Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Bo Type of Christmas

The White House theme this year for Christmas decorations is “Simple Gifts”….emphasizing what Mrs. Obama says are the simple things at Christmas time, such as music, children, friends, and family, and gifts made from nature.

However, the Obama’s dog, Bo, has his stamp all over Christmas at the White House this year. A larger-than-life version of the Obama family pet, made of 40,000 twisted black and white pipe cleaners, is one of the first things tourists and other guests will see when they stroll through the White House all decked out for the holidays.

Bo also features prominently in a 350-pound, white chocolate-covered gingerbread White House. A tiny version of the family dog made from almond paste sits on the edible grounds near of replica of Mrs. Obama’s fruit and vegetable garden.

Bo’s signature….of sorts….is even found on the official White House Christmas card seen below:

Notice everyone in the Obama family signed the card including Bo. His little paw print is seen along with everyone else’s.

The cover of the card features a picture of the White House taken by Pete Souza following a snow storm on February 3, 2010.

Past articles of mine regarding the White House Christmas greetings can be found here, here, here, and here, and I’m still looking for that original Wyeth painting that was used for the Nixon Christmas card from 1971.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Honey of A Christmas

I love the premise behind the National Treasure movies where members of the Gates family feel compelled to solve a series of historical clues in order to find a treasure that will ultimately save the family reputation. Unfortunately, there are always a few bad men along the way and some of the clues and found artifacts end up painting the Gates family in a bad light. It must be difficult to have your family ridiculed and doubted because historians don’t believe your ancestor’s role in the American story. Luckily for the fictional Benjamin Gates he finds all the pieces of the historical puzzle and in the end he finds the treasure, saves a few lives, and even gets the girl.

Not so for the real-life family of John Honeyman, a spy for Washington and little known hero of the Battle of Trenton during Christmas, 1776. I’m not surprised if you have never heard of John Honeyman because most contemporary historians have relegated his story to the back burner and allowed the pot to simmer a bit because cold hard evidence is lacking.

I really can’t say I blame them because I like hard cold evidence, but the Honeyman tale, if it could be substantiated, makes for great history!

John Honeyman first came to the British colonies as a soldier for Great Britain in 1758 to fight in the French and Indian War. Having shared this war many times with my young students it’s very easy to allow them to be lulled into thinking the French and Indian War was fought only by colonists. They need to remember the war in the colonies were merely an offshoot of the Seven Years War in Europe. Honeyman is a great example to use with students to exhibit the French and Indian War was not only fought by colonist but British soldiers were sent to the colonies to assist them as well. Like many soldiers though at the time, Honeyman wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to fight. It’s also a great time to emphasize that men like George Washington also fought for the British during the conflict. Many British soldiers like Honeyman decided to stay in the colonies.

While serving in the British army Honeyman was noticed by Colonel James Wolfe and eventually served as his bodyguard. When Honeyman left the army he had his discharge papers as well as a letter from Wolfe confirming his position as bodyguard.

Fastforward a bit to 1776 and at some point so the story goes Honeyman meets up with General George Washington and the British paperwork Honeyman possesses is mentioned. Washington realizes the paperwork will be helpful to allow Honeyman access to British camps and Honeyman is asked to pose as a Tory to gather intelligence for the Patriots.

The first instance regarding John Honeyman’s involvement in the Battle of Trenton was published in 1873 in an article titled 'An Unwritten Account of a Spy of Washington' in Our Home magazine. The story was written by Judge John van Dyke, a grandson of John Honeyman, using oral accounts told to him by his Aunt Jane, the daughter of John Honeyman.

The article states Honeyman did pose as a Tory in Griggstown and Trenton and apparently he was so believable in the role, he made many Patriot neighbors mad at him to the point they would attack his house. The only thing that saved the family was the fact John Honeyman had a letter of protection from General George Washington. The letter identified Honeyman as a Tory, but also requested safety for the family. The British trusted Honeyman so much that he was given the freedom to walk about the British garrison at Trenton.

The story continues that just prior to the Battle of Trenton Honeyman was captured by the Patriots…..part of his plan….and he gave up his information he had gathered to Washington and his men. When a fire broke out close to where he was being held Honeyman escaped and made his way back to Trenton where he advised Colonel Johann Rall the Patriots wouldn’t attack even if they wanted to. They were demoralized and did not have the necessary equipment for an attack.

Honeyman knew better……his information was part of a great ruse since Washington was planning to attack during the Christmas holiday.

It was easy for George Washington to make the decision to attack on Christmas. While some Americans did celebrate the holiday by December, 1776, it was overlooked by many Patriots as they considered it a celebration for the British. While Christmas held more significance in 1776 than it did during the mid to late 1600s it wasn’t held in such high regard as it is today. Washington knew the British would celebrate, but knew the Hessians camped at Trenton would celebrate heartily with food, drink, and games as was the German custom. It would be the perfect time for a Patriot attack.

Washington planned Christmas surprise included taking 2400 men across the Delaware River in order to attack the Hessians camped at Trenton. One thousand enemy soldiers were taken prisoner within an hour, and the much needed victory spurred the Patriots on.

So, did John Honeyman really serve as Washington’s spy? There is no hard evidence even though many historians in the past have referred to him. Everything boils down to family lore and the Honeyman family have never produced the letter from George Washington giving the family protection. However, many in support of the story argue that Honeyman never left the colonies for Nova Scotia as most Tories did, and he was able to purchase three tracts of land following the American Revolution when most could not afford anything. Was this payment for his service?

This American Heritage article seems to support the Honeyman service while this article from the Central Intelligence Agency site does a fantastic job of negating the whole thing.

You can be the judge, but it is still a fascinating story either way.

I’ve written about Trenton and the crossing Washington and his men undertook before. You can find my articles here and here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Pilgrims and Christmas

The Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock in November, 1620.

Can you imagine moving to a “New World”?

Can you imagine moving anywhere for that matter right before the rush of the Christmas season?

I can’t.

Maybe it’s just a woman thing, but I know what would have been on my mind had I been on the Mayflower. I would be thinking.......Here it is nearly the first of December, I have no home, and Christmas is just around the corner. I have shopping to do, the decorations need to be up (hope I remembered where I packed them), and then I have all the cooking to do. How am I going to fit 30 various parties, dinners, and gatherings into four weeks? When are the greeting cards going to get addressed? does one ship gifts back home from the “New World”?

