Politically Correct Fourth Graders

It looks like good ole’ white Southern/Confederate values are being assaulted on all sides by the politically correct.  This time the culprits are fourth graders from Glen Burnie, Maryland who were put off by the lyrics in their state’s song, “Maryland, My Maryland”.  They took action like any responsible citizen and wrote their state representative and while it is impossible to know from this short article, the state legislature is now considering a bill to alter the lyrics.  Feel free to sing along:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland, My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant’s chain,
Maryland, My Maryland!
Virginia should not call in vain!
Maryland, My Maryland!
She meets her sisters on the plain-
“Sic semper!” ’tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland, My Maryland!
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland, My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

In response, Jane Durden, the president general of the Daughters of the Confederacy, said, “I hate it when parts of our history are pushed aside for political correctness.”  Exactly whose history is Ms. Durden referring to here?  Where is Mildred Rutherfod when you need her?  Damn kids!

Even the Kids Think Gods and Generals is a Little Strange

In this final week of my Civil War Memory course I am showing sections of some of my favorite and not so favorite CW movies.  Today we watched the first part of “Gods and Generals” up to First Manassas.  I was curious as to how they would respond given the course content.  Within about ten minutes they understood that much of it is straight-ahead Lost Cause.  Virginia is depicted as pretty much pro-secession and pro-Confederate and slaves are shown as obedient servants.  Given what they know about “Stonewall” Jackson they thought the movie did a pretty good job of capturing his religious zeal, but they couldn’t stop laughing at the overly-dramatic dialog and music.  It is pretty funny.  One of my students asked if the movie spends as much time on how white northerners viewed the war as it does on the white south.  Good question.  Another student noticed that the first time you even see a “Yankee” is on the Manassas battlefield, which reinforces the notion that they were invaders set to destroy Virginia rather than fighting to preserve the Union.

Here is one of the segments we viewed this morning.  I particularly love the parlor scene.  The ladies just happened to finish stitching the flag for the two boys just as the song is finished.  The mother’s address which follows is a bit too long-winded, but the doozy is the kiss goodbye from the house servant.  Mort Kunstler could paint any of the scenes in this movie.  Gotta love it.

Tomorrow I am going to show some scenes from the movie, “Ride With the Devil”, which does a much better job of capturing some of the complexity and confusion of war in Missouri.  We will also have a chance to talk about how race is dealt with in the movie.

Learn About the Crater for $75

McFarland Publishers is set to release John F. Schmutz’s The Battle of the Crater: A Complete History in May.  At that price it better be a complete history of the battle plus the rest of human history.  I’ve never heard of Schmutz before.  Apparently he is a corporate attorney and Civil War enthusiast who lives in San Antonio.  Good for him.  My guess is he saw Cold Mountain and decided to write a book about the battle.  A quick look at the table of contents suggest that this is a straight-forward military history that probably will not go much further than Cavanaugh and Marvel’s 1989 study (H.E. Howard Series) or the recent publication of The Horrid Pit by Alan Axelrod, which I reviewed for the Journal of Southern History.  In other words, we are likely to see little or no analysis of the role race played in this battle.

My advice, wait for the publication of Richard Slotkin’s No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, 1864, which is slated for release this summer from Random House.  I’ve been looking forward to the publication of this book for some time.  Also, keep your eye out for a future Crater study by Earl Hess.

p.s. Please don’t ask me about my Crater and historical memory manuscript.  It’s coming along.

“We want to, as accurately as possible, portray what really happened.”

So, then why is Robert E. Lee in attendance at the reenactment of the 1865 skirmish in Aiken, South Carolina between Brig. Gen. Hugh Kilpatrick and Maj. Gen. Joe Wheeler?  Of course, I don’t want to make too big a deal given that Lee is what sells tickets. However, can someone tell me why Lee, portrayed by David Chaltas, is walking around with a cross in his hand?   Is there any evidence that he did this in the heat of battle?  On the other hand, Jerry Redmon is quite convincing – perhaps too much so.

