News Column

Bringing President Polk to life

July 1, 2014

By Kate Coil, The Daily Herald, Columbia, Tenn.



July 01--Political posters, Christmas crafts and old-fashioned fun and games are among some of the ideas being cultivated to bring the country's 11th president out of the history books.

Officials with the James K. Polk Home and Museum are developing activities for education both on-site and in the classroom. The hope is not only to educate local youngsters but to give them a tangible connection to history.

Museum Educator Jaryn Abdallah said officials with the Polk Home and other local organizations are working to create history-based activities that can be incorporated into the classroom or area museums. These activities can be used as resources for local teachers or community groups.

"We are really fortunate in that we see a lot of Maury County's fourth graders at the end of the year," she said. "We are really looking into ways to get into the classroom more than just at the end of the year."

Curator Tom Price said most fourth- and eighth-grade students in Maury County visit the Polk Home as part of Tennessee history units, but not all students get a chance to learn about Polk or other aspects of local history.

The hope is to incorporate the activities being developed into post-field trip lessons and maybe even display some of the art and crafts created by students at the Polk Home, Price said. As it becomes harder for schools to host field trips, Price said the activities are also a way of keeping Polk in the classroom.

One of the first activities being planned for October involves the creation of political campaigns and posters by students.

"During election years, we have talked about the significance and changes in electioneering over time," Price said. "We have done different programs with the kids, like reproducing the campaigns of 1844, music programs and speeches. The very first campaign poster was done during the election of 1844 when James K. Polk was running for president."

Price said the lesson can also be incorporated with the current exhibit at the Polk Home, "The Face of a President," which shows how the advent of photography influenced political campaigning.

"This is really the first election where how a candidate looks matters," Price said. "That comes out of the rise of lithography. There is a lithograph of James K. Polk on a white horse in a rearing stance. This is a guy who is a lifetime lawyer and politician -- a very unheroic character. They put him into this stance to draw the connection to Jackson."

Other programs being planned include how Christmas was celebrated in Polk's period, a family game night and period gardening, Abdallah said.

"The gardens here have changed so much from the times the Polks lived here," she said. "It went from what was a subsistence farm to the beautiful garden we have today."

Most of these activities will have an arts emphasis, which Abdallah said slowly disappearing from school curricula.

"It's hard today with very rigorous testing schedules to do these activities," she said. "For kids, hands-on activities are so important for learning and connecting with the material. I think it's hard for teachers sometimes to get all that stuff together. If sites like the Polk Home can say, 'here is everything you need for these activities,' I think that would helpful."

Price said museums can also provide students with a more tangible experience than a textbook. An example is the annual Polk Camp conducted by the museum, which gives students a hands-on experience of the period. Price said the camp has been conducted for 17 years, and many of the first campers still remember the experience as adults.

"There are things a museum can do that a classroom can't," he said. "It provides the visual stimulation they can't get out of a book or a classroom. They can feel and experience history in the place like the Polk Home, the Athenaeum or aMuse'um that they can't get anywhere else. Columbia is fortunate we have so many places like that."

Abdallah has met with representatives of the Columbia Arts Council, aMuse'um, Maury County Parks and Recreation, Athenaeum and Maury County Public Library to discuss ways the groups can help promote educational activities. Further meetings are being scheduled

"We will definitely need some volunteers," Abdallah said. "We definitely welcome anyone who is interested in the planning part of this. We welcome any suggestions, especially from teachers. We want to know how we can help them in a better way."

The overall goal is not only to get the Polk Home more involved with the community, but to bring the community into the Polk Home, she said.

"It's hard to know where you are unless you know where you've been," Abdallah said. "The Polk Home is such an important part of Columbia's history. Not a lot of cities can boast they are the home of a president."

Price said the Polk Home has been open to the public since 1929 but continues to change.

"We want to continue to be a dynamic and changing site," he said. "We want to provide good educational, informational and entertainment content to the public as well."

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(c)2014 The Daily Herald (Columbia, Tenn.)

Visit The Daily Herald (Columbia, Tenn.) at www.columbiadailyherald.com

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Source: Daily Herald (Columbia, TN)


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