Part I, prehistory through 1812, is here.
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The American Civil War is a huge topic.
You could, if you wanted to, spend a whole year of social studies on the Civil War alone. Not only is the topic huge, but -- almost more importantly for my purposes -- there is a lot of really good children's literature out there.
It's also a topic that is necessarily solemn. And that is why I chose to avoid a purely chronological approach to the time period. I had about a hundred years of history to cover in this year, and of course things happen in the 19th-century U.S. that seem to be part of a different world. Soldiers fight in foreign wars. Pioneers cross the Great Plains. The railroad makes its way across the continent. Various inventions transform ordinary lives. But even though these things are all intertwined with the sorry history of chattel slavery and the great purging conflict that burned it away and the aftermath and the scars that still remain, I hated to interrupt the main thrust of the narrative for jaunty little side trips about stagecoaches and electric light bulbs.
So I decided to divide the year into two semesters. In the first semester, I tried to encompass the American Civil War, including some background and also the political and social aftermath through Reconstruction. Within that semester, the approach is chronological, out of necessity -- because it does tell a coherent story, or narrative, of a kind. (With the caveat that the whole history must be simplified drastically for any one person to grasp it as "a" story.) In the second semester, I considered other changes that happened during the nineteenth century, with an approach that was topical, rather than straightforward chronological.
See, I figure that eventually these kids are all going to do a one-year survey of American history. I don't need to do it now while they're little. Right now I need to get them interested in the stories.
Meanwhile, a note about textbooks.
Even with a literature-based approach to history education, I think it's helpful to have a "spine" -- a textbook, to put it bluntly -- that you can draw from to fill in any important gaps in the literature that is available to you. Sometimes you just can't find a "good" book about this or that important topic, and the textbook will have to do. It's also a good reference for what happened when and where.
In my first year, I used the materials from Seton, which worked pretty well from my perspective because they provided material about the Catholic heritage that's often missing in the Pilgrim-o-centric materials that are usually available on the colonial period. But I've never been particularly impressed with the literary quality of the Seton textbooks. Still, I was happy to use them as a supplement.
Between the first year and the second I discovered Joy Hakim's multivolume American history entitled The History of US. I switched to Hakim's books for the spine after that. (Also, by the end of the first year, I was co-schooling more heavily, and as a result, teaching children who are being raised in non-Catholic faiths. So while I continued to make sure that the material we used wasn't exclusively WASP-centered -- and it prompted me to take more pains to talk about the historical importance of Quakers and Mormons, both of which are pretty significant -- I wasn't looking for religious content in a reference spine anymore.) I mention this to explain that I didn't ditch Seton because I thought it was bad or anything, although I do prefer the tone and style of Hakim's books. Tone and style of a textbook are much less important when it's being used as a supplement than when it's basically the only book you're using. I imagine that Seton's materials will work very well as reference spines for Catholic families. Hakim was the better choice for our co-schooling situation.
So what did we use? In this post I'll write about the Civil War material, and I'll save the second semester for another post.
SEMESTER I: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Hakim Vol 4 on Missouri Compromise
Hakim Vol 5, chapters 32, 33, 34
Swain G, Dred and Harriet Scott: A Family's Struggle for Freedom (first half). I prefer telling specific stories to generalities. It's true that Dred and Harriet Scott led unusual lives and aren't representative of slaves in general; but don't we all lead unique lives? None of us are "representative." Truth is in the specifics. Anyway, some points that this book gets across: (1) Slavery screwed up people's family lives. (2) Slavery happened in the North as well as the South, and Northerners as well as Southerners owned slaves. (3) Slaves were not devoid of agency and could and did use the legal system to exert what rights they did have.
Continue with Swain G. Dred and Harriet Scott
Kent Z., The Story of John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry
John Brown's speech upon being sentenced to death
Much fruitful discussion can be had about John Brown. I won't presume to tell other people which aspects of his story to emphasize.
Douglass F, adapted by McCurdy. Escape from Slavery: The Boyhood of Frederick Douglass (This is a children's adaptation of Frederick Douglass's autobiography. You could work with the original rather than the adaptation if the children are older. This particular adaptation is well done.)
Winter J., Follow the Drinking Gourd (We included some discussion of the legends about the Underground Railroad that are fairly unsupported by data. People love a good story about secret messages encoded in quilt blocks or laundry hanging on the line, but not all the stories seem really to have happened.)
Field trip to Fort Snelling Historical Site: Civil War Days (Depending on where you live in the U. S., there may be some very cool historical sites near you. I live near Fort Snelling, which is notable because Dred Scott lived and worked there, and his time there, enslaved outside "slave states," formed part of the basis for his lawsuit. Although annoyingly, the reenactors running "Civil War Days" seemed not to know much about it. They were more into battlefield amputations and Morse code.)
Kamma A., If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America
Levine E., Henry's Freedom Box (The story of Henry Brown, who mailed himself north)
Chapter 1 of A Separate Battle: Women in the Civil War (about abolitionists H. B. Stowe, A. Grimke, S. Truth)
"Ain't I a Woman?" speech by Sojourner Truth
Here we start some biographies. Lincoln is a necessity. Robert E. Lee is also worth getting to know. He raises the question: What use is being an honorable person if you exert your honor on behalf of evil?
St. George, J., Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln
Material from several different books about the life of Robert E. Lee (I couldn't find one single biography that I liked enough to use exclusively)
parts of James Daugherty's Abraham Lincoln
Here we start discussing the Civil War itself. I preferred to cover only a few battles, but to really spend time on them, with maps and showing the movement of troops and stuff. I wanted to give the kids a taste of genuine military history.
