Taking Students to the Source

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Daniel Freund did not always want to be a teacher. And during his first few months of teaching 9th graders, he faced his share of challenges, with exhaustion ranking high on the list. But now, just as his second year at Bard High School Early College is winding up, he said he is more than happy with his choice.

“I’m not one of those people who will tell you I wanted to do this for my whole life,” Freund said. “I didn’t know I wanted to do this until I started doing it.”

Freund, 33, received his Ph.D. in American history with a specialization in urban history from Columbia University in 2007. He came straight to Bard to teach.
“It wound up being a fortunate fit,” he said. “I love it here.”

His students, it seems, feel similarly.

“Dr. Freund is persistently energetic, spikes curiosity and is responsive to students,” said Alyssa Freeman, a 15-year-old high school freshman in Freund’s American history class. “He arrives at school everyday by 7:30 a.m., available to help any student who requires assistance with writing. He has a wonderful sense of humor and manages to perk up even the most exhausted and worn out teenagers.”

When students start to doze off in class, Freund claps his hands and starts telling the students a personal story to give them a little break from the heavy material, Freeman said. Once he has their attention, he returns to the lesson.

It is more than just a commitment to students, according to Freeman, that makes Freund a good teacher; it is his ability to make the material interesting. To teach about the assembly line, Freund had his students act out the role of factory workers in class, making them pass along papers to each other again and again. Learning about the Cold War was more than just reading from a textbook; the class watched Atomic Café, a documentary on the era of nuclear warfare.

In fact, Feund stays away from textbooks entirely. Instead, he creates his own compilation of readings made up of primary sources that include speeches, meeting minutes, declarations and court decisions.

“For me, the first thing you do is you start with interesting material,” he said. “I encourage students how to learn what historians do first, learn about American history second and then learn how to ask these questions themselves.”

Mark Lilla, the parent of one of Freund’s students, said he was initially concerned when his daughter, Sophie, said she had no textbook in her American history class. Lilla, who is a professor of humanities at Columbia University, soon got over his fears when he saw the sources Freund picked.

“While the students are learning American history, they are also learning what it is to try to write history,” Lilla said. “I was just so impressed that a teacher teaching children that young would take the time to do it that way.”

Bard High School Early College accepts students looking to do college- level work at an early age. Freund said that the advanced level of teaching has enabled him to treat his students as if they were in a university, and to provide them with a richer curriculum than the traditional high school textbooks.

“If you take inquisitive students and ask them good questions, then it will be better for us as teachers and it will be better for them, and ultimately that’s the way to teach,” he said.

Daniel Freund
History, Bard High School Early College

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