Philadelphia – A Reflection

If there is one word that would pull together a theme for our journey, I would have to say that word is justification.  I choose this term because throughout our excursion, we learned not how incredibly valor and great our forefathers were, but more so, how human they were.  They were frightened of where our country would go, or if it would die.  They were frightened that their words would put an early end to an opportunity for greatness and it is out of that fear that the justification begins.  It is justification that would continue to play a role in many of the steps of our journey.

Independence Hall…justification for the Declaration of Independence.  Independence Hall…justification for a new Constitution.  Ben Franklin, the Institute, the Philosophical Society…justification for revolt, for politics, for slavery.  Amish Country…justification for livelihood.  Winterthur…justification for wealth.  Gettysburg…justification for war.  This theme resonated in my mind as we took our time through the streets and halls of one small part of this great country.  Not much has changed today, we work tirelessly to justify our actions, our thoughts, our behaviors and quite honestly in the end, what we are really trying to do is to learn to live with ourselves, as individuals, as families, and as a country.  Let us hope that history will agree with our own justifications.

Thank you for this opportunity.  May we all be better teachers and people for having done this.   Cheers.


Gettysburg National Park – Day 12

The last day of our journey could not have been more wonderful.  I knew that I was looking forward to visiting Gettysburg, I just really did not realize how much.  I think I could have used a couple of more days there though, there was so much to see and I believe that we only scratched the surface. 

I was pleased that we had the opportunity to go and meet Professor Gabor Boritt.  I thought it interesting that we would travel to his personal residence to hear a brief talk, but after having done so, I feel as though I am better for having had the experience.  It was not so much his words, but his spirit that moved me.  Without question he is an authority on Lincoln, but in some respect, I believe that he is an authority on much more.  He was compassionate and I truly felt humbled by having the opportunity to hear him speak.

The small quaint town of Gettysburg would not know the horrors that would come to the people.  They thought they new war, but until it found its way right into the backyards of their homes, it was only a dream, one that would become a nightmare and last for three days in 1863.  Yes, the town would recover, but it would never be the same.  It is like the entire area is sacred ground, haunted by the memories of a nation divided.  Those three days in 1863 would not only change the direction of the bloodiest American confrontation, but it would change a nation, a nation destined to greatness.

Many of the structures and homes throughout Gettysburg were there during the battles.  Many were wounded by cannon balls and shell fire, but nonetheless have withstood the test of time,  a testiment of that great American spirit.  As you walk through the memorials, dedications, and unmarked graves, you can sense that something great happened here, not only an amazing “address” by our beloved Lincoln, but much more.  A nation was saved on the hallowed grounds and those lives lost were not done so in vein. 

As you travel to the various sites of battles, it becomes clear that Gettysburg is not just a historical site peppered with monuments.  Gettysburg in my mind is a symbol of who we as Americans were, are, and will become.  President Lincoln would assemble many Americans to this site and deliver what would become his greatest victory, the Gettysburg Address, interestingly enough, at the heals of one of Americas bloodiest scenes, brother against brother, countrymen fighting their own. 

I’m not yet sure how I intend to get this point across to my students.  I am still a bit taken aback by it myself.   

Winterthur, the DuPonte Estate – Day 11

We got a great lecture today on the economics of revolutionary America.  I found this particularly interesting as we do not normally address this period in history in relation to economics.  It was incredible the amount of wealth that began to amass.  I really would like to take a deeper look into the trade itself.  I have a few questions with regard to just how much of a percentage of income Americans were spending on what in that time period would have been considered “luxury goods”.  I never really associated this period in history with economic wealth, but certainly should have. 

The DuPonte Estate was amazing and beautiful.  The pictures of the gardens are some of the best!  I appreciate that we were able to take the PowerPoint presentation with us, this will be a great asset to my Economics course.  I can show my students how very early on Americans began to amass wealth in even our earliest times.


Professor Waldstreicher, Professor Engs, and Historical Sites – Day 10

“Runaway America”

Today we heard an amazing lecture by Dr. Waldstreicher regarding the inner struggles of one of our most revered forefathers, Ben Franklin.  He opened his lecture with a note on our current times suggesting that there has been a revival of the intents of American forefathers.  He questioned why, maybe a revival of  patriotism, or an increasing interest in American History has sparred the popularity, but nonetheless, it is happening and I am sure history professors everywhere are dancing with joy, or maybe just smiling a little…you don’t often see history professors dancing (which is certainly an issue for another blog…get on that one Hutch).

