Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caring for Our Veterans: Lessons from WWII and Today

I recently read Double Victory: A Multicultural History of American in World War II by Ronald Takaki.  There were many parts of Takaki's book that are striking, but the one part I kept coming back to as I remembered reading through it was the story of Ira Hayes, The Indian "Hero" of Iwo Jima starting on pg 72. I had heard the story before many times, but every time I read or hear a new account, I am touched by how this smart young Native American went into war enthusiastically seeking to prove the value of both his Pima people and his pride in America as a nation.  His reasons for going to war were noble and perhaps naive, but the reward he got for his service is a dark mark on American history, too often glossed over in history classrooms.

Before teaching high school, I taught 8th graders for 6 years. Four out of those 6 years I took large groups of adolescents to Washington D.C. to experience some of their own history first hand. One of the sights we visit, of course, is the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. The guides, though knowledgeable, always tell the story of the first flag-raising and then the second flag-raising for the photo opportunity. They always tended to gloss over the rest of Hayes' tragic story. I suppose it doesn't make for cheerful tour groups of adolescents to explain how Hayes was pretty much forced to tour the country to encourage Americans to buy war bonds.  Hayes had trouble with the "hero" status he carried, because he knew he hadn't been present at the event he was credited for due to the staging of the second photo that became famous. He also faced unrelenting discrimination because of his Pima heritage while on tour.  He wasn't cared for when the psychological impact of his situation was manifesting in his behavior in public and in private.

But the tour also had irritating and disturbing moments.  Reporters asked Hayes questions like: "How'd you get a name like Ira Hayes, Chief? I never heard of an Indian with a name like that."  Such insults angered Hayes and aggravated the distress he felt about his unearned celebrity status.  He shrouded himself in silence.  Asked to speak at one of the bond dinners, Hayes muttered: "I'm glad to be in your city an' I hope you buy a lot of bonds."  During the tour, Hayes drank heavily and became an embarrassment to the Marine Corps.  General A. A. Vendegrift complained to Beech: "I understand you Indian got drunk on you last night?"  Shortly afterward, Hayes was abruptly sent back to the front.  The press reported that the "brave Indian" wanted to return to military action in the Pacific. (pg 77)
Ten years after the war, in 1954, Hayes was honored at the ceremony that dedicated the aforementioned Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.  Just a few weeks later, his body was found on a street in Bapchule, Arizona.  He had fallen down drunk and drowned in his own vomit.  Hayes tragic story ended abruptly because the United States, while honoring Hayes in multiple ways, did not treat him or care for him the way he needed.  Hayes would probably trade all of the cheering crowds and honor dinners for someone to show him the compassion he needed in the wake of so many difficult experiences.

I actually heard a rather touching story of a modern war veteran, Iraq veteran Brock Savelkoul, on NPR on my way home yesterday afternoon that reminded me of Hayes' story. Read or listen to the incredible story by clicking here.  I'm not the only one who was impressed by this piece of journalism.  If you have a few minutes, this video gives you a taste.

His story was heart-wrenching and literally brought me to tears during my commute.  Similar to Hayes, I bet Savelkoul would trade his Purple Heart for the help he needed to cope with his injuries.  Our soldiers need to be both honored and cared for like they deserve.  Thankfully it seems that Savelkoul's story will have a happier ending than Hayes'.

As we teach history in our classrooms, it is important to tell them the patriotic parts, but also the portions that we should learn from.  It has been over 50 years his Hayes' tragic story ended.  I hope our nation is learning from our mistakes in caring for our veterans.

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are You Wearing Green Today?

Did you know that the story about St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is a metaphor?  "A metaphor for what?" you ask.

Why do we associate 3 leaf clovers with this day?

There are many traditions associated with today.  Some, like going to church to observe the holy day, are healthy for body and soul.  Some, like downing a pint or two of Guiness, are not.  Where did all of these traditions come from? 

Watch the quick video below to find out!

OK, so now you know the history.  But why am I wearing green to celebrate the day?  
Turns out, I should probably be wearing blue!

Yup, here's another quick video explanation.

So, on this lovely Saint Patrick's Day, I leave you with an Irish blessing and wish you well.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lincoln's Assassination: A Nation's Emotional Response

My sophomore students are wrapping up their unit on the American Civil War.  There is a lot of information for them to take in; massive casualty numbers, battles, generals, politicians, primary source readings like the Peninsula Campaign Letter and the Emancipation Proclamation, the lives of slaves during the war...

The final lesson of the Civil War is always the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  This year I was searching for a new way for my students to study the information.  After a little searching, I found an amazing website: The Abraham Lincoln Papers from the Library of Congress.  One of their special collections is called The Lincoln Assassination.  There I found broadsides, illustrations, and other publications that convey the public sentiment surrounding the shocking events of April 15, 1865.