By December, 1620 many of the Pilgrims were sick with scurvy and many more were suffering from wild coughing fits   They hardly felt like celebrating, but the fact of the matter is any Pilgrims well enough spent their first December 25th in the New World by sending out scouting parties, building their first structures, and all of the other necessary tasks to build “New Plymouth”

The Pilgrims didn’t ignore Christmas because they had bigger fish to fry like securing shelter and gathering food. It was much more than that.

They didn’t celebrate Christmas….

… all.

Not a Christmas carol, a Christmas tree, or a Christmas meal. Nothing. Not even Santa.

The Grinch would have loved New Plymouth.

The Pilgrims were a very no nonsense, no frills type of people. If the Bible didn’t direct it, they didn’t do it. This means they didn’t buy into any additions made to Christianity especially church traditions.

Since Christmas was not mentioned in the Bible the Pilgrims ignored the holiday. They disapproved of the way their fellow Englishmen celebrated the day with parties, feasting, drinking, and bawdy behavior in some instances.

One year after the Pilgrims arrived in the New World on December 25, 1621, Governor William Bradford discovered a few recent arrivals to New Plymouth didn’t want to work on what the Pilgrims considered just another day. He made a notation in Of Plymouth Plantation:

“On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called [the settlers] out to work as was usual. However, the most of this new company excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it [a] matter of conscience he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them.”

When the working party returned they found the men who had a conscience decided not only to refrain from working in recognition of the day they also decided to play games and shockingly they were having ……..FUN. The governor ordered them to stop making an exhibition in the streets for all to see. The men were told if they wanted to act like that to go to the privacy of their homes.

The Puritans who differed from the Pilgrims  regarding the Anglican Church merely wanted to change certain practices of the church while the Pilgrims totally separated themselves from it, however they were on the same page regarding celebrating Christmas. They knew there was absolutely no Biblical proof regarding December as the birth month for Christ, and they knew history. They realized Christmas had roots in the pagan winter solstice festivals like the Roman Saturnalia. The argued the early Roman Catholic Church had taken a pagan holiday and merged it with Christian beliefs.

In the book The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum sums it up this way:

“The Puritan knew what subsequent generations would forget; that when the Church, more than a millennium earlier, had placed Christmas Day in late December, the decision was part of what amounted to a compromise, and a compromise for which the church paid a high price. Late-December festivities were deeply rooted in popular culture, both in observance of the winter solstice and in celebration of the one brief period period of leisure and plenty in the agricultural year. In return for ensuring massive observance of the anniversary of the Savior’s birth by assigning it to this resonant date, the Church for its part tacitly agreed to allow the holiday to be celebrated more or less the way it had always been. From the beginning, the Church’s hold over Christmas was (and remains still) rather tenuous. There were always.people for whom Christmas was a time of pious devotion rather than carnival, but such people were always in the minority. It may not be going too far to say that Christmas has always been an extremely difficult day to Christianize. Little wonder that the Puritans were willing to save themselves the trouble.”

For sure – the Puritans didn’t trouble themselves. They just outlawed the holiday.

In fact, by Christmas, 1659 the Five-Shilling Anti-Christmas Law was enacted by the General Court of Massachusetts. The law stated:

Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, or the like, either by forebearing labor, feasting, or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country.

Boston actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas from 1659 to 1681.

Even after the law was set aside in 1681, New Englanders were slow to accept Christmas. The customs of gift giving and parties and even decorations were considered to be pagan customs. My research indicates even as late as 1870 Boston schools held classes on Christmas Day.

It’s interesting to note that today we still have the Christmas tug-of-war. The church is still fighing the masses over the Christmas issue. Christians fuss and fume because it seems everyone celebrates the holiday even if they don’t actually believe in the reason for the season. Folks are in it for the parties, the drinking, the gifts, the decorations, the food, the general falderal whether they believe in the divinity of Christ or not.

Heck, even Christians enjoy the falderal. I do.

I’m just glad I can celebrate how I wish, believe what I want to, and I don’t have to pay fine while doing it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Slip of the Tongue

Several months ago I was embroiled in an online conversation at a local forum I visit from time to time. The topic of discussion had twisted and turned until one of the participants…someone who normally makes it his job in life to rub everyone the wrong way…. made mention that there was no purpose for Latin.
He said, “Latin is a dead language.”

When I read what he had written I stared at my computer screen a little dumbfounded because in my eyes and in the eyes of several others Latin does live on since it is the root language for Italian, French, Spanish and English. It is also very much in use and spoken in the legal field, medical field, in academic circles, the Catholic church uses it for certain papal bulls and mass is often conducted in Latin, AND certain members of the clergy speak it very well, so it isn’t dead as a door nail, is it?

I had a little fun sparring with my online friend as I sought to educate him a little regarding Latin, but you know? There are just some people you can’t teach… matter what. I did have fun for several weeks posting comments to everything he wrote by writing my comments in Latin with a little English translation, just so he had an idea regarding what I was saying.

Languages can be extinct. Those are languages that are no longer spoken. There are approximately 82 known languages that can be termed recently extinct languages – like Arwi, Modern Gutnish, and Wappo. Yes, Wappo…..I kid you not.

Languages can also be dead. Those are languages that are no longer spoken by anyone as their main language. Therefore, using that distinction……I have to admit Latin is a dead language since there are no native speakers, but it does live on in so many arenas as I mentioned above. There are also several devotees to the Latin language. So much so they have even created a section of Wikipedia written in Latin with over 40,000 articles to date!

Recently, there was a new discovery regarding an extinct language……a very important discovery right here in what used to be termed the New World.

Archaeologists have been excavating the ruins of the Magdalena de Cao Viejo church at the El Brujo Archaeological Complex, just north of Trujillo, in northern Peru for some time now. El Brujo is actually an ancient monument of the Moche culture and dates back to some point between 1 and 600 A.D. but the church there dates to colonial times. Researchers believe indigenous people were forced to inhabit the area by Spaniards, probably for purposes of conversion to Christianity. At some point the roof of the church collapsed more than likely in the mid-to late 17th century, and papers kept in the library or church office were trapped staying buried until the last couple of years.

In fact, a very important letter was discovered in 2008 but was not divulged to the public until it could be examined. Recently the journal, American Anthropologist, published a piece concerning the letter.

Jeffrey Quilter, an archaeologist at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology told Reuters, “Our investigations determined that this piece of paper records a number system in a language that has been lost for years…..the language appears to have been influenced by Quechua, an ancient tongue still spoken by millions of people across the Andes….the language in the letter could be the written version of a language colonial-era Spaniards referred to in historical writings as Pescadora, for the fishermen on Peru’s northern coast who spoke it.

Until the letter was found no other evidence of the Pescadora language has been found.

