A few months ago I commented on actor Richard Drefyuss’s new crusade of working to introduce civics back into the high school curriculum. I did not know at that time that he would be speaking at my school. Well, today was the big day and I thought I might share a few observations. Let me begin by applauding Dreyfuss for his sincere interest in this issue. I support anyone who can help to shed light on those areas that need improvement in the education of young Americans. And unlike some who criticize Hollywood types for their social activism I welcome it. If it takes a high profile name to draw attention to some issue than so be it. Of course, it is incumbent on that individual to demonstrate competence in the area in question. Unfortunately, Dreyfuss falls far short of this mark.
Our school organized his visit around a panel discussion that included six students, all of whom had prepared questions for Dreyfuss. From the beginning Dreyfuss had difficulty staying on message and he alienated much of his audience when he asked for a volunteer to cite the Bill of Rights. That seemed to be sufficient reason to pound home his broader theme which is that the United States is doomed. There was actually very little talk of civics; rather he touched on what he sees as a lack of civil discourse. Well, who would disagree with that? However, if you are going to offer such a critique you must be the one to set the example. Again, he fell short. Student questions were not addressed in any substantive manner. In fact, our students should be praised for the way they managed to steer Dreyfuss back to the question at hand or to another issue. Continue reading →
This is the final week of my survey course on the American Civil War. One of the subjects we’ve been looking at is the introduction of what Mark Grimsley describes as “Hard War” policy by the United States in 1864. The class was assigned a section of Grimsley’s book, Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1995), which allowed us to take a much closer look at Sherman’s “March to the Sea”. Rather than see the campaign as a foreshadowing of warfare in the twentieth century, Grimsley provides a framework that situates it within the history of warfare stretching back to the Middle Ages. [It's always nice to be able to read and discuss the best in Civil War scholarship with my high school students.] He also speculates that this may account for why Grant, Sherman and the rest of the Union army did not regard the campaign as inaugurating a new kind of warfare. I’m not sure I agree with that, but nevertheless, Grimsley’s analysis does provide students of the war with a framework with which to analyze as opposed to our popular memory of Sherman and the campaign that is bogged down in strong emotions that tell us very little about the scale of violence and overall strategy. Continue reading →
From the beginning of its formation, one of the central goals for the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has been educational outreach. It is doing this in a number of ways from organizing conferences to creating mobile exhibits that will travel throughout the state between 2011 and 2015. Included in this is the creation of educational materials suitable for use in k-12 classrooms. This fall Virginia PBS stations will air “Virginia in the Civil War”. This was a joint project between the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Virginia Tech’s Center for Civil War Studies. The documentary is three hours in length and will be broken down into nine 20 minute segments. I couldn’t be more pleased with the commission’s focus on educational materials and this documentary, which will be made available to every public and private school in the state, will surely come in handy.
The following post originally appeared on December 12, 2005
Being Ed Ayers
In the most recent issue of North and South there is a very interesting exchange between Ed Ayers and a letter to the editor in the Crossfire section. The writer responded to Ayers’s article, “What Caused the Civil War” which appeared in a previous issue (Vol. 8, #5); the article is essentially a reprint from his most recent book of essays titled, What Caused the Civil War: Reflections on the South and Southern History. I think Ayers is one of the more talented historians writing today.I’ve read through his Pulitzer-Prize nominated book, The Promise of the New South so many times that it has a rubber band around it to keep it together.The only other book in my library in that condition is Plato’s Republic.More recently Ayers won the Bancroft Prize for In the Presence of Mine Enemies which is based on his Valley of the Shadow project out of the University of Virginia.
Not too long ago I commented on a popular homeschooling textbook on the Civil War by John J. Dwyer, titled, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War. This is the video promo for that textbook. It is a truly remarkable modern day Lost Cause inspired account of the war. It essentially pits a God-fearing South against a Godless and barbaric North that accomplished nothing during the war except for the terrorizing and destroying of southern homes and farms. A wonderful example of mental child abuse pure and simple.