Stupidity: the reason I could never be a living history actor

September 5, 2013

(Hat-tip to Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel via the National Council on Public History’s [NCPH] Facebook page.)

Some of the questions presented in this make you wonder who fell asleep in history class and who’s just a bonehead! I’ll only excuse the children. They have a few years to left to learn. Let’s just hope they are paying attention and have a history teacher that doesn’t over inflate the Founders!

Check out Azie Mira Dungey’s website or see Ask a Slave on YouTube.

Perhaps I’m a little dense…

August 23, 2013

…but I’ve been accused of it before.

I realize I have posted nothing in a very long while. It may seem a little odd that I’m going to post a general history piece on a Civil War blog as the first piece back, but, here goes.

I have been reading about the recent controversy surrounding Purdue University President (also former Indiana governor and potential presidential candidate) Mitch Daniels’ email comments regarding the late Howard Zinn’s writings. Most of the comments I’ve seen from historians, both liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning, focus on Zinn’s work A People’s History of the United States. The book came in second as the least credible history book in print in an informal poll of historians conducted by George Mason University’s History News Network (HNN). In addition, I have been looking at the hoopla over David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies, listed as the least credible history book in print in the same poll.

In my defense, as well as that of both Barton and Zinn, I have read neither work. That being said, the following is commentary on the situation as a total outsider, not only as an observer of the debate, but also as a historian. My credentials as a history teacher, though it has been a few years, are well-documented on this site, but this goes beyond a content and pedagogy argument. It goes to what is good history and how it is presented.

I understand most history books are written for historians, or at least with them as the chief audience. That, however, does not mean that there is no small amount of mass appeal when a book is considered for print. That is just the fiscal side of the printing business. How the mass appeal is marketed may be different. Whether it be through a mainstream publisher as opposed to a university press or marketing the book as a potential history text for the classroom, there is still a certain amount of mass appeal for every work published or it sits in the author’s file.

What is bothersome to me about these controversies is, if these are indeed works of questionable credibility, why were they published in the first place? What editor allowed this to happen? Wouldn’t a small check of facts reveal this? If the evidence reveals an error of fact, a significant omission, an outright fabrication or a misrepresentation of the historical record, why publish them?

These questions become important when seen in light of the many overstatement of facts and oversimplification of causes surrounding many historical events by the population at large. While I am not a university-trained historian, I have learned to look at history books with a much more critical eye because of teaching. That is just not true for the average person who may be interested enough in a historical figure or event to read more about the person or event.

This is not simply a “liberal” versus “conservative” argument, though it seems to have been reduced to that with these two works. It’s not really about using history to achieve a political agenda, though, again, that seems to be where the debate about these two works has gone, especially for Barton’s. The argument, most precisely and accurately, is just that — one of precision and accuracy. A precise and accurate investigation and interpretation is demanded, not only by the history profession, but also by the public.

In the end, this becomes an argument for academic freedom and intellectual integrity. Is any author free to interpret the facts of history with their own prejudices and influences? Of course. Does that mean I, or anyone else, will agree with that interpretation? No, but these are the essence of academic freedom. Does that make the author wrong because I, or anyone else, disagrees? No. What makes the author wrong is if they have played fast and loose with the facts while reaching their conclusions. That is the only argument that means anything in this debate.

Updates on my activities

April 2, 2011

UPDATE: Since writing this, I earned a Master of Arts degree in New Media Journalism from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. That was completed in June 2012. I was also appointed associate pastor at House of Grace Church of Edgewood, Texas, in June of 2011.

I have not posted here in a while, heck, I haven’t even been bothersome to all the rest of the Civil War bloggers. That’s because helping start a media production program in a high school is much tougher than I actually thought it was going to be. When I was in college shooting and editing video and producing shows, I wasn’t teaching the material and someone else had already started the program, therefore it seemed much easier. All in all, this has been a great year, both for our media program and for me in the field of history.

Aside from that, I have had the opportunity to answer several Civil War related questions via e-mail from readers of this site. I have also been interviewed by a high school student in Woodstock, GA, for a Civil War project. I was invited to judge the local National History Day competition at Ford High School in Quinlan, TX, where I teach, and will consult (both technically and historically) on a Civil War documentary project that recently won first place in the Regional Competition at Texas A&M University — Commerce and will advance to state.

In addition, I have continued to read on CW topics. I have three books that, when I can find the time, I am working through: Harold Holzer’s Lincoln, Persident-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861; Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History by Alan T. Nolan (No, I haven’t read the whole thing, only excerpts of it and several essays by Mr. Nolan.); and Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner. I have also been involved with the local TEA party group and have been doing a few lectures on the US Constitution, my other great interest in history.

Wow! That about sums it up for my year. Yes, it’s been busy, but I’d not have it any other way.

Look for more to come shortly since I have a little breathing room. At least for a couple of days…

Spielberg picks new actor for ‘Lincoln’ film

November 20, 2010

I have not posted in a while, but I’m posting now because some news has just come to my attention. When we last visited, I told you I would comment on things from time to time. This is one of those time.

It seems Steven Spielberg is about to move forward with his biopic of Abraham Lincoln. Actor problems for the lead role have been holding up production. Now, an actor has been tapped for the picture.

In my opinion, the original choice of Liam Nesson for the role was iffy at best. Nesson is a good actor, but, to me, left a little to be desired in the overall “look” of Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis, the actor now slated for the role, has a better look for the role and, in my estimation, brings more to the role than Nesson would have. While I liked Neeson in Shindler’s List and he has that experience of biopic acting, Day-Lewis is wonderful in There Will Be Blood and The Last of the Mohicans. His other film credits, I believe, will also allow him to bring depth to a very complex figure.

A shift in direction

June 7, 2010

I am really disappointed in myself. I have not been able to keep you posted about how my Civil War elective class went this year. I can, however, say there is a good reason for that. Aside from some family and health issues over the last year, the direction my teaching is going has kept me tied up and away from the blogosphere for the better part of the last ten months, especially since January.

I just finished my fourth year of teaching, three at Thompson Middle School in Quinlan, Texas. Of those three years, I taught Texas History for two years and spent the last year teaching U.S. History. I have also taught three electives: World Events (the first two years) and American Constitution & Civil War Studies and The Bible in History & Literature (this year).

Most of you who have read anything on this blog already know all of this, but my professional life took a recent shift back to my college major. The good news is I am excited to be returning to that area of expertise and have someone paying me to do it! I have spent most of the recent months preparing for a new teaching assignment — writing proposals and gathering information on the latest equipment for video production, as well as gathering curriculum materials. Starting next fall, I will return to my mass communication roots by teaching Public Speaking and Audio/Video Communication (better known as Intro to Mass Communication) at Thompson and Audio/Video Production (mostly video) at Ford High School in Quinlan!

While I am excited about it, I am also a little sad. I’ve enjoyed teaching history for the past three years. Before that, history was a hobby — I enjoyed studying it, especially topics related to the Civil War. While I am not a trained historian, I have tried to apply a careful inquiry to my study, the same inquiry I used as a small-town journalist seeking to inform my readers. When I began teaching, this became even more imperative because I wanted my students to be well-informed as well as accurately informed.

I was pretty green at this history education thing three years ago. My level of sophistication related to history was pretty shallow. When it came to the Civil War, I was pretty much, as I’ve seen Robert Moore put it, “dyed-in-the-gray.” I would probably have been considered “neo-Confederate.” I was a proponent of much of the Lost Cause myth. I watched as my previous notions of Civil War history were challenged as I began engaging Kevin Levin over at Civil War Memory. I attended a week-long Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History course on the Civil War with Gary Gallagher at the University of Virginia in 2008, which led me to a deeper examination of serious scholarship from a variety of historians from James McPherson and David Blight to Henry Louis Gates, Jr., James Horton, and Eric Foner. I began to see myself transforming from a Confederate apologist into what I really don’t know, but a serious student of history tops the list of things I can see myself as now. Then came the fateful day when, after reading Victoria Bynum’s Renegade South blog (hat-tip to Kevin), I discovered my Unionist ancestors! That forced me to look at the war as more than just a pro-slavery vs. abolition, Union vs. Confederate idea. I had heard of Southern sympathizers, why not Northern ones? Of course, I was under the impression that that was some other group of Southerners, not any that could possibly be connected to me!

Over the past two years, I have followed a variety of blogs, off and on, but these are the ones I’ve followed regularly. Others you can find in my “Civil War Related Blogs” list to the right. I’ll even give credit to the Old Viginian, Richard Williams, for helping me keep my argument and debate skills sharp over this period of time.

Will I miss my focus on history for a more modern subject matter? Yes, but I also want to direct students to study history for a different viewpoint and using different tools. The current pedagogical arguement is that history is often presented in a very static format (books, articles, documentaries). My approach in teaching my mass media courses will be to teach all media, including new media (Internet and Web 2.0 applications), as ways that we can experience history, not just study it. I am the guy who has always considered my media experience as being history experience, except I produced it as it happened rather than at a later time. The larger answer to the question of will I miss it is: not as much as you might think given the recent changes to Texas’ history curriculum.

I am leaving active history education for a more passive approach. I plan to be involved with the local National History Day competition as an advisor on documentary entries. The high school history subject leader is working on an oral history project. He has recently sought my input on how to best archive that material and make it accessible to students and other researchers. I also plan to start a master’s program in instructional technology in the fall and begin helping teachers and students implement media into classroom learning as well as teaching media as a career path for students. I’ll post here from time to time and I’ll continue to be a fly in the ointment for the rest of you history bloggers!

