Sometimes it’s hard being a history teacher in Utah, especially if you are a Mormon who did not grow up in Utah being a history teacher in Utah.
I grew up in the Church, as did both sides of my family for generations back. My dad decided to join the Marine Corps, which meant my entire life was moving every few years. I have lived in numerous different states with numerous different subcultures influencing me and my friends. I’ve lived in Utah 5 years now and I’m still receiving culture shock sometimes.
Mostly, I grew up in Virginia. And learned about the Civil War with a slightly southern perspective. (I lived in northern Virginia–Stafford County–and they realize that the north won and that was right to have happened. However, Virginians are stubborn people throughout history and have a lot of state pride.) So, as I taught U.S. History this year, I decided to take a more Confederate side to the Civil War as Utah is, for the most part, conservative Republicans and will always teach the North’s perspective.
Again, just to clarify–I wanted to show the South’s perspective…I do not agree with them, nor wish they had won, but as a historian, I find it interesting to view things from not the pervading point of view.
My students learned about the bumbling, self-doubting generals of the North, and I loved seeing their reactions after I told them that each were either fired or quit due to a failure in battle. Whereas, the South had 7 out of 8 of the military schools in the US at the time as well as numerous good military tacticians from the Mexican-American War. My students had previously also studied the fundamental differences of the North and the South: religions, philosophy on freedom, politics, society, and economy. They realized that not all plantation owners were evil, no; that for the most part, slavery was a necessary evil. We had watched a few documentaries and a few scenes from Gettysburg. We looked at the disturbing photographs from the Battle of Antietam.
Now, here’s the thing I don’t like about the Nebo district: school gets out Friday, May 24. Grades are due by Mon, May 20. When students know this, especially middle school students, how does the administration as well as parents possibly expect us to keep them willing to learn and do academic activities? To make it worse, that Monday yearbooks are being passed out, Tuesday are award assemblies, Wednesday the whole school is going to Lagoon, Thursday is an arts assembly, and Friday they get out at 11:15.
So, I make do. I decide to show Gone With the Wind next week. It’s a long movie, it’s from the Southern perspective, and it has to do with what we’re learning, so it would solidify the southern perspective in their minds.
Now, I thought it was PG, so I knew I’d have to get parent permission according to district policy (again, culture shock that you have to get permission for a PG movie). I also wanted parents to be aware that they would be watching a movie all next week. But, I didn’t realize that it is actually rated G. Most parents have already signed the permission slip and some are even excited to have their kids watch this classic. But, I got a surprising email from one parent who was surprised and disturbed that I would even consider showing this movie to my 8th grade class. She sent me a review on it she found:
The film centers around the Civil War-torn South and includes severalk scenes of war-related violence, such as wounded soldiers dying, and Scarlett O’Hara shooting a Union deserter. The sexuality isn’t as overt as in contemporary movies, but it’s still pervasive, as Scarlett is clearly a bold, sexually attractive woman who manipulates men with her looks. Additionally, there are several kisses (a few very passionate ones), a scene that implies a husband has forced his wife to go to bed with him, and even the inclusion of a minor character who is a good-hearted “lady of the night.” The alcohol and cigar use is also frequent, although mostly because there are so many parties in the movie. Parents should be aware that the depiction of African Americans is problematic and stereotypical — the slaves seem to actually enjoy their lot and are either superficial and ignorant or fussy and smothering. It may concern some parents that the Confederate South is portrayed as having been a place of gentility and charm.
I have seen Gone with the Wind numerous, numerous times. It was made in 1940, so I know that sexuality and violence isn’t really portrayed…why would Hollywood risk that? All it is harmless innuendos and a loud noise of a “gun” with an over-exaggerated, “I’m dead!” death scene. This mom said it was too violent and sensual for her son and she didn’t want him seeing those terrible racial stereotypes. Now, I understand that she may not have seen the movie, nor have grown up in the South, so that is where her ignorance comes from. But even with the “racial stereotyping”, the sad but hard truth is, that is actually what the South was like during the Civil War. I found this review and I absolutely loved it because it explains the whole part as to why I am even bothering to show Gone With the Wind:
The boy of this mother came up to me and was very embarrassed about the fact that he isn’t going to be allowed to watch Gone With the Wind next week. He told me that he hasn’t been able to watch any PG or above in the past 3 years! Culture shock! And I always considered myself a Molly-Mormon! 5 years, and I am still being blown away at how some kids are raised here in Utah.
Teaching friends, mother friends, Utah residents…what do you think about this? (Also, don’t forget about the Giveaway here!)