At Magnolia Middle School, best lessons don't come from books


April 18, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

Students crouch under their desks, imagining an air raid outside, try on a Nazi helmet, dress in Confederate uniforms and pretend they're in the trenches of a Civil War battle field.

History class was never like this.

But Richard Banz, Harford County's 1993 Teacher-Historian, turns his Magnolia Middle School classroom into the world, and his students into the famous and the obscure who made history.

"If kids learn history by memorizing a textbook, it can be dreadfully dull," says Mr. Banz, 26. "But when they actually try on a uniform, a helmet, or a gas mask and visualize what the persons who wore them were like, then history becomes real, and they are learning."

Cardboard busts of Lincoln and Washington hang from his classroom's ceiling, along with antique war planes. Posters and maps, as well as flags from the Civil War, the German Empire and the former Soviet Union cover the walls.

The biggest attraction, though, is Mr. Banz's vast collection of historical artifacts -- antique rifles, medals, uniforms and helmets -- which he shares with students.

"When I get to put on a hat that was actually worn by a Nazi officer or examine the medals he wore, that man becomes more real to me," says Jeff Daniels, an eighth-grader.

Adds classmate Danny Brown: "Mr. Banz makes learning easy and

interesting because he makes us experience what we learn. His class I enjoy coming to the most -- I wish I could have him as a teacher in all my classes."

Students enjoy history so much that they don't mind staying after school every other week to attend meetings of the Blue and Grey Club.

The club -- organized by Mr. Banz -- offers students an extensive and individual approach to various topics of the Civil War.

Club membership is considered a privilege and limited to a select number of students who apply and meet the requirements.

-! Eric Shank, 13, a club member

since the beginning of the school year, says he enjoys attending the 16-member club's meetings because Mr. Banz makes them fun.

"When we talk about the Civil War," Eric says, "he has a way of making us see and feel what it was really like back then."

Mr. Banz started teaching history when he graduated from college four years ago. He says he chose the profession because he likes history and kids.

When children study the lives of others, he says, they learn a lot about themselves and how to appreciate life.

He says he feels a responsibility to keep the memory alive of the people who paved the way for generations to come.

"By teaching about them and remembering their story," he says, "I know that the people who fought battles in the past did not die in vain."

When Mr. Banz teaches history's battles, he strives to go beyond military strategy and tell of people and their times -- how they lived, their clothing, food, comforts and discomforts.

Students who walk out of his classroom after wearing a Nazi or Civil War uniform no longer think of uniforms as "real cool," he says, because they realize those uniforms represent war.

"By teaching about war and its seriousness, I feel I am actually teaching against war," Mr. Banz says. "I want my students to know that war is serious and not at all like 'Hogan's Heroes.' "

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