Blog Design and the Move to Pearson’s Thesis Theme

A few weeks ago fellow blogger, Robert Moore, inquired about my latest theme.  I understand the curiosity given the recent unveiling of a custom design  back in December.  Hell, I’ve been changing themes on a regular basis since I started blogging back in 2005.  For one reason or another I was never satisfied with the design, and although I know a bit of HTML, it was never enough to shape a template in a way that proved to be satisfactory over the long term.  For a long time I wanted a blog theme that was both flashy but still had a professional feel to it.  You may disagree, but I think the look of your blog is important in maintaining the reader’s focus and attention.  I left Blogger and Typepad because most of their themes have a juvenile/cartoonish look.  With Typepad you had to pay much more to access CSS to make the most basic of changes.  After a while it seemed like a waste of money.  One of the things I was looking for when I moved to WordPress was the opportunity to have access to literally thousands of free themes.  I soon learned that the vast majority are just downright ugly, but my bigger concern was with my lack of knowledge of CSS and HTML.  You end up in a position where you are uploading a theme coded by an unknown individual who you have no interaction with in case of problems.  Simply put, I didn’t know what I would be playing around with and it left me feeling very uncomfortable.  One exception (and I know there are others) is the Tarski Theme, which I really like.  Of course, content is everything, but there is something to be said for the aesthetics of a blog as well as its functionality.

One day in January while browsing WordPress themes I came across Chris Pearson’s Thesis Theme.  I was immediately struck by the simple yet sophisticated look of the basic template as well as the typeface and clean lines.   Of course, I hesitated when I saw the price tag of $85 since I recently shelled out some cash for the custom design.  Luckily I was staring at a check for a recent book review and decided to go for it and, since doing so,  I’ve had no regrets.  The cost comes with free lifetime upgrades as well as a very active community of users who share their own customizations on message boards (only available to registered users) as well as video.  What I love most about the theme are the interfaces that allow you to change basic features of the site without any tinkering with the HTML and CSS.  Thesis actually utilizes a system of “hooks” which allow you to make changes to stylesheets that function independently from the CSS page.  As you can see I haven’t customized my site much further than the basic template, but at some point when I have more time I will begin to play around.  I would like to get a custom banner up as well as a few other things.  Part of the reason I haven’t found the time to do so is because I absolutely love the look of my blog.  Again, there is a simplicity that I find very attractive.  Best yet, since I moved to Thesis I’ve noticed the number of comments has steadily increased.  Could it be the design?  It’s the same thought-provoking/kick-ass commentary that you’ve come to appreciate so that can’t be it.

I’ve also come to realize that less is more in terms of sidebars.  I used to use a three-column layout with as much content crammed in as possible.  This is a huge mistake and I’ve been slashing away at my sidebars over the past few months.  First, few people actually take the time to click the links.  More importantly, depending on what is included in your sidebars often leads to a longer load time and that usually results in a frustrated reader.  Visually, the focus should always be on the content.  I remember reading that blogs load left to right so if you have a lot of junk in the sidebar it means that your post column may take longer to appear.  Use one column, place it to the right and figure out what is absolutely necessary and trash the rest.  If you take a good look at my sidebar what you will find are features that promote social networking.  I include links to some of my favorite blogs, but other than that the goal is to encourage increased networking for me as well as my readers: Google Friend Connect, Library Thing and my personal social networking feed (Lifestream).  In the end, that’s what this is all about.

Of course, you may think differently so feel free to share.

Tom Petty’s Civil War Memory

Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents” is by far my favorite of all his recordings.  It was released in 1985 and was Petty’s first recording since breaking his hand the year before.  It’s beautifully produced and arranged by David Stewart, who is best known for his work with Annie Lennox in the Eurythmics.  The title track is by far my favorite.  Enjoy!

