A History of Arms and Innovation … the Springfield Armory

Here at the Making Learning Connected MOOC, we are discovering, or rediscovering, our parks this week. For me, in Western Massachusetts, there are plenty of smaller parks — private, state and municipal — but only one US National Park: the Springfield Armory, which was one of two main armories for the United States for many generations (the other is Harper’s Ferry, scene of John Brown’s raid.)

Although it is only a 30 minute drive, and new signs for the Springfield Armory dot the highway near Springfield, our urban center of Western Massachusetts, I had never visited or thought to visit, to be honest. The museum is located near the heart of Springfield, on the gated grounds of a community technical college.

But this summer, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project forged a partnership with the National Park Service, thanks to a grant from the National Writing Project, and knowing that this Make Cycle on parks would be coming up, I decided to visit the Springfield Armory with some of my sons and one of their friends. I went back another day to document a youth program that our WMWP teachers were running for a week for urban middle school youths, too.

I was impressed by the Armory, yet — and this is no surprise — I was taken aback by all the guns. I know. Of course, there are guns. It’s a museum at an armory, for goodness sake. Still, even so, the walls and walls, and displays, of guns of all sorts is a lot to take in, given what I teach about in my classroom and what I believe in my heart about the world. The guns sure got my son’s attention, and made me more than a little uncomfortable about our country’s legacy, even though I know it is an important part of our historical story and even though I am a former National Guardsman myself, trained to use a variety of weapons (and in that time of service, hoping I would never have to use what I was learning).

But seeing all of the weapons in the Armory, and imagining how they were used to take lives and to save lives, and to affect national aspirations, and utilized at the hands of mostly-young, mostly-poor men while politicians directed wars far from the battlefront … that historical story of who is called to fight for a country all became very evident as I walked through the museum, read the displays and examined the guns.

This is not the museum’s fault, of course. They have done a fine job of representing the Springfield Armory’s role in history, and an entire wing of the museum is themed on “innovation and engineering” and the ways the armory transformed the economy and manufacturing systems over time. It’s quite impressive. I do wonder, though, if teachers are apt to bring classes of students here, given the theme of weapons. I don’t know.

I was very impressed, however, on how the WMWP teachers and park rangers at the Springfield Armory used that tension as a learning experience. Youths at the camp dove into a theme of social justice, and history of Springfield, and the connections to the Armory, and they wrote poems, and make comics, and constructed 3D models of Springfield, and more.

What I learned myself is that history not only educates but also has the ability to create discomfort, and maybe it is through this discomfort that we come to understand our nation, and ourselves, a little bit better.

Peace (let it be),
Kevin

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  1. Hi Kevin, I spent 3 years in the Army from 1968-71 after graduating from college. I was lucky to avoid Viet Nam and ended up in Korea for a year. Having studied history in college I have an appreciation for war as part of national policy and economic growth.

    I shared this comment with Megan O’Malley this morning:

    When I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 one of the people working with me was with the Shedd Acquarium in Chicago. We hosted our second Tutor/Mentor Conference there in Nov. 1994. We had a common agenda. I recognized Museums as anchor institutions who could help draw attention to tutor/mentor programs in Chicago and they recognized that the neighborhood tutor/mentor programs might be a place where they could connect with inner city kids and attract them to museums. People changed and that strategy never took root, but it is still relevant to them, and to the National Parks. Here’s an article I wrote in 2008, showing a use of maps, in an effort to build a network of purpose. http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/2008/12/creating-networks-of-purpose.html Parks, Museums, Hospitals and other institutions could take roles in helping volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs grow in different cities, and build partnerships that educate kids and volunteers in those programs to value and utilize their own services.

    In that comment, I had not thought of Armories as Museums and anchors in communities, yet they do play that role, as do libraries, police stations and fire stations.

    They need to build strategies to reach out and engage youth and their surrounding communities, just as educators and youth program leaders need to build strategies to engage with them.

    Hopefully, as you suggested, this leads to deeper learning and the growth of ideas that may in the future reduce the need for war as a form of government policy or personal expression.

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