Ken Burns loves to delve into history. His 1990 miniseries documentary on The Civil War was the most-watched program ever on PBS.
In a new 90-minute documentary, The Address, he is focusing on Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of Nov. 19, 1863. But The Address isn’t really about Lincoln.
It’s about the all-male Greenwood School in Putney, Vt., where boys who struggle with learning disabilities each year are challenged to memorize and recite the famous speech in front of students, faculty and parents. Those who do receive a special commemorative coin. It’s been a tradition at the school since 1978.
Melding history, using black and white photos from Lincoln’s time, to footage taken at the school now, Burns shows how what may seem like a simple task – memorizing 272 words – isn’t simple or easy at all, especially for these boys, who have dyslexia, attention-deficit, speech disorders and other issues.
What is especially interesting about the documentary is seeing the amazing one-on-one attention the boys receive at the school (tuition for a year is $53, 475). Teachers are patient and supportive as the kids struggle to focus and remember the words that sometimes seem to make no sense.
Even though it’s hard not to think about all the kids who can’t afford such a special education, it’s impossible not to be moved by all that Burns shows in the documentary – from the boys and how they think and act to the triumphant end speeches.
You can check your local listings for repeat airings of The Address, and you can watch the film in its entirety at http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/the-address/home.