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JFK, 50 years later: Kennedy memories linger for some, but absent in today's classrooms

POSTED: November 21, 2013 12:10 a.m.

Friday marks 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an event that resonates through the country to this day.

But, depending on where teachers are in their lesson plans, chances are students are not learning about that on this anniversary.

“We’re not addressing it this week because, really, we’re locked into where we are in the curriculum right now,” said Ernie Davis, an Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher at Chestatee High School. “For example, I just started World War I, and I move fast with my U.S. History kids.

“It did come up that it was the anniversary, but just like (the) Pearl Harbor (anniversary), if I’m not quite there yet I’m not going to adjust the schedule,” he added. “I did promise them I’d spend two days on the assassination when it comes up in the curriculum. And honestly, that will be right in the middle of January.”

Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, is remembered for several things, including his involvement in the civil rights movement and the mission to send a man to the moon. He was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.

Fifty years later, several documentaries and events are filling the week leading up to Friday’s anniversary.

President Barack Obama, along with former President Bill Clinton and Kennedy family members, attended a Wednesday ceremony to lay a wreath at Kennedy’s grave.

National Geographic’s television channel has aired the original movie “Killing Kennedy,” based on the best-selling book.

Several other news programs have also aired specials covering the anniversary.

But even with this onslaught of coverage, it’s just not the right timing for teachers.

“(The resources) will be a good thing for us going forward, because there’s more and more information coming out,” said Dave McConnell, social studies department head at Gainesville High.

McConnell was in first grade when Kennedy was assassinated, and remembers school being called off and people crying.

But, he said, as time has worn on, the issues and the impact of the assassination just aren’t as relevant to today’s youth.

“To this generation, it’s not really a big deal,” McConnell said. “On ... 9/11, we have a little more emphasis (on that day) because (it is) more recent than what the Kennedy assassination (was).”

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield agreed, saying it’s not only not pertinent to students but even many teachers don’t have a real connection with the day.

“It probably doesn’t personally ring a bell with (the teachers) much more than the Lincoln assassination, because they didn’t live through it,” Schofield said.

“I guess I’m not surprised ... folks say, ‘I wasn’t planning on doing much for it.’ But much like the rest of us, when tomorrow hits, my guess is a lot of teachers will say something to their class.”

He added that he expects most teachers use “teachable moments” from coverage of historic events on a daily basis.

“There’s never a shortage of opportunities,” he said. “I mean, (Tuesday) was the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.”

Gainesville High U.S. history teacher Shannon Faile said she’s beginning instruction on the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1962 dispute between Cuba, the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States. Her students are aware Friday is the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. But as far as actually covering the event in class, it’s going to have to wait until after next week’s Thanksgiving break.

“With the kids, you kind of don’t want to mess up the timeline,” she explained. “With U.S. history, we have so much to teach and not really enough time. You can’t take a whole day to stop and focus on (one thing) when we’ve got all these other things we’ve got to cover.”

But just because it’s not a formal lesson plan at this time, that doesn’t mean students aren’t learning.

“Probably the most valuable thing is in talking to adults who remember it,” said Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer. “I’ve seen a lot of that happening in our schools. It’s more or less an informal lesson in a way that it’s not sometimes planned.”

When Kennedy’s presidency and assassination do come up in the curriculum, though, there’s one aspect that’s always intriguing.

“The kids are really interested in the whole conspiracy (theory),” Faile said. “That’s all they want to hear about. They want to get to that part of it.”

To that point, today and Friday, a Tadmore Elementary School fifth-grade class will be learning about the assassination, all tying in to its nonfiction reading lessons.

“We’re going to look at 11 different theories,” said April Gailey, teacher of gifted classes.

“After they’re given a brief summary of the theories, they’re going to watch the three-minute video of the assassination.

“And they have to go back and find information that either supports or questions the theory that they’re given.”

Gailey didn’t originally plan to incorporate the Kennedy assassination into her lesson plan, but the amount of coverage being given to the anniversary inspired her. Also, it ties in to how the students recently learned about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

This particular reading class is for advanced students, who are naturally moving at a faster pace than their peers.

Gailey’s co-teacher was able to finish her lesson plans so Gailey could have two days to go over the material with the students.

“I think they are really going to be interested in it,” she said.

“We’re going to do a lot of brainstorming about what they already know about JFK. I’m not sure if they have much (knowledge) as far as JFK, but they’ve been reading something about Lincoln and his assassination. So we’re sort of going to compare the two.”

The main conspiracy theory surrounding the Kennedy assassination is that the gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, did not act alone. It’s something that doesn’t excite just the students.

“I really like covering conspiracies,” Davis said.

“And that’s one of the great ones. I like teaching with conspiracies because it makes students think, ‘How can you debunk this? How can you shred it up?’

“You check its credibility and see if it’s a valid thing that could have happened.”


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