The letter is also important because it gives evidence of numbers being translated which clearly shows the lost language’s numerical system was a ten-based, or decimal system like English. An article at National Geographic advises while the Inca used a ten-based system, many other cultures did not: the Maya, for example, used a base of 20.

Gee, I can’t wait until an online translator for Pescadora is available, so I can have a little fun with my online friends!
IBM has a Virtual Archaeology site for the El Brujo Archaeological Complex here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

Isn’t this a great image for Veterans Day?

A very close childhood friend, Kim Rounseville Herrington, shared this image with me and many of her friends. My writer’s itch took hold when she advised the men in the picture were her father and son.

Grandfather and grandson never knew each other but years apart they both answered their country’s call and served proudly. The image seen here is one of Kim’s most favorite images of her father. It was the last picture taken of him blended with a picture of her son Timothy the day he came home from his first tour in Iraq. My friend received the picture as a gift from her daughter-in-law.

Kim tells me her father, Joseph W. Rounseville , was involved in the Tet Offensive in 1968 after enlisting in the Army at the age of 17. Unfortunately, he gave the ultimate sacrifice and was killed in action having attained the rank of First Sergeant in February, 1968. He was a "Master Blaster" in the Rangers, Airborne with the 82nd Division in Ft. Campbell, KY.

Kim advised me her father’s awards are too numerous for her to list, but in her possession she has a Bronze Star with four Oak Leaf Clusters (9th highest award given), Silver Star (third highest given), and one of his Purple Hearts and one of his Vietnam service medals.

In the last few years Kim has been able to make contact with her father’s relatives and has learned so much about him. She advises me he was a class act and many of the letters she has received from men that were under his command said he led by example, not by word. He was the one in FRONT of them to show the way, not behind them.

Kim son, Timothy Herrington is currently a Staff Sergeant in the Army with over five years of service.

Happy Veterans Day to all of those who have served……to all of those currently serving their county and our most reverent remembrance for our fallen heroes.

If you would like to read my other Veterans Day postings please follow the Veterans Day link found in the site index to your left.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Puerto Rico's Mark on the Truman Administration

Puerto Rico is NOT a place you normally think about when you want to discuss violent uprisings, massacres, and plots to assassinate the president of the United States, but the Puerto Rico of the late 1940s and early 1950s was a much different place than it is today.

My latest post over at American Presidents  gives you all the details. Click on through……

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mules and Marauders

My niece and sister sent this link to me the other day. It is an obituary for the grandparent of one of my niece’s friends. This line caught my eye:

[Mr.] Max [Howard Medert] was a WWII Army veteran who proudly served as one of “Merrill’s Marauders” in China, Burma and India. Following his military career, he served on the city of Atlanta Police Force , retiring after 25 years of service.

Now, just the fact that Mr. Medert had 25 years of service with the Atlanta Police Force is commendable, but he also was a member of Merrill’s Marauders in China, Burma and India.


What? You don’t know about Merrill’s Marauders?

I’m not surprised. You see, the China-India-Burma theater of war during World War II is basically forgotten by the history books mainly because it did not follow the standard American command structure, but it is key in studying the push toward VJ Day and in realizing some of the roots of today’s modern army.

It was during their Quebec meeting in August, 1943 when President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill decided there needed to be long range penetration groups that could infiltrate Japanese held territory.

President Roosevelt called for volunteers who were willing to take part in “dangerous and hazardous“ duty. The result was over 3,000 volunteers from across the military population…..some already battle hardened, some with no battle experience whatsoever, and even soldiers from the stockades turned in their “get out of jail” free card to become a member of the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), code name Galahad aka Merrill’s Marauder’s after their leader Brigadier General Frank Merrill.

The Marauders trained in India before beginning a 750 mile march through the harsh jungles of Burma. The soldiers formed three battalions in six combat teams known by their colors – red, white blue, khaki, green, and orange. Their mission was to destroy Japanese supply lines and communication and to re-open the Burma Road. They engaged the Japanese at least thirty-two times and covered more jungle terrain than any other U.S. Army formation. They did this with no tank and no artillery support. All other supplies were carried by the men themselves or they received along the trail in air drops.

During the march the Marauders endured forced marches through monsoon season, hunger, malnutrition, amoebic dysentery, malaria, fever, snake bites, scrub typhus, and fungal skin disease. According to Colonel Charles N. Hunter in his book Galahad, of the 2,750 men who entered Burma only two were left alive who had NEVER been hospitalized with wounds or major illnesses.

Since the soldiers would be traversing heavy terrain they were not able to utilize mechanized vehicles so pack mules were employed to carry the heavy loads of radios, ammunition, and heavier support weapons. Over 360 pack mules were used and training commenced in India before the men began their arduous journey. Usually the pack mules would be “debrayed” for service so as not to alert the enemy of their presence, but Charles N. Hunter elected NOT to “debray” the Marauder mules stating it was one of the few pleasures a mule had……in making their distinctive noise and later advised there was never really an issue of the mules giving away their location in the jungle.

Mules weren’t the only animals used for transport. When a ship carrying some of the mules was lost in the Arabian Sea over 300 Waler Horses were brought in as well.

This Time Magazine article from August 7, 1944 relates:

Once, at Walawbum, when a Marauder unit was confronted by an overwhelming enemy force, the mules set up such a clamor that the Japs thought they must be outnumbered and withdrew……

The one fright the mules never got used to was the sight of an elephant. The fright was mutual. When elephant met mule there was pandemonium—trumpeting and braying, sometimes a hysterical stampede….

It took them four months to cover the 700 miles of pestilential jungle, but they made it. Last week many of the mules were still there in the interior of Burma, shuttling supplies around in the battle for Myitkyina. They will probably never bray in Missouri again. When the northern Burma campaign is finished, they will be turned over to the Chinese. Some day they may plod on east over the Burma Road into China.

The Hollywood film, Merrill’s Marauders, starring Jeff Chandler tells of some of the exploits. In fact, General Merrill’s atache in the film is played by Vaughn Wilson aka Lt. Colonel Samuel Vaughn Wilson an actual member of Merrill’s Marauders and the film’s technical advisor. The movie trailer can be seen here with Lt. Colonel Wilson narrating.

I think a mention of the Marauders is necessary with any decent coverage of World War II in the classroom, and I would devote at least one entire lesson to the topic. The movie I’ve published below is an excellent classroom resource, however, at 25 minutes I would show the clip whole group, and stop the video after each segment to discuss and make points of emphasis for students. The video is actual footage and is from the National Archives and Records Administration. The first few moments just show a camera image….keep it rolling.

