Why I teach kids about the Civil War

For 34 years, history “re-enactor” Jeff Sanders has visited classrooms to teach kids about the life of a Civil War soldier, he writes on PJ Media. From public and private schools to homeschool co-ops and juvenile detention centers, students are eager to learn.

“They learn what a ‘housewife’ is (it’s a sewing kit), how my toothbrush is made from animal bone and hog’s hair bristles (‘oooooh! gross!!), and how they made hardtack (a big flat cracker) and ate salt pork fried down to mush and mixed with bug-infested flour (yuck!),” writes Sanders.

He shows them his rifled musket and bayonet.

He finishes with a Northern song  (“Battle Cry of Freedom”), a Southern song (“Goober Peas”) and the favorite hymn of  both sides (“There Is A Fountain”).

Students love stories, says Sanders.

He always talks about Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. A Bowdoin professor and minister, he left his wife and children to command the 20th Maine. His defense of Little Round Top prevented a Confederate victory at Gettysburg.

I talk about how hot it was that day. . . . How Chamberlain was given orders to fight to the death.

. . . The kids hear about the ferocious gunfire and hand to hand fighting. And how tired both sides were: the men of the 15th Alabama were dying of thirst because their guys with all their canteens had been captured! And now, as the Confederates were coming up the hill for one last charge, Colonel Chamberlain received the worst news: “Colonel, sir, we are out of ammunition.”

That’s when I turn to the kids and ask them, “What should he do? What would YOU do? Go home? Run and hide? Start crying and telling everyone that you’re too tired?

Some day it may all come down to just YOU and what YOU will do. What are you going to do?”

Chamberlain ordered a bayonet charge.

You can hear a pin drop as I draw my bayonet and fit it to my rifle. Then, I reach for my sword, and scare the kids half to death by yelling “CHARGE!!!!!”

The 20th Maine drove the Confederates off the hill and saved the Union army, Sanders tells students. They love it. “Give your kids real flesh-and-blood heroes,” he says. Batman isn’t enough.

Is your school’s namesake worthy?

Florida has more schools named for manatees than for George Washington.

Some want to rename the nearly 200 K-12 schools named for Confederate leaders, writes Robert Pondiscio. As a teacher of civics and history, he sees a teachable moment.

So here’s a challenge for every school in this country named after a president, military figure, athlete, civic leader or any prominent person: Commit the coming school year to a close examination of the life and work of your school’s namesake.

. . . Let (students) debate, defend or challenge the merits of their namesake – but from a position of deep, informed conviction.

. . . Agree that the current name must stand until or unless an alternative person – not a street, natural feature or other bland, inoffensive name like Valley View High – is chosen if the current honoree fails to pass muster.

It’s increasingly rare for public schools to be named for people, according to a 2007 paper by Jay Greene and colleagues.  It’s easier and safer to choose a name from nature. That’s why Florida has 11 schools named for manatees and only five for George Washington. Arizona has as many public schools are named for the roadrunner as for Thomas Jefferson.

“Unfortunately, such caution betrays public education’s civic mission,” Greene and his colleagues wrote. “To teach civics effectively, we have to affirm that democracy and liberty are superior to other systems of government and that the history of democratic societies – shaped by the leadership of people whose names we should know – reinforces this point.

Is there anyone we can agree to honor?

Critics: New AP U.S. history has no heroes

Washington Crossing the Delaware as painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

College Board’s new framework for Advanced Placement U.S. History “inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country,” charge conservatives.

Instead of striving to build a “City upon a Hill,” as generations of students have been taught, the colonists are portrayed as bigots who developed “a rigid racial hierarchy” that was in turn derived from “a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority.” The Framework . . . omits the colonists’ growing commitment to religious freedom and the emergence of a pluralistic society that lacked an entrenched aristocracy.

. . .  the Framework makes no mention of the sacrifices America’s Greatest Generation made to rescue much of the world from a long night of Nazi and Japanese tyranny. Instead, the Framework focuses solely on the negative aspects of America’s involvement in the war:  “the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”

Heroes such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Dwight Eisenhower, Jackie Robinson, Jonas Salk, Neil Armstrong, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are not mentioned in the document, charge critics. But it has “space for Chief Little Turtle, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers.”

