UMKC ‘Border Wars’ Workshop Draws Educators from Across the Country


UMKC Border Wars Workshop The setting couldn’t have been more fitting. In the area that was one of the literal battlegrounds of the Battles of Westport, local Civil War buff Jim Beckner shared the area’s history.

Dressed in period costume, the retired high school social studies teacher gestured to points on various maps of the area, occasionally stopping to give pointers on how he might package the information for, say, a high school audience. He gave a few tips of his own, then opened the floor to hear his audience’s ideas.

After all, they were there for more than just a history lesson – in time, they’d need to package the information they’d learned into lesson plans for their classrooms.

Beckner’s lecture was just one of many given during two recent sessions of a teacher workshop entitled Crossroads of Conflict: Contested Visions of Freedom and the Missouri-Kansas Border Wars. Sponsored by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the workshop is part of The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for Teachers. It gave participants a chance to tour historic homes, buildings and museum collections.

The workshop drew a total of 80 educators for its two sessions. The group aimed to better understand the clash of cultures that played out on the Missouri-Kansas border. Toward the end of each week-long workshop, the groups began focusing on the bigger picture: Creating lesson plans and classroom experiences that would make the information relevant to their elementary, middle or high-school students.

The ripple effect of this knowledge won’t be contained to the Kansas City area. The workshop drew teachers from Kansas and Missouri, but it also drew one from the Virgin Islands. Another came from Texas. Still another, from Maine.

The early July session was the program’s sixth in three years. In that time, the workshop has grown in popularity, both locally and nationally. Nearly twice as many people applied as could attend.

The workshop was funded by an $180,000 federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

UMKC Associate Professor of History Diane Mutti Burke is director of the program. She wasn’t too surprised by the draw. She attributes the workshop’s popularity in part to the fact that it’s a unique perspective on the Civil War. Whereas states in the south or north enjoyed a bit of a united front, the people in this region were deeply divided. That divide didn’t just take place along the state line. Communities within Missouri and Kansas were also conflicted.

“Conflicts arose in other parts of the country, but it was so violent here. Communities were ripped apart by the war in this region,” Mutti Burke said.

It’s that uniqueness that drew Nicole Chaluisan, a ninth grade social studies teacher from Montgomery, N.Y. Although Chaluisan came to the conference with basic knowledge about the area, she’d never really thought deeply about the contentious relationship between Kansas and Missouri.

Chaluisan left the workshop with some ideas for her classroom. She might hold a mock trial, or she may also have her students look at images of John Brown, to evaluate whether he was being portrayed in a negative or positive light.

Although she’s not sure which lesson plan she’ll use, Chaluisan knows one thing for certain – that the workshop, which took her from Watkins Woolen Mill State Park to Lawrence, KS, and from Bates County, MO, to Loose Park, will have a big impact on her students.

“It is amazing to have the first-hand experience,” Chaluisan said. “I’ll get excited about this information because I’ve been here, so my students will get excited about it too.”

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