Friday, October 19, 2012

American History and the D.C. Field Trip

American History is one of our core subjects this year.  I majored in history at Florida State so teaching history is something I actually get jazzed up about.  It's not that I remember all the details of history or have all my dates in order, it's just that it's truly fascinating to me to understand how and why we got where we are as people and a nation.

Sure I found it terribly boring, unnecessary, and almost incomprehensible as a kid.  My love for history didn't take a hold until I was a little older so the challenge for me is to deliver the information to my kids in a way that is interesting, relevant, and memorable.  I'm not sure if I'm succeeding on all fronts - at least so far - but it's got to be better than when I was a kid.  What I remember from middle and high school is dry text books, long lectures, and a few films shown from old movie projectors.  This year our kids are watching creatively produced DVD's on high def TV, reading relevant books (for example: Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly), and going on field trips to places like Boston and most recently our nation's capitol in D.C.

D.C. is not at it's best right now.  Construction on the Mall, Washington Monument, and Smithsonian really doesn't make for a good first impression, but we didn't want to postpone our visit because we know that there is so much to see and it's really best done in several short trips compared to cramming everything into one long visit... at least that's how we feel. 

Grass project has Mall closed until Dec.

Our first stop, after arriving at Regan National, dropping off luggage at hotel, and figuring out the Metro system, was the Museum of American History. This building would be the main focus of our trip as it falls in line with everything we are learning about from the Discovery of America to the Civil War.  We only had an hour and half the first day before the museum closed so we made a bee-line upstairs to see the First Ladies' dresses.  I realize that James and Dennis would most likely not be completely enamoured with the dresses and dishes, but the girls and I were overwhelmed to imagine each women wearing a particular dress or eating dinner on her finest china.  I could have spent hours in that one room alone but feeling the pressure of time and knowing how much there was still to see, we pushed through hastily.

Next Dennis wanted to see the rare coins. This room would not have made my list of "must-see" American History, but James, desiring to see anything but dresses, thought this was a great idea.  Only later after he wrote about it in his blog did I realize that it was one of the more memorable and interesting things he saw.  The girls and I gave a cursory glance and moved on.  With this our first day in the museum was over. The security guards ushered everyone out and the doors closed behind us at 5:30pm.

The weather in DC was absolutely beautiful so we walked toward the Washington Monument. Although it was closed it still made for great photo-ops.  Notice the cartwheels and handstands performed by the girls.

It was a short walk down to the Lincoln Memorial so we headed in that direction taking in the WWII Memorial on the way there.  I think the kids liked climbing the stairs up to the memorial more than the actual structure itself, then again, sometimes it's hard to tell what a person is taking in.

The walk back to the train station was long but manageable. It was late by the time we got around to having dinner. I think the kids will tell you that one of their highlights was ordering room service.  Not sure why. Dennis and I went down to the lobby for a peaceful meal and to watch the VP debate.

The next morning we made our way back to the American History museum to see the other floors.  There was so much to take in.  My favorite was taking the kids through the "U.S. in Wars" exhibit. The display started with the Revolutionary War and contained artifacts, pictures, and explanations of each conflict. The history we have been studying was right there in front of us. From Washington's uniform to Lincoln's Hat... it was right there.

Unfortunately, Dennis and I were the only ones really excited. I think James was ready for a big nap, Kat had more fun with the hands-on displays, and Emily seemed somewhat interested but not all that impressed.

Another memorable display was the Star Spangled Banner room.  We weren't allow to take pictures of it, but the original flag (or what's left of it) is displayed beautifully along with Francis Scott Key's story about writing it.  Dennis and I had chills walking through the room; Emily, James, and Kat sat on the benches.  They thought it was 'neat' but without a more mature perspective it's just an old flag, and I can't say as I blame them.

We pressed on seeing as much as we could with our remaining time.  I couldn't get enough of the place but once again, the kids thought otherwise. 

I think if you ask the kids, they'd tell you they did enjoy the trip and saw many cool things.  It didn't surprise me that they were a little bored at times nor did it discourage me from continuing our American History studies.  It's hard to say if the history switch will get "turned on" for any of our kids but even if it never becomes a focus of study like it did for me, it's still our duty and obligation to help them understand the great sacrifices and efforts that others made before them so that they can have the privilege and freedom to sit on their iPods and ignore all that is around them. Sounds odd, but I think their getting it and maybe one day, they'll set their electronics aside to become one of those great people that serves their country in some memorable way.

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