East Chapel Hill High School’s Confederate Flag Problem

Over the past few days additional information has come to light surrounding the recent school trip to Gettysburg in which two students from East Chapel Hill High School were photographed waving Confederate flags on the battlefield. Much of the public discussion has focused on the two girls, but there has been little discussion about the tour itself. While I don’t claim to have all of the relevant information, enough has surfaced to give us a clearer understanding of the goals of the trip and the photograph.

This is a trip that takes place annually and is an extension of an Honors Civil War/American West course.

This is an honors course for students interested in two of the most crucial and romanticized periods of American history:  the Civil War and the exploration and settlement of the American West in the 1800s.  The course provides an in-depth look at the major causes of each; the events that took place; the people and groups that participated; the influence of personalities; and the lasting impact and legacy that the Civil War and American West have on the history of the US.  In this honors course, the materials are taught with greater complexity, novelty and acceleration.

As part of their tour of Pickett’s Charge students stage a reenactment of the attack. It’s unclear where exactly this lesson takes place. I suspect that the organizers of this lesson believe that they are providing their students with a deeper understanding of the battlefield.  At the outset students are given numbers, which instruct them on a specific action such as falling on the ground wounded or dead. Two students are handed school-owned Confederate battle flags. In the event that they fall during the charge two additional students are assigned the task of pickup up the flags and continuing the mock attack. The two students features in the controversial photograph were the final flag bearers.

It should come as no surprise that I find these kinds of exercises to be utterly useless. There is no deeper understanding of a battle that is attained by lying on the ground or assuming a number. Soldiers didn’t go into battle following such an assignment. In fact, these types of activities are incredibly disrespectful to the men who fought and bled on both sides, especially when done on the actual battlefield.

During my recent school trip to Gettysburg, students explored a wide range of questions connected to the battle, its memory and its broader significance. We started by exploring the face of battle as represented by the North Carolina monument. Students interpreted the monument for its understanding of how soldiers went into battle and the virtues that they were expected to uphold. From there we walked through Spangler Woods to follow the path of Pickett’s division. Along the way I had students read excerpts from soldiers letters and we reflected on the distance between the ideal of martial manhood and the reality of battle. Finally, we discussed the importance of terrain in this particular charge. It represents just one approach to taking a battlefield seriously and providing a robust learning experience for students.

Now it is quite possible that the group did take the time to read letters and diaries and take a more serious approach, but I fail to see what pretending to be dead or wounded or carrying a flag does for your understanding of any battle.

The two students were caught in a moment that was choreographed by the teachers on this trip. To focus on the students exclusively misses the salient problems with a lesson that was organized by the teachers. It was the teachers who chose to bring the Confederate flags on the trip and have students utilize them during the activity. Once that decision was made they ran the risk of having the intention and context stripped with the posting of an online photograph. What makes matters worse is that it doesn’t appear that the students even understand the history of the flags they were carrying.

Consider the immediate apology from the student who originally posted the photograph.

We were reenacting Pickett’s charge in which the South lost 85% of their soldiers. These aren’t the Confederate flags in fact, they’re the North Carolina regimental flags. I’m proud to be a part of my state and I’m sorry my photo was so offensive but I find it appropriate in that I’m honoring heroes that fought to protect their home and families.

Is this the explanation that teachers provided? I certainly hope not, but according to Ron Creatore, the father of one of the students, East Chapel Hill H.S. allowed a photo of the Confederate flag and the article entitled “The Confederate Flag is a Symbol of Heritage, Not Hate,” to be displayed on its website since December 2012. While I can say nothing more about this curious addition to its website, it does appear that the school has failed to provide students with a more nuanced understanding of the history and legacy of the Confederate flag.

In an interview with a local radio station, Mr. Creatore suggested that the class in question needs to do a much better job of providing students with a more mature interpretation of the flag and the phrase, “The South Shall Rise.” I certainly agree.

It is sufficiently clear that these two students did not intend to offend anyone. They were photographed on a school trip engaged in an activity organized by the school’s teachers. Their behavior is their product and it is the school community that needs to take responsibility. Interested parties can continue to make these students the center of the debate or they can work together with the school to improved its curriculum.

34 comments add yours

  1. Excellent analysis, Kevin, that points out the real problem here. I would certainly have expected more nuance than was offered to these kids, particularly in an honors course, whose description stresses both the romanticization of the War and the examination of “impact and legacy”. An analysis that frames the CBF as heritage, not hate, seems highly selective to me.