Today’s modern 75th Ranger Regiment can trace its very beginnings to Merrill’s Marauders. In fact, the patch worn proudly by U.S. Rangers today incorporated the colors of the six fighting groups of the Marauders.

Thank you to Mr. Medert and to all of the other Marauders for their proud and valiant service.

Here are some other links for more information regarding Merrill’s Mauraders:

Stories from the Veteran’s History Project

Merrill’s Marauders Association Page

National World War II Museum Exhibit

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ti-Ti-Tightening Those Ropes

When I was growing up the words said at bed time included ‘good night’ and ‘I love you’ along with the phrase ‘Tie-Tie’ and ‘Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”

‘Tie-Tie’ came from me because as a little girl I couldn’t pronounce the words ‘night-night’…..all that came out was ‘Tie-Tie ‘and the phrase entered our family lexicon. If I said ‘Tie-Tie’ to my father or my sister they would know exactly what I meant.

But what about that “sleep tight” thing? Where does that come from?

Recently I posted a picture of a rope tightening key for Wordless Wednesday. The key was used to tighten rope mattresses common in colonial and post-colonial America.

Here’s a video showing how the key was used to tighten the bed ropes.

When you tour old colonial locations docents love to share with you the phrase “Sleep tight” came from the fact that you would want the ropes tight in order to get a good night’s sleep.

It does make sense, doesn’t it?

But upon closer study there is no definitive proof the saying originated from tightening the ropes.

The Oxford English Dictionary states the phrase is fairly new and Michael Quinon at World Wide Words  advises the phrase was used as late as 1916 in L Frank Baum’s Rinkitink In Oz, and Susan Eppes uses the phrase in Through Some Eventful Years dated 1866.

Most sources state ‘sleep tight’ refers to sleeping soundly or properly which dates back to Shakespeare.

The only thing we can be sure of is the tool I pictured here the other day is a device to tightening the ropes on a bed, and…….that’s about it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Wordless FIVE

Yes, I know this is a piano, but look at the two china looking objects on top of the piano......

What are they????? What are they used for????

Here’s a hint….Something was placed in them as people walked by.

Other bloggers post wordless images on Wednesday , too. Visit the main page HERE to find them.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wordless: FOUR

Hmmmm….Why is that hunk of wood placed next to the bed? What is it for?

Other bloggers post wordless images on Wednesday , too. Visit the main page HERE to find them.

Last week's mystery explanation can be found here.

Also YOU can become a fan of History Is Elementary on Facebook. Click the “like” button over in the right sidebar.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Importance of Silver

At some point in every young girl’s life she realizes the importance of silver.

Perhaps it is when she has a female relative who is getting married, and she overhears other female relatives and friends inquiring about the silver pattern she has registered for. Perhaps it is when she is old enough…..finally……to attend a wedding or baby shower with her mother and sees the array of silver trays, silver flatware, and silver coffee and tea services on display making the perfect refreshment table.

In my case…….it was when I was old enough to help my grandmother prepare the dining table for a family dinner…..more than likely Thanksgiving or Christmas. I can remember going to the drawer in the kitchen where the knives and forks were stored. My grandmother shooed me away and directed me in that constantly out-of-breath tone she had, “No, no…..go in the dining room and get the forks out of the box.”

The box? As I walked into the dining room I thought, “What box?

Then I saw the box where she had placed it on the buffet….a rectangular, wooden box with a hinged lid. As I got closer I saw it was pretty old and fairly beat up. There were scratches across the top and sides, but instead of repelling me the poor condition of the box made me want to open it all the more.

That was my first foray into someone’s silver box, and like many a young girl it made quite an impression on me. I walked over to the buffet and placed my hands on the wood feeling the uneven surface.

I was intrigued.

What would I find inside?

I lifted the top and discovered lovely and fairly heavy silver utensils encased in deep Columbia blue velvet. The knives were standing up along the inside cover of the box while the spoons and forks were stacked up and laying flat inside the box.

Now that I know better I realize the silver was not expensive, but for my hardworking farming and at one time mill employed grandmother the silver was her best, and she wanted to use it for a holiday dinner.

I thought it was simply lovely. I loved how it felt in my fingers and how the light reflected off it.  During dinner I refrained from using my knife because I just couldn't bear sullying it with food.  It was THAT beautiful to me.

Later I questioned my mom about the box and discovered she had a silver box as well. My mother was not prone to using her best items for meals, so realizing we had silver was quite a surprise for me. My sister and I finally convinced Mother to start using her silver for family dinners, and eventually she bought more of it to complete her set.  Today the silver is a treasure for my sister and I.

Silver is special…..silver is family history…….silver is spectacular.

Silver had its heyday in the United States between 1870 and 1920 though silver was in existence in our earliest days dating back to Paul Revere and the Dutch colonies. No matter the time period in history though silver was a luxury item and only the wealthiest homes had silver.

It was during the Victorian Age where silver flatware was its most decadent with some flatware lines having over 100 different types of pieces from a regular spoon, demitasse spoon, and a bouillon spoon. Then there’s the regular fork. Don’t get it confused with the pastry fork. Knives were in multiples as well with each flatware line having a knife for “place”, “dinner”, and one for “fruit” as well.

No wonder Victorian dining tables were so long.

This was also the time period where formal dinners went from three or four courses to ten or more including a course just for fruit and one for cheese.

Last week I posted a picture of a mahogany box and asked readers to identify what it was. I had no takers here but someone on Facebook correctly identified the box as a silver chest…..and that is exactly correct.

Here is a picture showing the box with a couple of silver pieces inside it. Notice this box is a little different from the silver box your family might own. The silver is stored upright in the little holes. It does not lay flat.

You can find out all sorts of information at the Silver Chatter blog…..a site headquartered in my neck of the woods…..Atlanta, Georgia with Silver Jim at the helm.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Odds and Ends From My InBox

I have several things I want to share this morning, so……….hang on.

First is The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era…….it’s published quarterly and the website advises each issue is packed with original essays, including on-line projects and reviews of scholarly books. The focus, of course, is all aspects of U.S. History from 1865-1920. I have a few articles here at History Is Elementary regarding the Gilded Age. You can access all of them here…..Just scroll through to find them all. 

Then there’s the website, Mission U.S. This is a site for for older elementary and middle school students and provides an innovative way for sharing social studies content. The first game, “For Crown or Colony?” has already launched. The setting for the game is Boston in 1770 and students actually role-play taking on the identity of a publisher’s apprentice. Students will interact with such real figures in history as Phillis Wheatley and Paul Revere. I've included an image from the game below.....

