Teachers learn lesson about South's role in the American Revolution





With backpacks in tow and cameras in hand, a group of 35 high school teachers from across the U.S. followed Larry Babits intently along the 1.25-mile battlefield trail Thursday at Cowpens National Battlefield.

There, they got blow-by-blow details of the Revolutionary War battle from Babits, a professor at East Carolina University whom National Park Service staff called the "foremost expert" on the conflict. This was just one stop during the weeklong National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop at Converse College.

"I've been to several, and this is probably the best one I've been to," said Peter Barella, a teacher from Port Aransas, Texas. "They're keeping us active, keeping us going. It's not just a lecture. They do the lecture bit and the introduction on the bus, and we're off and actually seeing the battlefields, the homes -- things we've read about all of our lives. That's what's exciting about it."

The teachers are getting just as valuable a lesson this week as their students will this fall in the classroom. Co-program director Melissa Walker said most American history textbooks skip over the crucial Revolutionary War battles that took place in the South.

"There's three years of fighting between the Battle of Saratoga and the American victory at Yorktown," said Walker, the George Dean Johnson Jr. Professor of History at Converse and the 2007 South Carolina Professor of the Year. "And most of that fighting took place in the South, and really a lot of the real turning-point battles took place in the South. The textbooks don't tend to reflect that, so this (workshop) is filling a gap in their knowledge."

Walker added that teachers also don't realize the extent to which the Revolution was about Americans fighting Americans -- British loyalists against American patriots. She said memoirs of Alexander Chesney - a loyalist who lived in what is now Spartanburg County - illustrate how numerous men of the times switched sides when captured and threatened with death.

The teachers this week read parts of Chesney's diary, "and got to know the way many people were really acting in self interest as much as in some grand patriotic cause," Walker said. "(Chesney's) loyalties were really with the British, but when push came to shove he did what it took to survive."...

... "It's just a great opportunity to learn more about the sites that I teach in class," said Wright, who teaches U.S. history at Broome High, "and have the (first-person) experience so I can come back and then, hopefully, when budgets are not so tight, plan some more field trips. Some of my kids are born and raised in Cowpens and have never been to the battlefield."

Wright said she learned "a lot more details" about the leadership, strategy and tactics that were used in the war and will be able to bring visuals and primary-source documents from the workshop back into her classroom.

"I love teaching U.S. history because it's so easy to involve the kids because they're so tied to it -- they have stories from their own families," Wright said. "And especially with my students, when I hear about the Scotch-Irish militia, I see my students in them, and I see their parents in them. They're very tough, they're very independent and they're very patriotic, and those are things that are all very unique to the small communities that they come from."


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