I have been assigned the important task of researching our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, and presenting my findings to my colleagues in Ms. Olsen’s fifth-grade class. While I take this assignment with the utmost seriousness, I have deep concerns about the project.
For one, Ms. Olsen failed to divide our efforts effectively. I can’t help but feel that our mission of fully covering such an integral figure in our nation’s history would be better served by dividing our research into distinct, acute categories. Perhaps one team could examine the societal effects on Lincoln’s upbringing, another on the impact of his presidency on Civil War-era America, and another on the lasting precedent that his term left on the nation after his assassination. Instead, all twenty-seven of my peers and I have been tasked with the same broad research subject: Abraham Lincoln. While I can certainly see the potential benefits of approaching a subject from multiple perspectives and comparing our findings, I fear this strategy may be overkill.
Furthermore, in speaking with students my elder, I’ve learned that Ms. Olsen has assigned this research to her class every year for at least the last five years. I requested to see the findings of last year’s class to build upon the work that was already done, but Ms. Olsen denied my request, citing the need to “do my own research.” I must admit that I’m a bit baffled by this strategy. If we are to thoroughly examine the entirety of the man that was President Lincoln, would we not be best served by starting where those before us left off? I will respectfully continue forward with the assignment, but certainly not without reservations.
As if the current hindrances weren’t hampering enough, the resources we have been given are surprisingly limited. We’re encouraged to use the school’s library as our primary source of research. While I don’t aim to disparage the adequacy of Meadowood Elementary’s fine library, I imagine that we would be far better equipped by accessing more in-depth sources. We should contact Lincoln’s living heirs and conduct several interviews, cross-examining their answers and most relevant responses with the current leading literature on the subject to uncover discrepancies. We should also travel to Lincoln’s birthplace and then begin a multi-month expedition through the different settings where he lived, immersing ourselves in the varying traditions of those locations as to better understand the cultural influences that shaped Lincoln. Further, I believe that discussing America’s sixteenth president with all the currently living presidents would offer a unique perspective on the man and the office that he held.
I conferred with Ms. Olsen about these ideas and was again dismissed and told only to “follow the rubric.” The rubric, in this case, being a single piece of paper outlining how our presentation will be judged. In this case, 25 percent of our evaluation will be based on our ability to put our name and the date on the project.
In surveying my fellow students, I continue to receive no direction or inspiration. Kelly intends on creating a poster board with different pictures of Mr. Lincoln, and her efforts are currently going toward finding those scissors that cut curvy lines rather than straight ones to add flair to the project. Jake S. has taken the unimaginative approach of printing off the Wikipedia page on Abraham Lincoln and reading this to the class while wearing a top hat and fake beard. Interestingly, Jake D. plans on the same approach, except he didn’t mention anything about a beard. Rachel plans on using her older brother’s project from last year, and Bobby was unaware that we were given an assignment. I hoped that Celia would share my frustrations as we both have proven to be the more academically minded scholars in our grade, but she refused to collaborate with me with shouts of “No copying!!”
I am Crusoe, and this classroom is my island.
As I sit here now, it has become evident that the barrier between me and a poignant investigation of the life and death of President Abraham Lincoln is just too great to surmount. I have approached the subject from every avenue available to me and am met with the same dull wall each time. I have since given up my perhaps naïve endeavors and have resigned myself to a project that mirrors my colleagues’ lusterless, pedestrian work.
As I attach this macaroni to cardboard, I do so with a crushed mind. I look into the face of President Lincoln, noticing a slight lump under his eye from the glob of Elmer’s glue holding his portrait in place, and ask for forgiveness. Below him, I’ve written his name with a fading black marker. I see now that I have forgotten the second “L” in his last name. I won’t correct it.