Jan 7, 2008

Killer Angels Considered for Davidson Eighth Grade

The eighth grade history teachers at Davidson are considering Killer Angels as a supplemental text for their eighth grade honors history classes. I was asked by Mabel Bialik, my son's teacher, to provide input and agreed to meet with several Davidson teachers tomorrow (1-8) at 2:30 at Davidson. I obviously liked the book and would recommend it, but I know many of you were not as enthusiastic.   Thus I wanted to offer you the opportunity to provide Mrs. Bialik and the other eighth grade history teachers other views.

I will write in my comments that the book may not grab the interest of girls as there are few women mentioned in the book.

I'm sure they would welcome any comments you would have either tomorrow or via e-mail. You can also reply to this posting and I will see that it gets relayed to the teachers.

Of note, the eighth graders that go on the D.C. field trip this spring will visit Gettysburg. 
-- Larry


  1. Larry, here's my two cents for DMS's consideration:

    The book's greatest asset is its accessibility. It's very readable and, for even the mildest of history buffs, is entertaining and illuminating on a number of levels. It's also sufficiently sanitized that it avoids giving offense to Civil War partisans.

    Having said that, my disappointment rests in how superficially the book treats the big themes of the war. Race and politics and economics and class are on display only briefly in the musings of the main characters. And since those characters are pretty one-dimensional, there's not a lot of substance to any of these issues. (See my post after our discussion of the book.)

    This aside, I think it may be a fine choice for 8th graders, as the book does introduce the Big Ideas in a way that's more explicit than the Howard Fast book I recall reading in 8th grade.

  2. Killer Angels sanitizes the horrors of war, and at times almost glamorizes it. I felt it portrayed it as "The Gentlemanly Sport" like a big chess game, but with the wafts of gunpowder in the air. Unfortunately this romantic lie has continued to be perpetuated by the "imbedded media" in the current war. Eighth grade may not be the ideal time to expose the kids to the horrors of the reality of war, but then again, when is there ever an ideal time?

    Personally I'd prefer the kids be exposed to the politics and hype that motivated a bunch of farm boys from far-off Maine to come be cannon fodder at the whim of some general. Maybe, just maybe, they can learn that war should be the very last resort when all other avenues are exhausted. Maybe they can learn that the cost to all of us from the fog of war is in the collective loss of our humanity, no matter the side on which one fights.

    The movie Glory is based on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard. I haven't read either, but the movie was spectacular, and portrayed the Big Ideas in a deeper and more authentic way than Killer Angels. I'm sure the fine educators at DMS could find ways to use the material in profoundly meaningful lessons.

  3. As a HS teacher and dad of an 8th grader, you guys have nailed the dilemma I face constantly: tell the truth, get the concepts out there, AND make it interesting and accessible. KA would make a great supplement (for the reasons you've noted)to the textbook, primary sources, "lectures" and notes, but I wouldn't use it as THE source for a CW unit. Teach the facts, the causes, the pros and cons, then let the class read KA to determine where those ideas come up (or don't come up!)in the book. Use it as another source to add another dimension, another layer to the understanding of the CW and Gettysburg. Any supplemental material/novel is always welcome, and I wouldn't hesitate to teach it in an 8th grade class. It cannot stand alone as the primary imparter of CW knowledge. Plus maybe it'll get kids reading and interested and that's not a bad thing either! Let us know how the adoption/inclusion of KA turns out at your childrens' school.