    • Keep in mind that you only have the thoughts of one student and that her response was written in haste following the removal of the photograph.

  2. It is possible for someone to recognize their confederate heritage and NOT be racist. It saddens me that because ultra radical hate groups such as the KKK have used the battle flag of the confederacy, anyone else who displays or owns one is automatically a racist. I own a reproduction of the 1st national flag of the confederacy, which looks like a mix of the Betsy Ross and Texas flags, and I also own a reproduction of the CBF. I own them because I am a civil war/confederate history enthusiast, I.e. I’m interested in the confederacy and the idea of secession, I do NOT wish to resurrect it. Does owning these flags make me racist? I hope not… And if a person can find me factual evidence that proves that owning these flags makes me a racist or a member of a hate group, I will burn them both immediately and take pleasure in doing it.

    • It saddens me that because ultra radical hate groups such as the KKK have used the battle flag of the confederacy, anyone else who displays or owns one is automatically a racist.

      I don’t know who you are responding to with this comment. I certainly never suggested such a conclusion. In addition, the use of the Confederate flag for racist purposes has never been limited to the KKK and other hate groups. During the civil rights white Americans utilized it to resist civil rights. You can’t examine a civil rights march or other protest without seeing whites waving the flag.

      Let me be clear. I don’t have a problem if the school in question owns these flags. What I do expect, as a history teacher, is that these flags are used for legitimate educational purposes. That does not appear to be the case in reference to this particular trip.

      • Kevin, I am curious on your thoughts of how the school owned Confederate flags could be used for “legitimate educational purposes?”

              • If you are talking about scale on a battlefield, then you would need a full size replica. As seen in the link below from the Museum of the Confederacy’s collection, I doubt the average social studies teacher is going to possess a 4′ x 4′ confederate battle flag.

                http://www.moc.org/sites/default/files/PDFs/flag_table_part_1.pdf

                I say this not to be argumentative, but to work this issue out in my own head. Is there really a reason to possess a confederate battle flag if the only way it is useful is if it is impracticably large?

                Perhaps it is simpler to look at pictures or go to a museum or reenactment. This option would be better as well because the flag would then have adequate historical interpretation around it which would hopefully lead to a “more mature interpretation of the flag.”

  3. It should come as no surprise that I find these kinds of exercises to be utterly useless. There is no deeper understanding of a battle that is attained by lying on the ground or assuming a number. Soldiers didn’t go into battle following such an assignment. In fact, these types of activities are incredibly disrespectful to the men who fought and bled on both sides, especially when done on the actual battlefield.

    I’ve got to disagree. Games, or simulations, are an effective tool in the classroom. Playing is a natural and seemingly animal instinct which, studies have shown, help facilitate learning. This is especially true when a teacher knows what they’re doing to guide the simulation. I grew up next to Chickamauga Battlefield. That field was a natural part of life for the surrounding community, much as it was for the families that lived there prior to the battle. Over the years I saw kids flying kites, playing football, baseball, and other manners of games at that park. Of these events, I’d say kids learning in an outdoor classroom is the least offensive thing despite the manner in which they learned.

    I’ve read a lot of your blog posts about teaching over the years Kevin, and your examples of historical interpretation in the classroom is above and beyond. However, how much time have you spent teaching in a public school setting such as East Chapel Hill High? Teachers in public schools are guided by state academic standards which students are tested on. Teachers’ evaluations are impacted by those test results. On those tests, students are less likely to see questions about the face of battle as represented by the North Carolina monument and how that monument raises questions as to the battle’s memory and significance. Nor are students likely to see many letters from the soldiers’ which demonstrates their mindset in battle and the virtues they wished to uphold. Instead, students will see questions regarding the turning point and/or bloodiest battle of the war. That’s not a speculation nor is there anything teachers can do about that; it’s the reality. Anytime a teacher can facilitate that understanding required of them by law, while at the same time institute a sense of passion for the content, is a good day in the classroom. I think you should remember the disconnect that exists between your classroom and ours when you make these comments. Public school teachers are pushed by the state; you, on the other hand, get to write your own standards. Some of us, like me, don’t even get the luxury of field trips.

