D-Day gets re­newed in­ter­est in schools


CARY, N.C. — Kasey Tur­col has just 75 min­utes to ex­plain to her high school stu­dents the im­por­tance of D-Day — and if this wasn’t the 75th an­niver­sary of the turn­ing point in World War II, she wouldn’t de­vote that much time to it. D-Day is not part of the re­quired cur­ricu­lum in North Carolina — or in many other states.

Tur­col reminds her stu­dents at Cross­roads FLEX High School in Cary, N.C., that D-Day was an Al­lied vic­tory that saved Europe from Nazi tyranny and that the young men who fought and died were barely older than they are. She sprin­kles her les­son with de­tails about the num­ber of men, ships, and planes in­volved in the land­ing at Nor­mandy.

In the U.S. and other coun­tries im­pacted by the events on June 6, 1944, his­to­ri­ans and ed­u­ca­tors worry that the World War II mile­stone is los­ing its res­o­nance with to­day’s stu­dents.

In France, which was lib­er­ated from Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion, D-Day isn’t a stand-alone topic in schools. Ger­man schools con­cen­trate on the Holo­caust and the Nazi dic­ta­tor­ship. And de­spite hav­ing been part of the Al­lied Powers, in Russia, the schools avoid D-Day be­cause they be­lieve it was the vic­to­ries on the Eastern Front that won the war.

“His­tory has taken a back seat” in the U.S. be­cause of the fo­cus on science and math classes, says Cathy Gorn, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Na­tional His­tory Day in Col­lege Park, Md.

In the U.S., teach­ing about World War II varies from state to state. It’s of­ten up to the teach­ers to de­cide how much time they want to give to in­di­vid­ual bat­tles like D-Day.

In New York, school of­fi­cials are us­ing the DDay an­niver­sary to re­view the cur­ricu­lum and “make rec­om­men­da­tions on how the cur­rent av­er­age time of 90 min­utes of World War II study in a school year can be strength­ened, ex­panded and man­dated.”

There are spe­cial pro­grams avail­able to im­merse se­lect stu­dents in the his­tory of D-Day.

For eight years, Na­tional His­tory Day sent 15 pairs of stu­dents and teach­ers to Nor­mandy to im­merse them in the his­tory of DDay. The high school sopho­mores and ju­niors would re­search an in­di­vid­ual sol­dier close to them — a fam­ily mem­ber or some­one from their home­town — who died. On the last day, the group vis­ited a ceme­tery where each stu­dent read a eu­logy for their in­di­vid­ual sol­dier.

Teach­ers also have out­side re­sources. The Na­tional World War II Museum of­fers an elec­tronic field trip through D-Day and pro­vides sug­gested les­sons plans.

In North Carolina, his­tory is taught through “con­cep­tual de­sign” with con­nec­tions to themes such as ge­og­ra­phy, eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics, said Meghan Grant, co­or­di­nat­ing teacher for sec­ondary so­cial stud­ies in Wake County schools.

The les­sons are based on a method of teach­ing so­cial stud­ies that was de­vel­oped in 2013 and used by about half the states, said Larry Paska, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Na­tional Coun­cil for the So­cial Stud­ies. Paska said it may fo­cus on ask­ing stu­dents a ques­tion like “What makes an event a turn­ing point in the war?” Stu­dents then would use dif­fer­ence sources of evidence to back up their an­swer.

As part of her D-Day les­son, Tur­col tells her class of ju­niors and se­niors that the Ger­mans thought an at­tack from the Al­lied forces wouldn’t be pos­si­ble.

“It’s too stormy. It’s too risky,” she says. “And what do we do? Yeah, we find a glim­mer of hope. On June 5, the skies kind of clear. The moon kind of shines. And we’re like, this is the mo­ment. This is what is hap­pen­ing.”

Tur­col plays a few min­utes of a doc­u­men­tary about D-Day to “show you the true hu­man­ity of the war,” she says.

“You saw the Ger­man pray­ing … ask­ing for his mother, fa­ther, ask­ing for this to be over. Not ev­ery­body is on the same mes­sage in Ger­many,” she says. “Ev­ery­body here is a fa­ther, a mother, a brother, a cousin, a friend. So ev­ery life mat­ters.”

Gerry Broome / As­so­ci­ated Press

Kasey Tur­col teaches 11th grade stu­dents about the D-Day in­va­sion at Nor­mandy dur­ing a his­tory class at Cross­roads FLEX school in Cary, N.C.

A project cre­ated by stu­dents learn­ing about the D-Day in­va­sion at Nor­mandy dur­ing a his­tory class at Cross­roads FLEX school in Cary, N.C. Its 75th an­niver­sary brings ex­tra class­room at­ten­tion to D-Day, which has waned as a topic that’s em­pha­sized in schools across the world.

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