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Many museum educators have been re-evaluating their approach to teens since the publication of 15-year-old Howard Hwang’s blog post “Why Museums Suck.”

By Amy Budge

Many museum educators have been re-evaluating their approach to teens since the publication of 15-year-old Howard Hwang’s blog post “Why Museums Suck.” Few museums are targeting this audience effectively, let alone historic sites. High school visits often consist of a tour and worksheet, leaving students unengaged and frustrated. For teens, the day was spent in a place that talks about a history they cannot relate to. What could have been an enriching experience, turns into another task about as exciting as homework. Teens want something they can latch on to and take ownership of. History, especially that of a church, can be related to so many things that are socially and culturally relevant to the lives of teens. At the Old North Church, we are embracing the untold stories of congregants to create an educational program for high school students that will go beyond the average lesson plan to highlight the social inequalities people faced in colonial times and relate it to the struggles teens face today.

To our potential students we ask: “If you were a colonial member of the church, where would you like to sit?”

Naturally, the choices will vary, but the answer is not so simple as personal preference. Race, gender, and income are all factors that will determine what pew you are allowed to sit in. For the wealthy merchants and captains, dishing out couple hundred pounds for something they want is simply second nature. While these wealthy men made up a significant portion of the church population, what about those who had to pool their money in order to get an adequate pew? Or those who silently attended, tucked into the galleries with little record of existence? The women and African Americans of the Old North have a different story to tell, one that is representative of society at large. Women and free African Americans faced discrimination in their daily lives and in their church. That did not stop them from participating in something they believed in. Teens today face ageism, along with other forms of discrimination, but that should not stop them from being who they are and taking part in something they are passionate about.

The lesson will combine history, civics, and social theory to help students foster an understanding of colonial and present times. Grounded in the Massachusetts History and Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks, the lesson will target essential skills high school students need to in order to succeed at the college level. Students will use primary source documents from the Old North Church record collection to establish a base understanding of social structures within the church. These documents, along with guiding questions, will facilitate a conversation between students about their personal experiences and perspectives about social stratification. By initially asking students to step outside themselves and imagine a different time period, they will be able to better understand the issues they are facing today.

Hours of research are going into the development of this program in hopes that teen students will be inspired to make connections between history and personal experience throughout their lives and to bring change to their communities.

The program is being developed by education intern Amy Budge. Amy is a second-year master’s candidate in Museum Education at Tufts University. She is currently completing her internship requirement at the Old North Church and is excited to be working with a team of dedicated individuals.