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Ashbrook Teacher Helps Students Discover American Identity

Social studies teachers in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program value its solid emphasis on core American principles. As Americans forget their history and principles, teachers must work hard to hand on those vital elements of citizenship to their students. This challenge is complicated in the Southwest, where ethnic identities compete strongly with Americans’ sense of their shared culture. The MAHG program helps teachers, who find themselves in these challenging circumstances, to point their students to the principles of the Founding no matter what their ethnic identity might be.

Karen Cox

Karen Cox

MAHG graduate Karen Dziurzynski Cox’s commitment to teaching the American Founding drew her to Ashbrook’s program, which is unique in both the structure and content of its courses. Unlike many graduate programs in Government or American History that begin from a position that America is badly flawed or that race, class, and gender hopelessly divide us, Ashbrook focuses on understanding our American history and the principles of our unique form of self-government that unite us as Americans.

Cox grew up in New Mexico. Her mother’s ancestors settled on land grants from the king of Spain, well before the area became part of the United States. “For me,” she said, “the phrase ‘the American experience’ evokes a complex merging of identities.” Cox formerly taught at Atrisco Heritage Academy in Albuquerque, where most of her Hispanic students identified with bilingual immigrants from Mexico. Today Karen teaches in Cuba, New Mexico, where her students are largely from Navajo Native American reservations who must mentally integrate membership in the Navajo Nation with their U.S. citizenship.

Karen wrote her advisors in the Ashbrook Master’s program telling them about her new teaching assignment and thanking them for their “kind support and encouragement – gifts I try to pass on to my students every day.”

Cox seized “a teachable moment” last spring as her students read the Preamble to the Constitution, which begins: “We the People of the United States….” She explained, “In the Navajo language, the phrase ‘the people’ means all of their ancestors who walk with them, the living. My students reacted reverently to the opening of the Constitution, suddenly feeling they too were part of the Founding.”

Cox’s students have helped her in turn, showing her layers of American experience overlapping with poetic significance. She asked her class about the design in a Navajo basket she found at a roadside shop. White stripes radiated through a red ground, with a star-studded field of blue above. “I asked, ‘is this an image of the sun and stars rising over mountains? Or of the Stars and Stripes?’ They told me, ‘Yes. It’s all of that.’”

navajo basket stars & stripesTo date, Ashbrook has educated more than 7,000 teachers from across the country through online webinars, one-day professional development programs, weekend seminars in historic sites, and the multi-year program leading to a Master’s degree in American History and Government. The MAHG program alone has attracted teachers from 48 states. They come to Ashbrook to take courses on everything from The American Revolution, The American Founding, and Sectionalism and Civil War to The American Presidency, America during the Cold War, and The Progressive Era.

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