Teaching the Contradictions of Stone Mountain

Peter Dye:

Before taking a group of international college students on a field trip to a place like Stone Mountain Park, it’s important to give them the proper context. As a teacher of English as a second language, a good bit of that context involves linking language to history and culture, and this week’s vocabulary lesson included some doozies. Confederacy, Klansmen, mini-golf, and laser show aren’t words you’d typically find in any ESL textbook. I wasn’t even sure if I should be teaching some of these words to my students, much less how they would react to them.

For those unfamiliar, Stone Mountain — a stone monadnock that rises 825 feet above the ground east of Atlanta — today is essentially a theme park known for hiking trails, yearly festivals, adventure courses, and perhaps most famously, the 90-foot tall Confederate monument carved prominently into the mountain’s side. As children scurry around the ropes course and families hike upward to see the beautiful views of the Atlanta skyline, the chiseled profiles of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis stare off into the distance, with their hats held closely to their hearts as they sit atop majestic horses.