Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Message to Garcia

You reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office--six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: "Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio."

Will the clerk say, "Yes, sir," and go do the task? On your life he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

I was hired for that?

Don't you mean Bismarck?

What's the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Sha'n't I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him to try to find [Correggio]--and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course, I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average I will not. Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your "assistant" that Correggio is indexed under Cs, not in the Ks, but you will smile very sweetly and say, "Never mind," and go look it up yourself.

Hmmm…..Integrity. Resourcefulness. Independent action.

They might as well be words from a dead language in today’s world.

However, the test situation posed above was not put forth recently but was asked on February 22, 1899. Yes, one hundred and twelve years ago it seems we had problems with folks not being able to carry out a mission. Apparently moral stupidity was rampant, and folks were unwilling to cheerfully catch hold and lift.

This situation was posed by Elbert Hubbard in a pamphlet he wrote titled, “A Letter to Garcia” in reaction to an observation his young son had made at the dinner table regarding the outcome of the Spanish American War. His son had remarked that the success the United States had experienced could all be boiled down to one man…..Andrew S. Rowan.

Never heard of him? I’m not surprised since most folks don’t know many details regarding the Spanish American War past the fact the USS Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor and one Theodore Roosevelt went up San Juan Hill.

Prior to the war the Cubans had attempted more than once to gain their independence from Spain. In May, 1898, the leader of the Cuban rebels, Garcia Y’iniguez Calixto, was hiding out in the jungles of Cuba. Once the United States became involved President McKinley knew it was imperative he get some sort of message to Garcia and knew that information was key regarding a successful U.S. operation there.

When the President asked, “Who can deliver a message to Garcia?” his advisors were quick to indicate Andrew S. Rowan was his man. This is certainly one situation where a president was advised correctly.

Later in his account of his mission Rowan wrote, “The President was anxious for information. He realized that success meant that the soldiers of the republic must co-operate with the insurgent forces of Cuba. He understood that it was essential to know how many Spanish troops there were on the island, their quality and condition, their morale, the character of their officers, especially those of the high command; the state of the roads in all seasons; the sanitary situation in both the Spanish and insurgent armies and the country in general; how well both sides were armed and what the Cuban forces would need in order to harass the enemy while American battalions were being mobilized; the topography of the country and many other important facts.”

Rowan was advised by his commanding officer, “Means will be found to identify you in Jamaica, where there is a Cuban junta. The rest depends on you……..After that, providing the United States declares war on Spain, further instructions will be based on cables received from you. Otherwise everything will be silence. You must plan and act for yourself. The task is yours and yours only. You must get a message to Garcia. Your train leaves at midnight. Good-bye and good luck!”

That was it. Those are the only instructions Rowan received. He did the rest on his own. His full account regarding his time in Cuba gathering information and delivering that all important letter to Garcia can be found here....just scroll down a bit.

Getting back to Hubbard he sat down after his dinner and wrote out a four page pamphlet titled, A Letter to Garcia” that within days would go viral in 1899 terms. Once it was published business people got hold of it and passed it along. Extra copies were ordered at twenty-five cents each. “A dozen, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, and yes, a hundred thousand. Then in half million lots until finally it was translated into nearly every language…..At one time during the 1920s more copies of “A Message to Garcia” were in print than any other publication except the Bible.”

The question, “Who can send a message to Garcia?” become synonymous with being resourceful and having integrity to do one’s job without dissolving into a puddle of helplessness. Hubbard stated later, “The hero is the man who does his work – who carries the Message to Garcia.”

I think the most powerful portion of Hubbard’s pamphlet is this……

THE WORLD BESTOWS ITS BIG PRIZES, both in money and honors, for but one thing, and that is Initiative. What is Initiative? I'll tell you. It is doing the right thing without being told. But next to doing the thing without being told is to do it when you are told once. That is to say, carry the Message to Garcia: those who can carry a message get high honors, but their pay is not always in proportion. Next there are those who never do a thing until they are told twice: such get no honors and small pay. Next, there are those who do the right thing only when Necessity kicks them from behind, and these get indifference instead of honors, and a pittance for pay. This kind spends most of its time polishing a bench with a hard luck story. Then, still lower down in the scale than this, we have the fellow who will not do the right thing even when someone goes along to show him how and stays to see that he does it: he is always out of a job, and receives the contempt he deserves, unless he happens to have a rich Pa, in which case Destiny patiently awaits around the corner with a stuffed club.

To which class do you belong?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chain...Chain....Chain..Chain of Fools

I walk over to my laptop and make a quick “click”. The sounds of Aretha Franklin fill the classroom….

