Last week my U.S. History students studied the Mexican American War and came to many varying conclusions. After reading and discussing Howard Zinn's chapter, "We Take Nothing by Conquest, Thank God" in A People's History of the United States, they engaged in a "tea party" assuming the roles of individuals of the time period (President Polk, Fredrick Douglass, a member of the wagon train on the Oregon Trail, Mexican General, US Naval Officer to name a few) in order to discuss the various opinions of this war.
My favorite moments were when Congressman Lincoln from Illinois (Ning da Xiong '15) and Mississippi plantation owner, Jefferson Davis (Ruiyu Zhang '16) discussed the war. I wonder if these two historical figures will be so kind to each other in class next week after South Carolina secedes from the Union.
My students enjoyed this creative outlet in class in place of our usual Harkness discussions. It allowed the students to get into character and experience history through new lenses. Aidan Ferguson '15 even portrayed President Polk with his interpretation of a North Carolinian accent. I also experienced a first as a teacher on this day, as we used FaceTime to bring Sierra Riley '16 into this discussion when she was home during a Nor'easter. Tea and cookies provided by the kitchen on an icy day made this exercise even better!
At the conclusion of this exercise, student opinions varied on the U.S. involvement in the war. Many agreed with the expansionist view of Manifest Destiny, while others felt that this was a greedy move by politicians for more land. Hunter Bachman '16 went so far to say he could never listen to "This Land is your Land" ever again in the same way.