Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Civil War in the Classroom: One Michigan Narrative

              With numerous outlets existing which interpret history differently it is interesting to see the results of such pseudo education. With the sesquicentennial events of the Civil War quickly approaching, I thought it intriguing to take a look at how this event in America’s past was being interpreted, remembered, and in this case taught. Adding an interesting twist, this account is from interviewing random students in a northern setting. Joey Andrews, a law student in Michigan, has recently come into contact with how one education system treats this mark on the nation’s past. Acknowledging that this is not a survey examining the broad scope of the state of Michigan’s school system and how they teach the war, it is still an interesting read in the perspective of some local students, and what they gained from that knowledge acquired. I take no credit for this writing as it was all Mr. Andrews' drive to seek out information and as always I hope that it inspires debate. Perhaps some other northern representative would be willing to give his personal take as well; it would be more than welcomed. I thank Mr. Andrews' for his time and dedication, and for his willingness to allow me to post his thoughts.  

      In order to facilitate the discussion regarding the modern interpretation of the Civil War in various parts of our country, I decided as a member of the great north (read: state of Michigan) I would do my part to see how the civil war is being treated up here in the high school classroom. I remember quite fondly from my youthful days of high school barely even touching on the topic of the Civil War. We went through the basic rubric of slavery, Lincoln the great defender of the Union, freedom for all, and then promptly moved on to more pressing issues like the Great Depression (since apparently the 50 intervening years of history don’t count for much).
      It turns out in the 5 years since I graduated high school, and the 8 years since I had a high school level American History class, not much has realistically changed. If anything has changed, it’s that the Civil War is even less emphasized and talked about than before. In conversation with high school students who have recently completed A.P. U.S. History at a local high school I discovered that not even a week had been devoted to the topic of the Civil War. What is worse than that is the reality that the Civil War as it is being taught is fairly misrepresented. The students recounted the Civil War as this sort of anecdotal moment in American History where some backwards southerners who were slave owners were rebelling against the northern states for trying to take away their slaves. It was clear that the bias being presented favored the Union perspective to the point of making the southern perspective sound like total irrational nonsense. They were vaguely familiar with the various congressional “compromises” that attempted to regulate new states on the issue of slavery, and most of them had heard the words “Manassas”, “Shiloh”, “Gettysburg” and “Appomattox”. They weren’t exactly clear on what those battles meant, or who won or lost them, except for Gettysburg where everyone was quite clear that the North won and then the war ended promptly there-after as a result.
Joey Andrews, Wayne State University
                There was no understanding of the economic state of the time, no real discussion on the other issues that faced the south outside of just slavery. No knowledge what-so-ever of the international perspective on the war, and a lack of understanding of the principals of the constitution and the founders that led the southern states to believe they had the right to secession. As far as I could tell coming away from these discussions, if I were an outsider with no prior knowledge to the Civil War I would know this: In the mid 1800’s America became so divided over the sole issue of southern farmers owning slaves that the south began to feel under-represented in congress due to a larger northern population and angry over the northern sentiment of freeing the slaves decided to leave the Union, which was an entirely rebellious act that was clearly wrong, but were then soundly defeated by the industrial might of the north, railroads, and Abraham Lincoln’s decisive ideology and General Grant who was the greatest general the north ever had. Afterwards the North was feeling generous and rebuilt the south fast forward to 1930 when more important things happen. Anyone who is actually familiar with some of the intricacies of the Civil War or has taken much time to study it at all will quickly realize how absurd the description I just provided of the war is and how entirely off base it is.
                The topic of the Civil War has clearly become a non issue in the northern states, it’s almost as if the northern states would rather delegate it to the position in class that the war of 1812, the Mexican American, and Spanish American wars have; which is to say not mentioned at all. Considering the profound changes that the politics of the pre and post Civil War environments caused on our country and the impact on our modern way of viewing the constitution and the Union, this seems like a grave error in judgment but none the less this appears to be the course we are taking.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

You May Also Like