The Helena Independent Record had an article on April 23, 2012, about an increase in crime in Montana and North Dakota oil boomtowns.
Reading the article made me think about the crime that accompanied the Montana gold rush. Students (and adults) love to learn about the vigilantes, road agents and prostitutes of the Old West—to whom time has lent a glamorous patina. But are they really so different than today’s boomtown criminals?
Sharing current articles on the problems faced by today’s boomtowns might provide a “teachable moment.” The comparison might help students studying the gold rush think more deeply:
- about questions of law and order,
- about the problems that accompany instant cities,
- about how you know who to trust when everyone is from somewhere else,
- and about how boomtown residents responded to challenges associated with being far away from established systems of justice.
It would also strip some of the romanticism away from the outlaws of the Old West.
Would that be a good thing? I think so. But I can imagine someone arguing that the mystique of the Old West fascinates students, nurturing in them a lifelong interest in history.
What do you think? Is grade school—or middle school or high school, for that matter—a time for romance or for realism? Can they exist side by side?