He begins his lecture explaining that Ben Franklin is construed as having opposed slavery along with John Adams, George Washington (who freed is slaves in his will), and Alexander Hamilton.  Franklin wrote just before his death a paper in opposition to slavery supporters in the South.  In 1787 he became a member of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society.  It would soon become clear through Dr. Waldstreicher’s lecture that Ben Franklin’s stance on slavery was not quite so black and white.  As a matter of fact, the gray area covers most of this issue and Franklin’s stance on it.

He discussed Franklin as an American leader, an artist, scientist, and lastly, a politician.  He was described as a renaissance man, statesman, and revered leader.  He also discussed the conflict in these different roles.  The anti-slavery was the last chapter in the story that actually began with Franklin as an indentured servant himself.  His brother was literally his keeper.  Franklin would spend a lifetime involved in the struggle over whether slavery was acceptable, financially, obviously, but morally seemed to prove to be bothersome to Franklin.  Just prior to his death he would take a strong stance and history would remember him well for it, but I don’t think Franklin would be so secure in his own belief. 

This is going to be an excellent argument to pose to my students.  Was it OK for our forefathers to hold slaves because the economy and social nature of the day necessitated it? 

Professor Robert Engs discussed slavery from the political point of view later on in the morning.  He explained that in 1861 four questions needed to be answered regarding slavery, to be specific, questions dealing with the slave rebellion that history books seem to overlook.  Those questions were:  1.  Would the slaves rebel?  2.  Did they really want their freedom?  3.  Would they fight for their freedom?  4.  Would they know what to do with their freedom?  

Dr. Engs would explain each of the points and emphasize the fact that indeed a slave rebellion took place.   Thanks to the efforts of many of those in bondage, our Civil War would be won (if winning and war can even be placed in the same sentence) by the North and our country would remained united. 

He provided some amazing information via electronic archive.  We now have access to over 270 documents about the Civil War era.  These articles will be of great help in the classroom and provide some excellent primary source information that both my students and I can use.

The day would come to a close after visiting some of the historical sites in downtown Philadelphia.  We started our self-guided tour at the City Tavern.  Unfortunately, the actual tavern was torn down and reconstructed.  Next, I went to visit the historic post office where Ben Franklin was the Postmaster General.  That was actually pretty neat.  I mailed home a postcard for the postmark!  We then went through the underground museum on Franklin.  I loved the phones where you could call various former presidents, politic ans, and famous individuals who each spoke of Franklin.  That was really cute for kids (who am I kidding – and adults).  Maybe I can take my kids on a field trip?  Not likely, but it would be fun.



American Philosophical Society and Atwater Kent Museum – Day 9

“If you would not be forgotten as soon

as you are dead and rotten,

either write things worth reading

or do things worth writing.”

– Ben Franklin

In my Civics classes, I teach a lot of history and the last couple of years I have filled them with even more history. Now, the purpose of the class is to teach to our young people the basics of our government but more importantly, to become civic minded and have appreciation for our great country. I have found that task impossible without spending some time on our forefathers.

One gentleman in particular that I spend a great deal of time discussing is Benjamin Franklin. This trip has been particularly helpful for me in regard to this lesson in part because I now have so much more to say. The timeline of his life that we received at the Franklin Institute in combination with the pictures of his belongings are going to be valuable to my lesson. Today however, was a real treat. On one side of the room at the American Philosophical Society were the books that once belonged to Franklin. Those works, that he himself believed important enough to be in his own library were shelved right before me. On the other end of the room were the works that he created. It is incredible to me how much came from one person. It really is hard to comprehend how much influence and knowledge he shared with his country. I cannot wait to show my students those things that Franklin valued. Things that belonged to him.

The Atwater Kent Museum was next on the agenda and was very informative. Some of the things that I knew we would be discussing are in the least of terms, disturbing and actually in all honesty, make me angry. I knew some of the discussion would lead to that , but I was not expecting an artifact to do it.

