Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wordless 52

There isn’t much to guess here. The man looks like General Washington at Valley Forge because it is George Washington. Yes, he does appear to be praying.

My question to you is….would it be ok for me to share this painting with students and discuss the controversy it could cause?

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. UPDATE: Check out my explanation for this wordless image here

Still wondering about the dirt road from last week? Read my explanation post here.

View other Wordless images here.


ellen b. said...

Why would we assume it would cause controversy? If it does cause controversy does that mean we shouldn't educate. Do we cover-up and change history to suit current sensitivities? A good WW to ya!

EHT said...

Hi Ellen....prayer is a very controverial thing in public classrooms. Personally I think controversy is a good thing, but I'm just wondering what others think.

This painting shows someone in prayer. Is this ok for me to show students?

Also, is it ok for me to discuss this with students even though the painting may be based on a myth?

Natalie said...

I've always liked that picture. :)

Come visit my Wordless Wednesday if you get a moment! :)

RW said...

Hey it's George!! Good WW to you & Happy Holidays!! Idaho Daily Photo

sobeit said...

Hmm....of course my first impulse it to say "yes" because I believe in prayer, but being a teacher I know you dilemma. After thinking about it, I would still yes. Is this picture a part of our history? If so, then you should be able to share and discuss it! However, if it is based on myth my answer changes. It would cross the line and imply something that may not have occurred.


jennwa said...

It makes me sad to think praying causes controversy.

SandyCarlson said...

It would be interesting to find out how many kids actually know what he's doing and what prayer is and what kind of beliefs GW held.

Alasandra, The Cats and Dogs said...

I think this could be tricky in a public school.

I would like to think that you could show them the picture and discuss it. I think so many of the best public school teachers are getting hamstrung in todays politically correct climate. At some point it may be impossible to teach anything without offending someone.

I have been reading about an AP European History teacher who is being sued.

EHT said...

Interesting comments.....I hope I get a few more.

Sometimes the history we teach isn't absolute. Facts become intertwined with myth. Even then sometimes in our zeal to prove something is a myth we overlook the fact that just because there isn't any real hard evidence something happened it doesn't mean that it didn't.

But......just stop a minute and think about all of the ways my actions could be interpreted just because I use this painting in a lesson.

Be Inspired Always said...

I don't think it would cause controversy. Unless you approach it in that sort of way. Just keep it simple, ask them what they get from the picture. You might be surprised by what they say.

We can't allow our kids to keep having such a closed-minded view on things. Reach for the horizons I say. Let them sort of lead the conversation, you just guide them along.


Shannon said...

Yes, I think I would have shared it in my classroom when I taught but I agree that it could be tricky. I would think I would have to approach it from the historical standpoint. Religious freedom was a major issue and something we take for granted.

maryt/theteach said...

I'm sorry EHT, I don't think it's appropriate to discuss prayer in a public school classroom. Is this picture part of a lesson on Valley Forge? Do you have any other picture of GW so that there is no controversy...after all you're interested in teaching the history right? Not controversy...and certainly not prayer in a public school classroom.

maryt/theteach said...

EHT, here's a link to a picture of George Washington at Valley Forge: http://www.scienceviews.com/parks/
There are loads of pictures on Google for you to use.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I would because I was always that kind of teacher. But I would probably show several of him at the same location and maybe discuss the different feelings the different pictures evoked. Let them discuss why one picture speaks to them over another. Let the students discuss whether or not the praying one is okay to show. Depending on the age of the student, I would have said something to the fact that many people would say that the praying one shouldn't be shown. What do the students themselves think about that?

EHT said...

Great additional comments since my last entry. I really appreciate the thoughtful answers and opinions.

the teach, it isn't that I couldn't find a painting. I use paintings all of the time in my classroom and have used the prayer painting as well as the one you linked me to. I like it because of all the snow.....

If you haven't guessed by now my explantation post will discuss controversy quite a bit as well as the history behind the wordless image I used this week.

I love the ideas about getting the students to flex their critical thinking muscles....even nine and ten year old students can do this.

I'll be posting more in a day or two regarding Washington and controversy and how controversy can actually be a good thing in the classroom and in general if it's handled appropriately.

The Tour Marm said...

The background, character, and motivations of people are part of history.

This picture portrays George Washington as a human who harbored doubts. It brings him down from the pedestal.

One can present what prayer is without proselytizing.

My family is from Westmoreland County, VA and I live in Alexandria, where, for many years I was a parishoner in one of the churches General Washington helped to start and was also a parishoner; we all know how faithful he was.

One of the lessons on my tour (public schools included) is to ask my students to write a prayer, their thoughts, or meditations before going into a battle (this is usually connected to our Gettysburg visit). What would they want to say? What are their hopes and fears? After reading the prayers etc. out loud, I ask them if they think that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq might be thinking and doing much the same things.

This again, brings a more human face to our troops and leaders.

Ed Darrell said...

I think that kids can't be too young to learn that people project their hopes and desires on Washington. The evidence for such a picture is scant, scant, scant, but kids will be hit with it repeatedly.

This is the place to "teach the controversy," though you might get a lot of mileage out of Washington's 119 rules of virtue (there's a book on that) and his sometimes vain effort to model his life on that of Cincinnatus. Perhaps Washington didn't pray like this; his letters to his brother make it clear he thought about these issues very hard. He determined to live a model, noble life, and he did.

See here:

You might couple it with the story -- false, it now appears -- that Washington saw an angel in a vision, at Valley Forge:

EHT said...

