Steadily Progressing through the Masters, A Teacher Stays Inspired
Stacy Moses already had a Masters in Education when she learned about a new, content-rich program for teachers, the Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG). Its comprehensive curriculum covered courses education majors do not have time to take. Her first weeklong session, in summer 2006, explored race and equality in American history through primary documents. The reading load was heavy and the schedule intense—three 90-minute seminars a day. But the intellectual challenge exhilarated her.
She didn’t need the degree; she needed the knowledge. Yet she could afford to absorb it slowly and steadily. She traveled to Ashland, Ohio for a couple of seminars each summer. In 2017, she completed her Master of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) degree, writing a thesis on the Reconstruction era that won a Chairman’s Award.
Moses has taught at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque since 2000. The recipient of several teaching awards, she was named New Mexico Social Studies Teacher of the Year for 2012 by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Since completing her degree work, she has returned to the summer residence program twice, auditing courses in a new program that combines the study of a theme in American history with literature by American authors. Moses also serves as an alumna “Ambassador” for one-day Teaching American History programs in her area. Below, she talks with us about what TAH programs mean to her.
» Why did you take a chance on a brand-new Masters program?
The Masters in Education I had earned locally didn’t satisfy my curiosity about American history. I was one of the first class of Madison Fellows, back in 1992, but it had been hard to complete the nine hours of Constitutional studies the Madison requires while continuing my teaching job. A professor at the University of New Mexico was kind enough to record his lectures, so that I could listen to them in the evenings, after my school day.
Years later, at a Gilder Lehrman summer seminar, I met a teacher who had just come from a TAH seminar in Ashland. She was over the moon about it. Listening to her, I realized this was the program I had needed as a Madison Fellow. I could attend courses in the summer and cover the whole range of American history. When the director of my school agreed to pay for one course per summer, I took the plunge. I have found every course I’ve taken in MAHG to make me a better teacher, either directly or indirectly.
» Would you describe your work at Sandia Preparatory School?
I teach in a college preparatory school; my courses help students learn the tools of research and analysis. History is my favorite subject, and I’m grateful that I have a job that allows me to teach skills associated with its study. I teach US history and American Political Theory. The latter, a senior government elective, focuses on the foundations, principles and purposes of American Government. We look at the application of that government over time, in election years focusing on current political and policy questions. In non-election years we focus on slavery and civil rights. Instead of making a big deal about African American history only during February (Black History Month), I offer a yearlong course.
» Why do you think it important to spend a year exploring our nation’s racial history?
I find slavery to be the most divisive issue this country has ever faced. The social, political, economic and constitutional ramifications of this great tragedy fascinate me. Of course, the argument over slavery dominated the antebellum period, but it also entered deliberations during the Constitutional Convention; and slavery’s legacy has continued well beyond emancipation. This is the pivotal issue of over half of the American story. There are primary sources on all sides of the issue, so the students can read the words of those who were actually making the arguments and struggling with the problem.
» You titled your thesis, Not Even Grant Could Save the Country: Reconstruction, the Resistance of the South, and the Expansion of Federal Power. In your view, why did Reconstruction fail?
Andrew Johnson’s presidency licensed three years of unfettered resistance in the South, and the controls imposed over freed slaves proved impossible to reverse. If the Federal government had immediately done what they should have, preventing the South from limiting blacks’ access to suffrage and business and property ownership, we may not have needed the 14th and 15th amendments. Perhaps it would have meant Sheridan and Sherman imposing martial law there early in 1865. Grant wanted to do this, but Johnson wouldn’t allow it. The 100 years of subjugation which followed shows that the problem was greater than what 14th and 15th amendments could control.
» What are the biggest challenges you face in interpreting American history to your students?
One of the issues MAHG has helped me discuss with my students is the necessity of compromise. Popular culture paints historical figures as either all good or all bad, and students often bring this all-or-nothing attitude to class. They don’t understand how a statesman may hold clear political principles yet compromise them in his public actions. MAHG showed me the importance of compromise at the Constitutional Convention. Had the delegates not compromised with Southern slaveholders, all thirteen states would never have agreed to the Constitution. The new nation would have soon split into two, and there would have been even less hope of ending slavery in the South.
Teaching compromise requires civil discussion. The MAHG program’s text-based conversations modeled this. We didn’t all agree in our political views, but we could still talk together about those texts.
In my senior class on American Political Theory, we begin with a speech on the “broken windows” theory of local government—that if one person starts throwing rocks, others will also, and pretty soon people of good intentions will exit the neighborhood. After students read this speech, we talk about how the same happens in public discourse. When it gets nasty, those of good will exit the discussion, and no positive change can occur.
I had an epiphany during a TAH Liberty Fund event led by Todd Estes in Poughkeepsie, NY on the Antifederalists. They may have lost the battle over the Constitution, but they weren’t wrong. As I tell my American history students, the Federalists knew they couldn’t just call the losers idiots and walk away, because the Antifederalists had some valid concerns. Madison didn’t think we needed a Bill of Rights, but he knew those concerns had to be dealt with, so he introduced amendments to the new Constitution. Before this, even though he didn’t like every provision of the Constitution, which wasn’t what Virginians had proposed, Madison had put a lot of effort into advocating ratification.
Today, civil discussion and compromise are missing from our national politics. If change is to come, it has to begin in the classroom.
» Why do you remain involved in MAHG?
I want to continue studying, and I’ve found the MAHG program to be the best teacher education offering in the country. Continuing to study helps me empathize with my own students. When they say, “the Federalist papers are hard to read!” I respond, “Yes! They were difficult for me, too.”
But I’m also freer to demand a high standard. No whining about difficult assignments allowed!
I had a lengthy conversation with Professor Peter Myers, who was here leading a Teaching American History seminar (Civil Rights in America: Speeches and Writings). He seemed surprised when I spoke of the thrill of hanging out with deeply knowledgeable scholars. I feel like I’m with rock stars, being treated as an equal. I tell my students about having this relationship with my professors, showing them that they too can have intellectual conversations with professors when they go to college. These discussions will give them the life-giving water we all need for our careers.