Lost Ark Of Alameda
During my schooling, I often found it challenging relating to history lessons. I found the stories and documentation process very interesting, but the impact of history’s value was limited.
When I had stronger connections to the topics, the lessons had a deeper influence on how I understood and integrated the world. Two subjects that held my attention were my family history & cultural story, and the history of the music I listened to. These topics still hold my attention and I continue to research them. I discovered and researched these two subjects on my own, outside of my ‘main schooling’. This led to a strong belief in and desire for the school system to reform its philosophy around how to implement history and every subject. Living in urban America during the1980’s, where the number of incarcerations and poverty rates increased, made this pedagogical perspective an even more urgent and critical issue. Education is important for developing citizenry and maximizing a person’s potential, but the system’s version of education was seriously flawed and failing. When I had children of my own, I wanted their education to have the maximum impact I could provide. My wife and I chose to homeschool our kids. At first we had serious doubtful moments, but we’re currently fans of this option and are advocates to make homeschooling more accessible and known to interested families.
The Lost Ark of Alameda was a project that developed through osmosis. We’d moved into our home in 2010 and had purchased the home from our neighbor’s sister. In fact, when our neighbour Nancy was born she arrived directly to the house we live in. Later she moved to the house next door. Soon after we’d moved in, Nancy came over and mentioned that our house had been a houseboat. We thought nothing of it till our family friend Ron came over and said our house seemed to be a former Ark. An ark was a house on the water, either a houseboat or mounted on piers. A large colony of Arks existed in Alameda from the 1850’s till the 1950’s. Eventually, most were destroyed, and a few stood in their place or were moved.
Our house was an excellent subject to study history. The main idea was to make history relevant, accessible, and have a lasting impact. We decided to research the history of our house as a family project with our friend Ron as the project mentor. We did not only study the history of the Arks in Alameda and our homes participation in that history, but the project also branched out to include the history of our immediate neighborhood, the people that lived and still live in it, and other stories in Alameda
The initial impetus for the project was to work with a community mentor and have them lead the project, but included the perspective of making history lessons personal and relevant. Adding a mentor was part of our larger work; research and practice strategies around self education, family and community based education and homeschooling. We wanted to experiment, discover and develop best practices for families who have deep educational trauma or felt that they didn’t have the content expertise to lead projects. Educational trauma is the idea that someone isn’t smart enough to learn or teach, in particular a parent or a education facilitator.
A mentor can be anyone, but we chose a mentor of mine, Ron Mackrodt, to lead the project. Ron is a retired wood worker and professor, who has a wealth of knowledge, social capital, and a bit more time than us. At the start we thought this would be a short project on the history of our house; researching whether the house was actually an ark. This project grew to a year and a half of study and research that included a high level of investigation and a high level development of media skills and documentation. Having high expectations required that we carefully facilitated my daughter’s experience. Although a challenge at times, we really wanted her to be fully engaged. She was critical in leading much of the thinking and how to best showcase the project's outcomes. Later, we discovered having an extremely relevant subject matter didn’t equally correlate with the students interest levels. With that said, the project’s shelve life and engagement continues to exist because of the high level of relevancy. Her interest increases with time and her learning extends as we walk around our neighborhood and city. She also becomes more aware of what she has learned as we present and tell others about our project.
Our mentor initially planned a research paper and a presentation to be the final outcome, but my daughter suggested that the final result should also be more accessible to younger folks, as well as more engaging and fun for her. She proposed we produce a video documenting the subject. We ended up producing a video that captured not only the subject, but also the project’s process. Our mentor also mentioned how he grew in understanding younger folks better, and had a glimpse of a different way of teaching and learning. Along with the video, we concluded the project with a presentation at the Alameda Museum, drawing in over a hundred people in the audience. We also generated a website on the Arks of Alameda that contains resources and links, including local archived articles we digitized. Additionally, we developed a social media presence to promote and communicate any further events and developments.