“Welcome to American history,” the teacher announces to a class full of high school freshmen. “We will begin by doing a short ‘get to know you’ exercise.”
He points to some starter questions up on the board.
“You can use some of these questions to get started, but I encourage you to come up with one or two of your own. These two rows will be partners, these two rows, and so on. Go ahead and start,” the teacher says.
Amid the din as other students begin, two girls look at each other.
“Okay, I guess I’ll start. Uh, I’m Connie. My favorite subject just so happens to be history, but I also really like science.”
She pauses, looking up at the board, before beginning again.
“Uh, I hope to make it into the National Honors Society next year and I joined show choir so that should be fun. Um, over the summer I started Civil War reenacting, which kinda sounds dorky, but I mostly go for the idea of being around history and I like when we get to camp overnight. Uh, that’s about it.”
“Cool. I’m Libby. I’m totally into art. Um, I kinda like history too, but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. The latest thing for me is helping the environment. You know about Global Warming, right?”
Not really waiting for a response, she continues.
“I just joined the school’s Green Team. They’re planning to do some really cool school-wide activities. You should check us out.”
“Cool.” Connie says.
There’s a pause.
“So, uh, are you conservative or liberal?” Libby asks.
“A what?” Connie asks.
“You know, conservative or liberal?” Libby asks again.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” Connie says. “What’s the difference?”
“Well, uh, a liberal is like someone who believes in government programs and helping people. Um, conservatives don’t like paying taxes and are anti-abortion. Something like that,” Libby explains.
Connie sits for a moment.
“Uh, I don’t know.” Connie says. “I guess maybe I’m a conservative?”
“Cool,” Libby says. “I’m a liberal.”
“Cool,” Connie says.
They both sit a few moments more, not sure what to say, eventually saved by the teacher resuming class.
“Okay class! There’s a reason for this little exercise. I want you to work together on a report in which you pick an event in history and tell it from each side. So, for example, if the two of you pick the Revolutionary War, one of you will take the side of the colonists, the other will take the side of the British Empire. Pretty clear? Now, because I don’t want to hear 10 reports on the Revolutionary War, I will turn the time back to you to discuss in pairs which topic you would like to tackle. When you have chosen, come up to my desk and let me know. If it’s already taken by another group, I’ll let you know and give you additional ideas to consider.”
The hum of conversation starts up as the students begin again to chat in pairs.
Talking over the noise, the teacher continues.
“Once you — ONCE your topic is approved, pick up the assignment details and you may use the rest of class time to outline and work on your report. This will be the biggest chunk of time you’ll have in class between now and a week from Friday when reports are due, so use your time wisely.”
The students turn back to each other and resume discussing topic selection.
“So, any ideas?” Libby asks.
“Uh, I don’t know. I kind of like Prohibition. It was one of the first major amendments passed after women gained the right to vote.” Connie says.
“Really? Huh. I didn’t know that,” Libby says. “Um, what about the Civil Rights Movement? That would be interesting.”
“Yeah, well, that would be interesting too,” Connie says.
“You don’t like it?” Libby asks.
“Oh, no, that’s fine. I’m fine with whatever,” Connie says.
“Okay, let’s do Civil Rights,” Libby says.
The two stand up and head over to the teacher’s desk.
“We’re going to report on the Civil Rights Movement,” Libby says as she picks up the paper with the assignment instructions.
“Sorry. Another group has already chosen that topic,” the teacher says.
“Well, what about Prohibition?” Connie asks, jumping in.
“Uh, nope. That one is already taken too. But no group has chosen the Civil War yet, and surprisingly the Revolutionary War is still available too. I guess this class is really thinking outside the box,” the teacher says.
Connie looks at Libby.
“Hey, you do Civil War reenacting, right?” Libby asks, shrugging. “Let’s just do that.”
“We’ll take the Civil War,” Connie says.
“Great! I have you both down for the Civil War. Libby, you will take the South’s perspective and Connie, you report on the North,” the teacher says, marking it down on his list.
“Wait, what?” Libby asks. “I can’t take the side of the South. I wouldn’t even know what to say.”
“You’ll be fine. The whole point of this exercise is to learn, so I’m sure you’ll learn. Anyway, you have your partner here to help you. I’m sure together you’ll figure something out,” the teacher says, waving for the next group to come forward and give him their topic.
Connie and Libby walk back to their desks.
“I seriously have no idea what to say about the South. They were fighting to keep slaves and break apart the nation. That makes no sense whatsoever,” Libby says as she sits back in her seat.
“It’s not that simple,” Connie says, sitting. “There was a lot more going on at the time. Okay, so I just started Civil War reenacting, and I don’t know a lot, but I’ve picked up on the fact that it wasn’t a simple matter of slavery.”
“Huh. Okay, well, whatever.” Libby says somewhat resigned. “I guess we should read through these instructions and figure out what do to,” she says, holding up the paper.
The girls go through the instructions and are soon busy planning and dividing up the work when the bell rings.
“Do you want to meet up at the library tomorrow to work some more on our report?” Connie asks.
“Uh, no, I don’t have time tomorrow. But, I’m free on Thursday,” Libby says.
“Yeah, Thursday’s fine. Well, okay. See ya,” Connie says.
“Yeah, see ya,” Libby says.
As the girls approach the door, Connie pauses.
“Uh, Libby? Why did you ask whether I was conservative or liberal?”
“I don’t know. Something to talk about, I guess. My parents are really into politics and I hear the terms all the time, so I just thought it would be an interesting question. You know, just thinking outside the box,” Libby says.
“Oh. Cool,” Connie says.
The girls part ways, each heading to their next class.