By Mary Bisciaio
DESPITE THE DIVISIONS THAT EXIST IN OUR COUNTRY TODAY, IT IS CLEAR THE NEXT GENERATION NEEDS AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE SACRIFICES MADE BY INDIVIDUALS TO PROTECT OUR FREEDOMS. DEMOCRACY, PATRIOTISM, EQUALITY, AND JUSTICE ARE NOT JUST PLATITUDES, BUT THE FOUNDATION THAT LEAVES OUR CHILDREN A LEGACY AND A DIRECTION FOR THEIR LIVES.
As a teacher and parent, I struggled to find ways to teach our adolescent high school students the reality of the soldiers who fought and died for the ideals that made America a great country. I struggled with an attitude that history was just “old stuff” without any relevance to their electronic driven world.
But on occasion the calendar directed this high school teacher to explore making history more meaningful for my students. Memorial Day in May, for the soldiers who have given their lives, Veterans Day in November for all men and women who gave service to our country, and specific days like December seventh—Pearl Harbor Day. I taught less names and dates and focused on the real issues.
One of the activities my students enjoyed were post cards for veterans. On index cards they designed original post cards depicting a particular battle, a branch of the service, or something military and service related like symbols of freedom. We spent precious classroom time with their art work and personal messages on the back. For the week leading up to Veterans Day, I posted their cards and contacted veterans’ groups in my area to bring speakers into our school. The cards were given to the man or woman who regaled my students with personal stories to share with other vets.
We built the wall against my back-classroom wall of Vietnam soldiers, both living and dead. Just google Vietnam vet records or names on the Vietnam wall. Most are interactive, allowing students easy access to information. Ask students to choose one soldier to commemorate that has a personal connection to them; perhaps the same birthday, attended their high school, or lived in their state. In the computer lab they created individual sheets with military logos and information that made the hero more than a name on a wall. Then we used the sheets to create our own wall with printed flowers at the base. Students need concrete, visual learning experiences, and most importantly, need to learn genuine empathy, respect, and reverence.
We compared modern movies to historical data. Was it accurate?
We reenacted battles and confrontations in Congress as we prepared for war.
We watched the changing of the guard at Arlington and panned over the reality of countless graves and sacrifices.
We examined symbols and why they touched an explosive trigger for a lot of Americans, and why they still do.
I hope I taught them to think, examine, understand, and recognize the tremendous sacrifices of our veterans and their families.
When I published one of my adult novels, Danny’s Sister, I dedicated it to military families and the proceeds directed to Wounded Warriors. It isn’t a historical novel. It is, in fact, a love story between an Army Ranger and a woman, willing to make sacrifices. The loneliness, the worry, the adjustment in life plans, and the ultimate sacrifice when it became necessary for all Americans and their families.
Lastly, I encouraged students to talk to family at home to discover their roots in military service. Often, they had no idea Grandpa was a gunner in World War II, or Grandma rolled bandages and rationed for the war effort. It opened up dialogue between parents and their teen-agers.
What touched me most were the students with a brother or father presently serving in the military. For my own grandson, his sixth-grade class sent letters to my son when he was deployed in Iraq. Their letters brought a little touch of home to men so far away from their loved ones, and for the students it clarified their questions and brought them closer to a real understanding of the work our veterans do.
November 11, the day that originally marked the end of WWI, the war to end all wars. Happy Veterans Day to all our military, and God bless you as you work for peace and freedom around the world.