Our presenter had lying before us a set of shackles. I was perplexed by their shape, as there were two sets of them locked to an iron rod. Why four? The description would soon be presented and I am still troubled by the idea. Slaves would be bound at the feet by the outer set of the shackles and then their wrists would be bound in the inner set. This would force the individual to have to bend over and be locked in a position that was not only demeaning, but unhealthy and cruel. This image of a person, a human being, bound in such a manner is beyond my understanding and how another human could do this to an innocent person is revolting. I can certainly see why the abolitionists would take these torture devices to their speeches, just looking at them sparks fury. A sad time in American history, a sad day for our ancestors to have to deal with the reality of what cruelties they forced upon innocent individuals.

I think I will only show my students the picture and see if they can figure out what the device might have been used for, I don’t expect that they will see it coming. I didn’t.

The Amish Country – Day 8

The question: How would you incorporate what you learned today about the Amish in your classroom?

As an AP Economics teacher, I think that I would look at one of my favorite topics, money. How do they earn an income with such strict religious and lifestyle limitations? Using the word limitation for lack of a better term, certainly the Amish would not see their beliefs as limiting. I found it very interesting that they could not be photographed but could use a credit card machine like nobody’s business. So let’s take a look into what this lesson might question.

First let’s talk desires. The communities are comfortable in very agrarian economies. This means farming, raising animals, and basically working off of the land. This in itself presents limitations. We know in our economy today, even the largest corporate farms are still having issue meeting a healthy bottom line. We also know that the small family farm is no longer a reality for most agrarian descendants. The typical American family farm cannot produce enough to eek out a living for a family in 2008, they must supplement their income.

Second let’s talk education. The typical Amish child will only be educated through the eighth grade. The same students would be taught by a teacher who had also been educated through the eighth grade and in an Amish school (typical one room schoolhouse). This provides yet another limitation. Even if these young people did decide to go out and become competitive in the secular world, they would not have much of a chance. They would not be competitive by 2008 standards. They certainly have skills that most young people do not possess, self-discipline being the most notable, but, unfortunately in a technologically advanced society, these skills are not enough.

Just given these two points where does that leave this community when it comes to money? It means if they do not get really creative, they are not going to have any. We saw first hand today how they do use their gifts and talents to provide for their families while at the same time respecting their religious and cultural beliefs (although change and evolution have certainly played a bit with their tradition). I would not share this information with my students until the end of the lesson and incorporate the pictures then. Prior to sharing all of the economic secrets of the Amish, I would ask the students to give me some ideas of how these people could make a living in 2008 based in an agrarian economy. I think that it would be interesting to see what they might think. I plan to explore this question. Thanks for asking Matt, this is going to be fun.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art – Day 7

The most difficult thing about teaching history to young people is bringing the reality to their minds that we are talking about real people, people who lived, loved, hurt, and died. Thinking back to the lifeless battlefields, the memorials, the tombs and gravestones, it is hard to imagine these people once human…but they were. Many of the young men who died in honor of our freedom (and continue to do so) may not have been as old as some of those young men that sit in my classroom every day. When I think about this sacrifice, my mind always seems to go to the soldier and the sacrifices of the family, but on this day one piece of art really hit home – the realities of life and that cost we as survivors pay in the circle of life, none greater than the hurt of losing a child.

Until I was blessed with the joy of children, having my own precious babies to hold in my arms, I never could truly appreciate children. I remember being pregnant and the only thing on my mind all of the time was the health and well-being of the beautiful life that was completely dependent upon my every decision. I wanted then only what was best for them as I do now. It is hard to imagine loving so much, but until you have children of your own, this can be hard to comprehend. These feelings are age old, mothers make this bond and no time period or circumstance could change that.

One piece of art really struck with me. It was an image of a young girl not seeming much younger than my own daughter. Her skin was pale with hues of yellow. Even in death she was beautiful. Her mother, adoringly standing over her deathbed overcome with anguish and loss, and a single tear running down her cheek told the whole story. Death in childhood was not only common, but more so the norm during this period in history, but the human pain looks as current in that painting as it would today. The realities of death always seem to help us understand the value of life in our time and in history. And this painting illustrates the human in these people, not just a retelling of a dry old story on a shelf somewhere.

I believe that this story needs to be told and I believe that this piece of artwork speaks a novel. Maybe just a bit of emotion in the classroom might help bring out the human in our history.