For much of my teaching career I have worked to achieve some level of gender equity in the books and articles that I assign my students to read. This has been especially the case in the many elective classes that I have taught on the Civil War era. My overall goal has been to challenge both the tendency to see the Civil War as a masculine subject and the historians and enthusiasts that it attracts as overwhelmingly male. This goes far in tearing down some of the barriers that prevent female students from fully embracing the subject as their own and one that is worthy of serious study.
On September 7 PBS will broadcast Ken Burns’s The Civil War on what will be the 25th anniversary of its release. Burns hopes that the re-packaging of the series in ultra high-definition will attract a new crowd. We shall see.
Recently, Burns was interviewed about the anniversary of the series on CBS’s Face the Nation. He was asked about recent polls that continue to point to the percentage of Americans who do not identify slavery as the central cause of the war or its role in shaping the war’s outcome. Burns points to movies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind as continuing to shape our memory of the war and the antebellum period. Certainly these movies influenced the viewing public at some point, but it’s difficult to believe that they remain relevant.
This is a decidedly unremarkable educational video on the American Civil War until the 5:05 mark. At that point, Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, makes the following point:
As a soldier, I am proud that the United States army, my army, defeated the Confederates. In its finest hour, soldiers wearing this uniform-almost two hundred thousand of them former slaves themselves-destroyed chattel slavery, freed 4 million men, women and children from human bondage, and saved the United States of America.
I have trouble imagining any member of the U.S. army today disagreeing with this statement. But I also can’t imagine anyone today outside of the military disagreeing with it as well.
I’m sure you’ll have an opinion on this. As you probably know, public schools are notorious for decorating the walls of classrooms. Naturally, I have a good bit of Civil War ‘swag.’ In the past, I’ve used the Confederate Flag in those decorations. It’s always in context with other battle flags of the Civil War, North and South. But given the recent events of the Summer, I’m going to scale it back a bit in display and visual interpretation. I was wondering what your thoughts were on it’s display in the classroom.
It’s a great question and one that I suspect others are considering or at least should be considering. I will make this short and sweet. Teachers have a responsibility to create safe classroom environments that are conducive to learning. Right now the Confederate flag is a toxic symbol. That means that it should not be visible in the corner of the classroom alone or even as part of a collection of flags. Beyond that it’s the teacher’s call, but I certainly would not want to risk making students unnecessarily uncomfortable or even intimidated. Continue reading “Do Confederate Flags Belong in the Classroom?”→