As a middle school teacher, I'm always looking for opportunities to blend together subject areas for authentic learning. Think about this. School is the only place in life where we separate thinking into little boxes. Math is in this little box. Science is in this one. Reading's over here. We do History in that little box down the hall. You get the idea.

In real life, our thinking and learning is limited only by our chosen interests. We read to learn history and do math to perform science. All our academic skills are used simultaneously to get us through each day and to think critically about life's important decisions.

My son once told me, "Mom, the only reason we learn to read, write and do math is so that we can do science." I replied, "Actually, son, we learn to read, write and do math so that we can do social studies." In fact, I see no line between the hard and the social sciences.

I recently stumbled across an interdisciplinary masterpiece. It's On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The basketball great has authored of several previous books, but this thought-provoking description of Harlem brings autobiographical authenticity to a unique chapter in our shared American history. This captivating curriculum blends music, visual arts, literature, film and, yes, basketball.

This interdisciplinary project is a work of art in itself. It teaches real history, an unbiased history of the Americans who migrated to Harlem and created a vibrant subculture of jazz music, prose and poetry. It places the black social movement in perspective, instead of concentrating solely on the Civil Rights struggle in the south. And, yes, it teaches the history of American basketball with an unprecedented fresh approach.

Kareem was the closing speaker at the recent National Council for the Social Studies in Denver. He described his life-long desire to be a history teacher to a receptive audience of teachers. After all, he majored in History and English at UCLA.

I was among several Colorado Social Studies teachers who helped stuff about 2,500 gift bags to promote his current project, so I've got the hardback book and four CD's full of prose and poetry, recordings of actual voices of the Harlem Renaissance, and music by jazz greats. Contemporary voices such as Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones, and Samuel L. Jackson, to name just a few, add insight in their conversations with Kareem. Oh yeah, I learned how much I didn't know about basketball.

On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance is soon to be released as a documentary film - a must see for me. Any one interested American history or relevant, engaging interdisciplinary teaching should check this out.


-Sally High