What does the Military History class look like?
By Sydney Armstrong and Caleb Stuart
Mr. Williams has an extensive military background when it comes to his life and family, therefore making him a great candidate for a Q&A session for his new class.
Did your time in the service make you want to teach this class?
“No. It was when I became a teacher. I taught US History and US Government my first year of teaching. US Government and US History are kind of like the same class and I noticed that everything in those classes was very, very quick. I just kind of felt like it wasn’t really taught the way it needed to be taught. You had to get through this amount of material in this amount of time. It went very quickly. Ultimately I went to my principal and asked if we could come up with a course that focuses on military, because US History is really important. Especially the history of the wars and how they were started, how they were fought, and then what came out of them, and my principal supported it. That was my first year of teaching and my second year I got it approved through the county with the help of my principal [from my other school] and some other folks. My third year, I started teaching it. Some of it is about military technology. It covers some of the things that are just left out. I always wanted to cover that.”
What is your favorite part about military history?
“The best part for me is that I get to teach something that I am really passionate about and love. It’s a very student driven class. It’s based off of student interest, so that is the fun part of it. The other thing that I think is really important is just understanding the sacrifice that people make, serving in the military, and not forgetting that part of where we come from, and how important those times were to the U.S. and it’s development as a nation. We went from being thirteen colonies to being a world superpower in record time. I think that that’s hugely important when it comes to understanding where we come from. I don’t always just teach about modern military history. We can learn from the Romans, we can learn from the Greeks, we can learn from the Chinese, we can learn from other civilizations. I try to make all those connections as to why do those civilizations, like the Romans, ultimately fail. How can we avoid that? Those are really important parts of the curriculum.”
Is it more than just American Military History?
“Since it’s more of a contemporary class, it’s from World War I onward. I talk about the Civil War. We just got done comparing the American Revolutions to the Vietnam War, and the fact that we fought using the same style and tactics that the Vietnamese used against us. Why was it then that we thought we could go into Vietnam and win, when we beat a world superpower in the 1700’s? Did we really learn any lessons from our own American Revolution? It’s not just US History. What can you draw from ancient civilizations? When we get into the Holocaust, we don’t just talk about the Holocaust. We talk about how so many people say, “Oh, we can never let something like that happen again,” but yet there have been over 55 genocides since World War II has ended. How is it that we say that, but we could let those genocides happen? There is a lot of global perspective and diplomacy integrated in the class as well. It’s not just about battles, or weapons, or equipment. It’s trying to get them to think. That’s what I try to teach the kids. You need to think it through before you go into a major conflict. Think about what is going on right now with North Korea. Is this really a major conflict that we want to get involved in? Can we win? You need to think it through and ask yourself questions before you just go charging off into battle.”
Are the amount of students taking this class what you expected? Why or why not. Did the amount of students meet the amount that you hoped for?
“It’s more. I didn’t think that I would have a full load, and I do. I have five classes this first semester, and four next semester. I only have one US History class next semester. The reception was really surprising. I was very happy that I had that many kids enroll in the class. I’m thrilled. I thought that I would have two sections, maybe three at most. The fact that I have five sections was really, really exciting, and I just couldn’t be happier because I get to talk about what I love all day long. It’s almost like I’m not working. That’s the best part of the job. I get to come here, and share this knowledge with these kids, and hear their opinions. The thing I need them to do more, though, is break out of their shells. I need them to feel like they can speak more freely, maybe ask more questions, because that’s what motivates me; their interest.”
How do you engage with your students during class?
“Well, I’m very old school, and so I usually give lectures for about the first 20-25 minutes, and then I do a video clip, and they discuss it, or I’ll let them work in groups, and pairs, because I want them to be taking an active role in what they’re learning about. That’s going to be a lot more frequent coming up. Starting in the World War I unit, it’s going to be a lot more group work, and a lot more discussion, and things along those lines. That’s what I, as a teacher, I love. I love student interest, student questions, and just being able to feel like we can talk freely.”
Why do you think it’s important that this class is for upperclassmen only? Did you want it to be that way?
“There is a maturity level involved with this, and I think we need to have a little bit of a basis of knowledge that they can draw off of. We tried this back in Virginia, where I came from. So for the first nine or ten years it was for juniors and seniors back at my old school and then my principal said, “Well, let’s open it up to sophomores,” and I told my boss that, “I don’t think that that’s a good idea because there is a maturity level with many sophomores that’s just not there.” For freshmen, no way. There’s no way. I just don’t think that freshmen are ready for the curriculum, and it just wouldn’t work all that well. We tried it for three years, but they were not grasping the material. They are not being able to draw from other classes they taken, like World History, or US History, or Government. I feel like they need a basis that you can draw from, because there are a lot of really good teachers here that can build that base of knowledge, and then I don’t have to focus on that.”
What is one thing that you hope students take away from this class?
“The big thing I want them to take away from this class is appreciating the country that they live in, understanding how lucky, and how fortunate, we all are, to have the freedoms that we have. I think we are of the mindset that in this country, that if we are ever in a war, we are going to win it. It’s not a cinch that we were going to win in World War I, and it wasn’t a cinch that we were going to win in World War II, and Korea, and Vietnam. I just think that Americans don’t realize that we are incredibly lucky to live here, and that it took a lot to get to where we are. There is a lot of sacrifice, and I hope that they can come away with that understanding. Historians believe that history could have gone this way or that way, and that is what I want to show them. There are a lot of historians that agree that had Hitler not invaded Russia and put himself in a massive three front war, the outcome of that war could have been very different. Our history could be very different today. There is a lot of theory involved in this too. That’s what I am hoping that they can grasp.”