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Living History at UCEC

UCEC social studies teacher Ted Gehring performs a monologue as 19th century abolitionist Owen Brown.

Several classes at UCEC had an unusual visitor last week—a time traveler from the 19th century. Social studies teacher Ted Gehring assumed the guise of Owen Brown, abolitionist John Brown’s son, and presented a lively monologue about his life and times to US history students.

Seeing a performance by retired Union County teacher Nora Brooks in the role of Ulysses Grant’s wife inspired Gehring to take on the persona of a figure from US history to aid students in reviewing for their final exam. Gehring said, “I chose Owen Brown after I started researching and discovered that he connected to almost everybody in the Civil War as well as to the Transcendentalists.” Owen Brown was also the only member of his family who escaped punishment for the armed slave revolt at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.

Gehring said that he wanted to help students see that “history is not just a bunch of separate facts.” He added that playing the role of Brown for students would “make it pull all together,” giving context to disparate information. Gehring also stated the central objective of this lesson: “I wanted students to get a picture of the dominance of the abolition movement and its connection to the Civil War.”

A telegram announcing the end of the war, along with a reading of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” began his presentation, while a reading of the folk song “John Brown’s Body” concluded and tied together the performance.

UCEC students enjoyed the non-traditional learning experience. Mekenzie Mallone said, “I thought he did a really good job. I really liked it,” while Rebecca Malloy stated, “It was interesting and it gave you the information.” Isabelle Ciccone perhaps best summed up the impact of Gehring’s creative teaching tool. She said, “I liked how he made the history alive.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Gehring replied that he will “keep perfecting this role for next year.” He also intends, however, to begin to explore playing the role of Eisenhower for US History II students, as this president’s life “spans a significant portion of the 20th century.” Students can, therefore, look forward to more engaging performances that will help keep curriculum in the forefront of their minds.

Written by: Liz Washburn
Posted: Dec 19, 2013 by Sylvia Roldan

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