Monuments in the Classroom

Statues with Tarps Video ThumbnailOne of the courses I’m teaching this semester is a new freshman-level writing course that’s part of my university’s new general education curriculum. I was one of several faculty from the English and Communication departments—plus a groovy Business professor—who helped develop the course, which was part of a larger overhaul of our overall core courses that all students have to take at St. Bonaventure. It was a cool process to be part of.

For seventeen years, I’ve pretty much taught writing courses to students interested in communications-related fields, which means it’s all pretty writing intensive. This year is different: I’m teaching freshmen from all across the university. I had a tremendous amount of latitude in how I approached the class, so I decided to draw on both current events and my Civil War background as I shaped the course content.

And what current events have been more Civil War-ish than the Confederate monuments controversy? 

I asked student earlier in the week to tell me what, if anything, they know about the monuments controversy. Today, invited them to watch a short video I put together for them on a recent trip to Charlottesville (which I wrote about here). If you’d like to see the video, which is about two minutes long, you can watch it on ECW’s YouTube channel (with thanks to Dan Davis for the camerawork assist!).

I then asked my students to read the cover story from the October 2017 issue of Civil War Times and ECW’s “Monumental Discussion” series.

“How has your understanding of the issue changed or been reinforced?” I asked them to consider after inundating them with monument stuff. “Are there sides to the issue you didn’t realize?”

My goal, of course, is to help them see the multi-faceted perspectives in the debate. Most of them are not invested in the argument at all, so they haven’t had strong feelings one way or the other—just “gut reactions,” mostly—so it’s a good topic to explore because we can approach it with a fair amount of objectivity. I get to play devil’s advocate along the way, working all sides of the larger discussion by asking them impertinent questions and challenging their assumptions (which will be great fun for me!).

In the end, my goal will be to help them make up their own minds after throwing a whole lot of spaghetti at them and seeing what sticks.

Much has transpired since ECW first addressed the monuments controversy. How have your perspectives changed?