The development team for Mission U.S. includes historians from the American Social History Project and Center for Children and Technology. The game developers on the project are from Electric Funstuff.

…..and then there’s……a geographic photo search website.   There are over 87,000 images and maps from five Philadelphia organizations you can search, research, share with friends or purchase.   Some of the images you can view include the one below of Civil War soldiers camping outside of Independence Hall.  It can be accessed here at the website.

History Is Elementary has been included in a Top 50 List for blogs with teaching tips, ideas and inspiration over at Masters in Teaching… can find the list here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Senate Chamber....A Playground for Children

I’m not happy with Congress these days…..I don’t know many of my fellow Americans that are. My title says it all. They play using my tax dollars as their kick balls and monkey bars.

However, before I go off on a rant that would cause my blood pressure to rise I want to go in a different direction with children….in particular “little boys.”

The other day I posted a drawing as one of my mystery images for Wordless Wednesday.  I’ve reposted it below:
The setting for the drawing is the United States Senate Chambers and the event being portrayed is the impeachment proceedings for President Andrew Johnson.

The drawing was included in a book titled The Story of a Great Nation (1886) by  John Gilmary Shea a writer, historian, and editor.
You can read my background article here regarding President Johnson’s impeachment over at American Presidents Blog.

I included this drawing on my Facebook profile and the page I have there for History Is Elementary. One of my visitors there… sister, to be exact…..noticed something about the drawing I had missed.

Look at the drawing again…..notice the two little boys in the lower right corner. They appear to be passing the time as best they could, don’t they?

Hmmm…..why are little boys in the Senate chamber during such an important event?

I never found a definitive answer, but I’ve made an assumption I can live with.

Now, observe another drawing of the events.   This drawing is from Harper’s Weekly and the artist is Theodore Davis.  All of his drawings detailing the impeachment hearings can be seen here.

Now, notice in the Davis drawing there are no little boys.

This spurred me on even further to research the matter to discover why the young men were playing on the floor of the Senate chambers during the Johnson Impeachment hearings.Young boys (girls didn’t serve until later) began serving as Congressional pages as early as 1827.   Members of Congress would sponsor orphaned or destitute boys taking a paternal interest them per page program history. Just like today during sessions pages sit close to the dais in case they are needed.   It makes sense the young men in the drawing I used for my mystery image were passing their time waiting until they were summoned.

The drawing with the little boys would be a terrific teaser to use with students in order to introduce them to the Congressional Page Program.

....and don't forget to become a fan of History Is Elementary on Facebook.  See the "like" button in the right sidebar.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wordless: THREE

I toured some old plantation buildings over the weekend and snapped this picture. I thought it might make a good puzzle picture.

What is this????? What was it used for????

Here’s a hint….it was a very important box and even though it sat next to the fireplace it didn’t have anything to do with it.

Other bloggers post wordless images on Wednesday , too. Visit the main page HERE to find them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Little Desk History....

There are many types of desks. Messy ones, clean ones, ones to work at and ones just for show. There are fancy desks referred to as secretaries, computer desks, executive desks and roll top desks. Ernest Hemmingway and Winston Churchill preferred a stand-up desk. United States presidents have used the Resolute Desk, and then there is Thomas Jefferson’s lap desk.

Of course, students have desks as well. They generally have gum stuck underneath or inside them, and the tops are adorned with identifying tags left behind by precious owners extolling what they hate or who they love.

The desk I featured in my Wordless Wednesday is a U.S. Senate desk, and they have quite a history.

The desks date back to 1819 when 48 desks were commissioned following the destruction of the previous desks by the British during the War of 1812. There are only four of the original desks…..two are in private collections, one desk is in the Senate collection and another was housed at Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis’ plantation. It was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It is hard to determine which desks are original or were commissioned later.

Some of the desks are distinguishable by their trapezoid shape. This enabled the desks to be arranged in a semi-circle. Today, the desks are arranged according to political party. In the 1950s, Senator Wayne Morse switched parties from Republican to Democrat. He actually placed his desk in the middle between each party compromising the normal arrangement.

The Cherokee Strip is an area of the Senate chamber that when used compromises the original arrangement. The area gets its name from an section of Oklahoma that was part of a dispute between the United States and the Cherokees dating back to the Kansas Nebraska Act in 1854. Today the section of the Senate chamber is used when one party has a significant majority and desks are included on the side of the other party.

Just like the desks belonging to my fourth and fifth graders some of the Senate desks contain graffiti. The earliest names and dates go back to the early 1900s and unfortunately, some of the names like Daniel Webster are deemed forgeries. It is not known if some of the desks contain the words, “For a good time call…..”

One desk drawer has more than just a signature, however. Desk number 86 has a notation that reads, “Spoke 24 hours, 18 minutes from this desk in 1957….Senator Strom Thurmond (SC) in opposition to the Civil Rights Act.” Back then Senator Thurmond had to rely on his own voice to be heard, but today, each desk is equipped with an amplification box and a microphone…

Today Senators choose their desk based on seniority except for the Daniel Webster desk which the senior senator from New Hampshire uses. Jefferson Davis’ desk is used by the senior senator from Mississippi, and the Henry Clay desk is used by the senior senator from Kentucky.

When Senators leave the Senate they have to leave their desk behind, but can tote their chair with them New chairs are made to replace them.

During each legislative session the Senate pages are responsible for making sure each desk is equipped with items that will be needed such as the Congressional Record, Executive Calendar, Calendar of Business, the day’s legislation, any legislative notices or bulletins and just like my students……two pencils.

It’s a wonder the Jefferson Davis’ desk is still intact. During the Civil War soldiers camped out in the Senate chamber. They identified the desk Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, had used and began to tear it apart. One of the Capital employees stopped them.

If a senator happens to pass away during a legislative session his or her desk is draped in black crepe and flowers are placed on the desk. The flag at the U.S. Capital is flown at half staff. In past years actual funerals were held in the Senate chambers, but that hasn’t happened since 1959.

The best desk of all is the candy desk. Ever since 1965 when George Murphy began to keep a supply of candy in his desk The candy desk currently sits on the back row of the Republican side.

Hmmm…..seating arrangements, two pencil requirements, candy, desks defaced with graffiti……it would seem the Senate isn’t too different from fourth or fifth grade….

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wordless: TWO

What historical event in going on here?
Other bloggers post wordless images on Wednesday , too. Visit the main page HERE to find them.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Wordless: TWO

What is this?

