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  • An Educators’ Forum

Several years ago, I asked my father, Craig Miller, what he had learned about the Civil War growing up in north-central Pennsylvania. He joked that while in school, he had learned that the Civil War started, the Union won at Gettysburg, and that was about it. Although I laughed at this miniaturized version of Pennsylvania’s Civil War, it forced me to recall my own elementary and high school education on the Civil War, which included more battles, an extensive discussion of emancipation and black soldiers (who were trained at Camp William Penn), and a trip to Gettysburg, where we saw the battlefield, the electric map, and the wax museum and concluded our day dining at General Pickett’s buffet. These educational experiences, my father’s and my own, got me thinking about how the Civil War is conveyed in today’s classroom, where Baby Boomers and Generation Xers have been replaced by Millennials engrossed by their smart phones, immersed not necessarily in the historical past but in the realms of Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. How are teachers reacting to both a new generation of students who may not be as interested in the past and an environment that does not always place a premium on teaching history?

For this forum, we invited several middle and high school teachers from around the country to share their reflections on educating the next generation of students about the role of the Civil War in shaping American history. We asked each to write a reflection on what it is like to teach the Civil War. We asked them about how they approach teaching the war; the primary and [End Page 55] secondary sources that have shaped their vision of the war; and what people, places, and events they give special emphasis. Additionally, we were curious about what activities the teachers used to engage their students and how the students reacted to the Civil War as a subject matter. Our six educators, many of whom have received national recognition, have taken us behind the lines to showcase many innovative ways of attempting to reveal the “incommunicable experience of war.”

Zachariah Dodson received his bachelor’s of social sciences education at Emporia State University, where he received the Social Sciences Student of the Year Award. He teaches eighth grade American history as a member of WAVE (a group of teachers devoted to building a strong collaborative community free of bullying and harassment) at Washburn Rural Middle School in Topeka, Kansas, and also serves as assistant coach for cross country and girls basketball.

Joe Foster lives in northwestern Ohio and has spent fifteen years teaching high school social studies at Waynesfield-Goshen Schools in Auglaize County. In addition to American history, world history, government, and economics, Joe also teaches a course on the Civil War, a one-semester elective for juniors and seniors. In 2011, he founded the Civil War Brigade, a student service organization that promotes Civil War history by helping preserve battlefields and educate the local community about Civil War history. In 2012, the Gilder Lehrman Institute named Joe the Ohio History Teacher of the Year. In 2014, the Civil War Trust honored him as Teacher of the Year at its National Teacher Institute in Atlanta.

Eric Froese lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he teaches middle school social studies at Annunciation School. He enjoys reading about history and visiting historical places, as he has been interested in the Civil War since visiting Gettysburg the summer after fifth grade.

Chris Lese is a member of the social studies department at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the author of “Teaching Civil War Memory: Classroom Collaborations, Public Engagement, and Adventure” (2014). In addition to teaching and writing, he leads students on annual Civil War trips and is the director of the MUHS Civil War Institute for middle school students. He has offered several lectures about how to approach teaching the Civil War and chronicles his endeavors on a blog, Historicalese, at

Kevin M. Levin is an educator and historian based in Boston. He is the author of Remembering the Battle of the Crater...


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