High school teacher, class hit the road to give life to their history lessons

January 13, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

THEY WALKED through the doors of the Loew's Theaters at White Marsh last Thursday afternoon. They looked young, like teen-agers. They must have been high school students.

But they were so quiet, so orderly, they couldn't have been. What was going on here?

A little checking revealed these were, indeed, high school students. From Edmondson High School. (You may know it as Edmondson-Westside High School, but no true Edmondson alumnus will call it that. In deference to all those who graduated from the 45-year-old institution, let's leave it Edmondson High School.)

They were with Daniel Murray, a teacher in Edmondson's social studies department. About 85 students, members of Murray's Contemporary Issues class, had arrived at the White Marsh theater around 11:15 a.m. They bought munchies from the concession stand and then settled in to watch filmmaker Michael Mann's biopic Ali.

"The movie spellbound the entire group," Murray said Friday, as he prepared for the first of three classes he would teach that day.

He's taught the course for five years. Murray starts by covering the period just after World War II ended. Then the class goes decade by decade, covering the major issues of each.

The class is on the 1960s now, and since Muhammad Ali helped define the decade more than anyone except, perhaps, the Beatles, Murray decided that watching Ali might be appropriate. Their essays about their reactions to the film are due Wednesday.

On the bulletin board in the back of Murray's class is a huge picture of Ali standing over a vanquished Sonny Liston. Ali appears to be shouting at him. (A reporter once asked Ali what it was he said. "I was telling the bum to get up and fight," Ali answered.)

That picture is part of a montage that covers the entire back wall. Several covers of Time magazine's "Man of the Year" hang there, as well as The New York Times front page of Feb. 22, 1965, covering the death of Malcolm X.

There are the front pages of The Sun from November 1963 and April 1968 with headlines about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., respectively. Some students have made up posters about more current issues. One drew a picture of Mickey Mouse, with the caption "Vote No for Terrorism." Another drew a picture of that ubiquitous mouse with the caption "War Is Contagious."

Those are some of the things Murray's students do when they're in class. Sometimes they aren't.

"We're very active in our class," Murray said. "We travel a lot."

The fall semester usually finds his group in New York City. They leave on an October or November day around 5 a.m. A bus drives them up the New Jersey Turnpike to the Big Apple, where they disembark and tour the United Nations building. On the last visit, in 2000, they met U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

After leaving the U.N. the classes have lunch, then head up to the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

"They learn about the history of the Apollo," Murray said, "then take the stage and perform. Some students rap, others recite poetry. Some sing or dance."

There was no New York trip this fall because of Sept. 11. But hanging on the walls of Murray's class are two paintings that serve as a memento of the 2000 fall trip. Murray and his group spotted a man in Battery Park - only blocks from where the World Trade Center twin towers once stood - painting pictures of the Statue of Liberty and the towers. Murray bought two of them.

Spring usually brings a trip to the nation's capital. By this time, Murray's course has shifted focus from "Contemporary Issues" to "Street Law." A stop at the Supreme Court, then, is a necessity. But the classes also visit the Capitol and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.

"I want them to see how the money is made," Murray said.

Visits to Baltimore's circuit and district courts are part of the "Street Law" segment, as well as a visit to courts in Annapolis. Almost nothing deters Murray from traveling. One year, with only 12 students enrolled in the elective course, Murray was close to postponing a trip to Harpers Ferry.

"It wasn't enough students for a bus," Murray recalled, "but someone suggested using a limo instead of a bus. So we piled into a limo and went to Harpers Ferry."

Murray says a teacher in the room next door found the idea of students taking a field trip by limo hilarious.

"He won't let me live it down," Murray said. But students learned about John Brown on the trip, and about the part of Harpers Ferry where W.E.B. DuBois and other early 20th-century civil rights leaders gathered to hold the second meeting of the Niagara Movement, which would eventually become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

But whether they travel by limo or bus, students may not have learned that information had they not taken Murray's course.

"A lot of times," he reflected, "a regular history course will miss a lot of this stuff."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.