A new way of teaching history

Posted: December 4th, 2015 | Feature, Featured, Mission Hills | No Comments

Francis Parker School teacher is part of new digital project

A teacher at Francis Parker School in Mission Hills is helping to transform the way history is taught in the classroom.

Cherie Redelings, chair of the school’s history department, recently played a pivotal role in developing a newly released digital resource that includes 21 lesson plans from U.S. teachers who took the trip of a lifetime last summer to investigate the stories of fallen World War II heroes who are buried overseas.


Mission Hills teacher Cherie Redelings is thrilled to be part of a new digital project that teaches history in a new way. (Courtesy of Francis Parker School)

She was one of 18 middle and high school teachers nationwide — and the only one in California — to take part in the Understanding Sacrifice program that involved National History Day, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. The website went live on Veterans Day.

An award-winning art history and social studies teacher, Redelings did her field study in England, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. She designed two lesson plans, each based on a soldier she researched: U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Gordon Chamberlain of San Diego; and U.S. Army Capt. Walter Huchthausen of St. Paul, Minnesota. One of the plans, “Design a Battle Monument,” has students researching Chamberlain’s service and and designing a battle monument based on his sacrifice.

“The American Battle Monuments Commission program was one the most exciting and meaningful opportunities in my career,” Redelings said. “Through my research I uncovered the war diary of 2nd Lt. Chamberlain, and read his day-by-day experiences. When I visited the sites in Europe, I walked in his footsteps, quite literally! I can’t wait to bring these experiences to AP Art History students at Francis Parker. They, too, will research the career of a WWII soldier, then study and design a battle monument in keeping with the styles of the post-WWII era.”

Second Lt. Chamberlain was a glider pilot who flew infantrymen and equipment behind enemy lines, including during D-Day. In February 1945, Chamberlain was assigned to Operation Varsity, a mission that involved crossing the Rhine River into Germany and included 906 gliders, the largest fleet in the war. It ended up being the costliest in terms of airborne casualties. Eighty-eight pilots lost their lives, including Chamberlain, who was killed by enemy fire. He was buried the following month in Margraten, Holland, in the site that would become the Netherlands American Cemetery.

“Students will learn about Gordon Chamberlain’s career as a glider pilot and Operation Varsity, the military action in which he perished,” Redeling’s lesson overview states. “Students will then examine Chamberlain’s grave marker and several other artworks at the Netherlands American Cemetery through visual images and text. After evaluating the style, purpose, and meaning of these artworks, they will design their own memorial to commemorate Chamberlain and the soldiers who perished in the crossing of the Rhine. Art History students will have the ability to compare and contrast World War II war memorials with other historical war memorials.”

Redelings’ second lesson plan is titled, “Saving Art during Wartime: A Monument Man’s Mission.”

Huchthausen enlisted in the Army Air Forces, but was recruited by the Monuments and Fine Arts and Archives Commission (MFAA) for frontline work in Germany. The MFAA eventually grew to include over 300 men and women from 13 countries. In recent years, this group has been called the “Monuments Men” in books, television and movies. Many of them, like Huchthausen, had worked as artists, architects, museum curators or educators before the war broke out. Their role was to protect cultural treasures endangered by the war and to collect artifacts displaced by the war. Some MFAA officers, like Huchthausen, took part in battle preparations, supplying Allied pilots with locations of important monuments, so pilots could target alternate sites. When warfare damaged cultural treasures, MFAA officers moved into the area with frontline troops to assess damage and make repairs.

Huchthausen was killed by German machine gun fire while driving to recover an important cultural artifact. Huchthausen is buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten.

“Students will understand and evaluate the purpose of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Commission during World War II,” a lesson overview states. “They will investigate the career of the only U.S. member of the MFAA killed in action, Walter J. Huchthausen. Students will consider multiple viewpoints in the modern controversy over returning artworks removed from their original site during World War II.”

Organizers of the project praised the effort that went into the lesson plans.

“National History Day is constantly looking for new opportunities to connect students with the past,” National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn said. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to work with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University to help the ABMC develop a website for Understanding Sacrifice that illuminates the service, experiences and sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen during World War II in Northern Europe.”

Redelings knows her history. She has long coached Parker teams entered in the annual National History Day Competition, and Parker sends more students to the final round in Maryland than any other school in California. Just five years ago, Parker had more winners at the Nationals than did the entire state of New Jersey.

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