Hey, I might have finished my part of this seminar but that doesn't mean it's over.
Now the ball is in your court to keep the discussion going.
As Mr. Jefferson said, you are never really a senior at learning. I learned about the Declaration of Independence doing this project and I would learn more every time I did it.
These discussions, arguments, ideologies are never going away, they will keep re-emerging and the Declaration will be in the crosshairs of both sides using it to defend their side.
That is why your voice and interpretation or so critical.
Comment here, e-mail a guest post, those that I asked that never did it turn it in now or tomorrow or twelve years from now.
The point is that education is an on-going process for everyone.
I started this website with the hope of modeling educational and critical thinking and it went well above and beyond my expectations.
Thanks to everyone who ever clicked on here.
Thanks to my brave guest contributors and commenters.
Thanks to you!
Also, I would love to hear what topic I should cover next summer because that is definitely something I hope to do.
Until then, see you in the classroom.
I know, it seems like a stretch but think about it, the founding of a country is a bit of storytelling. You need heroes and villains, you need drama and intrigue and when it is all done the main participants become larger than life characters.
Plus it's Friday and we could all use some fun. I also think these strangely work. So examine and debate.
George Washington is John Cena:
Hustle, Loyalty and Respect.
These words are emblazoned on John Cena t-shirts but really they describe our greatest Founding Father too.
He hustled to avoid battles or to attack at night (i.e. Washington Crossing the Delaware).
He was loyal to America, risking his life to lead the Continental Army and you better believe he commanded respect.
Like Cena, Washington never had a heel turn and both could accurately be described as "The Face Who Runs the Place".
Alexander Hamilton is HHH
Both men started from the bottom and both used special connections to work their way up. Hamilton through his friendship and apprenticeship with Washington and HHH through marrying the boss's daughter Stephanie McMahon.
Both make terrific heels and as much as Lin-Manuel Miranda tries to do otherwise, Hamilton has been a "bad guy" for most of US History, distrustful of the common man and always doing "what's best for business".
Ben Franklin is Ric Flair
Both men absolutely ooze charisma.
They are headliners and really big fans of themselves. They know how to play to a crowd, they have famous one liners too!
Franklin is the architect of lines like "God helps those who help themselves", "early to bed, early to rise" and the classic athlete slogan "no pain, no gain".
Flair gave us "to be the man, you gotta beat the man" and "limousine riding, high flying, etc. etc."
Let's also point out they both had rather notorious and public liaisons with the fairer sex during their times.
Thomas Jefferson is Sting
Let me be clear on this too, I don't mean beach bum Sting, I'm talking "The Crow" EMO Sting because...well Jefferson was kind of EMO.
Some historians actually think that Jefferson today would be diagnosed with depression or that he was possibly bipolar.
Both men were loners and reclusive.
Both men were also wildly popular among the masses but confusing in their actions. Sting was the most naive baby face in modern wrestling and Jefferson contradicted himself at every turn.
These two could take turns on the psychiatrist's couch.
Thomas Paine is the Ultimate Warrior
Both men were incredibly passionate and rebellious.
Have you ever seen the Ultimate Warrior run into the ring for his entrance and wrestle like he was on the clock?
Paine had a brief moment of love and brilliance in America with Common Sense, but his later writings and support of the French Revolution made him lose favor with America and the Founding Fathers. Both were probably too passionate and intense for their own good.
Washington and Paine had a very personal falling out, Paine lashed out when the former refused to help him when he was incarcerated. The wound never healed.
The Ultimate Warrior also fell from grace and tragically did not come back into the good graces of the company until it was too late. He died shortly after the WWE welcomed him back.
Well it's been a nice ride but we're here, the last paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson has laid out his claims, his beliefs and previous actions, now he has one move left: to explain the final move in America's conflict with Britain.
Let's break it down, just as we have every other part and take the time to reflect on one of the most influential documents you will ever read:
"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Whenever I get my students to write full essays, the one thing that brings them more pain, consternation and anguish than anything is the conclusion.
Why do I have to write a conclusion, I already said what I needed to say?
The conclusion allows you to surmise your point and make a larger statement towards the myopic argument you have been proving throughout the essay.
I mean most famous speeches are famous because of the end.
"I Have a Dream" is not uttered until the final third of the speech.
"A government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth."
"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." (Not last line but next to last paragraph).
Jefferson clearly knew the importance of a conclusion because I would argue his conclusion is the last three paragraphs.
While we obsess over the first two paragraphs in American history, there is tons of important material in this conclusion.
So let's break it down, shall we?
By Patty Smith, see part one here
What constitutes American character is hope. Optimism. The faith that we can change, begin again (isn’t that the American Dream?). And isn’t that what the Declaration of Independence suggests? We see this motif over and over again in our literature and in that most American Dream-y of all books, The Great Gatsby. Spoiler alert if you haven’t yet read it — the last page of this gem of a novel (no partiality here) reinforces, to use President Obama’s words, “the audacity of hope,” the very quality that Nick Carraway admires so much in his neighbor and friend Gatsby, the very quality that Fitzgerald, by the audacity of his last page, inexorably links with what is central about being American.
On the very last page, Fitzgerald writes as Nick, looking out over Gatsby’s land --
Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
Then, Nick reminds us of his admiration of Gatsby’s hope, his “wonder when [Gatsby] first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.” In spite of everything—Gatsby’s refusal to give up the past, the shadowy ways he has earned his fortune, the messes that ensue because of his single-minded goal—Nick has admired Gatsby’s endless gift for hope. Here at the end, though, he is trying to make sense of everything that has gone on that fateful summer. He says:
“[Gatsby] had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” The dream, Nick/Fitzgerald suggests, is over. It ended almost as soon as it began, after one “transitory enchanted moment.” And here, we might think so that’s it? The American Dream is dead? That’s what Fitzgerald is suggesting after all, the impossibility of the American Dream?
We might think so, but then he offers us those two final paragraphs:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning —--
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
By Patty Smith
As an American literature teacher, I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be American and how America is reflected in and defined by its texts. I ask my students to think too, about the idea of the American Dream which is, it seems to me, a crucial concept that influences both what it means to be American and what constitutes America at its core. When we ask the questions— What makes American literature American? — we’re also looking to define what makes us unique, what characteristics separate us from other countries and people.
I posted elsewhere on this blog one answer to that question about what distinguishes American literature, an answer from writer Russell Banks who said that the ideas of “race” and “space” are what differentiate American literature from all other literature — and I like that explanation. Certainly, race, while not a uniquely American issue, has played out in a fairly unique way in our country and is reflected as such in our literature. And the idea of space is what launched the American Dream in the first place—back first when St. Jean de Crèvecoeur wrote “Letters from An American Farmer.” He wrote about the vastness of the land, asking “Who can tell how far it extends? Who can tell the millions of men whom it will feed and contain?” The endless space offered possibilities that just didn’t exist in Europe. In America, there was always somewhere else you could go, someone else you could be. Europeans who emigrated here didn’t find, “as in Europe, a crouded [sic] society, where every place is over-stocked; he does not feel that perpetual collision of parties, that difficulty of beginning, that contention which oversets so many.”
Now my students will often immediately point out that while de Crèvecoeur was so cheerfully optimistic about America and its future, he seems to have forgotten or ignored two facts: 1) there were already people living here when Europeans arrived; 2) there were also already enslaved people living on this continent, too, by the time de Crèvecoeur was writing. And here we have the conundrum of what has continued to be true about America until today — that it was a place of inconceivable space, lending itself to a new way of life for many people, a place where, it seemed in de Crèvecouer’s day,“There [was] room for everybody”— and simultaneously, where certain people were already overlooked and/or killed and for whom, one might argue, there was in fact not nearly enough room.
Of course, this conundrum is carried right over to the Declaration of Independence, which states that “all men are created equal” when we know some were more “equal” than others. What are we to make of this document, then? What are we to think of these words? Are they insincere? Hypocritical?
I know, those are some dreaded words if you are a student or a teacher but it's true.
August brings new opportunities, new adventures and new articles to this site.
With just two weeks before I report back to FHS we have a lot more ground to cover as we finish this summer long project.
Starting tomorrow we have ANOTHER guest column, this time by another esteemed English teacher Ms. Patty Smith.
I know all you ARGS kids will be excited and for my Freedom kids you will get the pleasure of reading her post and exploring her amazing mind.
If you want to add your voice to this project time is running out. Let me know and enjoy your final July day.
By Felisha Nguyen
I’ve been on a bit of a social media hiatus.
Rather, let me rephrase that: I’ve been hiding from Facebook because my newsfeed terrifies me.
