Three August events help teach cause and effect
Perhaps one of the reasons I find Conan O’Brian so much more entertaining than Jay Leno is the latter’s man-on-the-street routine, Jay Walking, from Leno’s time as the Tonight Show host. Viewers had the chance to laugh at and feel superior to the not-so-random person who, predictably, flubbed the answer to a seemingly easy question, often having to do with American history. From the preposterously unknowledgeable responses shown on television, many viewers became even more entrenched in their views that schools aren’t teaching kids even the basic facts. This line of thinking, of course, overlooks the work Tonight Show producers did in editing out all but the most absurd answers, including all but maybe one correct response. Even worse, the level of knowledge put into question by Leno’s routine and by the admittedly funny as in absurd replies is trivia, not real evidence of understanding.
Three historical events, each excellent topics for teaching cause and effect, share anniversaries in the month of August. Though many Americans could probably name some trivial detail about any or all three happenings, few, I suspect, could explain the significance to other historical events. Ambushing random adults on the street and posing questions as to the relationship of one factoid to another probably wouldn’t make for good late-night comedy, but would refocus our attention to what’s important.
I maintain an ever growing calendar of dates on which some occurrence in American history took place for use in creating blog posts for History as Prologue. For over two years now, August is the most active month, though I understand my selections do have an arbitrary nature. Still, three events stand out on the broader stage:
- Japanese acceptance of unconditional surrender
- Nat Turner’s Revolt
- The Battle of Mobile Bay*
*That final point I actually see in the context of the Fall of Atlanta, which happened just after August, but the combined effect of the two actions are so closely related that I tend to think of them as one topic.
Each incident involves a permutation of factors, meaning order is important, leading to greater occurrences as well as being the result of previous events. Simply knowing the date the first atomic bomb used in war was dropped, (and which time zone), or the Farragut’s famous instruction, is not anywhere close in importance than the impact on Japan’s Suzuki government or the re-election bid of Abraham Lincoln.
For those teaching at the secondary or college survey-course level, these topics afford powerful opportunities to continue building cause and effect skills.
Japan accepts terms of Potsdam Declaration
The factors leading to the Empire of Japan’s public acceptance of unconditional surrender, which was later formalized on September 2nd, 1945, remain controversial to this day. The debate regarding the decision to use nuclear weapons, which frequently is sidetracked in a debate over even questioning the historic policy decision, is one part of a pair of contentious issues. The second involves the role of Emperor Hirohito in Japan’s war policies, including the decision to accept the Potsdam Declaration requiring unconditional surrender.
It is this second issue that often becomes lost almost entirely during the examination of the atomic bombings when considering Imperial Japan’s surrender.
Nat Turner’s Revolt as game changer
Nat Turner’s Revolt remains, at least in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated events in all of American history. Its effect on hardening the already entrenched views of protecting slavery at all cost by the slave-holding states, the impact on the Underground Railroad and the subsequent restrictions placed on the movement of African-Americans not held in bondage have in common well documented evidence, and until recently, a near universal lack of emphasis in the interpretation of the causes leading to the American Civil War.
As mere speculation, this light treatment by most history texts may be due to the coincidental timing of radical abolitionism best illustrated by William Lloyd Garrison’s publication of The Liberator. However, as with the traditional narrative of the Underground Railroad, crediting African-Americans with active resistance to even the most egregious of human rights abuses, however sanctioned, cannot be ruled out as a prime reason for the diminished weight given to Turner’s Revolt.
Mobile Bay win helps shape re-election bid
As I mentioned earlier, the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay under Admiral David Farragut is an event I associate part and parcel with an event that, even at the time, was viewed with much greater attention, the Fall of Atlanta. By mid-April 1864, the third year of fighting, the Union forces alone had suffered more than 459,000 casualties, with a 58 percent increase in killed, wounded or captured since April of 1863. The war had become one of attrition and the Northern population was in the grips of weariness. Lincoln faced a candidate who all but promised a negotiated peace with the Confederacy and prior to August of 1864, prospects for a second Lincoln term were more than in doubt.
Preview of posts teaching cause and effect skills
In three subsequent posts, I’ll address each of these three events in context with how cause and effect skills can be further taught.