Social studies teacher adapts ideas, skills from class into newspaper column

Finn Nowacki, Staff Writer

On just about every day of the school week, come 2:50 p.m., the bell rings, and the vast majority of students file out of their classrooms onto the buses or into their cars. As the day continues, the school slowly empties out; students leave from their clubs or practices, teachers head home to their families and the halls become quiet. At this point there are few people left. However, down the social studies hallway, there will at least be one light shining from room 287. In that room will be social studies teacher Alan Hagedorn working on something.

Hagedorn began his teaching career at Center Grove in 1995, meaning he has been a staple in this school system for the last 26 years, teaching eight different classes. Of those classes, he does not have a clear favorite.

“I am an eternal optimist, so I have trouble picking favorites. Whatever topic that I need to learn better is my favorite,” Hagedorn said. “I feed my soul by learning with my students and sharing with them what I myself don’t know and am currently learning. I love bringing fresh and new ideas into every class period.”

In all of the different classes he teaches, Hagedorn shares a similar sentiment when it comes to his favorite unit.

“Almost every year and in every class, I tell my students that the next unit is my favorite. I love to teach pre-history, anthropology, early civilizations, religions, philosophy, cities, international relations, Enlightenment reasoning, everything in economics, the American Revolution, the Progressive Movement, US civil rights battles, international organizations, the Renaissance and all art movements, …anything with values, rights, ideas and numbers,” Hagedorn said.

Art is something Hagedorn has enjoyed for a long time and has incorporated into his curriculum. In fact, he originally was an art major before deciding to switch.

“I felt like my art classes stifled my creativity. I just wanted to create too much and too fast. I took every assignment so much further than they were expecting someone to go. I was also very competitive and always worked to have the top assignment submission,” Hagedorn said. “My ‘major’ switch was also the result of an exploration of all the other options at my university. My business and economics professors really worked to get me to switch to those majors. I took career interest surveys that both said that social studies educators seemed like my first and best option. I have loved the depth and breadth of the civics-focused social studies/sciences and its social camaraderie ever since.”

Another thing that Hagedorn frequently discusses in his class is how much he has travelled and its importance.

“Travel and history opens your mind, life and experiences to more people and ideas than just everyday life,” Hagedorn said. “Through both, you can connect yourself and your mind into an ever-expanding web of existence — be a bigger you.”

To tie into this idea, one idea he incorporates into his classes is his idea of “Openescence.”

“Looking at the general topic of values, I would love for people to meaningfully investigate the values that they use in their everyday lives and to use them as valuable resources that can increase their level of purpose,” he said. “Values often seem too simple and ubiquitous, but they are powerful, invisible forces like energy.”

The idea to increase intelligence through creativity and thoughts is his favorite part of his job.

“The dynamic interplay of people and ideas. I love it when students play with ideas like kids play with cardboard boxes — dream, design, and do something with them,” Hagedorn said.

A common activity integrated into Hagedorn’s classes is writing. He often talks about his love of the activity, which is why he has begun being a regular contributor to the Daily Journal.

“A few months back, I had a ‘letter to the editor’ published — the first one in over a decade — and then the journey began. I wrote the first two articles and really didn’t know who might publish them or how. Many of my ideas have been bouncing about in my head for years,” Hagedorn said. “Once I have an idea, I set the hook at the beginning, and then I wander off into the sea of ideas hoping that I will loop around again and end up in the same boat.”

Even with all of his experience teaching, COVID has taken its effect on his class, just like many others.

“It is difficult to get as many minutes of instruction per week. During normal times, you have ‘class time’ and homework time. Those minutes have merged in the students’ minds, so they give you fewer minutes. There is less time to construct thinking frameworks in the students. Of the remaining minutes, more time is invested in acquiring content,” Hagedorn said.

With all of the time that Hagedorn has spent educating students, he does have one piece of advice for them once they walk out of Center Grove.

“Network and connect people, ideas and skills to create value, expertise and a better world… all while having fun.”