    I’ve yet to find the article mentioned that was posted on the on the East Chapel Hill website. I’m assuming this was a student article? All we have currently is an article title so is it appropriate to draw conclusions about the school’s response based on that?

    Personally, I don’t think the central issue with this is the flag, but rather the appropriate representation of yourself on social media. That includes pictures and comments. There is nothing necessarily wrong with the photo, if it had been appropriately attributed to the activity. The biggest insensitivity comes not from the picture but from the insensitive and irresponsible follow up comments.

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for the comment. I fully admit that my classroom experience, including the curricular constraints, which are few, likely do not represent the experiences of public school teachers. That said, I reject this notion that the kinds of questions and sources that I expose my students to cannot be introduced in a public school classroom. I know this because many of my own ideas come from public school teachers. One of my teaching heroes is none other than James Percoco, who taught for decades in a public school in northern Virginia.

      Perhaps you can say more about how you utilize battlefields in your curriculum.

      The webpage referenced by Mr. Creatore was apparently taken down following the incident.

      • I’m sorry if I gave the impression that the kinds of questions and sources you expose your students to cannot be introduced into a public school classroom. Public school teachers do use these materials. I use primary source interpretation as often as possible but those lessons have to be balanced by other activities to appeal to other learning types. Despite current educational theory that suggests otherwise, mandates from the state encourage differentiated learning that covers audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners. A big evaluation measure currently is whether or not a students is “engaged,” which is pretty subjective. Studies have also shown that “engagement” is inferior to the old “drill and kill” method. Regardless, these are the things we get evaluated on which impacts pay scale, etc. The teachers you had did not have to conform to the current type of evaluation system. Also, public school to public school is different. The more affluent the socioeconomic status is around a school, the more “academic” a teacher can be in the classroom due to the support level at home.

        I never get the opportunity to use battlefields in my curriculum; my field trip requests are routinely shut down due to funding. We are usually told that we can achieve the same learning in the classroom with minimal cost. This is extremely disappointing given that I teach in the Atlanta-Metro and am surrounded by battlefields including the Kennesaw Mountain NPS Battlefield. This means I can’t even take my students to the new Civil Rights museum in Atlanta. On the fly however, I can somewhat give a highlight of how I would use a battlefield.

        If I were to use the battlefield to explain Pickett’s Charge (keep in mind this is on the fly):

        There would be a great deal of prep. Likely, I would make sure each student had a packet of materials which included a park map as well as copies of any primary sources I would use. This allows students to read along as I read primary sources to them. That way I cover my auditory and visual learners. At the battlefield, I would start in the shade next to the VA monument. We would summarize, as a class, the previous two days of battle to reflect on what led us (the class) to this point (Simple Q&A Assessment; Gettysburg is on the standards after all). Then there would be a little bit of drill; just the casual commands so they have a general idea of marching which they will need during the march activity. When I marched students across the field, I would use the flag as the guide-on as it was used. Students would have prior knowledge of the use of flags in battle as well as the evolution of the Conf. Battle Flag. I would stop the students at intervals across the battlefield and use primary sources to illustrate the battle from the eyes of those who witnessed it. As we got closer to the high water mark, I would randomly select students to take a knee while marching forward. I would explain to students earlier that when a soldier died it was the responsibility of the men marching to fill the gap. This also gives students an idea of loss, some units took 50% casualties during the march. I wouldn’t use numbers because I want the drops to be completely random. I would wait until the students got really close to the wall before doing this however which is realistic but also so I don’t have students strung out over a half mile. We’d end under the tree at the angle to talk about the crossing. Make use of some Union primary sources, give their perspective of the march. Perhaps use the story of Alonzo Cushing. Then I’d pass out photographs of the losses at Gettysburg. Talk about the loss of life at the battle marking it the bloodiest in the conflict. Then just see where the discussion goes.

        Like I said, that is an extremely incomplete idea of how I’d use the battlefield to interpret. I’d probably let the students wonder and take photos for a bit, after a brief lecture about social media and posting responsibly.

        • Despite current educational theory that suggests otherwise, mandates from the state encourage differentiated learning that covers audio, visual, and kinesthetic learners.

          My current school spends a great deal of time on differentiated learning and this is reflected throughout my curriculum.

          I never get the opportunity to use battlefields in my curriculum; my field trip requests are routinely shut down due to funding. We are usually told that we can achieve the same learning in the classroom with minimal cost.

          I am very disappointed to hear this.

