Dancing Lincoln’s evolution

We have been studying the evolution of Lincoln’s thinking about Reconstruction by examining five documents: Lincoln on Colonization (8/14/1862), The Emancipation Proclamation (9/22/1862—1/1/1863), The Gettysburg Address (11/19/1863), The Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction (12/8/1863), and his Second Inaugural (3/4/1865). This hasn’t been an easy task for 8th graders.  Some of the language in these documents is very obscure for them. The syntax and multiple clauses are confusing. They have struggled with the wheareases and thereins and thereofs.

We have spent almost a week discussing these words in class. I wanted to make sure that each student had a handle on the material, so I asked them to demonstrate for me their understanding of Lincoln’s evolution in thinking toward Reconstruction in any way they could, using what they learned from all of our work. Most of the kids wrote something. I will peruse their words this weekend.

But there were a few who had prepared something for performance. There was the pretty awesome rap that TJ and BW worked on for 3 hours the night before. Though they missed the Second Inaugural energy, they really understood the first four documents remarkably well. There was some poetry and a powerpoint. And then, of course (all we teachers know them), those occasional (and painful) bombs. The most stunning for me was the one BC and PD put together using footage from and the plot of Twilight to convey the evolution of Lincoln’s thinking by comparing it to Edward and Della’s strong and evolving attraction for each other (I think…). And, of course (sigh), the kids loved it.

And then there was the virtuoso performance by RG, a ballet dancer, who actually distilled the meaning of each document to its essence and ascribed a movement to it. She explained each part to the class and then performed the movement. At the end, she put all the pieces together. These are her words:

Lincoln on Colonizationhigh release to drop swing, because it reflects the idea of bringing in the world of problems and then pushing them away. Lincoln is attempting to push away the problems of African Americans (and whites’ inability to deal with them), by trying to get rid of them.

Emancipation Proclamationpas de chat (step of the cat, crafty), because Lincoln is being crafty. He does this more as a political and military move to disrupt the south’s ability to fight the war, than as a moral move to emancipate slaves.

Gettysburg Address—attitude turn (attitude turns are costly on your body), because Lincoln implies that everybody, including African Americans, are equal. He combines the central concept of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution. Although his ideas are beautiful, like an attitude turn, they are and will be hard and painful to complete.

Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction—tour jetee (picking up ideas and cutting them in half,) because Lincoln proposes some extremely lenient reconstruction ideas to bring the South back into the Union.

Second Inauguralcontraction (with a little bit of a tentative step), because Lincoln concludes that both sides are to blame for slavery (he is pulling the blame into the north as well), therefore paving the way for a compassionate return of the South into the Union.

OK, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, especially when done with such commitment, intelligence, and confidence. And, might I add, such beauty.

I love my job.

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3 Responses to Dancing Lincoln’s evolution

  1. JEROME BLOOM says:


  2. Mrs. Chili says:

    Don’t we have the coolest job EVER?!

    I need to figure a way to give my kids more creative freedom over how they express their understanding of the work we do. My problem is that I’ve been tasked (by both the school and the State) to produce kids who can demonstrate mastery over critical thinking in their writing, so I have to lean heavily on them for written communication. Still, I’m sure there are places where I can sneak in more art and freedom of expression.

    Do you ever find, though, that your kids freeze up when you tell them that THEY can decide how to show you that they get it? Honest to Goddess; probably about 90% of my kids will come to me and say, “PLEASE, Mrs. Chili, just give me an assignment and tell me what to do!” Usually, I’ll sit them down and talk them through it, and they’ll eventually come up with an idea on their own that excites them, but handing them the reins scares more of them than it liberates.

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