I’m doing the ostrich in the sand thing, shoving my head so deep into Instagram to get my social media fix without engaging with the tougher questions that Facebook brings up.
My newsfeed is fraught with warnings about Trump, Hillary, the upcoming election, black people getting shot, refugees starving and washing up on shores, riots in the street, trans people being killed, bathrooms being bombed...
Overall, it’s not a great place to be. As someone who has recently suffered a great personal tragedy, I’m not in the headspace for this kind of place. This social media onslaught of terrible things that happen in the world, even if I’m mostly in an echo chamber of my friends (problematic in it’s own way, I know, I know), is just too much for me.
So I hide.
I know it’s not the right thing, and I know that come election time, it’s not going to be helpful. But I’m Team #AnyoneButTrump, for good or for bad, and that means that no amount of social media is going to change my mind. If I choose to engage with it, which I do, in spurts, I can certainly seek out news sources for myself.
Am I falling into the trope of the uninformed millennial?
Or am I reserving my energy for these kinds of conversations when they truly matter, when I see a picture of one of my friends waiting in line for the Trump rally and then see him, standing in front of me?
What do I say?
I walk away. Too often, the people around me seem ready to take the dec incredibly seriously, to abolish the government that they find is unfit simply because it disagrees with their stances.
At this point, we’re running into so many brick walls emblazoned with the words “I hate both candidates,” or “the lesser of two evils” and I wonder what we’ll do in the face of actual rebellion. I doubt it will come to that, though, and maybe I’m naive, but personally, I think that social media has made it all too easy to tout our words without acting on them.
Maybe one day, I’ll act.
Maybe one day, I’ll take up arms against The Newsfeed and The People Behind It and battle back. Ideally, it’ll be face-to-face because a keyboard is both an excellent shield and sword.
Until then, call me an ostrich.
Newflash: There is this guy named Donald Trump running for President.
Now I am not the first one to compare Mr. Trump to the Declaration of Independence, Tyler Anderson did that very well.
Yet I could not read the next part of the Declaration in our intellectual journey and not be reminded of the speech Trump gave this past Thursday accepting the Republican nomination.
Political speeches, particularly forward-thinking ones must always strike a balance. You have to explain the necessity of change (the bad) and contrast with your vision (the good).
Ronald Reagan has been mentioned quite a bit this week for his positive messages, rekindling the "City Upon a Hill" mantra of John Winthrop while still attacking his predecessors (Are you better off now than you were four years ago?).
The media believed Mr. Trump was far too negative in his acceptance speech, absolutely condemning/lambasting the Obama administration and painting a terrifying image of the world we live in today.
It's not my place to say whether or not I agree with this assessment but it is curious that the Declaration of Independence suffers a similar problem.
We may remember the positive, hopeful and inspiring quotations like "all men are created" and "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" but the majority of the Declaration actually mirrors the same doom and gloom of Trump's speech.
Don't believe me, let's compare the next section of the Declaration to Trump's acceptance speech.
I recently learned about a Tony-winning play that it set during the Early Republic of American History.
It follows the drama inside President Washington's cabinet as one brave Founding Father fights for the ideals of the American people and to preserve this country for the future.
Oh and the play ran in the year 1943.
That's right, Hamilton the Musical may be record-breaking and visionary in several respects but it is far from the first Broadway attempt to discuss America's founding.
The key difference in this play called The Patriots, besides the lack of rap songs, is the protagonist and antagonist are switched.
Jefferson is the man of the people, fighting against despotism as he did in the Declaration of Independence and Hamilton is the corrupt, immigrant bastard who distrusts people and wants a strong centralized government to rule the unwashed masses.
Indeed, Lin Manuel Miranda's greatest accomplishment is not getting people to know Hamilton, but branding him a hero.
Hamilton, as important as he is, has often been portrayed as a bit of an outcast and villain by historians from the inception of American history.
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary"
Hamilton's famous line from Federalist 51 has defined his view of life. He distrusted the common man and found them to be easily manipulated and uneducated enough on policy to have much of a voice at all in government.
He wanted the President to serve for life, essentially recreating the British government.
He even sold out John Jay in negotiations with Great Britain to prevent a severing of the two countries relationship.
So while 1943's play is not nearly as famous today, it is important for its historiography.
What Founding Father will get redeemed by history next? John Jay? Thomas Paine?
Find out more about the musical in this podcast: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/hamilton/