Thanks, Ed. You hit on a couple of things I'll be writing about, and I (and my readers) appreciate the links.

My fourth graders study myths in Language Arts and I always like to link what we are studying in history to our American myths all year long.

I'm trying to get the post written, but Christmas shopping keeps getting in the way. :) :( It is the best of times and the worst of times so to speak....

The Tour Marm said...


George Washington's handwritten 110Rules of Civility demonstrates that even at the young age of 14, he was concerned about his character and reputation. Indeed, no contemporary ever doubted his word or intentions. His conduct was beyond approach and the strength of his presence and subtle diplomacy even diffused an imminent military coup (March 15, 1783).

While certainly Cincinnatus was a role model (he and other officers founded the Society of the Cinncinnati after the Revolution and the City of Cincinnati was named for this society), you might be interested that Cato, was THE role model.

George Washington attended at least one performance of Addison's play concerning Cato.

I recently voted for George Washington on the American Presidents site as the most effective President. Within my explanation, I presented the world view of Washington's reputation with a brief conversation between George III and the American painter Benjamin West:
The following is from: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=5593

Give the last word to Washington’s great adversary, King George III. The king asked his American painter, Benjamin West, what Washington would do after winning independence. West replied, “They say he will return to his farm.”

“If he does that,” the incredulous monarch said, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

Indeed he was.


Dan Edwards said...

If I was teaching a unit and using this picture, I would probably tie it in with general information about the "founding fathers", with their inclusion of "freedom of religion" in the first amendment to the US Constitution, Jefferson's personal opinion words regarding separation of church and state, and that to many people, prayer is important. And for something for my students to think about, I would note that Washington led from the front and had several close calls during the Revolutionary War/American Colonies Rebellion in which he coulda/shoulda been killed. But he didn't die in the war. Could his faith have played a role in this ?

J. L. Bell said...

As you no doubt know, this picture of George Washington praying at Valley Forge is based on a spurious legend in Mason Weems's biography.

Everyone accepts that the story of Washington chopping down the apple tree from the same book is simply a legend. Yet people who wish to promote Washington as a religious (or Christian, or Protestant) model wish to accept this legend, despite its lack of support.

As such, the anecdote and image could make an interesting lesson in how to evaluate historical sources, and why we choose to believe what we believe about the past.

Instead, as many of the comments above indicate, this legend is especially fraught because religious ideas are involved.

And, given Washington's place in American culture, is it possible to discuss his philosophy and form of worship without implying in at least a slight way that the nation should follow that model?

EHT said...

Polski, you bring up points that I often think about as well...Washington did have several close calls. How could this not have an effect based on other things that can be verified.

Yes, JL Bell... I'm very aware that the "facts" behind the painting are merely speculations as there is no reliable confirmation that Washington actually prayed in the snow at Valley Forge. You make an interesting comparison with the cherry tree myth....This is one of the very reasons why I use the painting in my classroom. In literature our fourth graders look at myths and legends plus they analyze Washington's actions during the American Revolution. Adding in an aside regarding the validity of historical sources is also something I tend to do when I display the painting.

You are also very correct about how Americans visualize Washington as a larger than life character...many of Washington's actions as president (some bona fide....others questionable)have become traditions passed on fron president to president such as the words 'so help me God' to the oath of office which I have written about extensively here at History Is Elementary and over at American Presidents Blog.

I have really allowed too much time to pass since posting the image....I'll try to post my respoinse this week. :)

The Tour Marm said...

Why is this considered a myth?

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yes, it does.

Given the letters and journals of George Washington, as well as the letters, journals, and personal reminiscences of his family, friends, and contemporaries, he was known to pray.

Therefore according to inherent/intrinsic and transitional probability he did pray at Valley Forge.

This is not a myth; it is an artist's representation of what Washington probably did, given his wont to pray privately.

Parson Weems did make up some whoppers for the moral instruction of the children and population of the new nation. (WWWD? What would Washington do?)

Weems however, did attend Pohick Church where he was slightly acquainted with General Washington. So Weems knew Washington in the context of faith and worship; he was also in the midst of family, friends, and neighbors of Washington who knew him intimately. Unfortunately, we need to separate Weems' myths from reality/probability.

Washington was indeed a true role model who possessed the most desirable personal virtues and core values for all Americans.

It's unfortunate that there are so many myths concerning George Washington, but there is very little of his youth or adult private life extant. (Much of it was destroyed through house fires and his private correspondence with Martha was burned immediately after his death, at her direction.)

Why shouldn't this aspect of Washington be shared with American students in the 21st century?

Why shouldn't we examine his life and realize that this portrait is Wyeth's interpretation of something that probably happened at Valley Forge?

George Washington's letter of 20 August 1778 to Brig. General Thomas Nelson. The Writings of George Washington, Vol. XII (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1932), p. 343

The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.

EHT said...

I agree with you Tour Marm in many, many respects. It would make it so much easier if we had the episode written in Washington's own hand relating a prayer in the snow.

My explanation post is finally up and tomorrow I will be posting a list of resources for teachers to use if they wish to follow my plan with Friberg's painting.

The Tour Marm said...

Are Christians the only ones who pray?

EHT said...

Of course not, but for some reason many people have a problem with even mentioning prayer in a classroom. I don't, but many do.

As far as George Washington goes many people make what seems to be their life ambition to argue that he didn't pray hence the controversy.

The explanation is finally up as well as a very extensive list of links in a separate post.