Summer workshop to guide educators on teaching about May 4

Todd Hawley, co-director of the project and associate professor of social studies teacher education.

Many events are scheduled for the coming months as the university gears up for the 50th anniversary of May 4. Among these is the “Making Meaning of May 4: The 1970 Kent State Shootings in U.S. History” workshop. 

The workshop, which is being held twice − June 21-26 and July 12-17 − is aimed at K-12 school system personnel across the country in hopes of showing them how to teach about the events of May 4. The six-day workshops are being held during summer 2020 and will bring 72 teachers, who will receive a $1,200 stipend, to Kent State’s campus.  

“It’s intense, I mean that in a good way,” said Todd Hawley, associate professor of social studies education and co-director of the project. “Ideally, the goal is that teachers develop a deeper understanding of the significance of May 4 and the Kent State shootings and understand how they can take back their new knowledge and use it in their classrooms.”  

The upcoming workshops serve as a capstone for the year’s events commemorating May 4, said Laura Davis, professor emeritus of English and co-director of the project. It also acts as a bookend to a similar program that took place last summer. The Educators Summit, titled “May 4, 1970 Then & Now: Voices for Change,” was a two-day workshop held in August 2019 that served as a kickoff event for the 50th commemoration, Hawley said. The Educators Summit was funded by a grant from the Jennings Foundation and brought 30 teachers to Kent State’s campus for activities focused on student activism.  

“I think that opportunities for teachers to be able to support students in finding their voice and how they can help facilitate change in a peaceful way is really an important challenge for education right now,” said Annette Kratcoski, director of Kent State’s Research Center for Educational Technology. Beyond her role in the upcoming workshops, Kratcoski was also a co-project director for the summer 2019 workshop and is working on an app that uses augmented reality to engage the public in the events of May 4.     

Funded by a Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop grant through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the upcoming workshops offer participants a unique opportunity. Teachers have the chance to be immersed in the space where history happened and learn from those who were witnesses, Hawley said. Through daily themes, small group work and various other activities, educators will work on using inquiry to teach about May 4. Participants will also have the chance to explore Kent State’s special collections and digital archives, Kratcoski said.      

Currently, the program has seen more than 90 applicants and will most likely break 100 before the deadline on March 1, Davis said. The requirements to apply to the program are broad, mainly that those applying must be a K-12 educator and U.S. citizen. Most applicants are practicing middle and high school teachers, Hawley said. However, the workshop has seen great diversity in the courses these educators teach and what kind of schools they teach at. Along with subjects such as social studies, journalism, government and history, the project has also seen applicants who specialize in dance, art and theater as well, Davis said. 

“We wanted a diversity of applicants and we have a really fantastic pool. We have regional people and then we have applicants from all over the country,” Davis said. “We have west coast to east coast, north to south.”     

A similarity among many of the applications was the interest in learning about the events of May 4 from those who had witnessed it, Davis said. Many applicants were moved at the idea of being in the same classroom as individuals who had witnessed history firsthand. These speakers at the workshop include two surviving victims of the shootings, several witnesses and an officer from the Ohio National Guard on site.  

Davis was a student at the time of the Kent State shootings and a witness to the events of May 4. This experience shaped her life, influenced her perspective on teaching and made her a better citizen, Davis said.  

“I think this workshop, as students learn about the particular history of May 4, will become better citizens because they’ll see, they’re going to see this event, not as an anomaly but as fitting into a pattern,” Davis said.  

This pattern, or arc of American history, started with the Boston Massacre, includes Wounded Knee, points in the civil rights movement and points in the labor movement, Davis said. To become better citizens, this history must be recognized and remembered, something the workshops intend to help educators and their students do. 

Beyond being a witness to the events of May 4 and a co-director of this project, Davis has also been involved in getting Kent State’s campus on the National Register of Historic Places, nominating it as a National Historic Landmark, creating the May 4 walking tour and the May 4 Visitors Center.      

“I see the opportunity for knowledge to be spread to so many people in an exponential way by reaching out to the K-12 teachers. I think we’re really turning the page to a new chapter with that work,” Davis said.

Recognizing the importance of preserving and practicing First Amendment rights and their role in shaping our society is one of the biggest values of continuing the conversation around May 4, Davis said.

Many of the themes that surrounded May 4, 1970, such as peaceful protest, conflict resolution and the importance of young people’s voices, hold just as much relevance now, Kratcoski said. To take these lessons and connect them to an educational goal gives new generations the chance to expand their knowledge and connect it to activism, whether those connections are to abuses of governmental power, environmental issues or health care, Hawley said. 

“So how do we, as educators, help young people find their voice? They can make a difference because that’s our only hope,” Kratcoski said.   

For further information, a full schedule of events and the application for the workshop, visit the project’s website.  

Contact Abigail Mack at [email protected].