Caldwell Early College High School students play war for perspective on history

Sep. 21, 2013 @ 07:27 AM

For Caldwell Early College High School’s ninth- and 10th-graders, Friday’s school day smelled like small-town sports.

You know the smell. Grass is kicked up on fields and it mixes with dirt and sweat, and there it is – small-town sports smell.

On Friday, red- and blue-shirted players tangled on the ball field at Redwood Park in Hudson. Spectators perched on the bleachers and watched. Reporters, desperate to find a story to file, patrolled the sidelines with their notebooks.

But the action on the field was academic, not athletic. It was the “Battle of Redwood,” a first-time event that aimed to teach students, in short, about perspective – and how immediate, primary sources differ from later historical accounts.

Students were asked to compete in a mock battle (as infantry, commanders or press corps). Immediately after, they wrote a reflection on what happened. Later in the year, they will write another.

In practice, the battle became what teacher Whitney Sims called “a very fancy game of capture the flag,” with each side fighting through the flanks of their blue- or red-shirted enemies to reach (and decode) a message that was left in pieces on the other side.

The messages were appropriately battle-minded – quotes by George Washington and Winston Churchill. And the idea, teachers said, was for Friday’s game to eventually solidify into something more philosophical in students’ minds.

“In the end the main, albeit hidden, lesson is about primary sources being combined to paint a more accurate picture of an event, and how perspective can influence a person’s individual account of it,” teacher Mitch Wright said.

History, after all, comes together from many pieces and parts. Immediacy and remove both present their own impediments to truth. It all comes together, hopefully, to present a narrative that is as complete as possible.

Even if your complete narrative reflects a game of capture the flag.