Vickroy: If history teachers could time travel ...
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy February 11, 2014 8:42PM
From left, actors Ty Burrell, Max Charles and director Rob Minkoff attend a screening of "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" hosted by DreamWorks Animation with 20th Century Fox, on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)
Updated: February 13, 2014 3:50PM
Is there a baby boomer alive who hasn’t fantasized about stepping into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine and traveling through history?
Those of you of a certain age know that the cartoon “Peabody’s Improbable History” was a recurring feature on “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” an animated series during the 1960s.
In each episode, Mr. Peabody, a bespectacled beagle considered to be an authority on just about everything, prompted his pet boy Sherman, an orphan adopted by Mr. Peabody, to set the machine to a specific place and date. Then the pair would step inside and witness and, ahem, save history.
Of course, their animated version of events was a bit askew, laden with surprise challenges that required all kinds of expertise, resourcefulness and liberties to fix. Good thing Mr. Peabody was an inventor, scientist, Nobel laureate and two-time Olympic champion, too.
Despite the amusing tangents and witty turns of events, the end result always remained the same — with Cornwallis surrendering to Washington or the Great Wall of China finally being built.
For those of us stuck in a time warp, myself included, the release of the new animated movie “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” in early March is reason enough to revisit those childhood longings to travel back in time — to when a canine genius made history come alive.
Just for fun, I asked local history experts which historic events they would most like to witness if they could step into the WABAC machine.
Adam Zawada, a social studies teacher at Reavis High School in Burbank, is lured by the mysteries of ancient Egypt.
“I would go back to Cairo, Egypt, during the 18th dynasty,” he said. “I would love to see the pyramid of Giza being constructed. After all, it is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
“Not only are the pyramids modern marvels with their lasting construction, but they are massive and intriguing. They are interesting because of trap doors, hidden hallways and spells. They had rooms filled with gold for the pharaoh to use in the afterlife,” Zawada said. “Some of the rooms were not disturbed for thousands of years. It would be an amazing experience to see the pyramids being planned and built firsthand.”
Chris Tagler, an economics and accounting teacher at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, said, “I would like to sit in on the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787. It would be fascinating to see the debates that shaped our country and to see how fundamentally different our government is now compared to then.”
Katy Cunningham would head for 1960s America. The Reavis High School social studies teacher was born in 1970 and missed that turbulent era.
“I love teaching the 1960s in my U.S. history class,” she said. “It was a time of dramatic change on the national home front and, in many ways, a coming of age for the baby boomers and mainstream American culture. Our country was finding its conscience. Those were revolutionary times with dramatic changes in music, fashion, mores, etc.”
In addition, she said, that decade saw four major assassinations, the civil rights and women’s movements, an unpopular and devastating war in Vietnam and social unrest in the streets.
“I would especially enjoy going to Dallas in the autumn of 1963 and Memphis in the spring of 1968 to see who really shot and killed (John F. Kennedy) and (Martin Luther King Jr.),” she said. “I find the conspiracy theories behind their tragic deaths fascinating.”
Joyce Cruse, a social studies teacher at Richards High School in Oak Lawn, would return to 1920 to witness the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.
“As a woman and as a history teacher, I am acutely aware of the struggles that women have endured to advance in American society,” Cruse said. “It is my belief that our nation is continually evolving toward bringing true meaning to the words of our framers that all are created equal.”
Although women did not immediately capitalize on their newfound power as voters, she said she considers this event pivotal in the struggle for women’s equality.
“I have always been struck by the notion that neither of my grandmothers was permitted to vote at the time they were born,” Cruse said. “By the way, just for the record, we’re not there yet as a nation — for women’s equality or for the equality of other marginalized groups.”
No WABAC machine is needed for David Golland, assistant professor and coordinator of history and social sciences at Governors State University in University Park. He travels back in time every day simply by reading, he said.
“One of the historical moments I have most enjoyed visiting is the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where I meet labor and civil rights leaders like Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Whitney Young and Walter Reuther,” he said. “My scholarship and that of other historians has demonstrated that this was a heady time at the confluence between the two critical movements of the American 20th century — the movements for workers rights and the movement for civil rights.”
For Dave Ostendorf, a social studies teacher at Reavis, a pivotal time in history was the signing of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.
“I personally would love to go back and witness the events of the Versailles Conference that culminated in the treaty that ended World War I,” he said. “This treaty was catastrophic in not only punishing Germany but also alienating the Soviet Union, Japan and Italy.
Ostendorf said the treaty “created a political atmosphere of radicalism and economic instability, leading to the rise of fascism” and eventually another world war.
“I would like to see the back-room machinations between the diplomats as they negotiated the fate of nations and failed to heed the call of those who pleaded for moderation.”
Tim Trendel, a U.S. history and economics teacher at Providence, said he would travel back “to the signing of the Declaration of Independence because it was the birth of our nation. Just think of all the events that came after because those brave men signed their names.”
John Fry, chairman of the history department at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, said his destination in the WABAC machine would be Gettysburg, Pa., on July 2, 1863.
“The Battle of Gettysburg had begun the day before, and I would love to hear actually what was said when Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. James Longstreet planned their strategy for Day 2” Fry said. “It would also be something to watch the battle. I believe that Gettysburg was one of the turning points of the Civil War, and as a result one of the turning points in American history.”
Lastly, we heard from a rather youthful Jim Meskill, departmental assistant in social studies at Reavis, who said he’d like to witness something that all music fans no doubt could relate to.
“My first choice would probably be to travel back to 1986 and hang out with the members of Bon Jovi as they wrote and created their ‘Slippery When Wet’ album, but I will opt to be more historically significant,” he said.
“Honestly, I would love to have been there in the White House in October 1962 for the Cuban Missile Crisis. To be able to see John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy go through that entire two-week stretch of ups and downs would be fascinating.
“I’m willing to bet I could see the transformation of JFK from a young, unsure president (on the heels of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion) to the mature leader of the United States that he became. To be able to travel back in time to witness those two weeks would be a dream come true.”