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Putting a Face to Remembrance

November 26, 2013

This is the second post in my catch up week. As I wrote yesterday, I fell behind in November with my weekly posts. My goal this week is to get caught up.

When I was young, Remembrance Day always meant going to the Cenotaph and the Legion, paying our respects. My Dad felt that is was very important for us all to recognize the sacrifices made by soldiers in service to their country. His Dad, Donald Beaton served with the Calgary Highlanders in Egypt and Italy during the Second World War. My mom’s dad, George Gulliver served with the 52nd Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery in France and Belgium during World War One. My dad and all my uncles served time in the reserves when they were young. So, as a family, we had a long history with the military.  That history was passed along to my brother and I and every year we made the requisite trip to the ceremonies. Now that I have a family, I try to pass along this history. As a teacher, I try as well. This year, I think I got closer than I have before.

I’d be willing to bet, if you asked High School students what Remembrance Day means to them, they will speak about the school assemblies they have attended. I have organized many of these assemblies at my school and always felt I was missing the mark with them. While they promote remembrance and try to honour the memories of those who sacrificed for others, I often felt they miss something. This year, about three weeks before Remembrance Day, I came across an article about The Memory Project, a website set up to tell the stories of people who served. This gave me an idea to present to my own students. Rather than hold another assembly, we created a mini museum in a classroom. The students were asked to bring in “artifacts” from family members or friends who served in the military. We also asked the students to create a brief biographical piece for the soldier.

It is very difficult to describe what happened the day we set up our museum. We did it after November 11 to give the students lots of time to gather materials. We had uniforms, medals, pictures, and letters of soldiers from Canada, the United States, the UK and Germany. We explored artifacts and stories from World War One, World War Two, the Korean War, and Peacekeeping Missions. One of my students brought in a guest speaker who told his story about serving in Bosnia. Another student shared the military history of both her parents who met while serving. One student was brave enough to share the story of her grandfather who fought for Germany during World War Two. This was the most moving ceremony I have ever participated in. By completing this project, students had deep conversations with their family members about serving. The connections they made surprised some of them. One student made a 20 minute documentary about his 90 year old Grandfather who completed convoy protection duty with the Royal Navy.

We ask our students to be many things. We want to encourage authentic learning and encourage them to create networks to help them solve complex problems. This project achieved these goals, but that was not my intention. The students connected with their family to learn the stories and histories of those who served – the students are now curators of those stories. The students told their stories and were so proud to do so. As the Social Studies Department Head I am responsible for organizing Remembrance Day ceremonies. But, I will never organize another Remembrance Day assembly again. Rather, I will encourage students to become story tellers and curators of their family history.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Comments and feedback is always appreciated.

Have a great day,

Sean

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