Learn the Address: Ken Burns and Lincoln at Gettysburg
I’ve always loved the Gettysburg Address.
And not just because of the content and Lincoln’s message but how it sounds. If you’ve ever had the chance to hear the speech delivered by a skilled orator, you know what I’m talking about. It flows. There are rhythms.
Delivered well, the Gettysburg Address provides not just an amazing picture of what America can and should look like but an incredible example of an expository speech. It’s the kind of content that you can design an entire unit around.
And you have another tool in your tool belt. Ken Burns and PBS are currently working on a film focused on the Address scheduled for airing next spring. There will be lessons, resources, and other teaching materials. But there are some cool things going on right now that you and your kids can be a part of.
The producers created a site called Learn the Address that encourages us to memorize and be able to recite the Gettysburg Address. Yes. I know. I can hear some of you saying
But Glenn. Aren’t you all able “doing” history, not memorizing history? What’s with memorizing the Address?
First, I’m not all about just doing history. I’m all about finding a better balance between foundational knowledge and using that knowledge in authentic ways. Second, acquiring foundational knowledge like the Gettysburg Address gives you the opportunity to ask kids much more interesting questions like did “these men die in vain” or did our nation actually experience “a new birth of freedom.” Memorizing and reciting the speech is the first step of the learning process, not the idea. The University of Kansas Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation describes this as:
Social Studies content is the vehicle for demonstrating mastery, not the destination.
Plus the Learn the Address site is fun. Cause you can hear President Obama recite the speech just before listening to Stephen Colbert as well as recitations by 42 other folks. The idea is that you and your kids can create your own version of the Address and upload to the site.
The inspiration for the project is the tiny Greenwood School in the small town of Putney, Vermont. The school’s students, boys ages 11-17, all face a range of learning differences that have made their personal, academic and social progress extremely challenging. Yet each year they are encouraged to practice, memorize, and recite the Gettysburg Address.
The Greenwood School is the focus of Burns’s film. The feature-length documentary will shine a light on this extraordinary school and its efforts to memorialize the Gettysburg Address. The film interweaves this contemporary story with the history, context and importance of the Address, which remains one of the most important declarations ever made on human equality. The site and videos will be utilized to create on-going interest in the Gettysburg Address and to support the educational materials that will be available to teachers during the broadcast of Burns’s film next April.
What will your version sound like?