Honoring Our Veterans: Using Inquiry to Discuss Veterans Day

My name is Michael K. Milton, and I am a US and World History teacher at Burlington High School in Massachusetts. My classroom is a place where my students and I get to experiment! As students explore history, they reflect, draw connections, inquire, discuss, debate, and seek out more knowledge about the world in which they live. Like my students, I love to learn, question, debate and inquire with my peers. In this, my first blog entry for Discovery Education, I want to share what Veterans Day means to me, aThomas K. Miltonnd how I incorporate meaningful reflection into my classroom.

I wear my grandfather’s class ring on my right hand. As Veterans Day approaches, I briefly tell his story connecting this ring to the promise our government made to our soldiers. My grandfather, Thomas K. Milton, was a first generation American who joined the Navy during World War II, and served in the Pacific theater. At the end of the war, with the help of the GI Bill, he enrolled in Merrimack College in North Andover, MA, and became the second valedictorian of the college. He continued to serve his nation in the reserves and as an accountant for the government. The ring that I wear daily and this personal connection to history helps to transition students into reflecting about Veterans Day.

Inquiry-Based Lesson

In addition to honoring the past, I want students to grapple with how our society has treated returning soldiers historically, and how we treat them today. For an initial lesson, I might focus on the time period following World War II and compare it to how soldiers are treated today. My big question is, are we honoring our returning troops? Creating an inquiry-based lesson in which students are asked to evaluate historical circumstances allows them to research, discuss, debate, evaluate, and ultimately formulate a position and support it with evidence.

As students engage in this lesson, they may also ask:

• How are returning soldiers treated?

• What problems are veterans facing?

• How do veterans affairs differ from World War II to today?

• What can we as a society do to truly honor our veterans?

Discovery Education has a robust content collection that incorporates World War II footage with veterans telling their stories, which are accessible here to districts that have Discovery Streaming.

Following the viewing of the primer video, you can have students read a selection of their textbook on the GI Bill. The purpose is not simply to regurgitate information, but rather to research how veterans were treated following World War II. Below, I have included the selection on the GI Bill from Discovery Education’s Social Studies Techbook.

Techbook Screenshot

From this you can divide students into two groups, with one group researching the GI Bill and the other researching challenges our veterans face today.

For the first group, I recommend having the students use the National World War II Museum section on the GI Bill. My favorite document here, The GI Bill of Rights explains the Servicemen Readjustment Act of 1944 (the GI Bill). From here, students in small groups can create a presentation on how returning soldiers were being treated after World War II. If you have access, their presentations can be created with Discovery’s Board Builder (where students can use text, audio, images, and video). Otherwise, students could use a tool like Google Slides.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 3.19.13 PM

The second group could begin by looking at the news or Googling some key terms. I would begin by looking at the President’s Veterans Day Proclamation (here is the the link for the Proclamation from 2014). President Obama’s 2014 proclamation also highlights some challenges faced by our veterans such as access to health care and high unemployment. This could be the starting point for the modern investigation.

Following the presentations, as a class we would discuss what issues returning soldiers were facing then and now. The big question “What can we do as a society to truly honor our veterans?” could lead us into creating a new GI Bill or discussing ways that ordinary citizens can support veterans.

Ultimately, Veterans Day comes around only once a year, but it is important to examine how we treat our current and returning soldiers not just in context to Veterans Day. Discussing veterans issues should occur throughout our United States history courses. Events like the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, the Bonus Army, and the GI Bill all provide an opportunity to discuss how we are honoring our veterans.

This is just one way to honor Veterans day. I would love to hear from you. What do you think? How do you honor Veterans Day?



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