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young’uns call it country
The yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talkin’
But everything is done, with a southern accent
Where I come from

Now that drunk tank in Atlanta’s
Just a motel room to me
Think I might go work Orlando
If them orange groves don’t freeze
I got my own way of workin’
But everything is run, with a southern accent
Where I come from

For just a minute there I was dreaming
For just a minute it was all so real
For just a minute she was standing there, with me

There’s a dream I keep having
Where my mama comes to me
And kneels down over by the window
And says a prayer for me
I got my own way of prayin’
But everyone’s begun
With a sou thern accent
Where I come from

I got my own way of livin’
But everything gets done
With a southern accent
Where I come from

Want some more Petty?  Check out the link to the live video for “Rebels”.

Even before my father’s father
They called us all rebels
While they burned our cornfields
And left our cities leveled
I can still feel the eyes of those blue-bellied devils
Yeah, when I’m walking round at night
Through the concrete and metal, hey, hey, hey

Don’t Fear the Twitter

web20It’s never a good idea to approach the unknown with an attitude of fear.  It distorts the subject from the outset and almost always results in judgments that emphasize worst-case scenarios rather than what is possible.  Such is the case when schools try to figure out how to introduce and/or regulate student behavior on the internet – especially in the case of those websites that fall under the heading of web 2.0.  I am talking about websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, etc.  The problem is generational or at least the perception that there is a difference between the level of comfort and ability when it comes to maneuvering through the web and understanding specific sites.  I say this because most of my students are not aware of the many sites that enhance networking beyond Facebook and MySpace.  The other day I conducted a poll among my students and out of 75 only 2 had ever heard of Twitter.  I inquired into a few other sites, but the results were pretty much the same.  My point is that our assumption that the younger generation is necessarily more web savvy than us is a lot of nonsense.

My school has been dealing with the problem of how to teach students to better utilize web 2.0 technology for the past few years.  Much of the discussion stems from utter ignorance of what these sites offer or they are preoccupied with nightmarish stories of suicide associated with Facebook.  A few of my colleagues have Facebook pages, but it doesn’t extend much further that that.  Part of the problem is that unless you have someone on staff who works with this technology in the classroom and who can explain it to those interested it is a waste of time to talk about it.  We recently paid an “expert” to discuss these sites with the entire faculty during one of our workshop days.  It turned into a complete waste of time owing to the fact that there was no hands-on time for the faculty and how this technology connects to different subjects.  It turned into three hours of, “Look at me and what I can do and what you can’t do.”  To me, web 2.0 represents a new way of thinking about your relationship to others as well as how we collect and disseminate information.  That necessarily impacts how we think about our roles as teachers.  But because it is a process or way of thinking these tools must be introduced and slowly integrated with careful consideration. 

Beyond blogging I’ve only become interested in these sites over the past two years and I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to utilize this technology in the classroom.  It seems to me that networking sites are part of the reality of Thomas Friedman’s “flat world.”  It’s here to stay and we better educate our students on how  best utilize it so as to allow them to collect valuable information, compete in a global market, and break down barriers that up until recently have seemed to be impenetrable.  As a blogger it is easy for me to see the possibilities given that my site has put me in touch with people from around the world.  Through continued contact with my readers, and links to other bloggers, I now have access to information that has added significantly to my knowledge of a whole host of topics.

How we utilize these tools in the classroom must be decided by each instructor.  The challenge for me has been to figure out how these tools can enhance what I already do and what works.  Nothing that I’ve experimented with has yet to supplant my basic approach of utilizing primary sources and encouraging classroom discussion.  It is convenient, however, to be able to Skype with an expert in a given field right in the classroom or collect information via RSS Feeds or search for photographs in Flickr via tags. 

Until we start to see these sites as tools that can enhance our lives as well as our students we are not going to be able to talk intelligently about it.  More importantly, we would have missed the boat on introducing these valuable tools to our students.  It’s not about what students will do, but about what they can do.