In response to the criticism, the College Board released a practice exam — to everyone, not just certified AP teachers — and promised to “clarify” the framework.

“Our founders are resonant throughout” the exam, wrote College Board President David Coleman wrote. “Just like the previous framework, the new framework does not remove individuals or events that have been taught by AP teachers in prior years. Instead, it is just a framework, requiring teachers to populate it with content required by their local standards and priorities.”

The practice exam is here.

The First Vote by A.R. Waud

The First Vote by A.R. Waud

Questions ask students to interpret quotes by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Other questions deal with immigration, women’s rights and urban poverty.

One question asks students to analyze an image:

a) Briefly explain the point of view expressed through the image about ONE of the following.
• Emancipation
• Citizenship
• Political participation

b) Briefly explain ONE outcome of the Civil War that led to the historical change depicted in the image.

c) Briefly explain ONE way in which the historical change you explained in part b was challenged in the period between 1866 and 1896.

Students disarm gunman, get suspended

Three football players who took a loaded gun from an angry teammate on a high school bus were suspended for three days, reports WFTX-TV in Fort Myers, Florida.

After a quarrel, a 15-year-old pulled out a revolver, aimed at another boy on the activities bus and said he’d shoot him, witnesses told police. Three boys tackled the gunmen and wrestled away the gun, which police say was loaded. The heroes were given an “emergency suspension” for being part of an “incident” where a weapon was present.

One of the suspended students described wrestling away the .22 caliber RG-14 Revolver.

“I think he was really going to shoot him right then and there,” the student said. “Not taking no pity.”
. . . “It’s dumb,” he said. “How they going to suspend me for doing the right thing?”

This 16-year-old knows the right thing — take action to save lives — and the dumb thing — punish the kids who prevented a shooting. Why don’t Cypress Hill High School administrators know the difference between right and dumb?

The 15-year-old gunman was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm on school property and assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill.  So they’re going easy on the kid who pulled the gun and hard on the kids who stopped him.



When an elementary school became a combat zone, Newtown’s teachers were heroes, reports CNN.

When Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, Principal Dawn Hochsprung ran toward the gun shots with school psychologist Mary Sherlach and Vice Principal Natalie Hammond. Hochsprung, 47, and Sherlach, 56, were killed.

Four teachers were killed with their students.

Victoria Soto, 27, moved her first-grade students away from the classroom door. The gunman burst in and shot her, according to the father of a surviving student.

“She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children,” her mother, Donna Soto, told CNN’s Piers Morgan.

Anne Marie Murphy’s body was found in a classroom, slumped over young children killed in the shooting. The 52-year-old special education teacher was apparently attempting to shield them, her father told the newspaper Newsday.

Rachel D’Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist who worked with autistic children. D’Avino’s boyfriend was going to propose to her on Christmas Eve.

Lauren Rousseau, 30, had dreamed of being a teacher since before she went to kindergarten herself. She had only been hired last month by Sandy Hook and was substituting for a teacher on maternity leave, when Lanza killed her.

Kindergarten teacher Janet Vollmer locked her classroom door when the shots rang out. She took the children into a nook between bookcases and a wall and read them a story to keep them calm. “We’re going to be safe,” Vollmer told them, “because we’re sitting over here and we’re all together.”

I tutor first graders in reading at a California elementary school. There’s no way to bar entrance to outsiders:  Every classroom door opens to the outside. I only know a few teachers there and a few aides, but I’d bet they’d stand between a gunmen and their kids. I’ll be back there Wednesday.

Schools must teach gay, disabled history

California’s new law adding gay history to the curriculum also requires teaching the history of disability rights activists, reports Sign On San Diego.

Helen Keller is an icon in the blind and deaf community and, thanks to “The Miracle Worker,” hers is one of the most recognizable names in American history.

But few social studies courses relate the role activist Justin Dart played in passing the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act that has changed the lives of millions of those who are blind, use wheelchairs or cannot hear.

It’s only the gay part that’s controversial, but what I can’t stand are the mentioning mandates. Mention disabled heroes, mention noble gays (“Frank Kameny . . . fired from the Army Map Service because he was gay”),  mention labor leaders (also specified by California law), mention business leaders (added to balance labor), mention women and listed minorities . . . And after all this hagio-trivia, be sure to teach critical thinking.