Thursday, February 23, 2017

Dr. Bradley Sidle - Veterans' Voices Found

Dr. Bradley Sidle teaches 7th Grade U. S. Studies at Folwell School (Performing Arts Magnet) in Minneapolis, MN. The student body at Folwell is urban, diverse, and committed to learning in and through the arts.


Stop talking.

I'm not interested.

Talk to the hand.

And so it is, when our voices are silenced, our stories cut short, our contribution squashed.

The Minnesota Humanities Center offers a course, the Veterans’ Voices Workshop for Educators, which I was honored and pleased to take, on giving place to a too often neglected voice—namely, the voice of the Veteran. We in the social studies discipline study wars and war plans; we count the number of fatalities and clearly communicate the final outcomes of the battles waged on the field. But the voices of the Veterans we too often overlook.

Our class was held at Camp Ripley in central Minnesota. I have driven past this area many times, and had no idea of the vast resource for military training here in my backyard. I checked in at the gate with the slightest twinge of fear and trepidation. I certainly did not know quite what to expect. My first real inclination that I was in a different world was when we came out of our first plenary and went to the dining hall. Everywhere were uniforms and insignia that I did not understand and could not interpret. The Veterans in our group were quite familiar, and told me that though I felt like a thousand eyes were on these non-uniformed civilians, I was underestimating the truth! Many eyes were on us, but it turned out the vast majority were friendly eyes. Many conversations took place with women and men on active or reserve duty, and the narratives that had long been absent were already being spoken in a sense of honesty and frankness that I greatly appreciated.

We toured the facilities of Camp Ripley, and the Veterans in our midst were quite entertaining as they told of their own experiences at camp and in service. I rather expected a monolithic sharing of the same old, same old. I think my first major learning was that there is not one Veteran's voice, but a wide variety of Veterans' voices. I certainly knew that multiple sources and multiple attestations of a narrative give that narrative verifiability, but I also learned with new confidence that no voice accounts for all voices. Hearing the highly individualized and significant narratives of a wide variety of Veterans brought a vitality and personal representation to the truth.

The plenaries themselves were filled with extraordinary bursts of insight. I will never forget the passion in the story of an officer speaking about the Minnesota First in the battle of Gettysburg. I wanted to thank him for what felt like his personal presence at the battle! We were all visibly moved. The resources I received from the experience were also tremendously valuable and immediately applicable when teaching about the behind-the-scenes experiences of war. The extraordinary resource, Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian by Donald H. Whitfield, ed., contained short readings I could use to examine a wide range of reporting on the Veterans' experience. Each reading contains a brief introduction and discussion questions that provided ample material for use in my seventh grade classroom. Interestingly, the History Theater in St. Paul recently staged a show, "The Things They Carried," which is represented in this anthology with a nice excerpt.

I left the professional development with a profoundly greater appreciation for the sacrifices and accomplishments of all who engaged in military service. On a more personal note, it also gave me the opportunity to talk to my 100-year-old father about his service in World War II and hear his response to the lectures I heard and the articles I had read. This was a tremendous workshop offered by the Humanities Center, and I encourage anyone who is able to take part in the Veterans’ Voices Workshop for Educators. I am confident in stating that no one will leave without their professional and personal sensitivities engaged and enlarged.

The Humanities Center is offering the Veterans’ Voices Workshop for Educators at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, April 28-30, 2017. To learn more visit:

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