It’s an image that high school history teacher Jordan Hohm ’12 won’t soon forget: 50 of his students seated in the Fabulous Fox Theatre, wide-eyed with anticipation as the lights dim and the curtains rise for the opening act of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly acclaimed Hamilton.
He won’t forget the buzz afterward on the bus as it headed back to Wyvetter Younge Alternative Center in East St. Louis. All the way, the students recounted the special interactive matinee for school groups, particularly the moment before the show when three of their classmates performed a Hamilton-inspired skit onstage—a skit they wrote. The 4,000-member audience and members of the show’s cast rewarded the three with enthusiastic applause and laughter in all the right places.
Creative Genius Draws Out Creativity in Students
“Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius,” says Hohm.
“Certifiable,” says the MacArthur Foundation. In 2015, the Foundation awarded Miranda its $625,000 “genius grant” to pursue his inspirations further.
Miranda’s brilliance shines not only in his clever use of hip-hop, rap and R&B to tell the tale of our founding fathers, but also in the classroom curriculum he envisioned that prepares young audiences for the Hamilton experience. The Gilder Lehrman Institute transformed that vision into reality with the Hamilton Education Program, commonly called #EduHam. The material has students look at primary source historical texts and draw from what they learn to create original performances about some aspect of Alexander Hamilton’s story.
The students from Hohm’s class who performed at the Fox based their skit on the pistol duel between Hamilton and his political antagonist, Vice President Aaron Burr. They integrated literacy, social studies, the arts and technology to capture the story. Wrestling with the subject matter required they also practice empathy, cultural awareness and tolerance for different perspectives.
Live Theater Encourages Empathy, Expanded Perspective
Hohm (shown at right) knows the formative years provide countless opportunities for teachers to influence students’ character as well as knowledge. The theater experience is a case in point. Research out of the University of Arkansas confirms that, compared to students who watch videos, those who experience live theater are better able to recognize and appreciate what other people think and feel.
“Greenville University does an excellent job teaching future teachers to see and know the whole student,” Hohm says. He believes this begins with listening to students and valuing their unique gifts and perspectives.
“When the students in your classroom shape what and how you teach—that’s the sweet spot. That’s where change happens to everyone in the room, including the teacher.”
This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue (Big Picture, Big Challenge) of G.U.’s alumni magazine The RECORD.
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Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda courtesy of Jurvetson on Flickr.