Tour de Force

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When Penncrest High School history teacher Michael Ludwig tours the Gettysburg Battlefield each year with his students, groups of tourists tag along, hanging on his every word. It's not surprising, really. Ludwig probably knows as much about the battle and the site as the resident guides, and he has a teacher's knack for relating the story.

The Civil War has been Ludwig's passion almost since he learned how to read. Introduced to the topic by his father, he began devouring Civil War literature as a boy, learning all he could. The 44-year-old teacher still makes frequent trips to battlefields and other historic sites, notepad and pencil in hand, scribbling down any new facts he finds. This vast knowledge has helped Ludwig bring the war to life for hundreds of 9th graders at his Media, Pennsylvania, school.

"I feel lucky inasmuch as I get to teach about my hobby, to teach about what I love," he says. Penncrest students are lucky, too. His American history courses and field trips are legendary around Media, a suburb of Philadelphia. He's even been written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Each spring, Ludwig's students read The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the battle at Gettysburg, in preparation for the field trip to the battlefield. The book is powerful, but it's the trip, with Ludwig as guide, that sticks with the kids. At each significant site and monument on the battlefield, Ludwig describes what happened on that very ground during the course of the three-day battle. "These are the most powerful times on the trip," the teacher says. "The battlefield can serve as the ultimate classroom, and I try to use it as such."

"Michael is one of the very few people I know who can get 14- and 15-year-olds to pay riveted attention," says 53-year-old Chris Posthauer, who chaperoned a Ludwig field trip in 1989 when his son was in the class. Posthauer was so captivated by Ludwig's presentation that he, too, has become a Civil War buff and now serves as the teacher's official field trip assistant. When Ludwig is teaching at the battlefield, Posthauer says, "you can hear a pin drop."

If there is one thing Ludwig wants his students to take away from his class, it is this: "I would like" he says, "for them to gain a respect and appreciation for the sacrifices those people in the past made in order to give us a better country today."

Vol. 10, Issue 2, Page 70

Published in Print: October 1, 1998, as Tour de Force
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