Category Archives: Teaching

“Southern History is a Custody Battle Still in Litigation”

In March I will co-lead a group of students on a 7-day trip through the South to explore the history and memory of the Civil Rights Movement. It should come as no surprise that Montgomery, Alabama is on our itinerary. In preparation for the trip we are putting together a collection of documents that offer different perspectives on how these communities are coming to terms with their pasts. This New York Times piece about the placement of new historical markers throughout the city will be included in that list.

But Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation. The Alabama Historical Association, which has its name on many of the historical markers around the state, confirmed the accuracy of the research but declined to sponsor the markers, citing “the potential for controversy.” (The markers were eventually sponsored by the state-run Black Heritage Council.) Todd Strange, the mayor of Montgomery, while acknowledging in a newspaper article several years ago that the sign referring to slave markets made him uneasy, gave the project his backing after a meeting with Mr. Stevenson.

I love the fact that the mayor admitted to feeling “uneasy” but still provided the necessary support for the project to move forward. These projects should make us feel uncomfortable. If they didn’t there would be little reason to carry through with it at all.

Sounds like there is a pretty intense backstory to all of this.

The Myth of the Delete Button

Trash IconEarlier today I received an email from a reader who wondered if I had any regret about sharing a blog post whose author intended not to be read. It’s a reasonable question and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking twice before posting. But here’s the deal. If the post in question reminded us of anything it’s that the delete button is a myth.  You can make information published to the Internet more difficult to find, but, with few exceptions, it cannot be permanently erased. All of us who interact on the Internet through various social media platforms must understand this before leaving a comment, posting an image and before blogging. Continue reading

Common Core Teaches the Gettysburg Address Without Historical Context

Note: The title of this post was meant to attract readers. I hope the post itself clarifies that I believe much of the outrage expressed over this specific unit has been misplaced.

Working in private schools over the course of the past fifteen years has allowed me to control what I do in the classroom. I am not subjected to the latest fads adapted by state and federal government that purportedly track learning in the classroom. The latest fad is something called Common Core, which like every other standard is quite controversial. I don’t claim to be an expert and will refrain from drawing any conclusions one way or the other. What I do find interesting, however, is this story surrounding how Common Core proposes teaching Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The story has received increased traction over the past few days and will likely continue to do so in the coming days. Continue reading

A Confession

Bully PulpitI have a confession to make. I am a huge fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books. Yes, I say this despite the plagiarism scandal and her recent performance at the Gettysburg 150 commemoration this past July. I do not subscribe to the “three strikes” rule.

Goodwin tells exciting stories about our most important political leaders and the times in which they lived. Occasionally, you can sense a whiggish streak running through the narrative, but it’s rarely overbearing and rarely evolves into full-blown sentimentality. [That happens more often than not during interviews.] She is one of the few popular writers who has the ability to remind the country that its collective memory extends beyond the past few weeks. Continue reading

12 Years A Slave Meets the Academic Community

12 Years A SlaveLast year Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln led to an outpouring of reviews by professional historians, who pointed out what they perceived to be a wide range of interpretive problems and omissions in the film. In sharp contrast, Steve McQueen’s powerful adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years A Slave has garnered a very different and even muted response from the academic community. I sense a collective sigh of relief that finally we have a Hollywood film that directly challenges Lost Cause nostalgia surrounding slavery in Gone With the Wind. It could also be an acknowledgment of just how closely the movie conforms to Northrup’s autobiography.

The violence (both physical and psychological) is emotionally draining and will leave you feeling numb by the end. I never thought I would be saying this, but the final whipping scene makes Denzel Washington’s Academy Award-winning moment in Glory seem mild in comparison. In that case Tripp’s whipping eventually leads to a demonstration of his manhood and defiance in the battle scenes that take place later in the movie. There is redemption in Glory where there is none in 12 Years. We follow Solomon home to Saratoga, New York for a very brief reunion with his family, but our hearts are still with the remaining slaves on the Epps plantation in Louisiana. And then the theater lights come on. Continue reading