With Remembrance Day just over a month away, I have begun to brainstorm ways to address it in my classes. As the generation of World War II veterans decreases each year, students have a limited personal connection with the wars of the past. On occasion, I do have a student with a personal connection to a current member of the Canadian armed forces, which brings a great perspective to the discussion. This year, I would like to take a break from our Social Studies 9 unit on the French Revolution and encourage my students to reflect prior to Remembrance Day.
A few years ago, I brought in some poems and songs to discuss with my English 9 class. I included a few poems by Sassoon and Owen, among others. We also listened to "Fortunate Son," as I have fond memories of dissecting the song when I was a student in History 12. Finally, we discussed the controversy about Jack Johnson's "Crying Shame." Students often think of Remembrance Day as a holiday to remember veterans in past wars. "Crying Shame" was a great way to get them thinking about war today and where modern warfare may head in the future. We discussed the various wars, and the poets' attitudes toward war in general, their country, and the cause they were fighting. The class was really engaged in the activity and we wound up spending the entire class talking about the poems and songs. Freedom of speech and ethics in war were big discussion topics. Students began to think about the concept of hating war, but believing in the cause that soldiers fought (or are fighting) for. They were challenged to think about what causes and circumstances would cause them to go to war. We talked about the impact of previous wars on our quality of life and the wars occurring in the world today. The students and I shared stories about people we know who fought in, or were impacted by, World War II. A 75-minute class was definitely not enough once students started asking BIG questions and discussing their opinions! This was a great opportunity for students to see poetry as a practical form of expression, and analyze its impact.
How do you address Remembrance Day in your classroom? Do you change the way you address it, depending on the topic? Do you find that discussions have changed as time passes, now that fewer students have surviving relatives who fought in World War II?