Did you you know that today is Casimir Pulaski Day? If you teach in Illinois you may, but for most people the name isn't familiar. It is celebrated the first Monday in March giving pubic school students the day off of school. (In our district it is a professional development day for teachers.) While the law commemorating Casimir was passed in 1977, it's not widely recognized as much more than another day off for Illinois schools. You see, our schools are off for more "extra holidays" than most other states. (Columbus Day, Veterans Day, MLK Day and Presidents Day are also days off.)
With an already packed curriculum and state testing beginning this week, there isn't much time to help students understand the reason the day is a school holiday. As a fifth grade teacher, most of my students only knew that it was a day that would provide them with an extra-long weekend. I shared a brief lesson on Casimir, how he came to America to help the Patriots during the Revolutionary War, teaching them how to fight and also providing training for the cavalry. He is credited with saving George Washington's life. He died in 1779 after being wounded in the Siege of Savannah. He was also a soldier of fortune, a mercenary, willing to fight for personal gains rather than because of a strong belief in a conflict. He did make a difference, helping the Patriots as they fought against a powerful army.
These holidays, while perhaps well intentioned in their hopes that students will reflect on history and the individuals commemorated, have lost their luster in most classrooms. Wouldn't it be better to commemorate these individuals by learning more about them on the day set aside for their remembrance than by having students out of the classroom?