Have 150 Years Changed Anything?

Tomorrow is April 12th, 2011. Not a big deal, unless of course you know your history and you realize that 150 years ago tomorrow was the start of the American Civil War. Considering I am obsessed with the Civil War (so much so that I do reenacting), I thought I would devote my blog post this week to the topic and connections to our modern world.

In terms of education, we have come a long way since the days of 1861. When studying company and regiment records from the day it becomes quite apparent how uneducated these young men were. There are recruiter sheets from units in the South where half the men in a 100-man company could not even sign their name and thus were forced to “leave their mark” – usually an x. It was not necessary to be able to write your name to sew seeds in a field or reap wheat, so why learn it? This brings up an issue that we run into today, must all students be in college prep courses, especially the ones who have no plans at all to attend college? Many might point out that it is hard to get a good job without a college degree, but is that the way it should be? Is our society suffering from education inflation where a bachelors degree is now commonplace rather than an achievement? This was definitely not true 150 years ago.

We also have quite a few accounts discussing the fact that soldiers had a tough time learning how to march because they did not know their left from their right. Drill Sergeants did what any teacher does, they made connections to what the troops already knew – in this case, farming. Most of America was agricultural at this time and so the sergeants would teach them their hay foot and straw foot instead of left and right.  Today’s teachers have a variety of ways to connect to students ranging from use of technology to mentioning Lady Gaga. One big difference between a drill sergeant from the 1860’s and teachers of today though, would be that we cannot use corporal punishment, but some states are even re-considering that. It is interesting to note that even the Marine Corps does not condone violence towards recruits anymore – not sure we want public school teachers to be considered more violent than Marines…

Lastly, slavery. I had always been taught that slavery was the cause of the civil war and only later learned that there was “other stuff” as well. It seems recently that a lot of people have forgotten the slavery aspect and focused on the “other stuff” because every historian I see talking about the Civil War always makes it a point to mention that Slavery was the cause of the Civil War. You can talk about states rights and manifest destiny all you want, but all those tangents always circle back to the “peculiar institution”. This brings up another important issue in teaching – myths. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Our profession needs to weed out certain myths such as technology being a panacea. Technology is great and it should play a role in the class room, but it will not solve all of our problems. As the nation found after the Civil War in Reconstruction, just because you spend a lot of time, money and blood on an issue does not mean you will solve the problem. America still deals with inequality today and so, in a sense, we as teachers are still fighting the Civil War every day in our class rooms.; the only difference is that we use thoughts and ideas where as they used muskets and cannon.


About Bryce Hartranft

High School Social Studies Teacher
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One Response to Have 150 Years Changed Anything?

  1. Brishundra says:

    Thanks for the history lesson… I need the refresher. I truly enjoyed this post.

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