“Did you get information for your part of the assignment?” Connie asks.
Libby and Connie sit across from each other at a vacant table in the library.
“Well, I looked up some stuff, but I still think I should be arguing the side of the North. I don’t want to represent people who were fighting to keep their slaves,” Libby says, giving a look of disgust.
“But it wasn’t just about slavery. I mean, I don’t know all the facts, but a lot of the Civil War buffs who are reenactors say the Civil War was really about state’s rights,” Connie says, getting out her laptop.
“What? You’re kidding me, right? State’s rights? It was totally just the South wanting to keep their free labor. They liked living rich on their big plantations and couldn’t bear the thought of having to pay people to work,” Libby says, folding her arms.
“No, it wasn’t. It was a lot more than that. Not everyone in the South was a plantation owner. And a bunch of people didn’t want the Federal government telling them what they could or couldn’t do within their own state,” Connie says.
“Whatever. Wait, look… I’ll show you. Hey, Skyler. What was the Civil War about?” Libby asks, waving down Skyler as he’s passing by.
“Uh, probably slavery?” Skyler says.
“See!” Libby says.
Skyler looks confused and walks on to join another table.
“Just because that’s what Skyler thinks, doesn’t make it true,” Connie says. “You have to see there was more going on than just slavery.”
“I can’t believe you’re going to sit there and say that slavery wasn’t the real issue. None of this would have ever happened if the South didn’t have slaves. There wouldn’t have been a disagreement, no reason to secede, and no war. End of story,” Libby says, leaning back in her chair.
“Urgh. You’re not getting it. It’s not like just one issue is going to put the whole country at war. It has to be more complicated than that,” Connie says. “Just because you don’t understand why the South wanted to secede doesn’t mean you’re right.”
“Connie, do you realize by saying that, you’re basically ignoring what thousands of men and women died for?” Libby asks. “It took blood, sweat, and tears to free the slaves. The Civil War did that. I can’t say I like the Civil War, but I’m glad that we were able to free the slaves.”
“We aren’t getting anywhere by arguing. Can we just focus on the assignment, please? You’re the one who is supposed to represent the South. I’m just trying to help you,” Connie says, finally opening up her laptop.
“How are we supposed to do our assignment when you’re still dead set on the fact that the CIVIL WAR wasn’t about slavery. I don’t care if I have to represent the South. I’ll just tell it like it is, and say that they were a bunch of selfish land owners who wanted to keep all the wealth to themselves, wealth built on the backs of slaves,” Libby says, digging into her bag to get her laptop.
“You can’t do that, and I didn’t say the Civil War didn’t involve slavery. Our assignment is to represent both sides, though, not just one side. You can’t just say that the South was wrong. We’ll both fail,” Connie says.
“Relax, I’m still representing the South, and that is the South’s perspective. They were fighting to keep their slaves. See. I’m still doing my part,” Libby says, shrugging.
“Libby, you have to at least try to understand some other motive, or add a least a little perspective. I mean… Urgh, you just don’t get it,” Connie says, letting her hand fall flat on the table.
“No, you’re the one that doesn’t get it. You’re so worried about a grade, but this is history. What we are as a nation was based on what happened at this moment in history. You’re supposed to know all this stuff from your reenacting or whatever. I thought you would at least understand that,” Libby says.
“Well, what would you know? All you do is recycle and do art or whatever. And now you suddenly know everything about the Civil War?” Connie asks.
“I’m not claiming to know everything about the Civil War, but I do know what they were fighting about. It was about slavery. You’re trying to say it was state’s rights or something, and even if it was a little bit about state’s rights, none of it would have happened if the South didn’t own slaves.” Libby says.
The girls sit staring at each other for a moment.
“We’re getting nowhere,” Connie says, looking at the clock on her phone. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I have to go. Why don’t we just work separately for now.”
“Fine by me,” Libby says, standing.
The two quickly pack up their stuff. Libby walks over to Skyler’s table as Connie heads for the door.
Perhaps you have had experiences similar to these two students, particularly when trying to talk about politics. What went wrong in this conversation? What would you have done differently as either Libby or Connie?
Maybe we can learn from you. If you were the history teacher, what could you include in your lesson that might help? With some of your ideas, we might be able to figure a way to get these girls working together again.
Emily asks good questions: what went wrong in Connie’s and Libby’s conversation ? What instructions could the history teacher include to help the girls figure out the real issues at stake ?
I admit, as these are good questions, I can’t think of good answers. This points to the exact spot where I become stuck in my conversations with others, especially when talking politics.
Emily has hit upon the crux of the matter= how can we continue exchanging ideas with each other without throwing up barriers.
I’ll be watching for other comments from readers, eager to see what ideas come to the surface.
Thanks, Emily, for encouraging us to think about this. Learning and understanding the components of discussion is important to know as we talk about politics.
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I grew up mostly in the western US and a little in the Northeast. I had never lived in the South or even traveled there until later in adulthood. I was exposed to various points of view, growing up but those views were mostly from school history books and opinions of people who either never had any family history going back to the civil war, or they lived in the cities of the victorious North. So I sort of grew up wanting to associate myself and my views with that of the winning side. Later, when I moved to work in the Deep South, and my one of may sons went to attend the Virginia Military Institute, I had an opportunity to learn from history books, the halls of their museums and the posterity of those on the losing side, a bit more about a different point of view. It opened my mind to the complexity of human thought, diverse perspectives and why they can be so deeply held, even to the point of death, realizing they were not held with some sinister unrighteousness deeply rooted in their souls. I had similar experiences traveling to Nuremberg, Germany, Paris, France, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the aviation war museums of Beijing, China, and while in the Middle East. I came to realize that when you live in another person’s world, learn to speak their language, eat their food, and experience their climate and geography, your mind can be opened to much greater understanding and appreciation for why people think and do differently than another people of another generation or another country or state or religion or what have you. So with all that, I recommend travel and study and first had experience as a remedy for ignorance, small mindedness, and bigotry. Try that first. If you can’t afford much of it, then try to bring in the use of tools like Skype and video calling to get better acquainted with the people you think you might understand by what somebody told you in a history book or from your neighborhood tribe, or what have you. Good luck.
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