So.... here is my plan for Monday!

The Set Up
First, I will ask the students to read this short summary of the events surrounding the assassination.  Then, to make the rich primary resources into a lesson, I will divide them into 5 categories.  Each category will be assigned to one of 5 small groups of students in each of my sophomore classes.

To see more detail for any of these images, simply click on it.

Lincoln is Shot
The Nation Reacts
Mourning Lincoln
Memorializing Lincoln
Punishing the Perpetrators

Each group/category will have three images.  What you see above is just a taste.

The Analysis
In order for students to see all of the incredible emotion that is captured in these images, I will ask them to use the following questions to analyze them in their small groups.
  • Identify at least 3 details from the document.  Write them in a list with an explanation of the importance of each detail.
  • What inferences can you make about the feelings and intent of the creator from this document?
  • Who do you think is the target audience the creator had in mind? Why do you think so?
  • After looking at and analyzing this document, what is the main idea of the document?
The Share-Out
When all groups are done with the above analysis of all three of their documents, I will ask each group to get up in front of the class.  While I project the images in full size and in color on my SMART Board, they will lead a class discussion in the analyses of these rich images.  I hope that, inevitably, students will notice details they didn't on first glance.  Maybe some groups, who thought they had done a thorough job before getting up in front of the class, will even learn from their audience during these discussions.

The Culminating Question
After each group presents, the students in each group will be asked to consider their 3 documents together and answer this question:
  • Taken together, what emotions or ideas do these documents demonstrate?  Use words or images from your documents as evidence of these emotions and ideas.
My hope is that the answers will be thoughtful and that the students will point to specific details or words used in the documents that convey the emotions of the time period.  The goal is for them to have a greater understanding of what is must have been like to live during these tumultuous times, based on the words and images created by the people who were there.

Wish me luck!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Teaching Historical Context With Primary Sources & Podcasting

The Philosophy Behind the Lesson
Now that the second half of the school year is well-underway, I am becoming more and more cognizant of the fact that I need to teach my freshman students certain skills to prepare them for the larger-scale research projects that await them in their sophomore classes next year.

One of those skills is historical context.

Professor Claude BĂ©langer at Marianopolis College describes historical context as:
The context is understood as the events, or the climate of opinion, that surround the issue at hand. They help to understand its urgency, its importance, its shape. What was happening at the time of the event or the decision that sheds some light on it? In what type of society did the event occur? An urban one? A rich one? An educated one?
The Lesson
I wanted to come up with a fun way to teach my freshmen this concept.  So, I opened the class with an explanation of historical context.  We happen to be studying American colonial society prior to the American revolution.  So, the two issues I chose to highlight were the Great Awakening and colonial westward expansion into Native American lands.

Each group received one primary source quote or excerpt to analyze.  They did some pre-reading the night before, and now they had to apply that knowledge and set up the historical context to explain how people of the time might feel and why they might make the statements assigned to them.

Click here to see the handout they received.

They had the first half of class to do their research and writing, and then we recorded their results in a podcast during the second half of class.  Groups sent two representatives up to my desk, and they recorded there using a simple headset with microphone and my account. (Audio expert is something covered and demonstrated in an earlier History Connected Seminar this year.)

I published the podcasts before the kids even left the classroom using my account.  PodBean is easy to use.  If you know how to write a blog using Blogger or WordPress, PodBean is relatively intuitive.

Here are the podcasts that resulted:
D Block Podcast

C Block Podcast

Finally, to follow up on the lesson and ensure that everyone got the historical context for all of the quotes, students were assigned to go online and listen to the podcast one more time for homework. They were to take notes on the historical context explained by each of the other three groups on their handout from class.

Reflecting on the Results
The students really liked this lesson because... 
  • It reinforced and reviewed the reading and outline work they had done the night before.
  • They got to work in groups and talk to each other throughout the class (it was a student-centered activity). 
  • They love publishing podcasts online.  Fourteen and fifteen-year-olds love to hear their own voices! 
  • Also, I often send emails home informing parents when we publish podcasts or videos from class.  Parents love hearing what their children are learning directly from their mouths and in their own words.
I really liked this lesson because...
  • It was quick, one 55 minute class period.
  • The kids were engaged and motivated the entire time they were in class.
  • The work they are doing is applying the knowledge they have already learned.  It isn't about spitting back information they memorized, it is about higher order thinking. 
  • Also, I tend to get a lot of feedback, from both parents and students, when our lessons result in something we publish.  Parents email me and comment on the actual podcast.  I can also see how many "hits" each podcast gets right on the PodBean site, so I know that students are going back and listening.