Living History – Literally!

With more than 20 years of teaching experience, it was a no-brainer for Deborah Brown to integrate the World War I unit in her Advanced Honors Modern World History class to the current global pandemic.
After discussing how government leaders used propaganda posters to motivate and frighten the citizenry into action during WWI, Mrs. Brown asked her students to envision COVID-19 messages for a billboard on Poplar Avenue.

“That’s what we do in history class, whenever we can, we relate whatever happened in the past to something the girls can understand based on what they are experiencing in their own time,” says Mrs. Brown. “This was a perfect opportunity to do that.”
During WWI, propaganda posters were used to demonize or exaggerate the enemy or to motivate the citizenry to ration goods and do their part for the war effort. Mrs. Brown’s students used a variety of tactics to get their point across, ranging from sober warnings and portraying China as the origin of the virus, to catchy phrases, and this straightforward admonition from Morgan Simmons: “If you want to last, wear a mask!” The now familiar 3D diagram of COVID-19, the ball covered in spikes, featured prominently in the girls’ posters.
After reading a chapter from “All Quiet on the Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque, a German soldier’s vivid account of life on the warfront during WWI, Brown asked the girls to assume their role in history by serving as primary documentarians of the Coronavirus pandemic. Brown asked the girls to follow Remarque’s lead and present an honest and raw account of what life is like for them today.
“I told them this is an unprecedented time that will be studied for years to come,” says Mrs. Brown. “Let’s be the primary documentarians for those students of history who will call upon us in 50 years, 100 years, 1000 years, and ask of us: ‘what was it like to live during a global pandemic?’”
The girls quickly made the connection between today’s events and what occurred 100 years ago, says Mrs. Brown, adding that the girls have adapted well to distance learning, being engaged, and asking good questions. It has been a learning experience for everyone, including Mrs. Brown, who taught in Chicago for 20 years before joining the Hutchison faculty in the fall. Aside from holding class twice a week, she has videoconference check-ins with five to six girls at a time to give them a chance to discuss school or life in general.
“I tell them to try to stay as intellectually active as they can. I understand that they want to do Tik-Toks and I understand that they don’t want to be staring at a screen and logged into school every hour. I totally get that,” says Mrs. Brown. “I tell them ‘at the same time, you should take pride in your own intellectualism, and you should want to stay focused in an intellectual way.’”
Everything is pointing to very interesting and revealing primary documentation from this talented group.

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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.