I Confuse My Students

by Matt McKeon on September 22, 2007 · 0 comments

Lectured on John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. They learned the name “John Brown” in connection with Bleeding Kansas last class. This class I passed out a photograph of Brown without identifying him and asked for their impressions. Brown looks fairly grim in all his photos and the responses were predictable. I revealed him as Brown and described the raid, arsenal, slave uprising, pikes, hostages, didn’t work out, blah, blah, blah. I introduced them to Robert E. Lee and showed a prewar photograph.(black mustache–you’ll all seen it), and described how Lee wrapped up the hostage crisis quickly, with the help of a detachment of marines.

Kid in class, “So Brown’s the bad guy for attacking the arsenal.”

Me: “No, he was trying to free the slaves, that’s good.”

Kid: “So Lee and the marines are the bad guys.”

Me: “No, they were trying to rescue the hostages that Brown seized. That’s good.”

Other kid, “Is Brown against slavery?”

First kid, “Yeah, duh,”

Third kid: “Can I get a drink of water?”

Me: “No.” I describe Brown’s trial and his transformation from homicidal nutjob to martyr. “Two men, attended Brown’s hanging, that I want you to remember. One was Thomas Jackson, and other was John Wilkes Booth.”

Third kid: “Can I go to the bathroom?”

Me: “No.” I describe how hangings were public events, conducted at the 50 yard line in a football stadium. I told them that the sins of this guilty land could be purged only with blood. What did that mean?

First kid: ” we going to have a big war and decide to end slavery.”

Second kid: ” That guy, Booth, murdered President Lincoln.”

Third kid: “I wanna go to the bathroom.”

Me: “You can go if you sing this song with me:

John Brown’s Body lies a moulderin’ in the grave.”which I sing at the top of my voice. The kid didn’t need to go to the bathroom enough to sing with me. Then the bell rang, which in our little school is actually one of my colleagues ringing a handbell, like Little House on the Praire. The kids laugh at the singing and file out. It’s Friday, a beautiful day out.


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