Maywood Civil War simulation trivializes history and promotes racism

Sabrina Suen, Opinion Editor

The Situation

If you were an 8th grader at Maywood Middle School, then you know that the annual civil war simulation is a rite of passage. The hallmark and climax of their time at Maywood, students are split into the Union and the Confederacy and assigned role-plays. The end of the simulation culminates in a capture the flag game that is meant to represent the war and ultimately result in a Union victory.
Recently however, this long held tradition has been called into question by parent complaints and district concerns over cultural insensitivity and the potential for racism, leading to the suspension of the simulation.
However, after students started a petition to get it back, the district ultimately decided to move forward with a revised version of the simulation. The capture the flag game was disassociated with the simulation and made into a simple green v. gold team-building event.

The Administrative Perspective

When deciding the kind of content students should be taught, teachers and district officials have to be very careful about the messages and nuances behind the lessons students are exposed to. And the reality is that simulating such a delicate topic as the Civil War has the great potential to promote insensitivity.
“When we take 12, 13, and 14 year olds and we have them reenact things like that we would hope that the maturity of those kids would be able to interpret it and act it out in a way that’s appropriate… but sometimes that doesn’t happen,” Liberty High School Principal Josh Almy said.
But at the same time, the administration also understands the student demand and tradition behind the simulation.
“We want the students to be able to engage in the activity because there is a high level of enthusiasm, excitement and tradition around it,” said Teaching and Learning department head Emilie Hard.
And so the consensus they have come to is that they hope the changes to the simulation will ultimately make it a more socially aware learning tool.
“We want students to learn about that period of history and we also want them to reflect and learn from it…we want them to respect all people and avoid stereotyping. And we want them to be thoughtful citizens in the changing world,” Hard said.

What We think

Here at the Patriot Press, as former Maywood students we feel that the simulation is more than just a fun way to learn about the Civil War. It’s a coming of age, a final mark of your middle school life before you turn the page and enter high school. Those of us who have participated in the simulation felt like it was the most memorable part of our 8th grade experience.
And equally important, it taught us to consider different perspectives. Just because we represented the South, it didn’t mean we supported slavery. It helped us understand that the Southerners weren’t just protecting slavery; they were protecting their economy, their rights and their way of life.


We also acknowledge the dangers of the simulation. Young teens are not always capable of fully understanding the magnitude behind events. As they get caught up in the competition, we fear that the simulation may inadvertently allow for insensitivity and racism to occur.
The Civil War simulation is meant to be fun, yet in reality the Civil War was not fun. We wonder if trying to make something that has such broad historical implications and consequences “fun” belittles the suffering of people.
Although teachers could preface the unit with lessons on appropriate behavior and the seriousness of the topic, we are unsure if these middle-schoolers can truly grasp the nuances or if they will simply get washed up in the competition.

What should be done

The Civil War simulation is outdated and should no longer be used. Regardless of how much of a tradition the simulation is, making “fun” out of war, racism, death and conflict does not teach students to become educated and aware individuals. Instead it tells them that war is something to be trivialized and racism can be tolerated.
We believe that students have the ability to understand both perspectives of the Civil War, but that is only possible if teachers stop sensationalizing war and start teaching reality. The Civil War was a tragedy, but it was also a turning point in American history. It’s time that students learned to appreciate it for its consequences and not for the good memories the simulation brings.