How many of you have heard the words the shot heard round the world?
This famous phrase is from the “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). It refers to the opening salvo of the American Revolutionary War on April 19, 1775.
At least, it used to be famous.
In an online trivia quiz, only about 75% of the respondents were able to choose the answer that associated it with the battles of Concord and Lexington.
As this was a quiz open to a worldwide audience, such a low percentage of correct answers may not mean a lot since non-Americans would have been among the quiz takers. On a recent Jeopardy game show, however, not one of three native-born American contestants was able to associate the story “Goodman Brown” with the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Yes, this is the 21st century and those literary works come from the 19th century. Isn”t it time that English teachers discussed the writing of more recent authors? Probably. But poems and stories such as the “Concord Hymn” and the stories of Hawthorne still have a place in the history classroom.
Common Core Guidelines Should Not Drive Out Literature
A danger of a too literal interpretation of the Common Core guidelines regarding the teaching of fiction is that the boredom that already haunts American classrooms will grow only heavier.
Creative texts provide more mental stimulation than merely factual texts . They open a window on the times in which they were written. They introduce the reader to a richer vocabulary than what is found in most “informational” writing. They stimulate the imagination in ways that mere factual writing does not. The best of them promote the kind of independent thinking that educators say they want to see in students.
The CCSS recommendation that students read 70% “informational text” compared to 30% fiction does not apply solely to the English classroom. Unfortunately, that is how it is going to be interpreted. English teachers are already revising their course content to include more informational texts as if fiction like The Grapes of Wrath or My Antonia were void of information.
It is not up to the nation’s English teachers to eviscerate their course content to obtain the 70/30 information/fiction balance. It’s up to the teachers of all other subjects to incorporate relevant fiction as they teach history, science, and government. Instead of teaching their courses with 100% informational texts, the other teachers need to introduce 30% literature to enrich their content and make it easier to remember.
The Concord Hymn
The phrase the shot heard round the world comes from the opening stanza of a four-stanza poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The four stanzas of this poem could provide the basis for a rich history lesson. It would leave students with an emotional understanding of what the Revolutionary War meant to Americans when the war was still in living memory. It might even provide students with their own emotional reaction. I know that it still has the power to give me goosebumps when I read it.
Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” was commissioned in 1837 for an Independence Day celebration in Concord, Massachusetts. The occasion was the dedication of a monument in honor of the Battles of Concord and Lexington.
Thirty-eight years later, the by-then-beloved first stanza was inscribed on the pedestal of a memorial statue of a Minute Man.