          Sounds like the beginnings of what would be an excellent trip. The only thing we seem to disagree on is the inclusion of a Confederate flag on the tour. I would be happy to send my child on a classroom battlefield tour with you.

          • I appreciate the sentiment. I would use the flag, but I also recognize it is my job to explain the evolution of that flag both prior to being at the battlefield, during the trip, and after.

            • Of course you would. Part of my concern is how it is perceived by others as well as the dangers of social media. Beyond that, knowing how divisive the flag is for so many Americans, I do believe that it is our responsibility not to unnecessarily alienate certain visitors. I’ve talked to enough African Americans to know that seeing the flag (whether it’s on or off a battlefield) is interpreted as, ‘you are not welcome here.’

              • Perhaps, but how many Confederate flags have you seen at living histories that were put on by the park? I’ve seen quite a few, but I get what you’re saying.

                If I could organize it the way I would want to, I would have a Union side as well with a different class and teacher. Then the two groups could swap. Usually big field trips require more than one teacher making this very likely. This would allow me to have a Union flag presence on the field as well.

              • The NPS is usually very good about bringing in reliable living historians for various events and they often do bring flags with them for the obvious reasons, but I’ve also talked to many NPS employees who understand that it is troubling to some people and for good reasons. It’s a tough call.

  4. Teaching at a community college means funds and time are always limited, so battlefield trips are out. However, I turn the classroom into battlefields. Younger folks do not really understand the losses because the numbers reach levels beyond their level of experience. They understand the loss of life in small numbers, not on the large scale. They literally just do not have the ability to process the information in a sense that reflects the high casualty rates of war unless it is presented to them in a way that jars their sense of reality. That battleground exercise is an active learning practice that does just that.

    I do this with Concord & Lexington to give them ideas. They see the documentaries or video clips, but when they stand up and start falling down it takes it to a new level of understanding. You can see their faces as their minds begin to process the information. When they see people who were standing next to them lying on the ground and look around and realize that there are suddenly gaps in their line as well as a significant number of people no longer standing it changes their perspective. Suddenly they become conscious of loss. They rely on peer contact just like soldiers do. When that comfort zone is disrupted they become uncomfortable and disoriented. That is a transformative moment (See Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory for more on this pedagogy).

    Based on what I’ve been observing it looks like active learning was involved in this pedagogy. In that sense the flags make some sense. The lying down makes sense. When those kids look around they really can feel the loss and begin to appreciate the casualty rates. I think what is going on here is a difference in philosophical pedagogies. There are different perspectives at work here.

    Rob, I just graded the finals for my flipped class. They were an entire letter grade over the mid-terms which were not using the flipped method. The flipping of my class meant engaging the students with the content in ways far different than what I had used before. The level of engagement was magnitudes higher than anything I had worked with in the past. While the results are not generalizable by any means, they seem to indicate positive outcomes. I am not sure what you mean by engagement being inferior to drill and kill methods, but on the surface, I will take engagement every time. Could you clarify that for me so I am not confusing something here?

    • I think you are right that we are talking about two very different approaches to interpreting a battlefield landscape. Seems to me that you can do this sort of activity anywhere that resembles a battlefield or, as you mention, even in the classroom. I still take issue with it being done on an actual battlefield. Thanks for the comment.

      • I may be joining the middle of a conversation that I have not completely read, but let me toss out a story from my own experience.

        In the late 1990s, I met several friends at Gettysburg, and the four of us walked Pickett’s Charge. We were all Civil War aficionados, with varied particular interests. One of our number had studied Longstreet a lot, but had never been to Gettysburg before. As we walked the terrain, the dawning realization of the near impossibility of the task set to Pickett’s men could be read on Brian’s face.

        I guess my point is that battlefield visits can be used—I know folks who would say they are essential—for understanding what happened, and why. I can see using this kind of thing—including the falling down of “casualties”— to teach young students the scale of cost in a way that lists of numbers can’t convey.

        • I guess my concern is with this idea of students falling down on a battlefield. Civil War soldiers didn’t just fall down.

