Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guardians of Freedom

In each teacher's career there is the time when you say "this is the best thing I will ever do as a teacher". That happened to me in 2000. My co teacher, Judy, mentioned in the middle of August that she thought it would be neat for students in our gifted program to interview WWII veterans. This was the year of the Library of Congress Veterans Project and I agreed but we immediately realized there would be some stumbling blocks. We figured it would be hard, if not impossible, to interview veterans without knowing anything about the time period or the war.

So we embarked on a world wind saturation curriculum. Since we only saw our students (3 different classes) one day a week we knew we were going to have to cram. Through the fall and winter I gave a series of lectures on the time period between 1915 and 1945. Sometimes the lectures would last would last several hours and it still amazes me that our fifty 5th and 6th graders would sit and listen intently. We supplemented the curriculum with guest speakers, videos, web activities and field trips.

As the year progressed I asked my mom who she knew that had fought "in the war". She suggested I contact the seniors group at a local college and ask all my friends and students about their parents and grandparents. The rest, as they say, is history. Hoping to get about 20 veterans we ended up with 54!!

Even though our students are in a program for academically gifted students, we knew interviewing would be hard. Asking the questions, listening and recording would be hard for anybody, so we "hired" 40 adult secretaries (parents, teachers, friends, children) to record the interviews. The veterans came, some in uniform with boxes of memorabilia, to tell stories they had never told before. Each student and adult secretary spent an hour with their veteran to record the history of that man or woman. Six adults, including one of my sons, proofread all of the stories and we published a book and posted a website, Guardians of Freedom. We had a reception for the veterans and gave them a copy of the book, over 400 people came and we enjoyed showing the veterans how to use the computer so they could see their webpage.

This project changed the lives of everyone involved; the students, the adults, the veterans. We will never be the same having met those wonderful men and women. Since the project ended, six of the veterans have died, but the project lives on. I receive 3-4 emails a month from people trying to connect with one of our veterans. People from all over the country are trying to find someone who knew their grandfather, uncle, or brother. Taking the oral histories of men and women from the "Greatest Generation" gives us an invaluable resource from which to draw strength and an understanding of times past. Even if you don't do oral histories in your classes, be sure to take the oral histories of your own mom and dad. They won't be around for ever to tell those stories.

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