I was a bit surprised when a couple of students on my recent Civil War trip attempted to purchase Confederate flags at one of the gift shops. Without giving it much thought I intercepted the students at the checkout counter and gently reminded them to think about the history that we had already examined as well as the talk on the history of the Confederate flag that I presented to the entire school. These students were not mean-spirited and perhaps it was just a case of boys being boys, but I did want them to do a little reflection before making the purchase.
Neither student made the purchase, but if it had been made I would have insisted that the flags be kept out of sight. I stand by this decision. I’ve said before that I wish gift shops were a bit more selective about the kinds of souvenirs they sell. It trivializes the history and the very ground, where so many Americans gave their lives.
There are any number of things to be upset about in connection to this news story out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Apparently, a couple of students at East Chapel Hill H.S. decided to post a pic of themselves on social media waving Confederate flags on the Gettysburg battlefield as part of a recent school trip. You can see for yourself what the students posted beneath the image. Needless to say, it’s pretty sad and constitutes nothing less than a major failure for the educators whose job it was to… you know … educate these students.
While the racist language is troubling, I am more disturbed by the waving of the flag and lack of respect for the battlefield. This is not how you tour Gettysburg.
In a letter to staff, the school district superintendent also urged instructors look at how “an understanding of race and discrimination, and their still-existing impact, is integrated into our curriculum and not taught as isolated topics.” “We must be sure our students understand how race impacts our lives, and how that impact can, and should be, both significant and positive. The future of our community, state and nation depends on it,” wrote Superintendent Thomas Forcella.
I applaud the superintendent for his response, but let me suggest that next time this discussion should take place on the Gettysburg battlefield.