    • Engagement is not the same thing as “flipping.” A flipped classroom is usually a hybrid classroom that uses ways to reach students outside of the classroom. This usually means putting notes online, having kids come in, then using those notes on various activities. I use this method quite a lot actually. Engagement is when students make a psychological investment in their education. In that aspect, I do not disagree. However, engagement ‘techniques’ are increasingly used as indicators of success in classroom instruction. The problem is, engagement activities are usually seen as “fun” activities. Some administrators think that kids having fun is the only type of engagement strategy. So that is what school systems want to see. The reality of education is different however.

      http://www.ajc.com/weblogs/get-schooled/2014/jun/27/want-kids-do-better-math-put-away-group-games-get-/

      • The flipped model is a way that requires engagement. I use it in conjunction with collaborative learning practices. I don’t give students notes. I give them materials to work with through my website portal to other sites featuring articles, primary sources, videos, etc. In this manner I act as a guide and help them in the interpretation process. The lecture is dead!

        I use games too, but only when they serve as a useful learning tool. If they do not fit that role, then I see no purpose in having them in the limited time that I have for class. I used Avalon Hill’s History of the World board game in my World Regional Geography course and it did quite well in showing why people went the way they did in the world due to geographic features. I am going to use that experience to develop a game more akin to a Civilization game that incorporates more human geography and use the board game for a future World History or Western Civ class.

        I cannot speak for teaching math at the first grade level. I can on the other hand reach over here and pull out some articles on flipped classrooms, student engagement, gamification, and a few other topics that I am using in my research at the moment at the college level. The first thing is that engagement does not mean entertaining. If that is what teachers are doing then they are not educating. There is a big difference.

        • The flipped model doesn’t require engagement in an educational sense. Scenario: I post notes online, student takes worksheet and copies down notes. Brings notes to class the next day.

          The class is flipped, there wasn’t any engagement. But like I said, “Engagement” is a pretty subjective term to use.

          The first thing is that engagement does not mean entertaining.

          Unfortunately, that is what it leads to often than because of the insistence of school systems to see kids interacting. They prefer that, even though studies have shown it simply doesn’t meet the old grain of “drill and kill.” I’ve had classes that were too immature to “flip” or “engage” in the manner admin wished to see. Instead, they got drill and kill. Test scores were about the same with both classes.

          • That explains why I avoid K-12 like the plague. It just is not my cup of tea.

            Notes? Don’t give them notes! Make them work. Flipping the class means they use their time to engage course materials. The class time is work time. That is where they work in their groups comparing what they learned and answer the questions I asked. Then they have to present what they learned to the entire class. That is engagement.

            I see that give students the notes garbage too often. We had a discussion on it in my doctoral group. I refuse to give them notes. I do give them my PowerPoints on the website. Good luck with that because I use as few words as possible on the slides. I want them to develop an understanding of what the images on the slides mean. Giving the students your notes is like doing their work for them.

            I do know that there are differing definitions of what Flipped and Engagement mean. Under my definitions, the engaged students score higher. That will differ from class to class because no set of students are alike. However, when instructors are engaging students and not entertaining them, the students generally learn more.

            The same goes for a flipped classroom. Everything involved is done through a learning-centered perspective. If it does not meet a learning objective it is not being done. A true “flipped” classroom has to have engagement. If it does not, then it is not meeting the definition. I don’t know if I would flip classes in K-12. I do not have the experience in that environment now will I. It just is not my area of teaching expertise.

  5. I’m enjoying where this conversation has been going. I teach community college, so I inhabit a strange world between K-12 and the universities. I’ve tried using games (including History of the World), in my classes, but have gradually given up on them. I get students for 3 hours a day a week for 17 weeks. I ended up spending the better part of two weeks in one class playing a game and still found many students just pushing cardboard around on the board because they still didn’t understand how the game was played. So, the learning outcomes didn’t reach those students and the students who did understand the game were rather annoyed. (Some students did mention after the game that they enjoyed it, but I’m not sure what the pedagogical results were.)

    In my world history class, I’ve found myself showing too many videos during class time, so I’m going to try a partially flipped class. The movies will be online along with the readings. I’ll lecture part of the classes, and the time I used to spend showing videos will be used focusing on the readings with discussions and activities.

    I’d like to use games again in the future, but I think they’ll need to be accessible computer/touchscreen games (like “Brief History of the World” for ios) where students could concentrate on playing and thinking rather than on figuring out how to play the game.

  6. TM,
    I focused on the aspects of the game that had teaching capabilities. Prior to the game I pointed out how geographical barriers influenced the movements of civilizations over time. I use Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, & Steel in my Geo class as well and show the first two videos of the three. I am stressing how while today’s world surmounts the barriers, they were formidable obstacles for ancient man. Players who ignore the historical reality of the empire they are playing in a particular epoch quickly find out why those barriers channeled the peoples in certain ways.

