So why restore a graveyard? Many of us have
done a graveyard study, spent a few hours looking at dates and
inscriptions, making connections between families and death dates,
and maybe making a few rubbings. A restoration is doing those
things but is more ambitious.
For the past several years, we have increasingly looked for learning opportunities in the community. Community-based curriculum has some very positive aspects: a real world audience, potential for making a real difference, assessment in a real way, awareness of the gifted program in a positive light and, not the least, a chance to make a contribution (often lasting) to the community. The isolated graveyard we are currently working in is related to another project in the community we have been working on for ten years - an antebellum building on the National Register of Historic Places.
It seems to us that the most relevant and powerful curricular designs are those that have real world audiences. Projects and products that are seen and, therefore, evaluated by persons outside of the school environment are "authentic", much like our current striving for better and more authentic assessment measures. Restoring a burial ground to, as nearly as possible, its original state can have an impact upon student and community. And, quite possibly, beyond these curricular and learning considerations is an outcome that is much larger. Louis Houck remarked in 1896 , "The culture, refinement, and in fact, the civilization of a people can be measured by the respect paid its honored and distinguished dead."
Pulaski County has many small and old cemeteries where this honor is in evidence. It also has several where caring descendants are either gone from the area or gone from the earth. These graveyards have suffered years of neglect and are close to being beyond redemption. It may not be any easy task to bring the sensitivity of Louis Houck to an elementary or middle school student. It certainly does not exist in many adults. but those things that are easy are generally not worth their minimal effort.
Restoring a graveyard can offer learning opportunities that we look for in educating gifted students. It has layers of learning embedded in its complexity. Research in a variety of directions, the mathematics of mapping, and opportunities for interpretation and communication are a few possibilities. And there is something to be said for the manual labor of cleaning stones and pulling up encroaching vegetation.
A restoration project requires cooperation. Ah-cooperative learning in a non-artificial situation. When working on a grave site, we have two or three person crews to measure, decipher, and record the information on an inventory form (see sample). The same team approach is taken with cleaning stones. There certainly is no competition, all stones not being created equal. Each marker has its own requirements and needs.
You may think that such a project is not possible in your area, that no such derelict yards exist. That is possible, although it is more likely that you are not aware of them. We have seen a nineteenth century German graveyard, with magnificently large monuments, in shambles in a large metropolitan area. Within the past few weeks, a community member led us to a family graveyard on the edge of our town. It was small, overgrown, and the markers toppled and broken. Here was the grave of one of our county's most well-known Civil War era citizens, about whom a book had been written, and yet no one has cared to provide minimal caretaking of the yard. It is on public land. Our own first town cemetery is badly in need of care. With some looking, the opportunity and, most importantly, the need exists in all but the newest communities.