I posted a story not too long ago about a group of students who traveled to a plantation in Georgia to listen to reenactors demonstrate their artillery pieces. No indication was given that they learned anything at all about life on the plantation. Now I am the first to admit that I may be making something out of nothing, but these little trips that are designed simply to entertain are disturbing to me. Here is another story of a group in South Carolina:
About 1,500 children from schools across the midlands had class outside, on a rolling pasture in Calhoun County. They each received two flags: the American flag they all knew, and the Confederate flag they were about to learn about. “Our great American history deserves an opportunity for our young people to understand their heritage,” said Jeff O’Cain. “We’re trying to stress what life was like in the 1860′s, when 650,000 Americans killed each other,” said O’Cain. The clothing, the health-care, even the popcorn of the 1860’s made the day’s lessons. It was a snapshot of American life in the mid-nineteenth century, punctuated by cannons firing in the field. “They were loud, really loud,” said fourth grader Danielle Davies of the cannons. “But I covered my ears."
What does it mean for students to learn about their heritage as opposed to their history? What exactly makes Jeff O’Cain qualified to say anything beyond what their teachers should be able to convey to their students. I have no problem with a demonstration of Civil War weaponry. I would love to know, however, what Mr. O’Cain means by "understand their heritage." My guess is that he did not touch on much beyond the battlefield and the role of race and slavery. Please don’t suggest that the kids can’t handle a discussion about these issues. I’ve read too many stories about the classroom – including the one just a few days ago on the college student who complained about having to learn about the Civil Rights Movement – to believe that they do not collectively represent our continued inability or unwillingness to grapple with the divisive issue of racism and slavery in our history classes.