More Cannons Go Boom For Students

I posted a story not too long ago about a group of students who traveled to a plantation in Georgia to listen to reenactors demonstrate their artillery pieces.  No indication was given that they learned anything at all about life on the plantation.  Now I am the first to admit that I may be making something out of nothing, but these little trips that are designed simply to entertain are disturbing to me.  Here is another story of a group in South Carolina:

About 1,500 children from schools across the midlands had class outside, on a rolling pasture in Calhoun County. They each received two flags: the American flag they all knew, and the Confederate flag they were about to learn about.  “Our great American history deserves an opportunity for our young people to understand their heritage,” said Jeff O’Cain.  “We’re trying to stress what life was like in the 1860’s, when 650,000 Americans killed each other,” said O’Cain.  The clothing, the health-care, even the popcorn of the 1860’s made the day’s lessons. It was a snapshot of American life in the mid-nineteenth century, punctuated by cannons firing in the field.  “They were loud, really loud,” said fourth grader Danielle Davies of the cannons. “But I covered my ears."

What does it mean for students to learn about their heritage as opposed to their history?  What exactly makes Jeff O’Cain qualified to say anything beyond what their teachers should be able to convey to their students.  I have no problem with a demonstration of Civil War weaponry.  I would love to know, however, what Mr. O’Cain means by "understand their heritage."  My guess is that he did not touch on much beyond the battlefield and the role of race and slavery.  Please don’t suggest that the kids can’t handle a discussion about these issues.  I’ve read too many stories about the classroom – including the one just a few days ago on the college student who complained about having to learn about the Civil Rights Movement – to believe that they do not collectively represent our continued inability or unwillingness to grapple with the divisive issue of racism and slavery in our history classes.

5 comments… add one
  • Joey Gee Jul 31, 2010 @ 9:17


    I know this is an old posting but I just ran across your Blog.

    First let me say I am from Georgia and a Volunteer Historical Interpreter, I hate the term Reenactor because in most cases rarely is anything reenacted. I lean to the side of the hobby called the “Progressive/Hardcore” section. We focus on appropriate gear and impressions and adapt for different time periods and locations as well as events that more closely replicate history and shun the Battle Festival enactments. I know that many (including myself) study the truth behind the war so that we can be better informed as well as talk with others about the issues.

    Now that being said I have done a lot of volunteer work for schools and programs for other groups and the thing is that sometimes all people want is the “nickel show”. Most teachers/groups I have dealt with rarely want any mention of personal beliefs of solders and why the war was fought because it is inflammatory. You can’t mention that a Southerner Soldier didn’t have slaves or Northern Soldier who would desert if he was fighting to free the slaves. It shatters heir world that it wasn’t just black and white. Even worse is when you get he Lost Causers who want to “learn you” about the War and it had nothing to do with slavery. One reason for years I carried around the reasons for Secession published by the states. Kind of hard to argue with black and white print that the people wrote then.

    Another issue is time. Sometimes we have 30 minutes, an hour or so and all you can do is do a quick overview of simple things such as equipment, physical objects the audience can see and touch. Then again in it hard enough sometimes to dispel the myth that Confederate soldiers were not ragged rebels stealing from the “Yankees” everything they needed. Much less do we have time to get into a lot of the reasons why the men fought, body servants, deserters, shirkers, civilians, true medical etc.

    Sorry, I am just having mental diarrhea today.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 31, 2010 @ 10:53


      Thanks for the comment. Sound like you take this craft seriously. It pains me to read about about my fellow teaches allowing outsiders into their classrooms simply because the individual in question has enough money to purchase a uniform. That last point you made is a good one.

      • Joey Gee Jul 31, 2010 @ 15:36


        Thanks. Yes I really take it seriously, I figure that the moment I put on a uniform or civilian clothing that I owe those people who did it for real the best portrayal I can perform.

        I feel your pain about the teachers letting in any “Johnny Farb“ of the street. The reason I cannot get into any public schools around here any longer is because of a “heritage preservation” group(you can guess which) who bought the Uniforms made by Stan Paki, brought in post war “relics” then got in their spewing Neo Confederate nonsense. Just in that one instance all people like me got painted the same color. It’s a shame. Oh well I have more fun at Most National and State historic sites now a days and there the audience is more into the history usually.

        BTW Loving the blog. We are not all “lost causers” down here, ha-ha.

  • Kevin Levin May 10, 2006 @ 5:36

    EHT, — Nice to hear from you on this one. I was expecting to hear someone say that smaller children can’t handle these discussions. As you rightly point out the opposite is true. In fact they may be at the ideal age for such topics as they have not been conditioned to ignore it. Thanks for writing.

  • elementaryhistoryteacher May 9, 2006 @ 22:55

    I agree. I agree. I agree. I have posted on this before. Teachers get so caught up in the activity…how cute it will look, how much fun it will be that they loose sight of the objective. Do we want kids to learn that cannons are loud or do we want them to think critically about why they used cannons. You can have some pretty deep conversations with nine and ten year olds if you let it happen and if field trips are planned appropriately they can be terrific learning experiences for students from six to twenty-six.

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