Other bloggers post wordless images on Wednesday , too. Visit the main page HERE to find them.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Copper King and the 17th Amendment

Last week I posted my first wordless puzzler here in quite some time.

The following post provides the rest of the story:

The vernacular of history can at times be quite confusing to students, so I’m always in search of ways to help them connect to vocabulary. Sometimes I can make the best connections using simple, inexpensive objects like picture frames.

Yes, picture frames.

I have this one frame that contains a picture of my children. The frame looks as if it is gilt……a very expensive looking gold frame. However, if you turn the frame over you see it is really brown plastic resin covered with gold paint.

Scratch the gold surface a little bit and you see there are some real issues with the frame. It simply isn’t what it appears to be.

The frame illustration helps me explain the Gilded Age – that time period from 1865 to 1901 - that at first glance seemed to be a wonderful period in the United States when many people were making money hand over fist, but scratch the surface a little bit and the time period had major problems.

The Gilded Age was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in the book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The modern industrial economy was born during the Gilded Age, cities grew, corporations were born, and transportation routes improved. During this time period technology grew in leaps and bounds, however, the average American worker and the American farmer had problems. Immigration was on the rise and cities were having problems due to the influx of people. You just can’t have growth like American was experiencing and not have some major growing pains.

…..and certain men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were making enormous amounts of money, and sometimes these men weren’t always using honest tactics. It was the age of the robber barons.

William Andrew Clark was one of them.

One thing that be said of William Andrew Clark was he recognized an opportunity when it was in front of him, and he never hesitated to change his actions in midstream especially if it would make him a buck.

Clark was originally from Pennsylvania, but at the outbreak of the Civil War he decided to fight for the Confederacy. This only happened for a year before Clark deserted his post and hightailed it to Montana when gold was found there in 1862.

Instead of finding his fortune in the gold fields of Montana, Clark saw opportunities to make money working in the industry surrounding the gold miners. He drove wagons carrying supplies back and forth between Salt Lake City and Montana. These supply wagons were basically rolling stores…..some of the first of their kind.

Clark went on into banking and became involved in the railroad business. As a banker he often repossessed miners who were down on their luck.

Other businesses Clark had a finger in included smelters, electric power companies, and newpapers.

He tried his hand with the mining business for a second time when he got involved with the copper mining industry and is remembered as one of the Copper Kings of Montana along with F. Augustus Heinz.

The city of Las Vegas has Clark to thank for its early history. The town was created as way station along the rail line from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Clark’s brother controlled the railroad and suggested it would help his business. Clark promoted the area so a town could be built around it.

He also utilized his newspaper, the Butte Miner to leverage his career into politics, and once elected as Montana’s senator it appeared he was well on the way to Washington D.C., but he was refused entry by the Senate when it came to light Clark had paid Montana state legislators for their votes. In fact, the Clark scandal is just one of the reasons why Congress eventually passed the 17th Amendment giving citizen’s a direct vote for U.S. Senators instead of depending on state legislators to appoint Senators.

Clark did serve in the US Senate from 1901 to 1907 during a subsequent term where he was elected by the people, but even then he used the office to line his pockets. When the Panama Canal was being discussed Clark argued for a site in Nicaragua because it was actually a better location for his business concerns and would improve his bottom line.

Getting back to Mark Twain…. he wrote an essay in 1907 titled, Senator Clark of Montana where he said:

"He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time.”

A more detailed article regarding Clark can be found here.

Recently Clark’s daughter, Huguette, has been in the news since she hasn’t been seen in several years…..hasn’t visited many of her properties in years….and there are suggestions her lawyer and other employees are taking advantage of her.

See the links here and here.

I’d call her a poor little rich girl, but she’s currently 104 years old so…..calling her a girl doesn’t seem appropriate. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wordless: ONE

With some of the changes around here I’ve decided to bring back my little guessing game for Wednesdays. Here’s how it goes…..I post a picture and you need to guess regarding who or what it is and perhaps explain how the picture fits into history. Later, I’ll post the answer and identify the person who guesses correctly.

Who is this man? Can you tell me something he did?

Interesting face and mustache, huh? His daughter has been in the news lately.

Other bloggers post wordless images on Wednesday , too. Visit the main page HERE to find them.

....and you can now follow History Is Elementary on Facebook. Click on the badge to the right to add me. :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Seriously? Seriously.....

The television show Grey’s Anatomy has made the word seriously a go to word when shocked, surprised, angry, etc. as seen in this video:

I’ve even been known to use it myself, so when a friend sent me the following pictures I started thinking about the concept of the word serious and its connotations regarding the field of education.

These pictures show a different kind of airline, don’t they? The labeling on the plane reminds me of primary elementary classrooms where the teacher labels everything,and the classroom itself becomes a functional word wall…..desk, chair, television, computer, etc.

These are photos of a South African plane belonging to Kulula Airlines….

To say they do things different at Kulula is an understatement. Here are a few statements you might hear if you are a Kulula passenger:

On a Kulula flight, (there is no assigned seating, you just sit where you want) passengers were apparently having a hard time choosing, when a flight attendant announced, "People, people we're not picking out furniture here, find a seat and get in it!"

From a Kulula employee: " Welcome aboard Kulula 271 to Port Elizabeth. To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seat belt; and, if you don't know how to operate one, you probably shouldn't be out in public unsupervised."

"As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings. Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."

So….where am I going with this?

Flying planes……delivering people where they need to on time and safely is very serious business. Yet, Kulula has decided to go about their serious business in a non-serious way.

It seems to me that you can be involved in a serious field of work such as education, but you should never lose your joy…..your passion……because understanding the humorous side of your profession is what helps you to communicate, and communication is key when attempting to deliver content.

Teaching should be fun, and if it is……then learning will be as well.
Looking at things in an entertaining and fun way motivates and builds a love for learning and teaching.

It just seems that THAT should be the primary strategy used by educators.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Northwest Possible

The search for the Northwest Passage, a route that was eventually mapped and traveled through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is one of those ongoing events in history that teaches what real desire, real guts, and real determination is all about. In fact, many historians point to Sir Humphrey Gilbert as the person who coined the name Northwest Passage as early as 1576 when control of trade was the inspiration that spurred the explorers attempt to find a passage. It took nearly 300 hundred years of continuous searching before the passage was found.

Yes…yes….I know….there was an element of greed, power, and thirst for adulation but the men who kept going out time and time again weren’t just power or attention hungry. These were men who kept going out time and time again even after the growing body of evidence pointed to the fact that all that awaited them was another dead end and possibly death.

