Teacher Reflection: Relevance of Civil War History in Today’s Classrooms
This summer, 25 teachers from around the country participated in our summer institute The Seat of War and Peace. This week-long program examines how the Civil War and Reconstruction have been remembered across time through the study of monuments and memorials. A particular emphasis is placed on monuments dedicated to Confederate soldiers. Little did we know that a month after our program ended our topic would turn into a national conversation.
Laura Aysen was one of this summer’s participants. She teaches social studies at Creekside Junior High School in Pearl River, Louisiana, and is the sponsor of the school’s history club. As part of participating in our summer program, each teacher created a lesson plan. Laura’s lesson, “Not Just Stone and Metal,” guides students through an examination of the history of Confederate monuments and the recent push to have many of them removed. This is particularly relevant to her students, since they live 39 miles north of New Orleans, the city where the removal of three Confederate memorials took center stage in the national news this summer.
I spoke with Laura about her experience in the program and the opportunities and challenges she encountered creating her lesson plan.
What was one of your main take-aways from the program?
My main take-away from the program is that there are so many different opinions and points of view about the issue of monuments and their removal. It is such a hot bed topic and goes so much further in-depth than most people realize.
Based on what I learned at The Seat of War and Peace, I will absolutely include a guided debate on Confederate monuments in my classes. As a class we will agree on ground rules for civic discourse and I will moderate the debate ensuring that differing viewpoints are heard in a respectful setting. I also will begin to include more in-depth information on Frederick Douglass, including his speeches.
What are your students saying about the current debate about Confederate monuments?
Gauging from discussions in class, the large majority of my students are completely against removing the monuments. Because I teach 8th graders (junior high), most of the rhetoric that they cite obviously comes from parents and guardians. I am very much looking forward to seeing if their opinions change once they research and have guided debate in class.
Why is teaching Lincoln important to students today?
First, it is important to teach about Lincoln so that students can appreciate and understand the controversies going on at the beginning of the Civil War and how complicated it was for his administration and congress to decide to go to war. In addition, it is important to understand and learn from his passion for fairness and justice.
Jake Flack is the Associate Director of Museum Education. He manages The Seat of War and Peace and Civil War Washington Teacher Fellows professional development programs. He also manages the school visit program.