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Who is right when it comes to civil rights?

Foreign exchange student Ander Goiburu, 17, is in JD Sweet and Elizabeth Blandin’s American Studies class at Central Kitsap High School and while he has always learned back home in Spain that Americans are proud of their culture and certain aspects such as the flag, when he learns otherwise, it is surprising.

“It’s a culture shock,” said Goiburu, who is from Northeastern Spain.

The new course is being offered this school year by Sweet, a U.S. history teacher, and Blandin, an American literature teacher. They teamed up to offer American Studies to juniors.

The course goes beyond the basics to incorporate a better understanding of the American culture including the history of music, sports, movies and television shows into the curriculum.

One section of students receive the history portion of the lesson from Sweet while another receives the literary end from Blandin and then they switch so that students get back-to-back instruction from the teachers.

For activities, such as guest speakers or last week’s introduction to the course’s big project, the teachers instruct together to the entire group of students for a larger block of time.

For the course’s culminating project, students will research 18 items for a portfolio and then select one item they will focus their final presentation on.

The objective is for students to conduct research using primary documents, literature, art and music to examine the philosophical ideal regarding human and civil rights in the Declaration of Independence. Their presentation will be in front of their peers as well as community members during finals week in June.

Sweet encouraged his students last Thursday to not take the project lightly since students will be presenting their findings to those outside of the school as well.

“This is going to be more than just a presentation,” he said. “The community members will know those stories.”

Students have several categories to begin their research in such as general civil rights and women’s rights to immigration and Native American, among others.

Austin Rogers said he wasn’t sure what he would focus his presentation on, but that it would probably have something to do with music. The 16-year-old said he plays worship music at his church and music is a way that he likes to express himself.

“I’m not good at writing, but I’m able to express through music,” he said.

Sweet gave an example presentation to the class on the U.S. dollar bill and the meanings behind the various symbols on it. He then performed the song “E Pluribus Unum” by The Last Poets, which puts the dollar bill in an entirely different light from what the founding fathers had in mind. With lyrics such as “But the dollar bill is their only God, And they don’t even trust each other, For a few dollars more they’d start a war,” Sweet’s presentation gave a different perspective.

“These songs, you can listen to them and they can stand on their own,” Blandin said, adding that they can also have more meaning and depth if people pay attention — and do research.

The two teachers reminded their students to figure out what the motivation was behind the reason people put together a song, a protest — or whatever the act may have been.

Aside from the research the students will need to do for this project, narrowing down their research to one focus for their presentation may be difficult for some.

“I want to understand a lot of things,” said Andrew Carlson, 17. “I don’t want to sit on one topic.”

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