When it became evident after many years of searching that there was no water route across the United States the explorers began to head north in their search. If you travel far enough the Northwest Passage does exist. Unfortunately, the waters are frozen for most of the year and the quest to finally make it through from the Atlantic side to the Pacific claimed many a life.

Look at the painting I’ve posted below:

The painting is titled The North-West Passage by John Everett Millais and it hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. Notice the maps and other mementos of the sea that surround the old man and the younger girl. Notice the man’s clenched fist. Millais meant for this painting to elicit public sentiment and represents British frustration at their failure to conquer the passage.

Millais completed his painting in 1874. Twenty-nine years earlier Sir John Franklin had gone missing along with the crews of the HMS Erebus and Terror during a Northwest Passage expedition. In 1850, Robert McClure and the crew of the HMS Investigator were sent out to search for Franklin. McClure and his men overwintered in the Arctic three different times before they finally circumnavigated the Americas by discovering and traversing the Northwest Passage over ice and via ship. McClure and his men had to abandon their ship when it became caught in the ice during their second journey and just recently the ship was discovered in 36 feet of water in relatively good shape.

See the article here.

The find reminds me of the fictional move National Treasure and the location of the Charlotte……a ship that held important clues for Nicholas Cage and is a wonderful connection for kids to make between history in a book and history in real life.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sex in the Elementary Classroom????

Even in an elementary classroom the subject of sex comes up –

*Sexual slang is overheard constantly coming out of the mouths of nine and ten year olds. F-this, F-that, she’s a B, he’s a D and so forth. They hear it on television, they hear it from older siblings, and they hear it from parents. Early on in my teaching career I advised a parent his son was using the F-word in my classroom. The father’s response…….”Don’t you have other things to worry about other than my child’s vocabulary?”


*Sometimes historical content can lead down a path to sex. Once when instructing students about the Lewis and Clark expedition I decided to show a video from United Streaming. I previewed various sections. It appeared the video was full of visual images ( which I needed), and the content was safe for students to watch. When I showed the video to my first group of students the next day I was appalled to discover a few minutes of the tape discussed the fact that when the explorers met up with certain Native American tribes the women clamored for the white men to sleep with them because they thought it might be good to infuse their “stock” with some different genes. Upon hearing this there were giggles and smiles back and forth between some of the kids. I knew they weren’t going to let it go, so following the end of the video I asked for questions and comments and THAT part of the video was a popular topic. Somehow I moved them away from the subject of humans procreating and we got back to the subject at hand…..the expedition.

Another time the word “sectionalism” got me into hot water as well. See that post here.

*Then there is always the fourth and fifth grade curriculum for health which always ends up being called “sex ed” by parents and students. Basically the content just covers body changes, etc. and the classes are gender oriented. For some reason I always taught the boys, and I learned early on NOT to entertain open question sessions. I had students write questions on index cards and turn them into me each day. I would open each lesson with discussing the answers to two or three “safe” questions. I was often amazed at some of the things they would ask me.

So, with sex in mind here are a few sex facts I located recently……I almost feel vindicated about the fact regarding sock in bed…..which I feel is tacky.

Go on….peruse the facts….you know you want to. :)

Medical Coding
Via: Medical Coding

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This and That

Ah…..a lazy Sunday doing bloggy things like checking out new sites and reading a post here and there.

Check out these new additions to the blogroll:

Education Insights – all about online education

The Selvedge Yard – a very good friend of mine turned me on to this site and I’m glad they did….JP’s ABOUT page states, “The Selvedge Yard is about all the things that interest me– a menswear product, presentation & branding guy with a passion for people, places things & ideas of enduring heritage, quality, authenticity & character. But I’m not all old school all the time– I appreciate innovation & technology in all things.” the most recent posting discusses when country was C-O-U-N-T-R-Y and a few wonderful images from Henry Horenstein is exhibited.
Constituting America – this site’s mission is to reach, educate and inform America’s youth and her citizens about the importance of the U.S. Constitution and the foundation it sets forth regarding our freedom and rights. Check out the postings for the The Federalist #56 and #60 that were written by James D. Best, author of Tempest at Dawn, and where I made a comment on each and my own post regarding The Federalist here One of the founders of Constituting America is Janine Turner….yes, Hollywood’s Janine Turner.

The American Association for State and Local History – Yep, they are blogging now as well at their site. Go visit, join and receive their publication.

While clicking through reading postings by some of my friends on the blogroll I found this post sharing 50 great tips for using Facebook as a professional tool rather than something to be feared. Say what you want to about Facebook….there are some good tips here…..

and finally from the American Historical Association blog they are discussing the recent 18th-century boat unearthed at the World Trade Center site. The post states that it is believed the ship’s hull was used as fill to extend Manhattan into the Hudson River. The AHA also links to an additional article concerning the excavation of a 19th-century river wall at the same site and how current plans require developers to tunnel through it.
Say it ain’t so!!!!

The linked article states, “For the next few days — but not much longer — a 40-foot-long section will be visible of the massive bulkhead that marked Lower Manhattan’s edge until the creation of Battery Park City. What can be seen are several courses of granite blocks, each about two feet high, two feet deep and four feet long. They are arranged in a kind of monumental Flemish bond, with the blocks’ long and short sides laid in an alternating pattern.”

….and on a heavy note I’m overrun with spammy comments all over this site. I guess I’m going to have to resort to comment moderation at some point. I’ve spent a good 30 minutes removing some comments, and I haven’t even scratched the surface.


Happy Sunday!

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Brand New ME!!!!!!

Well, it's sorta a brand new me.......the image used here is new. Hot off the drawing board from Dear Sister to me. I'm thrilled with it because a family member drew it, and together she and I own the rights to might just see it on the cover somewhere of that book I'm still working on, and some upcoming curriculum I'm going to offer up for sale as well.

How do you like the new EHT? Just one of the little changes going on here History Is Elementary.

So, is anybody still out there reading my meager offerings? Are you just getting that occasional email from Feedblitz or some other source and just deleting it?

Let me know.....I'd love to hear from you :).

.....and be patient with me. I'm trying to make the changes around here as painless as possible. There is still some tweaking to do on the right sidebar........and I hope to have a fan page up and running on Facebook this very week.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What the Heck....?

Yep, we are under major construction here at History Is Elementary. It was time I converted to the new Blogger that came down the pike many months ago. I never did and it has kept me from enjoying various things that would make my life a whole lot easier.

So, dear reader.....for the next few days you may find it a little difficult to move around here at ye olde blog, but never fear....I think you will like the changes.

I know I will.

