The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Learning About War

I love history. Really, I do. I find it absolutely fascinating to think about what has happened in the past and to try to figure out why it happened. I recognise that we can never know for sure exactly what happened because we have to rely on the very human, very imperfect versions of what happened as recorded by those who saw just a small slice of it, but I believe that we can still know a lot about what happened and why it happened and learn from it. There are some who will say that all of human existence is just one constant cycle of making the same mistakes over and over again. While  I acknowledge that we certainly have a habit, as a human race, to repeat some mistakes, I also believe wholeheartedly that it is possible for us to learn from these mistakes and avoid repeating them.

When teaching about history, especially early American history, there is one series of events that we cannot avoid. War. In many ways, our nation’s history, our story, our very identity, has been shaped by the many wars that we have fought in. Whether domestic wars, such as those that dominated our early years, or foreign wars, such as those that have been typically of the 20th and now 21st Centuries, these events are always the distinguishing factors of what has happened. This is especially true for our current social studies unit on the American colonial period. For better or worse, our nation was born out of armed conflict. There is absolutely no way to teach about our early history without also learning about the wars that shaped it. Yes, we will be learning about life in colonial times. Yes, we will learn about the people and the places. Yes, we will learn about the philosophies and beliefs that shaped our founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. But we are also going learn about the conflicts, such as the French and Indian War and, of course, the Revolutionary War (or the War for Independence).

I do not want this entire unit of study to be a study of war, though. I very much want us to spend more time thinking about why the colonists felt a desire to separate themselves from British rule. Why did they want their independence? Why did they choose to set up a system of government that was drastically different from those that were known in Europe? Why did they do what they did and what were the results? How have them impacted our lives? As I so very often ask my class, why are we sitting in the room we are right now, in this city, in this county, in this state, in this country? Yes, we are going to learn about war. But, more importantly, we are going learn from war.

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