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Turn, Washington’s spies, and historical thinking

I was able to catch just a part of the first episode last Sunday of the AMC’s new series, Turn. Looks pretty good –

The show is based on the real-life Culper Ring—a spy ring organized by Major Benjamin Tallmadge under the guidance of General Washington that was tasked with reporting on British activities in New York and Connecticut. And based on reviews of upcoming episodes, we’re gonna see more early American water torture, espionage/spycraft, politicking, a little bit of a murder-mystery thrown in, and some fairly graphic battle scenes.

AMC is the channel that gave us Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. So . . . I’m not sure I would plan on showing entire episodes to my 5th graders. But I do think there are some nice tie-ins to the study of the Revolutionary War era and the events of the period. And I like the idea of using Washington’s spies as a hook to kids wanting to learn more about those events. I also think that high school teachers and kids could use the Culper Ring as a counter-balance to talking about more current events such as the NSA intelligence gathering, the fight against terrorism, and First Amendment rights.

This is the kind of content that seems perfect for creating un-Googleable questions and asking kids to evaluate and make sense of evidence:

  • When is it okay to spy? Is it ever a bad idea?
  • Who decides what to do with the collected information?
  • Are all spies the same?
  • What’s the best way to organize a spy ring?
  • How might different interpretations of the Bill of Rights impact intelligence gathering oprations?

And the cool thing is that there are a lot of resources already out there to help you integrate the topic into your instruction.

Start with the official AMC Turn site. You’ll find full episodes, interactive maps, origin comics, and video extras. Check out Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, the book on which the series is based.

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Lesson Plans



2 Comments Post a comment
  1. pbogush #

    Just sent this to my daughter she is reading right now.

    April 9, 2014
    • glennw #


      I didn’t realize that there are two competing Washington spy books – “George Washington’s Secret Six” and “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.” Curious how they approach the same topic.

      Daughter will have to provide a summary!


      April 12, 2014

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