Since this blog can be about whatever I want it to be, I’ve decided to toss in plenty of links to American history that I hope some of you will find interesting. A few months ago I came across this article (here) in the American Thinker. After you read it, you’ll see it fits in perfectly with Gladius Maximus’ theme in “Gimme A Knife“, except Lewis and Clark really did take the original survival sabbatical in the Rocky Mountains. In our cream puff culture, where roughing it consists of being without your cellphone at the ready, it might be a good reminder to take a moment and read just a few of their journal entries. A quick internet search will turn up many sites. I like this one (here) from the University of Nebraska, which has been put together nicely and contains the full text of the journals, plenty of images, and some multimedia options too. Here is the link to Lewis and Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition, another nicely put together site. Hopefully, most of us remember the purpose for their expedition, but for good measure I’ll toss in the link to a site I’ve liked for years” Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives” (here) , to see the actual Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803).
In recent decades so much hot air has been expended over how to teach history and just about every other subject. Truly discouraging battles continue to be waged over textbooks, where politically charged combatants wrestle over every single entry. The Texas textbook fights have garnered national media attention. With so much information available, it seems to me that instead of fighting over whether to include this or that historical figure and how many lines get devoted to each, the time might be better spent teaching kids how to explore history – it should be a journey, or an expedition into uncharted territory not a political mud-wrestling match. Just look at a few of the entries in the Lewis and Clark journals, where they charted maps and terrain features, they drew pictures of the flora and fauna, talked to the natives, they wrote as many detailed entries as their harsh conditions allowed. They did this so that they could come back and share it with others. This is what education should be – sharing knowledge.
I’ll digress into a personal story from my childhood, yep, tracking back to the mountains of rural PA again. I promise this will be a short detour. I grew up in a large family and I remember when my parents (like many others of that generation) bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias (which is now in my possession) and we thought how great it was to not have to wait until we went to school to look stuff up. Being the peculiar child I was, I embarked on trying to read my way through the entire set and I sure read through a large portion of it over the years. We didn’t have any nearby libraries, except the school libraries, but for many reports and guidance on where to search, I walked across the road to the parsonage of our church. Our pastor’s wife, odd as this may seem, but such is the melting pot that is America, was a lovely, wise Jewish lady from a well-to-do family in New York City. She told me many times about how she met our Protestant pastor and about her life in the city. She graduated from Teachers College Columbia University in the early 1920s. Naturally, which it has been my experience of pastors, my pastor and his wife loved to read and had a pretty amazing home library. Strange as this may seem to kids today, we had to actually physically read through magazines to search for information for papers and reports. We didn’t have search engines galore to type in a word and have almost everything you could ever want to know on that subject pop up in seconds. This wonderful woman would direct us to sources and she opened up her home library and her carefully preserved collection of magazines to us, time after time. She instilled in me the importance of a liberal arts education, which to her was a classical liberal education.
Certainly, I failed at learning some of the things she tried to teach me, like an appreciation of opera and learning to play the piano. However, the main thing I learned from her is education should be about lifting us up as a civilization, not about hurling the books back and forth at each other, as we argue over which items deserve to be wiped from the pages of history. Several years ago, I read Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” (here), in which he explains Hamilton’s childhood in the Caribbean. As an illegitimate child, Hamilton probably was denied an Anglican education. He may have had tutors, but was likely mostly self-taught. One can only marvel at how one with so little opportunity or advantage in life contributed so much to our Constitution, our banking system and he even served in the Continental Army (here) as an officer under General George Washington. And in the next logical comparison, one can only marvel at how we, with so much, contribute so little to our families, our communities and posterity.
Since I’ve darted about a bit here, I’ll end here with a quote, which is in a notebook that I started as a teenager (yes, I still have it). Once again it is thanks to that wonderful Jewish lady, who loaned me her treasured copy of John Barlett’s, “Familiar Quotations” (here), that I began to value other people’s words and she suggested I start a notebook. I still jot down good quotes when I see them. Where we have at our disposal the means to provide the finest education in the world to our children, why can’t we find the resolve to work together and share it and pass it on to our kids, so that they may all say:
“Life is my college. May I graduate well and earn some honors” – Louisa May Alcott