Rapaport D., Freedom Ship (About Captain Robert Smalls, a slave who seized the Confederate ship he piloted and delivered it to the Union Army)
parts of Foster, G. Abraham Lincoln's World (election/inauguration; Scott, Lee)
DuPuy, The Military History of Civil War Land Battles (introduction)
Use DuPuy to learn the symbols and vocabulary of battle maps (artillery, cavalry, infantry, flank, etc.)
Kent Z., The Battle of Bull Run
Discuss graphic in Hakim comparing the assets and populations of the Union and the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War
Pratt F., The Monitor and the Merrimac (first half, up through the Battle of Hampton Roads). I cannot praise this book enough. We only had time to read half of it, but later my 10-year-old finished it in his spare time.
Week 10 -- Life on the battlefield.
Make hardtack for snack
Polacco P., Pink and Say
Murphy J., The Boys' War, parts about drummer boys, camp life, food, sutlers, supply issues and how they differ as the war lengthens
parts of Daugherty's Abraham Lincoln about Second Bull Run; replacing General McClellan; the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation; Antietam
Part of DuPuy, The Military History of Civil War Land Battles, about Antietam and how McClellan failed to drive Lee back
Text of the Emancipation Proclamation; discuss its meaning. Why did Lincoln free slaves only in the rebellious parts of the country?
Watch DVD "Battle of Stones River" (Murfreesboro) (We picked this up at the interpretive center at Murfreesboro when we happened to be in Tennessee for a family wedding that year.)
The Gettysburg Address (picture book illustrated by McCurdy)
Dupuy, The Military History of Civil War Land Battles, about the battle of Gettysburg
Elish, book about Gettysburg
Discuss battle maps and troop movements at Gettysburg
A Separate Battle: Women in the Civil War, chapters on hospital duty and suffering on the home front
Daugherty's Abraham Lincoln, parts on draft riots, Lincoln's pardoning of deserters, the "Bixby letter," and the Gettysburg address
Kent Z., Sherman's March to the Sea
Discuss concept of "total war" and looting
Kantor, M., Lee and Grant at Appomattox (first half). This book is great for a couple of reasons. First of all, it paints fine portraits of Lee and Grant. Second, it includes a fairly exciting story of notes passed back and forth across battle lines as Lee tries to figure out how he's going to surrender. Third, the terms of surrender are described in great detail, in a way that leaves the reader impressed by both men's characters. It's a novel-length treatment of a subject that gets only a paragraph in most kids' textbooks.
Kantor, M., Lee and Grant at Appomattox (second half)
Kent, Z., Ford's Theater and the Death of Lincoln
Notice all the books by Z. Kent? These are from the "Cornerstones of Freedom" series, all of which are good sources.
Harness, C., biography of George Washington Carver (parts that fit into the post-civil-war time period). This biography gives us a good chance to talk about life for African Americans in the post civil war south.
Discuss Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and legally enforced segregation
Joy Hakim, Volume 7, chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 about Reconstruction, Andrew Johnson, "Presidential Reconstruction," and the concept of states' rights
Knowing that next year I have the Civil Rights movement to cover, I wanted to show the basic dichotomy of philosophy that appears here in the persons of Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois. Two threads of "conservative" and "progressive" black America appear vividly here and can be carried forward into the twentieth century. Caveat about "it's really much more complicated than that," etc. My main point: There isn't just one way to think about the African-American experience.
Harness, C. continue the biography of G. W. Carver, up through 1914 or so
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington -- selections from Chapter II, "Boyhood Days;" III, "The Struggle for an Education;" entire chapter V, "The Reconstruction Period;" VII "Early Days at Tuskegee;" X "A Harder Task than Making Bricks Without Straw"
Discuss B. T. Washington's philosophy of self-reliance and disdain for superficial success
Discuss appropriate terminology for ethnic groups as used in Booker T. Washington's 1901 writings and as is considered appropriate today
Hakim, volume 7, chapter 32 on Jim Crow laws
Discussion of Plessy v. Ferguson (this is absolutely necessary for comprehending Brown v. Board of Education next year, so we looked at the Supreme Court decision in detail)
Freedman, S., Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Anti-Lynching Crusade
Discuss the poem, "Booker T. and W. E. B." by D. Randall. We discussed whether we thought the poet had fairly characterized Booker T. Washington's philosophy. The poem served as a transition from Booker T. to W. E. B.
Scott, Memorial Day
Discuss why we have memorials for veterans and for those who fall in war
Parts of McKissack, P., biography of W. E. B. DuBois: chapters 1,2 about early life, chapters about Booker T. Washington, chapters about his book The Souls of Black Folk
Discuss the differences between the backgrounds of DuBois and Washington
Discuss how the differences between their backgrounds influenced their differing philosophies
Short excerpt from The Souls of Black Folk to get a sense for the difference in writing style between DuBois and Washington.
(It's a little tough to teach Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois equally to middle schoolers, because BTW writes much more approachably, in my opinion. DuBois's writing is more high-flown and abstract and difficult to get. I would say that BTW's work is high school level -- so it can be carefully selected and presented to interested middle schoolers -- but DuBois's work is college level, and I don't think the middle schoolers can grasp it. But they can, I think, grasp a comparison and contrast of the two men's philosophy, and see where they can be reconciled and where they can't, and understand why both philosophies continue to be appealing today.)
OK, on that note, I'll save the second semester (roughly, "The nineteenth century, but not the Civil War parts") for another post.