Thursday, October 18, 2012

History knowledge in my lit classes

I have had many many amazing students over the years, but also over the years it is harder and harder to get students with a solid cultural grasp of many areas, whether it be art, lit, history, music, math.  But they still exist.

To be honest most of the students seem to mention only three wars, Revolutionary, Civil and World War II.  World War I is rarely guessed. I used to love it when we talked about the first few pages of To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee ( who I have to tell many of them is a woman and yes, to their astonishment, she is still alive) and the traditon bound nature of the South. Lee writes something along the lines that the Finches had no one recorded as being on either side of Battle of 1066.  When I ask this what war is this part of and how does it tie into the South, I usually got my usual three answers. Since they knew it was a Southern novel, they would start with the Civil War.  Then one of my Hermione type students would point out that it was much later.  Next someone would go to World War II another one of my students with a vast memory would announce, "Hadn't happened yet, book takes place earlier."  Then they  would try for the Revolutionary War, and my all round student would correct that.  These students, such as Peter, Rhett, Cate Melissa ( who usually never said thingsto the classs just to a neighbor), Catherine (often same thing), Marleen and Mary, Allison or Jessica, Michael or Kate, or Stephen just to name a few by first name,  knew it was the Norman Conquest and could explain that France conquered England.  Some could even explain how that affected us linguistically.    We could get the mention of Appamattox and it was these kids that knew there were not fighter pilots in the Civil War and this is where Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant.  I would love looking for questions they didn't know because it was such a joy to have these kinds of kids and to hear what sponges they had been their whole lives and how much they loved learning. I could ask them to explain how there were more armies in the South than Lee's and more than the Army of the Potomac in the North.

It is hard, though, to explain that tradition bound nature of the South if you have not lived there. I used to have a Reader's Digest piece that explained if the North invented the true /false or multiple choice questionnaire then the South most certainly invented the essay. To paraphrase the piece, if you ask who that man is over there in the North, they would say, Joe Smith. In the South, they would say," Joe Smith is the neighbor down the road who is your third cousin's second wife's brother. He worked at the auto place that your uncle used to and has three children, one of whom went to college one of whom went to the miltiary and one who of  whom was a good for nothing like this mother's side of the family" it could go on longer but you get the idea.  This was somewhat of the point that was being made in the novel ; that families knew the other families in town and also knew their own entire family history by heart.

On more than one occasion I would have a student ask me who fought in the Civil War or what it was over and would invariably get "That's all it was about."  I would point out that was massive understatement.

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