meanings of education.

A day to remember for Hopkins and Brody

William R. Brody will be installed as the lucky 13th president of the Johns Hopkins University this afternoon, but Brody was appointed in April. What took 'em so long?

Actually, Hopkins likes to install presidents on the university's Commemoration Day, the date in 1876 when Daniel Coit Gilman founded Hopkins. Seven of the previous 12 presidents were inaugurated on or about Feb. 22, which, of course, also happens to be George Washington's birthday.

Brody, however, will be the first Hopkins president to be inaugurated live on the Internet.

Study recognizes UM as 'rising star' in research

The University of Maryland College Park has been recognized as one of the "rising stars" in public research universities, with a ranking of 18th nationally in faculty research productivity.

Unlike the rankings of U.S. News & World Report, this evaluation was derived entirely from hard data, not from popularity polls. There is another reason to trust this study: One of its authors is Hugh Davis Graham, a former professor at College Park's archrival, the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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