Mass Humanities Grant Introduces High School Students to Confederate Monuments Debate

Colleen Locke | Wed Nov 21, 2018

Curriculum to Be Taught at Cambridge Rindge and Latin in the Spring

The Confederate flag over the State House in South Carolina; the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia; and the carving of Confederate leaders at Stone Mountain in Georgia all testify to the contentious and sometimes deadly force public memorials can have. Thanks to a grant from Mass Humanities, UMass Boston’s Applied Ethics Center is introducing Massachusetts high school students to the main moral and political questions involved in these arguments and facilitating critical, thoughtful, and rigorous engagement with them through specialized curricula, public debates, museum visits, and an essay contest.

“Societies that can’t find a way to talk about their past tend to stay locked in violent cycles of anger and resentment,” said Applied Ethics Center Founding Director Nir Eisikovits. “The Confederate monuments debate raises a host of moral and political questions – from what it means for a society to recognize past injustices to the rationale for defending offensive, even repulsive speech and art. It’s crucial to find an honest, critical, and yet civil way to talk about these questions – otherwise we end up killing each other over them. “

Eisikovits, also an associate professor of philosophy at UMass Boston, worked with New Mission High School English teacher Chris Kelly and scholars who specialize in public memory (Dana Miranda of University of Connecticut and Emilio Mora or Harvard University) to develop a curriculum around the debate over Confederate and other controversial monuments. This past summer, Kelly taught the curriculum to the “Boston Strong” Summer High School class, a class he’s been teaching since 2013 as part of UMass Boston’s Urban Scholars program. The curriculum will be taught at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in the spring.

“It took a national story that the students had some knowledge of and applied it to the local level,” Kelly said. “We took a few weeks to examine what occurred down South with the Confederate monuments and looked at if any of what we learned could be applied to Boston. We learned that the students knew a little less about the national movement than expected, so there was more work that went into providing background knowledge.”

Debate on the floor of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute over Confederate monuments

As part of the class, students visited the neighboring Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and participated in a debate based on New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s bill from a few years ago to remove Confederate monuments from the U.S. Capitol. Students also made models of monuments that they believed should be created, such as one focused on self-love and boosting confidence in women and young girls. Another represented the fight against cancer.

The Mass Humanities grant is also funding a panel discussion on the national monuments debate at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and another panel discussion at UMass Boston about the debate over renaming Faneuil Hall as well as an essay competition for high school students. The UMass Boston discussion panel on renaming Faneuil Hall will take place on Thursday, December 6 at 5 p.m. on the third floor of the Integrated Sciences Complex, in Room 3300.

About the Applied Ethics Center
Part of UMass Boston's Philosophy Department, the Applied Ethics Center promotes research, teaching, and awareness of ethics in public life. Through public conversations, specialized courses, and research projects, the center creates a forum for exploring topics ranging from the meaning of Artificial Intelligence to the ethics of fighting terrorism to the status of controversial public monuments. Explore podcasts and videos at www.umb.edu/ethics.

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 10 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.