Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lincoln Without the Sugar Coating

TAH’s Encounters and Exchanges, the predecessor to History Connected, began five years ago. It’s first history book club discussion group read Founding Myths by Ray Raphael. The presentation, Race and the Civil War, given by Professor Patrick Kelly of University of Texas at San Antonio at History Connected’s summer institute, made me think it would be fitting to include Lincoln, as his Gettysburg address initiates the re-founding of the United States, recalling the sacred principles of 1776, in this book.

Professor Kelly opened with the idea that Lincoln is the victim of his myth, -that he was, from the start, a hero to the slaves, their champion, working for and in their best interest- which unfortunately overshadows two of his greatest qualities, the evolution of his thought and his role in the transformation of the US to a multicultural democracy. Professor Kelly used the Freedmen’s Monument in Lincoln Park to illustrate this myth. A picture of this monument would serve as a great hook. Perhaps your essential questions could be, “How is Lincoln remembered?” and “How should Lincoln be remembered?” In opening a lesson with a picture of the Freedmen’s Monument, you could use the following questions to guide a student discussion in pursuit of these essential questions, “What is the message of the statue?,” “What is the purpose of the monument?,” and “What are the different interpretations of the monument?”.

Professor Kelly used two primary source documents that reveal insight into how Lincoln should be remembered. In an August 22, 1862 letter written in response to critique from the editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, Lincoln explains and defends his interpretation of his duty as President, to save the Union. (In analyzing this document, a great starting point would be to ask students to county how many times Lincoln uses this language/idea.) This focus of Lincoln’s letter is essential to understanding not only his interpretation of his constitutional responsibilities but of how he gained public support for the war. Though some Northerners were against slavery, it didn’t mean that they cared about the individual slave. I constantly remind my students of this reality, that though whites were willing to die in defense of their country, very few would be willing to die for an African American. It’s a harsh reality, but illustrates the constituency that voted for Lincoln in 1860 and he would need them to vote again for him in 1864.

Professor Kelly paired this source with Frederick Douglass’s “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln,” April 14, 1867, which was delivered at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument. Frederick Douglass puts it out there, reminding people, in light of the statue of Lincoln guiding an African American up from his knees and out of his chains, that Lincoln was a politician, doing what he needed to do for his people. The words of Douglass seemed to sting at first, it was almost blasphemous to me to present Lincoln with the sugar coating of his myth.

So where does that leave Lincoln? No fear, we can still keep him on a pedestal. Professor Kelly ended his presentation in stressing that the greatness of Lincoln was that he was a flawed person from a flawed society, but he launched America into a new, multicultural democratic nation. As the idea of myths in history have been popular in the history classroom, hooking students’ interest with the real story, perhaps, this lesson idea would be an interesting continuation of this thread throughout your curriculum. I know I am interested to see how my students interact with these documents and their understanding of Lincoln and American society develops!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Institute 2011

After this past weeks summer institute I plan to incorporate two of our trips to a course that I am slowly but surely putting together for my history department at my high school. The course that I have been putting together is a local history course. In this course we will be examining our immediate local history in Wilmington and then expanding to outer cities like Lowell, Boston, Lawrence, etc. I also would eventually like to incorporate other New England states like New Hampshire and maybe even Maine someday.

The two trips that we were able to take advantage of during our History Connected Summer Institute have provided me with great resources and information that I plan to incorporate into this course. Beginning with the trip to the city of Lowell, it was so fascinating to see all of the war memorials and history that was in the city. I immediately focus on industry when I teach about Lowell, but another angle of history we could incorporate would be how the city/society dealt with American conflict/wars over time.

The other trip that I would love to include in this course was to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I believe that our students would gain a great deal (military history) if they were able to visit the Naval Shipyard. The history that has taken place in that Naval Shipyard alone is such an intriguing story, I am positive that our students would be engaged. Starting in 1800 and continuing today, this shipyard is so rich in history, it defines our country and how it has faired throughout our times of success and struggle.

The last portion of our trip was to Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH., which provides us with social history and views during the events that have taken place in our country beginning in 1630 up until present day. We were able to take a tour of Fitz John Porter: Civil War Hero or Coward? and trace the life and military career of Porter. This activity is something our students would engage themselves in and take a great deal away from it. We were also able to witness the construction of a wooden vessel (gundalow) at the Puddle Dock which is part of the history of the Piscataqua shipbuilding process over the past 300 years. Also, Strawbery Banke provided us with some great social history from the World War I and II time period. The experience that we had in the Rationing Store and the Victory Gardens were great hands on experiences. Our students would be amazed at the sacrifices that took place during these times and how much war really did impact society at that time. I am optimistic that I will be able to share these experiences with my student someday through a local history course.

The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides

After reading the book Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered from All Sides by Christian Appy, I was very impressed. Appy provides his readers with multiple perspectives on the Vietnam War, including various political and military viewpoints. This is a quality that is seldom found in historian’s works, but one which I value very much.

