Dr. Joe Russell, Plano East Senior High School American Studies Teacher, Selected for "Memorializing the Fallen" an Elite Teacher Professional Development Program of WWI Study and Travel
The Memorializing the Fallen program works in conjunction with National History Day and invites 18 educators from around the country to embark on a week-long trip around France to learn more about the history of the war and those who served. Dr. Joe Russell American studies teacher at Plano East Senior High School has been selected to participate in 2019.
See Below Dr. Russell's philosophy of education and his interest in World War I as submitted with his application for program selection.
Interest in World War I
Dr. Joe Russell, Interest in World War I
As a history buff with an overactive imagination, World War I was the subject that eluded me as a kid. Why was I expected to spend so much time learning about World War II if it was the second one? I could talk to lots of people my grandpa’s age who could tell me all about WWII, but I did not know any vets of The Great War who could tell me their stories.
In college, a professor asked the most intriguing question about World War I that I had ever been asked to consider and one that I still ask my students every year when I teach it. How is world history different if Gavrilo Princip had stayed home that morning? It was then that I understood what I had wanted out of history learning all along. I wanted to know the story of ordinary people and how their seemingly little lives and small choices could alter the entire course of the world for good or ill. Is it as simple as a scared teenager doing something stupid that makes The Great War happen? Of course not. But it is not totally irrelevant either.
Somebody said once that if you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. If that is true, then how do we still not fully appreciate how much of a turning point for humankind World War I truly was? Not just in the passing away of old styles of warfare or rules for it or in the adoption of new weaponry and tactics, but rather, how that conflict altered our understanding of reality by the profound impact it left on real, ordinary people. I am no Hemingway. I cannot convey the profound loss of innocence or psychological trauma wrought on humanity by slaughter on that scale. In the end, I am just a history teacher trying to make history matter to young people. And I am still just a curious kid who wants to understand how ordinary human beings made choices that led to slaughter on so horrible a scale.
Philosophy of Education
Dr. Joe Russell, Philosophy of Education
I will confess that I have always found the statement of my philosophy of education to be slightly maddening. When I was asked for it as a new teacher, I felt like I was trying to sell myself and when I came up short in the effort, my consolation was the certainty that that was not what the job was about anyway. But the truth of the matter is that I just struggled to articulate what my purpose as an educator really was. I knew I needed to have a firm grasp of and love for my content. I knew I needed to love my kids and impart a love of history to them. But beyond that, I just could not articulate why I did what I did for a living and why it mattered.
Thankfully, after 13 years in the profession and a doctorate in education research, I have finally been able to capture my philosophy and to make it make sense to others. I believe that the central role of education lies not in curriculum, but in pedagogy. In its Greek origins, pedagogy means to lead a child. So, while curriculum is a powerful and important tool, its purpose is not for its own sake but for growing young people into more complete thinkers and active participants in their own lives. When conceptualized in that fashion, education becomes the process of mentoring young people towards self-realization and self-actualization. Put more plainly, as educators, it is our job to determine the path our students take. Instead, it is our responsibility to help students find that path in life for themselves and to make a decision to walk it with open eyes and willing hearts. When they do that, I truly believe that they will then naturally find their own calling described by Aristotle as the intersection of personal passion and the needs of humanity as a whole. When that comes together for a young person and they become the person they are meant to be, then that becomes the clearest testament to the worthiness of our craft.