    One player took Russian areas in Epoch II. He looked imposing until we totaled up the points and he came in last. He was the solo player of the six teams. Others realized why forts were important in crossroad areas. The technological advantages of weaponry became important. I seized on these opportunities to show why things happened the way they did. As we played through four epochs the students developed an understanding of why the kingdoms and empires of the past expanded in the manner they did.

    Since everything in the game comes from the past, there are great opportunities to have students study certain concepts. We will be playing two separate rounds of the game this summer. I am tying some essay work to the rounds. I am making a list of topics for them to explore in conjunction with the playing of the game. The essays are in two parts. Part I is written and turned in prior to the playing of the game. Part II comes after the game. These will focus on general topics such as geographical features.

    The second essay will be about the empires in each epoch. They will do this one for the second game round near the end of the class. They will take one of the empires they played in the game and explain how geographical concerns affected that empire historically. Then they will explain how they played the empire in the game and what they learned from doing so. If I was using it with World History I would go into different aspects such as who these empires were, their leaders, etc. Even better, I would play an epoch right after we dealt with that epoch in the class and ask questions of the empires in each one during the play of the game. This is where clickers and mobile technology come into play.

    I am still working on exactly how I am going to incorporate gaming into my pedagogy. I really want to put in a Civilization type game, but I may have to design it myself. I always use collaborative practices in my classes so that is part of the design element. Right now, I just have some ideas I’m putting on paper to work on down the road as I’m in the doctoral study phase of my doctorate. Between that and developing flipped lesson plans for two courses I am stretched a bit thin.

    One of my high school friends is a professor at the same school with me. We played Avalon Hill games a lot and we were joking about using Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for a WWII class. That game is one of the most complex ones they made, so the learning would be minimal due to the complexity. However, there is an Origins of WWII game that he says is outstanding. Games have a place in teaching, but they have to be used within a pedagogical model or they just become entertainment devices or even worse, a non-learning exercise. Again, I am teaching community college students. I would not use this game below high school and I would have to have some secondary teaching experience before I put in this game or any game. Class size makes a difference as does the students. No two classes are the same.

  7. Kevin,
    I am very late to this conversation, but I would argue that my perspective is probably close to unique in that (1) I am a graduate of Chapel Hill High School, (2) I have lived in Gettysburg, including in a house where troops retreated, (3) I have used many battlefields as classrooms.

    Just a few thoughts to contribute:

    (1) A public school teacher from NC lead a field trip to Pennsylvania!
    i do not know how he pulled it off, but it seems to me that the starting point should be praising the teacher for pulling it off. And, we really don’t know much about what the students did along the way, but just seeing the terrain and the people would have been educational for them.
    And, related to that. although clearly the event has spurred a good discussion of various ways one COULD use a battlefield in pedagogy, it seems to me that the starting point ought to be to defer to a colleague about his pedagogy, at least until there is overwhelming evidence that he actually was doing things poorly

    (2) The particular exercise where the students walked the ground with preassigned #s that somehow indicated the fate of the person they were “reenacting” strikes me as interesting (as always, depending on how it worked out). I bet that they were walking the path of the 26th NC.
    I have taken students in a walk across that ground (not with #s). The walk itself gives a sense of distance and openness, and (now) the location of fence lines and a (not entirely accurate) sense of terrain, It can be a fine educational experience for all of us. The particular use of the numbers was obviously intended to dramatize to the students the massive casualties experienced on that day. I see nothing wrong with that at all.
    The criticism of the exercise sort of reminds me of those academics who get upset about reenactors who “play at war.” The academics seem to feel that the reenactors are idiots who honestly believe that they are experiencing what it is like to be at war. When, in fact, the reenactors I have known are experiencing some things that are probably of value. If done well, these students were neither mocking the dead nor claiming that they were experiencing death. But perhaps they were learning something of use. (Again, I think we should defer to their teacher about such things.)

