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),