Sacrifices in the name of U.S. History #DogGoneIt

Did you know that the U.S. military trained suicide bombers in World War II? The living instruments of warfare were dogs. That’s right – dogs. In fact, tens of thousands of people enlisted their family pets to serve in WWII in a program called Dogs for Defense – part of the Canine Corps. The dogs were trained for a number of tasks – to carry ammunition, to attack shooters’ trigger hands across battlefields, and to bust bunkers.

I had heard of Victory Gardens and scrap metal donations in the early 1940s, but I had never learned of the animal sacrifices made during WWII. Until this morning. While walking Lucy today, I listened to This American Life – Episode 480: Animal Sacrifice. In Act 1,

Susan Orlean tells us about the moment America asked untrained household canines to make the ultimate sacrifice: to serve in World War II. Susan talks to Gina Snyder, who remembers being a teenager when her dog Tommy joined the service. And Susan digs into the national archives to learn the fate of other dogs that fought on the front lines. A version of this story appears in Susan’s book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. (20 minutes)

After watching Hachi (briefing on Wikipedia) last night with the family, and because I was listening while walking my faithful companion Lucy, I’m sure the Dogs for Defense story resonated more poignantly with me. But despite my emotional priming, I found the WWII story compelling and interesting in its own right.

Of course, I wondered why I had never heard or learned of Dogs for Defense or the Canine Corps before now. I used to teach seventh graders the subject of U.S. History, and I had never even encountered a hint or a glimpse of this fascinating military effort and civilian sacrifice. I thought the story would make an ideal artifact for the typical middle school history course. I’m feeling a bit of regret that Dogs for Defense was never before in my teacher’s toolbox. From another perspective, though, I am thankful that I found the story in my learner’s toolbox.

It’s fascinating to me what we curate into the curriculum, and it’s equally fascinating to me – maybe more so – what we intentionally and unintentionally curate out of the curriculum. In a content area like history, time is our greatest enemy, I guess. In historical survey courses, many are driven to cover as much history as possible (at a particular altitude), so we skim a surface for as many years as possible. Therefore, a certain degree of depth and a luxury of search-and-discover is sacrificed. What if we let the student learners do more of the curating?

It would be interesting to me to see what middle schoolers would find – through search and discovery – if they were guided to more self-discovery in subjects like U.S. History. I may be admonishing only myself, but I regret not being a more creative facilitator of learning when I was a part of a formalized learning space for U.S. History. I now wish I had served fewer completed meals, and I wish I had allowed more for students finding their own ingredients and recipes. I don’t doubt that we would not have covered as many years of history, but I bet we would have all learned – and retained – so much more.

If I had to do it all over again, I’d make my own sacrifice – giving up my traditional march through the chronological years in order to catalyze more searching, discovering, story finding, and connecting. To do so might even be responding to a higher calling of service to my country … and to the future learners’ world.

2 thoughts on “Sacrifices in the name of U.S. History #DogGoneIt

  1. I really enjoyed this piece. What struck me in particular was the metaphor of completed meals to represent teacher-presented content to students in classrooms. I chuckled when I read the added metaphor of allowing students to find their own recipes and ingredients. Perhaps this is one of the most challenging tasks before us. To extend the food metaphor, I was looking up actual recipes on 101 cookbooks and learned about 3 different types of lemon: standard Eureka lemons, Meyer lemons, and Japanese Yuzu lemons! Yuzu lemons can be found at “winter farmer’s markets” (again, something I never heard of), and at Japanese grocery stores (I don’t know of any in Atlanta, and the last one I went to was around 1988 in Boston). So if Yuzu lemons are a metaphor for a fascinating piece of history, how do you go about finding them, or guiding young people to find them? This provokes more thoughts: a librarian-author friend of mine told me that there is so much documentation and scholarly work on topics like faerie lore that you would never find on the internet, but that a librarian has access to via databases and library resources. In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson writes that consumers today want to know about all the multiplicity of choices and niche markets out there, and the producer’s job is to make them easy to find. So as educators, how will we make these kinds of exotic ingredients easy for young people to find (especially when it’s not necessarily on the web–such as scholarly work on faerie lore)?

    • Craig,

      As usual, I love your furthering and extending of my thinking. Thank you! I loved learning about Yuzu lemons, and I think your connected metaphor is rich. I certainly believe in using multiple search tools. I use library databases very often in my research. I’ve even been known to break out a hard copy book! 😉

      As pursuers of our passions, I think we develop methods for curating our own aggregators and channels to that which we want and need. For one example, I created a group of podcasts that I listen to in the morning. I know that multiple times per week, I will discover treasures of exotic ingredients this way. (That’s how I found Dogs for Defense – or how it found me.) Then, those insights and motivations lead me to more searching – and I might go to get help from the author-librarian types. But, as I know you and I agree, we MUST help students/learners develop these skills of searching, curating, aggregating, and channeling. And school should welcome in these “outside” channels for diverse learner interest. I am working on a post about just such an issue. AND – we must allow time for this type of searching, which is full of dead ends, side roads, and interesting alternative routes. Being too scheduled “kills” this type of life-like discovery.

      I am in a rush now, but I wanted to reply to your great comment. I’m looking forward to our monthly get together soon. Happy New Year!


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