Category Archives: Teaching

Yeah, But Why Do They Have To Wear the Sheets?

Apparently, a high school history teacher in Georgia allowed her students to film themselves in Klan robes as part of their study of the organization as well as the history of race.  At one point students paraded through the school cafeteria and confronted an African American student and asked if they could reenact a lynching:

”I don’t apologize for the project, a tearful Aremmia told CBS Atlanta.  I do apologize that someone felt threatened.  I teach about United States history.  I teach about the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I would tell the students, why don’t you film that off campus on your own time. Would I tell them not to? No, because that’s part of history and to not acknowledge it is saying, that it’s OK. I’m sorry, it isn’t. It’s unacceptable.”

Student Cody Rider told reporters the incident left him ‘outraged’.  He said he wanted to fight the students when they asked his cousin, also a student at the school, if they could ‘re-enact the lynching of him for their class project’.  “My little cousin comes up and taps me on the shoulder, and there was fear in his eyes,” he said.  “He was like, he just started pointing, like he couldn’t even talk, that’s how bad it was. There was fear in his eyes, and I looked up and they are walking through the hallway in white sheets.”

The problem is that Catherine Aremmia should apologize if the story is true.  As I see it there are two problems here.  First, asking students to dress up as Klansmen has nothing to do with “teach[ing] about United States history; all I can see is students being asked to don Klan robes.  A significant gap is likely to exist between their historical understanding of the roles they are assuming and where their imaginations take them.

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“A Christian Land Governed By Christian Principles”

It is a sad day for the teaching of American history in Texas.  Unfortunately, we have a system that allows a dentist and others without any qualifications whatsoever to rewrite American history in a way that satisfies their own agenda.  Fortunately, they’ve been honest about that agenda from the beginning.  In the end, the state Board of Education failed to understand the difference between interpreting the crucial role that religion has played in American history and using history to advocate for a Christian world view.

No amount of prayer changes the fact that the Constitution and Bill of Rights are secular documents.  No, I didn’t arrive at that conclusion through prayer. I had to read important historical studies by such reputable historians as Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, Jack Rakove, Saul Cornell, and Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick.  I think when it comes to understanding the past I will continue to do so.

Where Should the New Chancellorsville Vistor Center Be Located?

Note: It looks like I did a poor job of reading Eric’s post.  For some reason I was under the impression that there were plans to build a new VC.  That said, I have heard talk about the possibility of a new location so let’s proceed with that in mind.

The new group blog, Mysteries and Conundrums, authored by NPS historians at Fredericksburg has quickly become my favorite Civil War site.  John Hennessy and the gang have done a fantastic job of sharing the challenges associated with interpreting and preserving some of our most important Civil War ground.  I particularly enjoyed reading Hennessy’s last post in which he asks readers to consider a name change to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.  Many of the responses reflect deeply held views, but I commend Hennessy for his continued commitment to asking the tough questions.

Eric Mink’s latest post provides some interesting background information on the Chancellorsville Visitor Center; it looks like his next post will let us in on the decision-making process that went into the decision on the location of a new visitor center.  [Update: Just as this was published Eric Mink posted his second installment.]  I’ve brought students to Chancellorsville for the past 8 years and since I am pretty familiar with the battlefield I thought I would take a shot at suggesting a new location.  The best place for a new visitor center would be on ground that covers the fighting that took place on May 3, 1863.

I’ve been bringing students to Chancellorsville for the past eight years and so I am fairly familiar with the ground and have thought quite a bit about how to approach a battlefield tour.  We spend about 5-6 hours touring various sites, beginning at the present VC and proceeding to the Zoan Church, Chancellor House, and the final meeting spot between Lee and Jackson.  From there we walk a bit of the original road that Jackson used for his flank march and discuss tactics and the difficulties associated with fighting in the Wilderness.  We stop at the Flank March spot to discuss ethnicity and the Union 11th Corps along with the effects of Jackson’s attack.  From there we drive back where I do a play-by-play of the events that led to Jackson’s wounding; it’s a narrative that closely follows Bob Krick’s brilliant analysis of this important moment in the battle.  Finally, we make our way over the Fairview where we eat our lunch and discuss the events of May 3.  While there we discuss Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, which helps us to get at issues related to soldier life.

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Watch Out For This Kid

Today was one of those days I live for as a teacher.  Over the course of this past year I’ve been working on an independent study that focuses on how the Civil War has been remembered and commemorated here in Charlottesville, Virginia with Joseph Wolf, who is one of my students.  We met on a weekly basis to discuss various secondary sources that included books by David Blight, Kirk Savage, Thomas Brown, David Goldfield, John Neff, and Gary Gallagher, to name just a few.  In addition, Joseph and I explored the roles of the local chapters of the SCV and UDC and read through a number of their publications.  Joseph’s main focus was to analyze the equestrian statues at Lee and Jackson parks along with our two soldier monuments, located at the courthouse and Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia.

As part of his project Joseph presented his research today during lunchtime to a packed classroom of teachers and students.  He did a fabulous job of explaining the role of Charlottesville during the Civil War, the evolution of the Lost Cause, and the conditions that led to the four monuments.  Best of all, Joseph did an outstanding job of analyzing the monuments for the audience as well as fielding their questions.  It’s been an absolute pleasure working with this student.  As a sophomore Joseph took my elective on Lincoln and as a junior he took my survey course in American history along with my elective courses on the Civil War and Civil War memory.

I have to say, however, that as much as I enjoyed sharing my passion for the Civil War with this student the subject matter is secondary compared with the interpretive skills that were learned and the seriousness that comes with an appreciation of the complexity of the past.  It was a pleasure to be able to sit their with everyone else and watch Joseph as he educated the audience.  He was in command.

Joseph has decided to continue his education at the University of South Carolina where he will major in history.  Luckily for Joseph, Thomas Brown teaches in the History Department.  It’s safe to say that Joseph will graduate high school with an understanding of the Civil War that rivals, if not surpasses, students who are about to graduate from college.  I wish Joseph all the best in his future endeavors.  Keep an eye out for this kid.

[Image: Unveiling of Jackson Statue at Jackson Park in Charlottesville, Virginia]

Reading List on the Aftermath of Battle

One of the nice things about my job is that I get to work one-on-one with seniors who are interested in doing independent work in history.  I am finishing up a project with one of my students on how the Civil War was commemorated here in Charlottesville between 1880 and 1920 and beginning the process of working with a student to formulate a project for next year.  This student wants to explore how Civil War soldiers responded to the horrors of war witnessed in the aftermath of battle.  We still need to nail a few things down, including the question of whether to look at this question over time or in response to one particular battle.

Luckily this student is excited to get started and even broached the idea of doing some reading over the summer.  I’ve decided to assign Drew Faust’s recent book on death and the Civil War, which should provide a helpful context in which to understand the cultural parameters of death in the nineteenth century.  Other studies that I am thinking about include Eric T. Dean’s Shook Over Hell, the section on Fredericksburg’s wounded by George Rable, and Joe Glatthaar’s chapter, “To Slaughter One Another Like Brutes” in General Lee’s Army.

My student is going to spent significant time collecting archival material at UVA, but I want him to do a good amount of reading in the relevant secondary sources.  Obviously, there is plenty of material out there that can be utilized for such a project; however, I am looking for secondary sources (battle/campaign studies, unit histories, biographies) where the historian goes beyond the descriptive and provides some kind of analysis.   If you have something in mind please share it with me even if it is a single book title, journal or magazine essay.  Thanks.