One last thing before I go. This year I received the highest honor I could ever hope to receive as a history teacher. Two student, both of whom I was worried about their success on the state-mandated history assessment given their performance in class, brought me a gift to thank me for all I had done to help them out over the last two to three years. I had a unique experience as a teacher for the last three years. I coached my first year and taught a PE class that had most of the sixth grade in it. They moved up last year to seventh grade and I had most of them in Texas History. Then, I moved up with them to the eighth grade to teach U.S. History. So, many of these students have had to bear with me for three straight years! I’ve spent more time in the classroom with some of these kids than their parents have spent with them at home. That’s not a negative reflection on their parenting, just a fact of school scheduling. Combine that with teaching three electives over three years and a study hall period for two years and I’ve had some of these kids two or three times a day! Anyway, back to the gift. A photo of it is below. This is one of my most prized possession, not because it is expensive, but because it represents that these two students appreciate the interest in history they developed over the last two years, most of which has been in my classroom. They pooled their limited resources (and I do mean limited — well over 50 percent of the students in Quinlan are economically disadvantaged) to show their thanks and it has moved me to tears on several occassions in recent days. I value this gift more than my degree and certification. To me, regradless of test scores, it represents a successful year.

I’ve enjoyed this short run in history education. I’ll miss it, but, perhaps, to quote Gen. Douglas McArthur, “I shall return!”


A recent gift from a couple of my students -- and one of my most prized possessions

And, we’re off!

February 5, 2010

The new semester is now three weeks old and I have had a few inspirations related to teaching the Civil War. The students are enjoying taking a critical look at the causes of the war as we study this era and are aware that it’s not as easily pinpointed as some would like to make it.

I have several group activities planned for this semester, so I have divided the students into “regiments.” They have created regimental colors and elected “officers.” I’m not sure that my rank designations are correct, but I have “colonels” and “sergeants.” Colonels will get assignments from me and carry them back to their regiments. Sergeants will be responsible for making sure the groups have any needed materials to complete activities. The regiments are part of the “Army of the Sabine.” We live along the headwaters of the Sabine River in Texas, so that seemed as good a designation as any. We have four regiments: the 11th Texas Infantry, the 79th Texas Infantry, the 99th Kansas Cavalry and the 100th Georgia Artillery. The students picked their own numbers, states and unit types. I have something special planned for later that will make these fictional regiments all the more important than just for group activities. Suffice it to say, regiments will be “reorganized” as the “war” progresses.

I have students doing research projects related to some aspect, person, event or idea related to the war. The antebellum era, Reconstruction and Civil War memory. They will write 1,000 word essays, then prepare an exhibit, a documentary (5-10 minutes) or website (at least five pages, built in MS FrontPage and saved to CD). I have some pretty good project ideas. Some are standard biographical sketches, some are looking at particular battles or campaigns (Gettysburg has three students working on it, one for each day) and some are rather high-level for middle schoolers, but I’m not discouraging it, simply trying to help them gather as much information as I can. Abolition, slave conditions in the antebellum South, as well as Jim Crow and Reconstruction are all topis that students have selected. These kids are reading articles by a variety of historians (with my guidance and help) including Peter Carmichael and Jeffrey Wert. (Those are two names I have seen and recall.) The colonels and sergeants are assisting in the computer lab, fielding some questions from their regiments. I have 26 students in this class in its first year of offering and I’m running like a mad man! Some issues, like how to format a document or set a type style, are being handled by students, while I handle questions about subject material and research methods. It seems to be working well now.

I’m doing the research project along with the students so I can keep up with any issues they might run into along the way. My topic? The Stone Mountain Memorial in Georgia. That is proving an interesting topic for someone who was dumb enough to tell Gary Gallagher it was “unfinished!” In my defense, that was two years ago while I was still pretty much a Confederate apologist, before much reform had entered my thinking.

I’ll post regular updates, and possibly share some of the projects when we finish this. Stay tuned!

Ask the expert?

January 29, 2010

Students at Center Christian Academy hosted me for a talk on the Civil War era and presented their projects on Friday, January 29.

Yes, I know. Someone referring to me as the Civil War expert is a little disconcerting, especially for me. My mom, Tracy, who teaches 3rd-5th grade at Center Christian Academy, the same school I graduated from 20 years ago this year (I know, I look much too young for that!), recently conducted a Civil War unit with her students. As part of the unit, students wrote papers and created displays of a Civil War topic of interest. To sum the unit up, I was invited to speak on various aspects of the war and antebellum eras and help answer any questions still remaining with the students after studying the war. We spent about three hours discussing the war and allowing the students to present their projects. I have not had much experience teaching kids this young, but the students were very enjoyable to work with and were genuinely interested in learning more about the Civil War.

Students share, with me and their classmates, their papers and displays.

Here, I introduce the students to good web resources for studying and researching history, including Edward Ayers’ site “Valley of the Shadow.”



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