When it was all said and done, the students who were immersed in a variety of short works such as poetry, fiction stories and essays came out of the experience with a clear understanding of what the veterans, those who witness the fighting and destruction, and the families and friends of those groups go through. That, in turn, led to an overriding sense of compassion for these people.
“The students definitely have more empathy for soldiers now and have a deeper understanding of their emotions,” said social studies advisor Joe Pahr, who organized the seminar after talking to Northfield veteran James A. Moad II, a former literature professor at the Air Force Academy who writes a War Literature & the Arts blog and who has been involved in, among other things related to war veterans, the much-publicized Telling Project. “They came to understand the experience of war, how it affects those involved, how it changes them and even how their perspective changes.”
Pahr said that after reading various war literature pieces Moad recommended over the summer, he thought a seminar setting was the best way for his students to learn and absorb such a heavy topic. While seminars are not the typical way to teach the students, this wasn’t the first time it has happened, and according to Pahr, and it won’t be the last.
“In our setting, we can do things like this,” he said. “It didn’t have a ‘you must learn this’ feel to it and I think the students embraced it and got a lot out of it.”
To start things off, the class read “How to Tell a True War Story” by Minnesota author Tim O’Brien. The reading set the stage for the seminar and each work was viewed through his lens, Moad said.
In addition, Moad and Minnesota author Ben Percy (of Red Moon fame) discussed their own short stories with the students. They talked about the repercussions of war on the personal and societal level, the creative process and the importance of reading such pieces.
“The literature spoke for itself,” Moad said. “The stories, poetry and essays of war have a power all their own.”
The class also took Brian Turner’s poem “2000 lbs” — about a suicide bombing in a busy market of Iraq — and acted out the parts of those involved. Many of the students found this not only to be an enlightening experience, but also one that will stick with them for years to come.
“There are many different levels the author takes you in the poem,” said 10th-grader Emma Pritchard. “In each line you got a different aspect of it.”
Classmate Stefan Hines agreed, saying the poem was so human, so deep.
“It was strange hearing people you see every day reading the poem,” Hines said. “It was really heavy. It’s not like a light poem, so hearing it come from them gave it a strange, yet emotional feel. Reading stuff like this really leaves an impression on me.”
To wrap up the seminar, the students created final “products” to bring together the things that they read, talked about and experienced, Pahr said. The students wrote poems and essays and created songs and visual art pieces.
Pahr says the students have told him that by reading the literature, they have developed an appreciation of how war affects a person who experiences, either directly or indirectly, the war.
“They have come to see that war is not a black or white issue,” Pahr said. “I think it left an impression on me and the students. This is another piece of information for perhaps a future debate. They are better informed. That was the germ of what Jay was talking about.”
Moad said that while word is rapidly spreading about the “Reading, Writing and Talking War” initiative through his blog, it isn’t lost on him that it got its start at Arcadia Charter School.
“It’s already taking off with a lot of interest across the country and it all started here,” Moad said. “It took the guts and imagination of an open-minded teacher to make this happen, and these kids really threw themselves into it, learning and opening themselves up to the discovering that only literature can do.”
To read more from Moad’s blog, visit: http://wlajournal.com/blog/
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield