Buffalo Jackson Fan: Teacher Matt Barry brings history to life

Here at the Buffalo Jackson Trading Post, it’s always an honor to see the values we espouse displayed in the gentlemen who wear our brand all over the U.S.

We recently spent some time getting to know Matt Barry, an eighth-grade U.S. history and government teacher in Atlanta — and a loyal member of the Buffalo Jackson fan club. Matt educates his classes about our country’s rugged past and the men and women who chiseled our future. This guy takes his work seriously: Every year his class re-enacts the 2nd Continental Congress, while Matt live-tweets the votes for independence.

His story grabbed our attention. This is the first of an occasional series looking at the extraordinary men wearing our brand, but more importantly, living our creed.

So meet Matt, a New Englander-turned-Southerner, track coach and a man trying to honor America’s wild.

Why does American history inspire you?

I had a great teacher my 11th grade year. I wasn’t a strong student, but he told so many great stories about our nation’s past. To me, it was so interesting. I love the way he talked. I remember specifically him talking about Andrew Jackson. But he didn’t tell us to remember that he was president from 1829 to 1837. He said, “How many presidents do you think killed somebody in their life?” It was stories like that that got my interest up. Cool stuff to know.

What’s your favorite period of U.S. history?

I‘m an avid Jacksonian Era historian. Anything in the 1830 and 1840s, I live for it. Western expansion, Manifest Destiny. I love it. I even own locks of his hair. There’s just something about him growing up in poverty, being an orphan at a young age. He did what he wanted, to the beat of his own drum. He grew up to be a general, a hero and then a president. He showed with hard work, and being a little stubborn now and then, you can be anything.

I love that he didn’t come from the basic background of being a lawyer and aristocrat. He was a dueler, a brawler. I think that’s so cool that one of our presidents was like that.

How do you make history appealing to 8th-graders?

I try to bring it to life and into perspective. I have a ton of artifacts. I try to bring history into the classroom. We dress up. I dress up as George Washington and Andrew Jackson. We dressed up and went on a Lewis and Clark expedition. I send them on a scavenger hunt around the school.

Every year we re-enact the Second Continental Congress. Each kid is a delegate. We’ve got John Adams and John Hancock. They each have a role. We discuss independence based on how people back then felt. It’s about interpretation and arguing through the lense of history that they like. They will argue for independence. Some kids make signs. It’s a lot of fun. We’re Skyping with other schools and I live-tweet the re-enactment.

What’s the biggest mistake we make teaching kids our history?

We need to stop beating around the bush on controversial issues. Tell it like it is. The more details and information we can provide, from all angles, the better they learn. History is an interpretation of the past.

We’re so confined to teaching to the test, specific stuff they have to know. But there were 300 people at the Boston Tea Party. Not every person saw that through the exact same lense and mindset. We need to understand some kids will look at history and think one thing, but another student will see something else. I think we’re losing the ability to let each kid develop their own perspective of history.

There aren’t many young men teaching middle school. What would you tell other men about your profession?

Being a young male in education is so important. You have a chance to connect with young kids, young males, and show them that education is one of our most important professions. We’re impacting the future. We’re shaping the next generation. Teaching our nation’s history to other young men is so important.

What are you mindful of as a role model?

Respect and discipline, and the sense that regardless of your relationship with others, you need to be respectful. You don’t know what it’s like to be that other person. You won’t make it in life without self-discipline. So I try to emphasize those things.Also, love what you’re doing. I tell my kids everyday how much I love coming to school. And they’ll say, “Oh, you get paid to go to school.” But I get paid to come share with others the thing I love. For me, it’s a challenge to develop a rapport and help them develop a love for history, and to use it as a way to understand where our nation is headed.

How do you display the values of a rugged gentlemen?

To teach American history is taking a lot of things that happened — from revolutions and Indian wars to civil wars, social hierarchy fights and civil rights — and teaching our kids to appreciate the tough stuff. If you don’t grow up appreciating the tough stuff, how can you ever appreciate the country we have today?

I want my students to understand the struggles our country has gone through. We really have a rugged history. Not just war and frontiers, but we’ve settled social inequalities and differences, sexual discrimination, civil rights — that’s hard for our generation to look at. Now we have an African-American president. We have women in Congress and on the Cabinet. So it’s easy to turn a blind eye. But it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where we are now.

What’s your next adventure?

If I’m not teaching or I’m not coaching, I’m reading history, hiking or looking for the next national park or museum I can visit. That’s my agenda.