Difficult Subjects: K-12 Teaching Institute

Difficult Subjects: K-12 Teaching Institute

Communities of Practice

About the Difficult Subjects:
K-12 Teaching Institute

The Difficult Subjects: K-12 Teaching Institute brings together elementary, middle and high school teachers from Central Ohio for an exploration of multidisciplinary approaches to understanding and teaching a difficult subject in America’s past and present.

'Difficult subjects' are those that center on the experiences of historically-marginalized groups in America — experiences that have had a profound effect on the lives of marginalized people, not only over the course of individual lifetimes but across multiple generations. These experiences have also significantly shaped the contours and trajectory of American society as a whole. To teach the American experience accurately and effectively, difficult subjects have to be unpacked and explored.

Why multidisciplinary? 

Content workshops are the heart of the institute. These will be led by scholars from Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences who have expertise in history, literature, art, music and performance. Recognizing the value of practice, the institute also brings in teaching experts to share pedagogical techniques, as well as multicultural curriculum developers to provide instruction on complementing and supplementing State of Ohio standards pertaining to difficult subjects.

Program design

Teaching difficult subjects accurately and effectively is extremely hard. The material tends to be challenging intellectually and emotionally for all who engage it. Rather than approach difficult subjects from the top down, the institute approaches these topics from the bottom-up and the inside-out, spotlighting the experiences and perspectives of historically-marginalized and maligned groups. The format draws heavily on culturally-responsive teaching methodologies that can be applied to teaching difficult subjects in person and remotely, synchronously and asynchronously. 

Having elementary, middle and high school teachers as a part of the institute reflects the guiding pedagogical belief that teaching difficult subjects effectively requires scaffolding, or introducing difficult subjects to students early in their educational journey and complicating their understanding of these subjects as they mature. Having teachers who specialize in a range of arts and humanities subjects also reflects a fundamental pedagogical belief that difficult subjects are best learned across the curriculum, rather than in isolated subject areas.

The institute works intentionally to foster community among the teacher participants. The goal is to enhance the learning experience of the teacher participants by cultivating group-centered relationships over the course of the program through multiple meetings: starting with online webinars, continuing with an experiential-learning field trip and culminating with a multi-day, on-campus, curriculum-development workshop.

“In a time when teachers are being pressured to dismiss rather than discuss historical experiences and people’s identities, teaching difficult subjects has become unusually hard. Multidisciplinary approaches provide a way out of this morass. For teachers, multi-disciplinary approaches enable teaching topics from different angles, thereby avoiding many current political pitfalls while still teaching challenging content honestly, accurately and effectively. In other words, art, music, literature and creative writing can all be used to teach a difficult social studies subject like slavery.”

Difficult Subjects Director and associate professor of history

Institute goals

  • GOAL ONE Deepen K-12 teachers’ knowledge of the complexity and centrality of difficult subjects in the American experience.
  • GOAL TWO Facilitate curriculum development for teaching difficult subjects in accordance with state standards.
  • GOAL THREE Share best practices for teaching difficult subjects and develop new practices in collaboration with the teacher participants.

About the director

Photograph of man standing in front of a stained glass window

Hasan Kwame Jeffries is the director of the Difficult Subjects: K-12 Institute and an associate professor of African American history at The Ohio State University. He is the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt. From 2010-2014, Jeffries served as the lead historian and scriptwriter for the $27 million renovation of the National Civil Rights Museum  in Memphis, Tennessee. He has conducted teacher development workshops across the country and edited Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement. He has also worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance division to produce a major national report entitled Teaching Hard History: American Slavery. Jeffries has made media appearances locally and nationally and served as a featured historian on the Emmy-nominated documentary, Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise.


Additional information

If teachers in your district are interested in participating in this institute, please have your district administrator reach out to Director Hasan Kwame Jeffries (jeffries.57@osu.edu).

Teacher participants will receive a $1,000 stipend for successfully completing the institute. A disbursement of $500 will be made at the onset of the program, and a disbursement of $500 will be made in summer. Teachers may also be eligible for Continuing Education Units.

Email Director Hasan Kwame Jeffries at jeffries.57@osu.edu