A New Appreciation

By Jeff Hendershott

It has been a long minute since I've submitted anything to this page.  But that doesn't mean I have not been busy.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I just returned from a vacation to Virginia Beach, and when you’re a history freak from Ohio, you can't resist stopping by some old favorite historical sites as well as adding in some new ones.  Yorktown was fantastic as was a ghost tour in Old Town Winchester, Virginia, a town that headquartered Stonewall Jackson for a time, was a stop for a young George Washington, and a town that changed hands many times during "The War of Southern Rebellion" as our tour guide insisted we call it.

But being in education - which includes being mandated to continue formal education - I've been busy working on my Masters  degree.  That's what has really led to this little missive.

The more I study and investigate the condition of education in the United States, the more troubled I become - the more I second guess what I do as a teacher on a daily basis.  I'm getting too old to second guess myself!  Never the less, here I am.

I've mused previously in a couple other articles on this page about the condition of education in America, or what John Taylor Gatto calls compulsory government education, where teachers "teach school," but teaching and learning really doesn't take place given the regimented structure and uniformity our system is based upon (but that's another story for another time).  In short, I'm pretty disillusioned, but can now better understand the "why" of our failing education.  As Gatto professes in his book "Dumbing Us Down," I don't teach math, social studies, English or science, I teach SCHOOL!  I teach to OBEY!  I actually LIMIT learning.  I teach conformity and uniformity.  I teach DEPENDENCE on "experts" and tests for approval and acceptence.  I work in a business that segregates by age.

That's the short story as to where I'm at in my profession, and I promised myself to limit myself to just a few lines on that soapbox. 

Having been out of "The Hobby" for a number of years now, I have experienced a perspective shift.  Having mellowed a bit and now in a position to really take a step back to examine the twelve years I invested in Civil War reenacting, I don't look at it with the same indifference or even a degree of contempt as to the educational purpose reenacting proposes to offer to its participants and observers.

I'm now not only appreciative of what we "Tubby Bearded Guys" do and did, I admire it with an appreciation I thought I had when I was doing it, but didn't really have.

I've discovered that for REAL education to take place, it's not necessary to have books and pencils, power points and desks and bells and rules and on and on and on.

Now, I don't want to over-emphasize the point and suggest everyone who buys a musket and gets outfitted deserves a doctoral degree in history.  We do and did it for our own reasons.  Yet, taking my experience and the experience of those I observed in the field, I have a new appreciation for what reliving history provides educationally.  Oh sure, some are just cowboys who want to burn some powder and could give a damn about the failure of the Missouri Compromise that helped lead to the Civil War… oops, I mean "War of Southern Rebellion."  I know many of my comrades, God love them, would rather discuss weapons or battle strategy over more abstract concepts I seemed to enjoy.

But looking back, I can see how not only US, but the spectators, learned, to one degree or another, more about history than any classroom could convey.  What REALLY struck me during this time of reflection was remembering all the book swapping we did and, what was perhaps more stunning, actually READING those books!  Some of the most knowledgeable people I've ever met when it came to history were from my days as a quasi-farb.  And I don't even look upon what I deemed as "farby" with the contempt I did all those years ago.  If a guy was honestly trying to learn history, indeed ENJOY history, well, you just have to admire that.  After all, something moves within us to compel a person to take part in The Hobby. I was a lean, mean fighting machine during my years as a Union private, but today I can appreciate those Tubby Bearded Guys we used to laugh at (and what I would be now!) did.

Okay, I intended this to be a more lucid and tight if not somewhat scholarly article, but as you can see I lapsed into essentially jotting down what's on my mind.  Maybe my profession where I "teach" regimentation has led me to finally ENJOY free flowing thoughts, throwing off the yolk of structure my graduate school professors demanded.

So anyway, if you bother to read my previous articles, yes, many of them sort of made fun of "The Hobby" and its participants.  Those were my honestly held thoughts at the time.  But time changes perspective; time and learning and maturing and growing.

So if you're still out there rolling rounds and sleeping on the ground and tolerating questions from the public and saying "Yeah, we actually DO sleep in those tents," keep doing it.  You're doing not only our historical heritage, but our country's education, a service more critical than you may realize.