Thanks for continuing to visit, thanks for the emails and comments, and most of all.....thanks for the links. :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review: A Nation Rising

Several weeks ago the book A Nation Rising by Kenneth C. Davis was sent to me for review. If you don’t recognize the name you should…..Mr. Davis writes the Don’t Know Much About® series and other works such as America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims.

The complete title of A Nation Rising includes the sub-title Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes and Forgotten Fighters from America’s Hidden History. Hmmm…the flawed, the forgotten, and the fallen – sounds like MY kind of history. Curing the myths, making connections that are rarely taught in the classroom and giving credit….the good and bad…where it is due – that’s MY style!

Mr. Davis certainly comes through on his promises and more….

The premise of the book seeks to explore the ideals that birthed our nation – All men are created equal and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - and parallel them with the knowledge that so many Founders owned slaves and condoned the systematic removal and murder of Native Americans from their homelands. Mr. Davis contends his book examines…..”the stunning gap between America’s ideals and its realities….For all the distance that America has traveled as a nation since 1776, the country still needs to reconcile the glorious dream with the dark nightmare that haunts America’s past.”

The time period A Nation Rising examines is one of my favorites – the fifty year span from 1800 to 1850. During this time America became a nation ‘ from sea to shining sea’. The population increased from 5.3 million with nearly 900,000 of that number in slavery in 1800 to over 3.2 million slaves based on a 23 million population number in 1850. Kenneth C. Davis takes those figures and uses them along with little taught history to show how a nation went from the ideals of their forefathers and in less than one hundred years was in the midst of the Civil War.

How on earth did that happen?

He advises, and I agree that to truly understand how our nation was shaped we need to take a serious look at the fifty year period from 1800-1850. Unfortunately, those years are often rushed through and not taught as well as they could be in a mad dash to get all those standards in leaving events like the election of 1800, the War of 1812, and the Seminole Indian Wars on the curriculum cutting room floor.

If you are clueless concerning William Weatherford, Francis Dade, or Madison Washington you need to read this book. Ever hear of the ‘Bible Riots’? Sounds like something that took place in the Bible Belt of the South, but actually they occurred in the City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. The Massacre of Fort Mims is discussed as the most popular couple of the time period – John Charles Fremont and Jessie Benton Fremont.

If you are a little sketchy regarding the Seminole Wars and the role runaway slaves and free blacks played in the process you need to read this book. Many of the chapters also deal with events surrounding the role Andrew Jackson played prior to becoming president. While lionized as the quintessential American hero there are Americans to this day who refuse to buy or sell using twenty dollar bills because they contain his image. Why is this?

Kenneth C. Davis ends his introduction piece to the book with this quote from JFK that hits home with me and reminds me why I do what do as an educator and writer who focuses on history:

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold to the clich├ęs of our forebears….We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

Education should do both…..provide opportunities for the comfort of opinion and the discomfort of thought.

Kenneth C. Davis’ book, A Nation Rising, opens the dialogue.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Constitution: A Living Breathing Document

This post first appeared here at History Is Elementary in June, 2006. I’m currently attending a seminar on educational law, so it seems appropriate to re-run this today.


Earlier this month we sidestepped another effort to amend our Constitution. That’s not surprising since there have been approximately 10,000 proposed amendments since 1789. Most of them never got out committee while some amendments, the Equal Rights Amendment, for example, gained great notoriety but expired while waiting on ratification.

If it’s possible to love a document then Elementaryhistoryteacher absolutely adores the United States Constitution. My American identity rests in the stability and continuity of the United States Constitution. I really get into teaching my government unit even though some of the more intricate workings of our government I’m required to cover in fourth grade are a bit too lofty for the students to grasp. However, I try. I lay seeds that I hope will sprout later.

I teach students that our Constitution was the first of its kind for a recognized nation. It is so important that it has been copied many times by other fledgling democracies. We spiral back in our content to recall events we studied earlier in the year that began a chain ending with the Constitutional Convention. We remember the Iroquois League, the Mayflower Compact, and the Fundamental Orders. I remind students the colonist were Europeans---men who had governmental roots based in monarchies---men whose ancestors were the majority yet lived at the pleasure of a few leaders or in most cases one decision maker. We remember the Declaration of Independence whose author had the audacity to give a divine monarch his comeuppance. The beauty of it, I tell students, is that our plan of government works. It worked during times of crisis like the Civil War, Watergate, and during the presidential election of 1876 when the voting results were disputed in three states.

We discuss the events during the actual Constitutional Convention including the various compromises, and we learn about the three branches of government. We discuss ratification. At this point I usually depart from my colleagues because I feel it is important to teach students how our Constitution provides for amendments, but they should understand that any effort to change one of our most previous documents should be approached soberly and gingerly.

We discuss the first ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights because they concern our individual rights and were necessary in order to obtain ratification of the document. Future amendments are not usually discussed at my grade level unless the time period is taught when the amendments were added. There is nothing wrong with this in my eyes but teachers are loosing a fantastic opportunity to give the amendment process the proper examination it requires. Teachers are usually required to teach citizenship responsibilities to contrast with the Bill of Rights. Lessons are presented that indicate certain rights citizens have contrasting activities citizens should engage in to keep the Republic healthy such as voting and educating ourselves regarding important issues. While we are teaching citizen responsibilities we should also focus on the appropriateness of amending the Constitution.

The originality of our government is that it gives something very precious to ‘we the people’---not entitlement programs, porkbelly special projects, or low interest student/home loans---but freedom. Citizens are given freedom of choice, freedom of action, and freedom to live as we wish as long as our freedom does not interfere with the freedom of someone else.

It should be remembered that the Constitution doesn’t hand rights over to us; our plan of government only guarantees them. The philosophy that many of our Forefathers operated under taught that citizens are born with certain rights and liberties. The Constitution simply secures these rights for the populace.

The framers of the Constitution were highly suspicious of government. They had just gotten rid of what they considered to be tyrannical control. They were all about protecting individual rights not restricting liberty. Amendments to the Constitution involving personal liberty should always grant liberty not take it away.

Whether I agree with the premise or not, a proposed Constitutional amendment should never be used to serve as a smokescreen for Congress in anticipation of midterm elections. Our nation faces major problems with illegal immigration and the war in Iraq, yet proposed amendments regarding flag burning and same-sex marriage have been discussed repeatedly. This has been a poor use of the amendment process and is a poor use of emotional issues to detour voters from the real issues at hand.

Some Americans are going to engage in behaviors that others will have a problem with . Does this mean we are going to propose amendments for what some perceive to be bad choices and bad behavior? If this is allowed I'm afraid we will be opening doors that will be very hard to close in the future.