New Jersey Teachers Keep the Memory Alive

January 18, 2010

The history of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade has all but been forgotten in American high schools, with history textbooks barely making mention of these “premature anti-fascists.” But over the last two years, 33 students from the Bergen County Academies, a magnet high school in Hackensack, New Jersey, have opted to learn more about the American volunteers of the Spanish Civil War by enrolling in a new open project called “Political Activism Then and Now: Lessons of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.”

The idea for this course originated in the summer of 2008 during a week-long workshop at New York University. Three teachers from BCA, Gabriella Calandra and Carlos Gonzalez from the World Language Department and Sergei Alschen from History, were among the 16 teachers that participated.

The project allows students to explore not only the confluence of international, Spanish, and American conditions that led to the Spanish Civil War, but also to learn about what motivated young people in the 1930s to take up the cause of justice and to fight against fascism on the other side of the world, when their own country prohibited them from doing so. The project culminates with the students identifying contemporary issues—political, social, economic, or environmental—and drawing up a plan of political action based on a cause they would like to take up.

The two classes learned a lesson in historiography by taking a field trip to the Tamiment Library at NYU in April and October and conducting archival research. The students spent time reading letters written by and to the veterans, which they used to produce a short written account of what they learned. Having access to the actual documents written in a trench at the front or a hospital behind the lines brought the realities of conflict closer to home for the students. They also browsed the political posters from the Spanish Civil War, learning the importance of the messages conveyed in them to mobilize support for the Republican cause. Finally, the students viewed the documentary movie The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, which culminated in a spirited class discussion about the heroism of the veterans.

Mrs. Calandra and I would like to thank the following people for making this project possible: Principal Danny Jaye and Lee Frissell of NYU for giving us the opportunity to participate in the workshop that led to the creation of this project; NYU Professor James Fernandez, Jeanne Houck, Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, and Gail Malmgreen, Associate Head for Archival Collections at the Tamiment for providing us with access to the archival documents; and Peter Carroll for all of his guidance during our NYU summer seminar and for his wonderful book, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which we use as one of our textbooks for the project. Most of all, thanks to the students that have enrolled in this project for making it so interesting and so much fun to teach.

Sergei Alschen
History Department

Gabriella Calandra
World Language Department



One Response to “ New Jersey Teachers Keep the Memory Alive ”

  1. victor munoz on May 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Will you keep me informed of activities in the San Francisco area. Is the reunion still held the last week in January in Oakland? Thanking you in advance. Victor

    Just heard my good friend Pete Goodman passed on May 1st.