Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Turning the Tables: Educators Become Students at UK Seminars 

Demarest, NJ: While the Academy of the Holy Angels was closed for the summer hiatus, educators Nancy Schneberger and Gail Fair shifted gears and took to the students’ seats at two different history seminars. As recipients of the highly competitive Teachers Seminars grants sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, both women attended programs in the United Kingdom.

Schneberger, chair of the AHA English Department, took part in “The Age of Lincoln” at Oxford University. This program, led by Professor Richard Carwardine, president emeritus of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, focused on President Abraham Lincoln’s political life. The seminar also included guest lectures from experts on the American Civil War era.

“(Lincoln) lived what we term growth mindset,” Schneberger said, referring to the success strategy/belief system described by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. “He was not afraid to take on challenges. He didn’t let failure stop him.”

In his effort to maintain the Union, she added, Lincoln was willing to try different methods.

“He was tenacious,” Schneberger added. “He knew how to uplift people and inspire others.”

Schneberger was pleasantly surprised to learn of Lincoln’s sharp sense of humor, adding, “I gained new respect for Lincoln.”

The educator explained that part of her summer program included the development of lesson plans in collaboration with other seminar participants. One of the perks of this program, she noted, was the access to primary source documents.

“We had access to areas of Oxford and documents not typically available to the general public,” Schneberger commented.

Those documents, both public and private, revealed a common man whose actions were deeply rooted in social justice, Schneberger discovered. Her group’s examination of the Lincoln Douglass debates further revealed the 16th President’s charismatic style.

Schneberger plans to share her new insights with Holy Angels colleagues and students, particularly as her classes analyze the Gettysburg Address for Lincoln’s rhetorical strategies and explore the social and political context of topics being covered. Her American literature curriculum includes an exploration of American Civil War era works with an eye toward the challenges of racism and sexism.

Thirty-five participants from around the world, including South Africa, Taiwan, and various parts of the United States, were chosen to attend this seminar.

Previously, Schneberger participated in a Fulbright seminar in Tübingen, Germany, and a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar in Vienna, Austria. She has been teaching at AHA for 28 years and was named department chair in 2000.

Fair, who is chairperson of the AHA History Department, attended “Thomas Jefferson and the Enlightenment” at the University of Edinburgh with 27 teachers from several areas of the United States, including California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Colorado.

Under the leadership of University of Edinburgh Professor of American History Frank Cogliano, the seminar attendees analyzed the negative and positive aspects of Jefferson’s life. According to Fair, the most notable negatives were Jefferson’s ownership of slaves and his relationship with Sally Hemmings. On the positive side of the ledger, Fair reported that the group appreciated Jefferson’s contributions as a diplomat in France, his belief in religious freedom, his input as a founding father of the United States, and his work as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence.

“Much of early American history is taught through the influence of the British laws, philosophy, and culture. However, when Jefferson attended the College of William & Mary, his introduction to Enlightenment thought came from his professor who emigrated from Scotland, William Small. Scottish thinkers like David Hume and Adam Smith made a profound difference in American thought as well,” Fair noted.

“Because I teach both U.S. History 1 and Advanced Placement Government and Politics, the material that was the essence of this seminar will be invaluable in my classroom. Fresh perspectives and newer scholarly materials that were examined while in Edinburgh will be included in my classes,” she added.

The group examined the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s papers from his years as governor of Virginia to his death, and his letters to John Adams. 

One of the presenters at this seminar was Sir Thomas Devine, Scotland’s leading historian and expert on Scotland’s global influence.

“His presentation encompassed topics like the range of innovation in Scottish thinkers from economics, sociology, architecture, anthropology, and engineering. These thinkers expressed the demand for toleration because of the sectarian conflicts between the Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths,” Fair said of Devine.

“Being chosen for this program was an honor,” she added. “The interaction among the educators from all over the United States and the quality of the seminar were outstanding. Sharing best practices with other teachers and having the opportunity to interact with professors from Edinburgh made this a rewarding experience.”While in Scotland, Fair spent a day with teacher Ian Stanton of Glenthroes, a high school in Fyfe that participated in Skype sessions with Fair’s AP Government and Politics class in 2012 and 2016.

Fair has been teaching at Holy Angels for 20 years, and has been the head of her department for most of that time. She previously received a Teacher Seminars grant in 2003.  

The Academy of the Holy Angels is a Gilder Lehrman Affiliate School, a designation that allows AHA educators to apply for the prestigious Teacher Seminars program.

Since 1879, thousands of women have passed through the portals of Academy of the Holy Angels high school, the oldest private girls’ school in New Jersey. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. Our goal is to provide each girl with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and giving service to others.




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