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History project offers lessons outside class

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Emma Stafford, educational assistant at MAP Academy, demonstrates a manually powered sewing machine that is more than 100 years old and part of “The Way It Was Back Then” history exhibit at the school.     ZACK OWENSBY / The Wilson Post


Technology has advanced through the years, improving the lives of many.

But what have the improvements to the average family’s life cost us?

That is the question the students at MAP Academy, Wilson County’s alternative school program, are answering, answers not without surprises. Most students are enrolled at MAP Academy due to behavioral problems in normal classroom settings.

A schoolwide program to educate the students at MAP Academy about the past during Black History Month has led to some interesting conclusions by many of the students.

Each teacher has taken their class to see the display, “The Way It Was Back Then,” coordinated by Charlie Lowery, a teacher at the school. And each teacher has asked how our lives are better today than they were back then.

But it was the surprising answers many students gave back about how life may not be as good as it was back then, qualities that are intangible and not on display on a table in a hallway.

“There would probably be less kids getting in trouble,” said one student, their names not given for privacy.

The look of reflection was in her eyes not just regarding the history project, but on the actions that may have resigned her to time at MAP Academy.

Given the situation most of the students at MAP Academy, they all had that look in their eyes as they wondered what life might have been like for them if they lived before electricity, running water and desegregation.

“People (today) don’t really take the time to focus on their religion as they did,” said another. “That used to be all they had, worshipping the Lord.”

Now with a teenager’s life often full of free time and without many of the demands of children in the past such as chores and work, some have chosen to fill that time with bad decisions.

“The family has kind of gotten lost,” Lowery said. “Mom and dad used to work close to home, often on a farm at home. Now, parents are gone more, and we miss being able to have them around as much,” which got several heart-felt nods and downward gazes from his students.

The original intent of the project was to get students writing about the benefits of technology, while teaching them history and improving their writing skills, said Emma Stafford, an educational assistant at MAP who provided many of the items from “back then.”

But it was the interesting spin some students put on the project, asking how life was better then, not now, that have teachers glowing with enthusiasm.

“Families used to sit down and all eat together. If you could afford it, you had milk delivered by the milk man. Everyone made their own bread. They would use what they had to cut out the biscuits. It didn’t matter if you were black or white, everyone did things like that back then,” Stafford said.

Technology during the past 100 or more years has given us indoor plumbing, automated sewing machines, purified drinking water, electric heating, baking mixes and even the light bulb. And students were able to see many everyday items from earlier generations, such as water buckets and ladles, oil lamps and vinyl 45 records.

But what it’s really cost us, the students agreed, is the work ethic that is taught at a young age, respect for each other and elders, and the helping hand that is lent to a neighbor among countless other traits that made growing up an education in itself.

That message is starting to gain favor, at least with a few students who have taken a step back from their lives to see it from another perspective.

Staff Writer Zack Owensby may be contacted at

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