1776 – The Movie

by susanedotcohen

In fifth grade, Mr. Rilander showed the class the film 1776. The film was part of our Revolutionary curriculum. I say Revolutionary curriculum as my class spent the entire year learning about the war. In fact, even before we started learning about it, the Revolution was introduced to us through student-made posters that adorned the classroom’s walls.

Throughout that year, Mr. Rilander lectured the class regularly about the events leading up to and during the war. I use the word lecture as these were not typical elementary school history lessons. This was the real deal. He sat in front of the class and brought the war to life. The lectures were so vivid that the class was momentarily transported to the Boston Tea Party or the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

I distinctly remember watching 1776 at some point during that school year. I sat in the middle of the room, in the second row, at a desk that I considered to be the coolest in all of the school. It was not cool because I sat at it (although I like to think that) but instead, it was cool because our class had unusual desks in comparison to the rest of the school. If I remember correctly, the desks were like a mini table and then underneath, on the right, there was a shelf for my books.

The desks were one of the reasons I hoped to be placed in Mr. Rilander’s class. I should also say that each year his class had a Thanksgiving meal together, played touch football after that meal, and also had an end of the year barbecue. For elementary school standards, his class was as good as it gets.

Returning to the film, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of John and Abigail Adams as they read their letters to each other. I connected to Thomas Jefferson’s struggles to write the Declaration of Independence. I even remember the moment when John Hancock signs the Declaration and says something witty about the size of his signature and King George. I also remember thinking that Mr. Feeny is John Adams. This connection makes sense given that it was circa 1996-1997 and Boy Meets World held a prominent spot in the TGIF lineup.

I have not watched the film since, but I owe it a view. I also owe Mr. Rilander another thank you. I say another thank you as I have thanked him before. A few years ago I proudly told him that I was majoring in History with a concentration in American History, and it was in part, because of his class. I owe him another thank you because you can never thank a teacher enough.

I feel so fortunate to have been placed in Mr. Rilander’s class. Yes, I had originally wanted to be in that class for cool desks and touch-football, but I left that classroom with so much more.

Thank You Mr. Rilander for the best introduction to American History a fifth grader can ever ask for.

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