Before you Start, Write Down What you Know
We have started our unit on the American Civil War. For many students, this is an entirely unfamiliar territory. Our first question was about definition — what is a civil war? How is it different than a revolution or rebellion? We connected with the collapse of the Roman Empire, when civil war and struggles for power among the generals pulled troops away from the provinces and left the gates open for “barbarian” incursion. We asked our students to write down whatever they thought they knew about the Civil War, along with any questions they had at this stage and any topics they thought they would like to pursue as independent research. There is a lot of fuzzy information and confusion within the group, and we hope to resolve most (if not all) of it before we are finished. One student wondered why the army employed only doctors who knew how to amputate limbs instead of saving them. Another asked if the battle of Gettysburg took place in order to free enslaved people in Pennsylvania.
We’re doing some background work first. What, including but not only slavery, divided people and regions? How did lawmakers try to accommodate the wishes of free and slave-holding states as the country expanded toward the west? Where in time did our wagon train journey fit with all this? Was John Brown a hero, a terrorist, or something else? What were Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery, on the limits of Presidential powers, and on African-Americans in general?
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