May 19, 2014
A recent Washington Post article shares the impact of a project funded by the Humanities Council – history education lessons based on the book ‘Dream City’ that teaches students the history of the city. Read more below.
Two decades ago, after then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry’s infamous arrest for smoking crack cocaine at the Vista Hotel, local journalists Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe published a book that chronicled Barry’s life and the history of the District of Columbia.
Long out of print, “Dream City” has remained a defining account of the District’s struggles for civil rights and self-governance and against crack and violence. Now it’s available as an e-book, and there is a push to get it into the hands of high school students to help them understand the roots of the fast-changing city they call home.
“There’s no way you’re going to be a teenager reading this book and not have questions, or have something hook you,” said Cosby Hunt, a native Washingtonian and former D.C. history teacher who now works for the Center for Inspired Teaching.
With help from a D.C. Humanities Council grant, Hunt wrote lessons to accompany “Dream City” and then recruited history teachers at traditional, charter and private schools to teach the book. The effort culminated last Thursday evening at Martin Luther King Jr. Library, where dozens of students gathered to hear from the authors of the book.
“I’m gratified by you all, the teachers and the students,” Jaffe said. He added that he is “blown away and in awe” that they are reading the book.
Jaffe and Sherwood wrote “Dream City” to explain local Washington, a city with a history and a culture apart from official Washington. Jaffe calls it the city behind the monuments, and Sherwood calls it the most un-American place in America, thanks to the District’s lack of voting power.
“Americans across the country don’t see you, they don’t know you, they don’t know you’re voteless, they don’t know you have lives,” Sherwood told students in the audience Thursday. “I was hoping that our book could help give a sense that this is a place.”
Bernadette DeSario, a history teacher at Coolidge High, said that the book triggered a “level of outrage and inquiry” among students, who felt a personal connection to many of the events they read.
-Emma Brown, Washington Post