    (3) Flags on the battlefield. Here I would disagree with Kevin, who I think feels that Confederate flags should not be flown on the battlefield. I think that the opposite case could be made: Seems to me that Confederate flags are more appropriate on the battlefield than anywhere else. That does not mean that they should fly as official flags at the Visitor’s Center, but if folks are in some sense “reenacting” an historic moment, that strikes me as the time when the flag makes most sense. (I seriously doubt if any NPS employee objects to someone carrying around a small Confederate flag.)
    MOREOVER, if you are going to walk that field, it is a great opportunity to teach students a bit about Civil War infantry formations. And, as we all know, the flag is crucial to how CW soldiers maintained unit cohesion. [This is an interesting pedagogical exercise which speaks volumes about the nature of that war. I have done this on several occasions.]

    (4) What did these young women learn?
    Well, we don’t really know everything they learned. I have no idea what they did in preparation and while they were in Gettysburg. No doubt more than this.
    But from the one girl’s tweet we know that she learned two things:
    (i) she quoted a figure of 85% casualties. She was confused in attributing that to the whole army, but I think that is a fairly accurate assessment of one NC regiment’s losses. That was probably worth learning, and I bet that exercise underscored the massive losses in her mind.

    (iii) She learned the difference between a Regimental Battle Flag and the Confederate Flag. She is absolutely correct in stating that the flags they were carrying were (or sure looked like) replicas of NC Regimental Battle Flags. (Note that regimental flags were square, whereas the national flags were usually rectangular.) Yes, the symbol they carried went on to become understood as the flag of the Confederacy, but that is not what a soldier in July of 1863 was likely to say (and in fact that was not the official oConfederate Flag at the time).
    So, her comment means that somewhere along the line this class must have talked about flags and their significance and evolution, and perhaps about the use of flags of different sorts in helping to form national identity and regimental identity during the Civil War.
    That, too, strikes me as some high end learning.
    One hopes that they have also discussed the POSTWAR significance of flags that looked like those flags. We have no idea if they have or will.

    (5) On Social Media
    Well, we all know that social media is the devil’s spawn. She posted a picture from her field trip, presumably expecting that her friends would see it.
    Immediately bad things happened.
    Some OTHER person posted a racist response
    Angry critics criticized her for waving a flag at a cemetery (she obviously wasn’t but truth is not a requirement)
    Folks compared her to idiots who posed with “Confederate Flags” and guns for graduation
    LOTS of people who had absolutely no idea what the context of the picture drew conclusions about it (but context is also not a requirement)
    Her father got involved, which was no doubt humiliating. (Although he was entirely correct about context)

    So, she learned something valuable and painful about social media

    Last thought: I do think that there are lots of interesting things to be said about how we should and should not teach about the Civil War (and even how we should raise our children). But this episode strikes me as an example where a teacher and a father received a lot of unfair criticism.

    Everyone should go out and read LENS OF WAR (eds, Gallman and Gallagher)

    • Hi Matt,

      Thanks for adding your thoughts to this comment thread. I agree with you on a number of points.

      1. Yes, praise ought to be extended to the teachers for arranging this trip every year. This is something that I tend to forget as a private school teacher.

      2. The criticism of the exercise sort of reminds me of those academics who get upset about reenactors who “play at war.” The academics seem to feel that the reenactors are idiots who honestly believe that they are experiencing what it is like to be at war….

      Just to be clear, my criticisms stem from my role as a high school history teacher. I certainly agree that walking students across battlefields is the best way to drive home any number of lessons about battles, unit formations, etc.

      3. You are correct that I do have a problem with flying Confederate flags on battlefields. I’ve never done so and if I wanted to use a flag to make a point about its role I would use something other than a Confederate flag to make the necessary points.

      4. I may be wrong, but I think you are making a stretch as to what these students supposedly learned re: casualties and the differences between regimental and national flags. Having thought about it more I do believe that more needs to be learned from the organizers of the trip.

      5. I pretty much agree with you.These students did not deserve to be the center of this firestorm and I hope I’ve made that clear in this and previous posts.

      Finally, yes, pick up a copy of Lens of War. I’ve had a chance to read a few of the essays and they are quite good. Congrats, Matt.

      • One small and relatively unimportant point: the square flags the girls are waving are Confederate battle flags, Army of Northern Virginia pattern. In general, similar rectangular flags are Confederate battle flags, Army of Tennessee pattern (the C.S. Navy also used the rectangular pattern). None of these are national flags [see Howard Michael Madaus, “The Battle Flags of the Confederate Army of Tennessee” (Milwaukee, 1976), pp. 7-10].

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