Thursday, December 11, 2008

Educating All The Way

"Christmas at Riddick's Folly" was our event. On Friday, December 5th, more than 150 visitors waited outside in the cold, some for more than an hour and a half, to witness our new program. Live holiday music from the Brass Choir of Old Dominion University entertained them, but the real treat waited within.

Each tour saw vignettes of the Riddicks, their friends, their slaves, and their house from 1860 through 1865. The talk of impending war, the optimistic belief that the war would last only a few months, the realization that war had changed everything, and the recognition of a new kind of freedom... these were the topics that filled the halls and walls of Riddick's Folly.

What struck us, as we read through our evaluation forms, is that no one was prepared for this kind of experience. Many said they expected a house tour, and a few were even disappointed that this wasn't just a house tour. But the real encouragement came when we began looking at the responses, and fully 100% found the event to be "very educational" or "somewhat educational." That's a home run in anyone's book.

It's easy to get wrapped up in details. Are these ornaments period appropriate? Would candles or oil lamps have been used here? What kinds of desserts would have been on this table? And though we tried to get as many details right as possible, we know we missed some. We know we cut some corners here and there to let our core issues shine through. Judging by the responses we got, I think we made the right decisions.

As easy as it is to get absorbed in minutia, it's also easy to forget that our primary function is education. There are 22 public schools in the City of Suffolk. There are private schools and home schooled groups as well, not to mention community colleges and vocational schools. Local churches, the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society, the Suffolk Art League, and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts also host educational programs of various stripes. All of these organizations and institutions are educating, and that's just in Suffolk.

All that education, but only 16% of 8th graders nationwide ranked "proficient" or above in U.S. History*. Clearly we still have work to do, but programs like this one mean we're heading in the right direction. Look for more to come.

*Data from the National Center for Education Statistics

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