Early on in my teaching career I was attempting to discuss the events that gradually led up to the Civil War. My textbook at the time gave a heavy emphasis to slavery and did not mention the whole scope of events that led us down the path of war. I wanted my students to see how our growing nation was a cause to the war. Once the United States embarked on adding territory and new states to the Union sectionalism was inevitable. So I mentioned the word sectionalism in class. Immediately I had embarrassed looks, averted eyes, and a titter here and a guffaw there. “Oh my,” I thought. “What did I say?”
I continued talking. I showed students maps. I gave a nice explanation of sectionalism. I connected the word to another word we had learned earlier in the year…regionalism. Still, every time I said the word sectionalism students sat up straighter, had funny looks on their faces, and were finally at the point of a major meltdown. I gave up. “Ok, what’s going on?” I asked.
One young man bravely volunteered. “Mrs. Historyteacher, are you saying the Civil War was caused by sex?”
“Sex! Sex? When did I say sex?” I frantically searched my mind picturing myself as the lead story on the five o’clock news.
Everyone agreed at this point. “Yes, you said sex.”
“Yep, I head it.”
“How can sex cause a war?”
I thought that an explanation of Helen of Troy and the problems she caused would be inappropriate at the time, so I finally asked a dependable young man to tell me exactly what he heard.
“Well, you said sexionalism was a cause to the Civil War.”
So, it finally dawned on me what I had done wrong and I quickly backtracked to correct my error. I learned that day that when you introduce new vocabulary words to students that might sound like another word it would be most helpful to write the vocabulary word on the board before you begin to speak, and while you are speaking it, it would also be beneficial to walk by the word occasionally and point to it for emphasis.
I posted on sectionalism a bit more at the American Presidents Blog. Take a visit there and learn a little about the Election of 1824. There's also a great post there titled "White House...and Internet...Phantoms" that is very interesting.