Teacher Completes Summer C-SPAN Fellowship

Michael Horwits (Photo by Ashley Zeserman)

Over 24 years as a social studies teacher, Michael Horwits has developed an effective approach to his craft.

“Get the kids to think and be analytical,” said Horwits, now in his 17th year at Central High School in Philadelphia.

So in July, during his vacation from school, Horwits spent three weeks exploring methods and source materials for stimulating young minds.

The Jewish teacher was one of five educators across the country selected for C-SPAN’s Summer Fellows program. He received a $1,000 stipend for participating.

In the program, which was remote due to the pandemic situation, the teachers used the cable channel’s deep library of primary source materials to develop classroom lessons.

Then they would meet once or twice a week with C-SPAN’s team to discuss their projects.
Horwits’ main project was a March Madness-style bracket in which students can rank all 46 U.S. presidents. For the lesson’s opening activity, he compiled a series of clips of scholars and other experts explaining their own rankings.

“You get kids to think, are these accurate?” Horwits said. “And if they were different, how would they be different?”

And then they fill out the bracket. It’s both thought-provoking and fun, according to the Philadelphia teacher.

“Kids should have fun,” he added.

During the fellowship, Horwits also put together clips of experts talking about initial public offerings, the stock market and other financial topics during congressional hearings.

Central students have been asking teachers for units on personal finance in recent years. In response, Horwits started using a lesson on investment options. But he wants to go deeper on the subject because of its applicability to real life.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the kids,” he said. “We have to help future generations.”

In 2009, Horwits discovered that C-SPAN could be a valuable resource. He applied for and received a visit to Central from the public affairs channel’s educational bus.

The teacher brought his students onto the bus to listen and ask questions to C-SPAN employees. Students learned what it was like to be in a congressional hearing and part of a television broadcast. The C-SPAN team also explained how the nonprofit got federal money to continue operating.

After that visit, Horwits started digging into C-SPAN Classroom, the channel’s online database for educators, for primary source materials. Once he found good materials, he began building lessons around them.

For a lesson on Supreme Court cases, Horwits pulled clips of scholars talking about Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 decision that established the Constitution as a basis for legal rulings.
For a lesson on federalism, the teacher compiled clips of experts talking about our labyrinthine system of federal, state and local governments, as well as who has responsibility over voting laws.

And for a more recent lesson on whether the federal government should forgive student debt, Horwits put together a list of videos of a Washington Post reporter, a Temple University professor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, U.S. Sen. John Thune and a George Mason University fellow discussing the issue from different angles.

“Six perspectives,” he said. “All different areas.”

During the pandemic, Horwits started using C-SPAN’s library not just for select lessons, but on a regular basis. From a virtual distance, it was a great way to keep students focused on class materials, as opposed to all the non-school distractions around them at home.

This past spring, Horwits spotted the fellowship opportunity on C-SPAN’s website. He applied in May and heard back in June.

Michael Horwits at Central’s graduation at the Kimmel Center in 2017. (Photo by Ashley Zeserman)

“This is right in line with his M.O.,” said William Graham, Horwits’ social studies colleague at Central. “There’s nothing better than hearing right from the horse’s mouth with policymakers and people like that.”

Graham also said that, in the age of social media, and its blizzard of information and misinformation, Horwits’ approach is more important than ever.

“Just to be able to analyze it yourself,” Graham concluded. “What’s your take on this? What was the president doing here?”

jsaffren@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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