Teaching Iowa history, results in special song
Not long ago, I received a letter from Mrs. Carol Alvis, who teaches social studies at Van Buren Middle School in Keosauqua. For those not familiar with Keosauqua, it is a city of 1,100 located in very southeastern Iowa, on the Missouri border. It is home to the oldest courthouse in continuous use in the state, dating back to 1840.
Mrs. Alvis began her letter thusly: “I am writing in response to the article you wrote in the May/June issue of the Iowa History Journal magazine entitled ‘Iowa schools are flunking in history’. In that article you stated that a few years ago the Des Moines Register reported that Iowa history was being ignored in Iowa schools.
“I just want to let you know that in the Van Buren Middle School 7th grade classes, Iowa history is alive and well.”
My article also reported the fact that the Fordham Institute of Washington, D. C., gave the state of Iowa an F grade for the way it teaches its own history. It was not a good moment for Iowa pride. But the letter from Mrs. Alvis certainly helped improve my feelings on the matter when she added:
“Our curriculum allows a nine-week period to be used for Iowa history. During that time we learn about the glaciers, Native Americans, early settlers, state boundaries, state government and much more. At the end of the nine weeks the students are required to select and create a project that would illustrate what they had learned about Iowa.”
I was so impressed with the letter that I called Mrs. Alvis to learn more. I discovered that she is a dedicated and enthusiastic advocate of teaching Iowa history to young students – and that the reaction from the students in her classes is encouraging.
“Yes, they are very interested in state history,” Mrs. Alvis told me. “When I saw Iowa History Journal, it gave me the idea of maybe even starting our own magazine in class. When students see that history is basically about people, they are fascinated by the stories.”
That has always been our goal at Iowa History Journal – to make history come alive though the stories of the people who made Iowa history what it is – vibrant, intriguing, interning and, yes – fascinating.
One of her students, Sydney Atwood, wrote a song called “It’s Iowa” and Mrs. Alvis was so proud of the effort by Sydney that she sent me the lyrics to the song as well as a disk with Sydney singing it – to the tune of “Friday”, by Rebecca Black. There are two verses, a bridge verse, and three choruses.
“Sydney took most of what we covered in class and arranged that information in a very enjoyable song. I hope you enjoy it as much as her classmates.”
It was terrific! Sydney did a wonderful job of singing and the words to the song come alive with her sweet voice. My wife, Bev, and I were very impressed.
Iowa needs more teachers like Carol Alvis, who graduated from Marycrest College in Davenport and has been teaching at Van Buren schools for 18 years. Van Buren Middle School is keeping faith with the goals of the Iowa Department of Education. Though it is not mandatory that Iowa history be taught as a specific course in any Iowa schools, it is included in the content specifications for elementary schools as a part of general social.studies courses.
Ironically, Carol Alvis grew up in Ottumwa – the hometown of another Carol, one who was featured in the last issue of Iowa History Journal.
Carol Morris graced the cover of the January-February issue and was the subject of a long feature by Michael Swanger. Carol Morris attended Drake University, and in 1956 was crowned Miss Universe, becoming a state icon. I sent several copies of the magazine to Carol at her home in Texas, and she wrote back to me, saying: “You do a great job and we can really tell that you love our Iowa. Thanks for all you are doing to keep Iowa history alive.”
With people like Carol Morris, Carol Alvis and Sydney Atwood helping to remind us all how special Iowa is, the future of Iowa History Journal looks bright indeed.
(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)