Gann Academy is beta-testing a novel approach to teaching American history as part of a pilot program developed by Harvard Business School.
The program asks students to step into critical historical moments when difficult decisions were made, assume the personas of key figures, then argue their positions. “It’s a fascinating way of having students relive history,” explains History Chair Yoni Kadden. “They become invested in the story and in the outcome and it helps them understand that history is not inevitable: tough choices had to be made and consequences weighed.”
Enter junior Jess Friedman, who admits that she knows every single line of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. She often talked to Kadden about her Hamilton-mania and one day he asked her if there was a particular moment in the show that resonated with her. The scene when Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton debate whether to remain neutral in the war between France and England, she told him. Soon, Kadden had created a case study based on this pivotal moment. “We listened to the song, Cabinet Battle #2, in class and unpacked all the issues,” he explains. “Then we created a packet with all of the background documents needed for context.” Finally, students re-enacted the cabinet meeting, putting their own spin on the debate. “They had a graduate level discussion about what went into George Washington’s final decision to stay neutral,” says Kadden.
Friedman was amazed. “Mr. Kadden saw that I had this passion for Hamilton and quickly jumped on it, figuring out how to harness my passion and share it with the class,” she says. “It was awesome to merge these two worlds—Hamilton and school.”
For Kadden, participating in the Harvard case study method pilot is typical Gann. “We’re an innovative school, and teachers are always trying out new things to get even better and to go the extra mile for their students.”