When originally recited, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was just two minutes long. Its message, though, still resonates today. Several initiatives nationwide are encouraging students, public figures, and other individuals to recite the 16th president’s iconic speech, including an effort spearheaded by award-winning documentarian Ken Burns.
Each year, at a small school in a small town in Putney, Vt., a group of students work throughout the year to memorize and recite the address, which Lincoln delivered on Nov. 19, 1863.
The Greenwood School is a boarding school for boys, ages 11-17, who all face a range of learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and ADHD, that have proven barriers to the boys’ academic and social progress. Now, the school is at the center of a forthcoming film, “The Address,” by Burns that will run on PBS this spring.
In the film, the role that Lincoln’s address plays in these present day classrooms is interwoven with the history and significance of the address and its declaration of human equality.
The message of the film, though, doesn’t end with the closing credits. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address this year, Burns is launching a national effort, “Learn the Address,” in connection with his documentary to encourage people to record and upload to the initiative’s website a video of themselves reading and reciting the legendary speech.
The campaign has already begun collecting videos from public figures reciting the address, including President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and even comedian Stephen Colbert.
Burns explained to the Brattleboro Reformer that there are connections between what Lincoln was saying about the country in his speech and what the boys at Greenwood experience in their lives. Lincoln’s was a message of perseverance and unity, according to Burns. It’s not unlike what the students must learn as they learn to stand in front of an audience and recite the address.
“It is not an easy speech to memorize, and some of our students really have to dig deep and find the strength to pull it off,” said the school’s headmaster, Stewart Miller, in an interview with the Brattleboro Reformer.
Burns’ larger project includes curricular materials, provided through partner PBS, such as videos and images, to more effectively teach students about the Gettysburg Address.
In a similar project, “Four Score and Seventy Years Ago,” students in grades K-6 registered to recite the address from Nov. 18-22. The students will gather on Skype or at Google Hangouts to recite Lincoln’s indelible 272 words with classes from across the country—turning many voices into one.
The site includes a set of lesson plans for educators to use when teaching students about the Gettysburg Address along with a list of common-core standards that organizers say the lessons satisfy for each grade level. These include actively engaging students in group reading activities, focusing on their understanding of the text, and describing how the narrator’s (in this case, Lincoln’s) point of view influenced how he described the events about which he was speaking.
Additionally, Olean High School, in Olean, N.Y., is organizing a “1,000 Voices” event, where students will gather in the school auditorium to recite the speech during an assembly. The event will include Civil War re-enactors and a local Civil War expert.
If readers know of other ways schools and students will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s address, let us know by posting a comment below.
For more about teaching the Civil War today, check out this special package by Education Week. Also, this summer, we blogged about the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and highlighted some educational resources.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.