Chain, chain, chain, chain, chain, chian
Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools
Five long years I thought you were my man
But I found out I'm just a link in your chain....
 found out I’m just a link in your chain….

Go ahead – click on the video and listen. I’ll wait.

I’m certain you are thinking I’ve lost it. Why is ElementaryHistoryTeacher playing this particular song for nine and ten year olds as the opening salvo to a lesson regarding an aspect of the American Revolution?

Don’t click off just yet. I have a connection.

Teaching history isn’t all about reading a lesson in a book or having a teacher tell a fascinating story for kids to take notes from.

Teaching history is all about making connections and visualizing the links – links in a chain of events that ebb and flow through history to the present day. In this particular exercise where I play the Queen of Soul’s famous song for my students I’m trying to allow them to own and claim the content and build some links of their own to the content.

I want them to listen to the song. I might even play it two or three times.

Okay, I might even play it a fourth time just for me.

I pop the lyrics up on my classroom screen and we read through them together. Some of my more talented students actually sing through them having already picked up the melody.

I pick up with the lyrics where I left off above….. (Read through them very carefully)

You got mw where you want me
I ain't nothing but your fool
You treated me mean oh you treated me cruel
Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools
Every chain has a wink link
I might be a weak child, but I'll give you strength
You told me to leave you alone
My father said come on home
My doctor said take it easy
Whole bunch of lovin is much too strong
I'm added to your chain, chain, chain
Chain, chain, chain, chain
Chain, chain of fools
One of these mornings the chain is gonna break
But up until then, yeah I'm gonna take all I can take
Chain, chain, chain, chain of fools

Students are sitting in small groups, so I proceed to tell them to take another look at the lyrics and discuss how the situation between the British and the American colonies is similar to the lyrics of the song.

Seriously…….think about it. I’ll wait. They don’t tell you in teacher education school, but most of good teaching is knowing when to hush and let the student’s think.


What did YOU come up with?

My students don’t disappoint me. They make some great connections between the contemporary lyrics and the plight of the American colonists.

Students volunteer the following:

*The British government had the colonies where they wanted them. Taxing them, but not allowing them any representation in Parliament.
*The colonist felt they were being treated mean and cruel. Students cited situations like the Intolerable Acts as proof.
*The colonists were a chain of fools. They were being taken advantage of and needed to stand up for themselves.
*The weak links in the chain were Tories.
*Everyone has an opinion regarding what should be done…….the Sons of Liberty, Committees of Correspondence, newpapers, the members of the Continental Congress.
*The chain is finally broken with Lexington and Concord.

Yes, this lesson is a great way to review. It’s also a great way to bring up new content tying into the chain theme.

Let me throw a few names out to you…..Peter Townsend, Sterling Iron Works, Captain Thomas Machin, Colonel Timothy Pickering.

Do they ring a bell?

What about New York, West Point, the Hudson River? Those are more familiar, aren’t they?

They all have something to do with one another. Early on during the American Revolution the Patriots were concerned about the security of the Hudson River and the military outpost at West Point. To keep the British from advancing up the Hudson they installed a chain across the river from Constitution Island over to the west bank of the river. It wasn’t the only chain, but it is remembered as The Great Chain. It was an ideal place in the river since a heavy S-curve existed there. Ships had to slow down because of the curves and it was the perfect location for artillery to shoot at enemy ships.

Peter Townsend was the owner of Stirling Iron Works, the company hired to build the chain. The Stirling name hails from William Alexander, Lord Stirling – the one-time owner of the land where the ironworks was located and a Major General in the Continental Army. Captain Thomas Machin and Colonel Timothy Pickering oversaw the project.

The whole thing weighed around 65 tons and stretched out to 600 yards. Each link in the chain was two feet in length and weighed 114 pounds.

To compensate for the changing current and tide pulleys, rollers, ropes, and mid-stream anchors were used in tandem with the chain. The chain was supported by huge logs. To avoid damage by ice the chain was removed each winter during the war and replaced each spring.

One point of interest about the chain regards Benedict Arnold who informed the British it was possible to break the chain because he had actually weakened it. Arnold escaped to the British when he realized the Patriots knew he had been an informer.

The picture below shows 13 links of the chain that are on display at Trophy Point, West Point. Yes, 13 links for the 13 colonies.

History tells us the British fleet never attempted to break the chain.

You can find out more about the chain and Peter Townsend at this link.

This post from The New York Times dated February, 1895 provides more detail regarding how the chain was installed.