Battle locations creates perfect teacher's aid

Teaching about the Civil War

Teaching about the Civil War

September 09, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - With so much Civil War history in their backyards, many Tri-State area history teachers go beyond the textbook and a lecture.

Guest speakers such as park rangers, re-enactors and authors and Civil War relics such as Minie balls and buttons are often a part of Bruce Davidson's lesson plans for his Civil War history class at Jefferson High School.

"It's a very popular class. It's always full," said Davidson, who's been teaching the class for about 15 years.

To put the war in perspective, Davidson's lessons include the events and issues such as slavery that led to the war and the post-war reconstruction.


Davidson uses videos, magazines, National Park Service materials and about 300 books on the Civil War from his personal collection to teach the semester-long course.

Each class takes a field trip, usually to Gettysburg, Pa., and students do class projects such as researching ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

Students in John Michael Priest's Civil War class at South Hagerstown High School have contributed research and editing to three books on the war, Priest said.

Priest encourages his students to use primary research material such as diaries, letters, memoirs and regimental histories.

He also created a tabletop game that allows his students to simulate the war without getting shot, Priest said.

"They make the same mistakes the generals made back then," Priest said.

Not every history teacher has the luxury of spending an entire semester on the war.

Many teachers spend days, maybe weeks on the war.

Teachers for third and fourth grades may touch upon the war while studying Washington County and Maryland history, said Kris McGee, a Boonsboro Elementary School history teacher.

Even though her fifth-grade class isn't studying the war this year, McGee said she will discuss it with her class briefly because they discuss current events, which will include the 140th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam this weekend.

Cindy Weaver, who teaches history to fourth- and fifth-graders at Sharpsburg Elementary School, said she doesn't plan to take her students to the re-enactment, but will encourage them to go with their families to that and the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival the same weekend because they are local cultural events.

"We live in the middle of it. I touch briefly on it so the kids know Antietam was not the only battle in the Civil War," Weaver said.

Many teachers don't cover the Civil War until spring, but will discuss it with students briefly around the time of the re-enactment.

Washington County Schools are expected to take 35 buses of students in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth grades from 16 schools to the re-enactment site along Rench Road this Friday, said Jim Newkirk, Washington County's elementary social studies supervisor.

E. Russell Hicks Middle School teacher Gary Decker said he will encourage his students to talk to Union, Confederate and civilian re-enactors at the event to get different perspectives on the war. They will discuss the results of their trip the following Monday.

Gregory Remson, a ninth-grade social studies teacher at Faust Junior High School in Chambersburg, Pa., will spend six to seven weeks on the war this spring.

He'll devote one day to the Battle of Antietam because it's the war's first major battle and could have changed the tide of the war if Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had not been allowed to retreat, Remson said.

With their proximity to Antietam and Gettysburg, many of his students are familiar with the war's history. Besides the major battles, Remson explains the burning of Chambersburg by Confederate forces.

The National Park Service has a training program for teachers to help them take advantage of local resources such as Harpers Ferry and Antietam when teaching the war, said Gordie Thorpe, a park ranger and educational specialist.

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