"What do you remember from eighth grade?" Lake Oswego Junior High teacher Mike Fish asks.
A visit from Civil War re-enactors is just the type of thing students remember, Fish says, and that matters because those memory-makers are a part of what fashions an emotional connection to school.
Students must toil over essays to establish the educational background that will help them grow. But "it doesn't form a memory the same way a cannon going off and spiking your brain with adrenaline" does, Fish says. And cannon shots did pierce the air on Monday, when a local crew of Civil War re-enactors gave LOJ students something to remember.
Jack Bentley of the 2nd U.S. Artillery "C Battery" first handed teacher Aletia Cochran his card during the 2006-07 school year, when his group arrived in period garb to offer students insight into another time. They've been coming every year since then, offering insights that mesh well with the U.S. history unit that three eighth-grade LOJ social studies teachers offer about the time period from 1620 to the late 1870s.
Now in its 11th year, the event still offers students hands-on activities, including learning the five jobs of detailing a cannon and watching a piece of history flash with gunpowder (but not cannonballs). Students also got their marching orders, literally, from an expert in Confederate infantry, who took them through what each order entails. And that was just the two stations set up outside.
Inside, each of the three eighth-grade social studies teachers' classroom became a learning station, Cochran explains. Re-enactors set up tables of historical artifacts or replicas, delivered a presentation and then answered questions.
Fish says some of the items the 2nd U.S. Artillery brings are eye-opening for the students, including one from the medical expert. He regales students with stories of antiquated medical practices from the Civil War, including the fairly common practice of bidding farewell to injured extremities.
"He brings in all these little saws, and then he talks about the amputation process," Fish says. "This was before penicillin, so if someone got a wound in their hand, (doctors) would amputate."
Lots of Civil War soldiers died from their wounds, even with medical care. Three million Americans fought in the Civil War, and more than 600,000 of them died in the North-South conflict from 1861-65. The war turned brother against brother, but it made possible the freedom of African-Americans who had been enslaved. The war killed 2 percent of the U.S. population.
Fish says what happened in the past informs what happens in the present. It's crucial to teach students all that happened before, he says, so mistakes won't be repeated and accomplishments can be built upon and celebrated.
"I think if the kids have a connection to history, they're going to be much more likely to pursue those connections in their adult lives," Fish says.
In other words, those booms from the cannon can spark memories and keep history alive in the minds of the next generation.