From a teacher’s perspective it is nice to find a book on a historical event in which the historian provides all sides of the incident. Much like the book Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II by Ronald Takaki, which we had been previously assigned, my students are able to read specific assigned chapters and use them to argue or write about their point of view. After reading the book Patriots, I have decided to use three different sections of this book along with some of the scenes from the movie We Were Soldiers. In teaching about the Vietnam War, I have assigned my student three specific sections of the book Patriots. I am going to have them read all three of these sections and then compare the reading with one of the extra scenes from We Were Soldiers.

Before introducing the video, I am going to have my students read pages 130 -135, the Dennis Deal. They will analyze the quote at the beginning and then discuss their thoughts on the section of the text. I will bring up issues such as the Vietnamese tradition of Death Day and issues our soldiers were confronted with, such as guilt, trauma, and they dealt with it. Following this discussion we will preview some of the deleted scenes from We Were Soldiers. The following class I will assign them the “Henry Prunier reading on page 38. We will also discuss this reading and proceed to watch the actual movie We Were Soldiers.

 Lastly, I plan to incorporate the final section of this book when I am discussing the Cold War. I am assigning my students to read pages 87-89, which deals with Sergei Khrushchev and his views on his father and the issues in Vietnam.  After reading Patriots, I immediately have incorporated three different sections of this book into my teaching. I look forward to using more portions of this book in the future and I am glad that were introduced to such a great resource.

Connection to MA Frameworks: US II 20. Explain the causes, course, and consequences of the Vietnam War and summarize the diplomatic and military policies of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

War of 1812 Through the Eyes of Children... and Primary Source Analysis Skills Too!

Although I am also a participant, I had to opportunity and honor of presenting a breakout workshop at this year's History Connected summer institute.  Since the focus of the institute this year is on the impact that American wars have had on American society, I reached back into my files from a few years ago when I taught U.S. history in 8th grade to find a webquest I created on the War of 1812.  Teachers got to "play student" and take part in a shortened version of the 4 day lesson.  Click the screen shot below to see the webquest website.

Here is a brief day by day guide of the primary sources and analysis skills that students use as they complete the 4 day webquest.

Day 1: Introduction to the Webquest and Madison's Declaration of War

Students choose to be either Eliza or Joshua.  Both are 14-year-olds living in the United States before and during the war.  

Then the students move on to reading Madison's war message explaining his reasons for asking Congress to declare war.  Since the lesson was written for heterogeneous classes of 8th graders, I needed to find a way to break down the speech into manageable parts. So, I put excerpts of the speech in a worksheet with missing words or phrases.  Students had to skim the speech for the excerpts to fill in the missing information and then answer guided questions that helped them understand the meaning of Madison's words.

After completing this analysis, students wrote a half page journal entry from the perspective of Eliza or Joshua reacting to the news and incorporating some of the reasons for war from the primary source into their writing.

Day 2: Old Ironsides - U.S.S. Constitution & the H.M.S. Guerriere

After reading some brief historical background on the importance of the battle between these two frigates early in the war, students read Oliver Wendell Holmes' peom Old Ironsides, which was actually written as a memorial several decades later.  Holmes remembers the reactions of his fellow Americans in his childhood during the actual war.  Reading 19th century poetry is daunting for 8th graders.  So this time, students are asked to choose one stanza and translate its meaning into their own words.  Then, as with Day 1, students write a half page journal entry from the perspective of either Eliza or Joshua reacting to the American victory and huge boost in morale.

Day 3: The Burning of Washington D.C.

On the third day students experience a big let down after the huge victory of the U.S.S. Constitution early in the war.  The British successfully blockaded the entire Atlantic coast, and then captured and burned the capital, Washington D.C.  This time students look at an engraving and political cartoon that were created at the time reacting to the events.  They also read First Lady Dolley Madison's letter to her sister expressing her fears as the British approached the city.  To understand the significance of the images, students are either asked to identify items in them or to recognize the mood of each image to interpret the reactions that people had at the time.  For Dolley Madison's letter, students once again scan for excerpt in order to complete them and then answer questions about them.  Finally, once again, they write a half page journal entry from the perspective of Eliza or Joshua reacting to the horrible news.

Day 4: Fort McHenry & the Star Spangled Banner

On the last day of the exercise students learn about the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the events that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would eventually become our national anthem.  Once again, 19th century poetry is not the most engaging content for 8th graders, so they are asked to choose one of the stanzas that we do not sing as part of the anthem song and put it into their own words.  It helps students to understand that although the bombardment caused major destruction, the fact that Americans held the fort served as an inspiration to carry on.  Students then write one last journal entry reacting once again.

Hopefully, after completing the 4 day exercise, students will understand the variety of emotions that can be triggered by war.  Typically there is enthusiasm at the start when people believe in the cause.  Early victories, like the U.S.S. Constitution, can fuel that fire.  But devastating defeats, such as the burning of Washington, tend to give people a dose of the realities of war and they might even start questioning whether the war is worth the cost.  The activity gives students, who have never experienced wartime sacrifice, some empathy.  In order for students to truly understand, and hopefully remember, history they need to be able to relate to the people who lived it.  Hopefully, this activity gave them an opportunity to do just that.