Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Turning Points of History

I had the opportunity to review three student projects for History Day at Chris's middle school. I was amazed at how the students were very focused upon war and battles as turning points in history to the exclusion of the geopolitical circumstances which caused the opposing sides to choose military action to resolve their disputes.

Two of the projects were about the U.S. Revolution--and were reports focused on the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The other project that I reviewed was about the Vietnam Draft. I was amazed at the lack of context that the projects displayed. Taken outside of the historical context of the time, the battles seem to be turning points and yet--they are just battles in wars. I longed for a sense of completeness which would portray the battles as an extension of the conflicts which were occurring in the economic and political spheres of the time.

Did the Intolerable Acts result the Battles of Lexington and Concord and are these battles truly turning points in history? Or, are the results of the conflict of the period to be found in our Bill of Rights? And also in our Constitution which became a template for many other similar constitutions around the world? Were these Battles turning points in history? I think not. They represented turning points of thought and helped to create a nation out of the Declaration of Independence.

How was the Vietnam Draft a turning point in history? I'm not sure. Conscription has been around for centuries in many countries.  Yes, it was bad. I had a lottery number. But the draft was not the turning point of the period, the entire ill-advised war in Vietnam was the turning point--and if a battle can be a turning point, it was perhaps the Tet Offensive which galvanized U.S. public opinion against the war. Terminating the draft would not have changed public perceptions of the war.

I am a worried that our students are not being provided with a comprehensive, thought provoking history curriculum that stimulates thought and understanding by providing context and completeness.

That written, I enjoyed my experience and the opportunity to interact with the students. I found them to be inquisitive and engaging. I look forward to doing it again next year.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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