Teaching World War II history

July 12, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich wants World War II to be emphasized more in the state's public schools, with students learning the personal accounts of Maryland's veterans of the war.

Ehrlich expressed that sentiment after he returned from a trip to Normandy last month. While few details are available, a representative of the state Department of Education did not believe the governor's ideas would conflict with the curriculum currently in use in school systems throughout the state.

State schools spokesman Bill Reinhard said the governor's interest in helping students learn more about Maryland's involvement in World War II can be integrated into state, national and world history classes at various grade levels.


In Washington County Public Schools, instructors spend about two weeks teaching about the war in the United States history course, said Clyde Harrell, supervisor of secondary social studies. Students also receive some instruction about the war in a world history and American government courses, he said.

"They need a lot more," World War II veteran Jerome A. Gettler, 80, of Hagerstown said. He wants to make sure students learn the lessons and importance of the war, he said.

In order to emphasize World War II more in the American history course, less time would have to be spent on some other part of history, Harrell said.

Mark Lewis, a veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, summed up the problem: "There have been so darn many wars." It is hard to give World War II sufficient time when "we have become a war nation," said Lewis, 79, of Wolfsville, Md.

While two weeks may not sound like much, teachers use multiple mediums including audio and videotapes, to pass on knowledge during those 10 90-minute classes, teacher Ed Gift said.

History teachers - at least the good ones - go out of their way to personalize history to make it more meaningful and memorable for students, said Gift, a Smithsburg High School teacher who has taught American history in the system for 35 years.

There also is less reliance than there used to be on the textbook and lectures, he said.

While the textbook continues to provide students with important details and facts, a supplemental book provides students with more depth, he said.

The supplemental book includes personal narratives, diary excerpts and other information that help students understand how individuals were affected by the war, he said.

The book includes writings from Anne Frank, American journalist Ernie Pyle, a soldier and others, he said. Through their readings, he thinks the students learn why the soldiers are considered by some to be "the Greatest Generation."

He also will assign projects such as having students write a letter from the perspective of a soldier in the war writing home, he said.

"It draws them in a little bit better. It helps them get some deeper insights because they were not there and we do live in different times," he said.

Susan Wall, principal of Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., said students there generally receive about four to five weeks of instructional time on the events leading up to the war and the war itself. An additional two to three weeks is spent on the war's aftermath, she said.

Harrell said the classes in Jefferson High School are 45 minutes long, as opposed to 90 minutes in Washington County.

Students in the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District receive about two weeks of instruction on World War II in the American history class, but that could change, said Eric Michael, the school district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The school system wants to focus more on contemporary wars including World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, he said.

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