Daily Archives: July 5, 2011

In the Classroom: Family Tree Assignments

Genealogists have long defined familial relations along bloodlines or marriage. But as the composition of families changes, so too has the notion of who gets a branch on the family tree.

Some families now organize their family tree into two separate histories: genetic and emotional. Some schools, where charting family history has traditionally been a classroom project, are now skipping the exercise altogether.

Yes!  The above is from “Who’s on the Family Tree?  Now It’s Complicated” in today’s New York Times.  And may I say that the ditching of family history assignments in schools is long overdue.  I’ve always railed against them because they assume an awful lot and marginalize students who may not have traditional family backgrounds, may not know their family history, etc etc etc.  I believe that the family tree assignment came about for a good reason — to bring personal history into the classroom rather than it always being about great men and such. However, it also came about with assumptions about the children in the classroom.  I remember arguing with colleagues who would tell me how children and families were so honored and happy after such an assignment.  All very well, I’d reply, but what about those children who were unable to do it for one reason or another?  They’d be given something else, I was told.  Making them, I’d say, all the more marginalized.

I’ve long been wondering if the changing notions of family are also causing more care with this assignment and was gratified to get the sense from this article that it is being reconsidered.  Good, good, good.

Bottom line: we teachers need to always be very, very, very sensitive to how we invite our students to bring their personal lives into the classroom.  Our reality may be very far from theirs.

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