October 28, 2010

Regents Daily News:
October 28, 2010

Military History Is Alive in the Mind of A Five-Year Old

Each school day I spend part of my afternoon with the Regents juniors and seniors in Omnibus. Every day is a new adventure.

We are on a journey through modernity, reading Les Miserables, Walden, and Romantic-era poetry. Along the way the class has been learning how to write a new genre — the profile. A profile is a brief written portrait of a person, place, or event that presents a subject in an entertaining way that reveals its significance. You often read profiles of celebrities or travel destinations in magazines or hear profiles of people on radio news shows.

I gave my students the task of writing a profile of a person they know. I am sharing with you the profile written by Regents senior Ashli McDonald, who profiled her little brother William, who, you will find, is quite a fascinating little boy. Please enjoy Ashli’s excellent work.

I move Gen. Robert E. Lee next to the bugler. This company is lined up just right and ready to advance on the farmhouse. I added bushes and trees to the landscape this morning. It looks more realistic. The cotton smoke is billowing out of the cannon, the felt river is flowing around the hills, and the Confederate and Union armies are about to engage in the Battle of Gettysburg right here in my playroom, atop this table.

From the time William could pick up toys, he was organizing and strategizing. The one-year-old boy would turn a pile of colored blocks, meant to keep a young mind occupied with exploring the shape, feel, and color, into formations and little block armies. Shapes, textures, and colors had already been grasped. It was time to move on to planning. He picked up a small toy revolver when he had just learned to walk. His little wrists were not strong enough to support it, so it just hung limp in his hand as his chubby baby legs wobbled around the house, but carry it he did.

When he was two, he discovered his older brother’s collection of toy soldiers. His eyes lit up. The rest, one could say, is history. Soon, as his young mind grew rapidly, William needed a bigger collection. You can’t have a full scale Battle of Gettysburg with only fifteen soldiers. He soon began to grasp the concept that war being is a series of battles, and that war takes place all over the world, all throughout history. His collections have now come to include Civil War, the American Revolution, World War II, the Alamo, the French Revolution, and a few scattered medieval knights. They all stay separate, in their own little wars, because he understands their stories, the flow of history.

William is five now. His kindergarten teacher tells his family every day that she has learned something new from the little savant. Military history just flows out of him. He is easily bored with letters and numbers. Those come so easily. What is more interesting is how Stonewall Jackson inspired his men or the tactics used in the Civil War. When he gets home, he throws his backpack on the couch, turns on the Military or History Channel and runs up the stairs to the game room. There he finds his soldiers waiting for him just as he left them, on the intricate six-by-eight foot diorama. He might take a break to sit at the little table arranged with paints and paintbrushes and add minute details to soldiers’ uniforms or the reins of a horse. Then, the war starts over again.

One day, his mother took him into the bank. All the flags that had been over Texas up to this point are displayed all around the lobby. William glanced around quietly, taking it all in, as his mother did business with the teller. After a few minutes, he spoke to the teller to get her attention, then he began to list them as he pointed. “This one’s the Texas flag, that one’s the Bonnie Blue…” He went through at least ten before he paused, “But I don’t know what that one is.” The lady stood there for a second, jaw dropped. “Well, aren’t you smart? Here, take this.” She handed William a poster with all the flags on display and their names. He smiled from ear to ear. I asked him why he liked flags so much. “The same thing about armies. It tells what army they are.” Of course, it has to do with military history.

Other five year-olds ask for popular movies, video games, or action figures. Other five- year olds do well to learn to read and do basic math in kindergarten. It is safe to say that Will is not average. He doesn’t spend a lot of time doing average things. When asked if he knew that other children his age do not play with soldiers, he replied, “I know. They don’t know the battles. They think I’m weird, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m smart.”

As the school year has progressed, Will has made more friends. The little boys in his class have ceased to be intimidated by Will’s knowledge. Instead, they have become fascinated with the stories he has to tell.

His thirst for knowledge is never quenched. He’s always learning, always absorbing, and expanding his area of interest. It’s very easy to imagine him doing the very same thing with grey hair atop his head, perhaps a cane in his hand, showing his grandchildren the exciting, detailed little armies on the diorama. Perhaps by then all of his experience will make it appear almost lifelike. One thing is certain: there is a wealth of fascinating knowledge and a passion for history in the mind of that little boy.

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