In the Room Where It Happens: The Legacy of the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.[1]

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 📜
John Trumbull’s proud and bold image had been inspired by the recollections and  musings of Thomas Jefferson, of which Trumbull wrote, succinctly enough, “I began the composition of the Declaration of Independence, with the assistance of [Jefferson’s] information and advice.” Such a strong display would stand in stark contrast to Adams’ later reflections of this event. 📜
In a letter to William Plumer dated 28 March 1813, John Adams wrote, “They who were then members, all signed it, and, as I could not see their hearts, it would be hard for me to say that they did not approve it; but, as far as I could penetrate the intricate, internal foldings of their souls, I then believed, and have not since altered my opinion, that there were several who signed with regret, and several others, with many doubts and much lukewarmness.” John Adams recalls a moment of sober trepidation, and stepping into an unknown—a new frontier. 📜
Of this political and social frontier, Dr. Benjamin Rush argued in January 1787, “The American war is over: but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government; and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens, for these forms of government, after they are established and brought to perfection.” 📜
All the great work.  All the hard yoga—the flexing, strengthening and breathing—of building a new nation that lives in harmony with its democratic and revolutionary principles would come after the war, and still in progress. 📜 Slightly more on my blog, click on my Linktr.ee then my Linkin.bio 📜 #sonoftheamericanrevolution #happyfourthofjuly #independenceday #independenceday2020 #declarationofindependence #johntrumbull #thomasjefferson #benjaminrush #johnadams #americanhistory #americanstudies #iteachhistory #teachersofinstagram #writersofinstagram #artoftheday

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John Trumbull’s proud and bold image had been inspired by the recollections and  musings of Thomas Jefferson, of which Trumbull wrote, succinctly enough, “I began the composition of the Declaration of Independence, with the assistance of [Jefferson’s] information and advice.”[2]  Such a strong display would stand in stark contrast to Adams’ later reflections of this event.

In a letter to William Plumer dated 28 March 1813, John Adams wrote, “They who were then members, all signed it, and, as I could not see their hearts, it would be hard for me to say that they did not approve it; but, as far as I could penetrate the intricate, internal foldings of their souls, I then believed, and have not since altered my opinion, that there were several who signed with regret, and several others, with many doubts and much lukewarmness.”[3]  John Adams recalls a moment of sober trepidation, and stepping into an unknown—a new frontier.

Of this political and social frontier, Dr. Benjamin Rush argued in January 1787, “The American war is over: but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government; and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens, for these forms of government, after they are established and brought to perfection.”[4]

All the great work.  All the hard yoga—the flexing, strengthening and breathing—of building a new nation that lives in harmony with its democratic and revolutionary principles would come after the war, and still in progress.

Ancestry.com recreated Trumbull’s painting with a 2017 advertisement “Declaration Descendants” with an intentional multicultural and diverse cast that also included women, amongst whom was the Rev W. Douglas Banks, the 5th-great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Of his participation and connection to Jefferson, Banks writes, “I do not celebrate Thomas Jefferson or Sally Hemings. I celebrate opportunities where I can overcome the flaws in my family tree and embrace the greatness of my inheritance.”[5]

I closed my school year and lesson with the ninth grade with these exact thoughts and quotations with the final challenge, reflect on Benjamin Rush and Rev. Banks and consider this: “We can celebrate those opportunities where we can overcome the flaws of our country’s history and embrace the greatness of its promise.”

[1] “The Declaration of Independence,” National Archives, October 30, 2015, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration.

[2] John Trumbull, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, Oil on canvas, 20 7/8 x 31 in., Yale University Art Gallery, accessed June 18, 2020, https://artgallery.yale.edu/collections/objects/69.

[3] John Adams, The Political Writings of John Adams (Regnery Publishing, 2001), 680.

[4] Benjamin Rush, “Address to the People of the United States,” https://archive.csac.history.wisc.edu/Benjamin_Rush.pdf.

[5] Rev W. Douglas Banks, “We Are All In The Room,” Huffington Post (blog), July 11, 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/we-are-all-in-the-room_us_5964fdc5e4b005b0fdc8a8c0.

Multicultural and Anti-Racist Resources

Hello!  As a history and social studies teacher at a private high school, I help young people understand the evolution of the human consciousness and how to make sense of difficult questions of living in the social world.  I help students with the “hard yoga” — the flex-work, strengthening and breathing — of living in world.

Building diverse and inclusive communities, and undoing America’s legacy and racial inequality, will require more than virtue signaling with badges and memes or a selfie at a protest, it will take more passing the collection plate donating to a charity, and it will take more than “listening” and talking about how we listened, and “reading” and talking about what we read.   But these are all starts.  Allow me to share some of my resources and suggestions with you:

And this is just a start!  #blacklivesmatter

Be well!

 

A Good Walk

“Few people know how to take a walk. The qualities are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good silence, and nothing too much.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ramp Season and Foraging

It’s that time of the year again in the Hudson Valley!! I’ve been seeing buzz about ramps and fiddleheads in my social media newsfeeds. Not so gentle reminder, just because something appears to be in abundance, doesn’t mean it is. In fact, ramps, or “wild leeks,” or “wild onions” are listed as a threatened species in Quebec and a species of concern in the northeastern United States. Fiddleheads are not fairing much better. Also, these plants are host to bacteria and not only require thoroughly cleaning and cooking but when you do forage these plants you are altering the ecosystem in very real ways. Chasing dopamine highs with hedonic palette-pleasing has serious consequences for our environment. Plant. Cultivate. But don’t steal from our wild, natural landscapes.

Image may contain: plant, tree, flower and outdoor

(Picture of cultivated ostrich ferns at the Vanderbilt Mansion.)

#ramps #fiddleheads #ostrichferns #hudsonvalley #catskills#upstateny #escapebrooklyn #newengland #maine #quebec #foraging #foodie #wildedibles #wildmushrooms #ecosystems#environment

Good reads on this subject:

AppalachianMagazine. “Mountain Tradition: Eating Ramps in Springtime | Appalachian Magazine.” Appalachian Magazine (blog), n.d. http://appalachianmagazine.com/2019/03/10/mountain-tradition-eating-ramps-in-springtime/.
Millward, David. “Fiddlehead Rustlers Threatened with Jail as US State Tries to Curb Mass Foraging.” The Telegraph, n.d. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/08/hold-fiddlehead-rustlers-threatened-jail-us-state-tries-curb/.
Rayner, Jay. “Just Because You Can Go Foraging Doesn’t Mean You Should | Foraging | The Guardian.” The Guardian, n.d. https://amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/10/just-because-you-can-go-foraging-jay-rayner?fbclid=IwAR0g8TluzOo1dE4dtbkpf5_yGAIb4dtHHesobdkrK2QyPX56CXnb1PMPyaA.
Rossiter, Kelly. “WTF Is a Ramp and Why Shouldn’t I Eat Them? | TreeHugger.” TreeHugger.com, n.d. https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/wtf-is-a-ramp-and-why-shouldnt-i-eat-them.html.

My Wish for You …

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

How My Family Helped Me Break Into the Ivy League (The Short Version)

This piece is as much reflections on my education as a continuing graduate student as well as my role as a history and social studies teacher at an independent Waldorf high school.  Scandals like last year’s Operation Varsity Blues bring to the fore the role of socioeconomic status and inequality at elite institutions of higher learning.  It even calls into question what it means to be “elite” — either as an institution or as a student/alumnus.  Writing of the lowly plebeians seeking an elite education, Daniel Golden wrote for Town and Country in 2016: “Today the prospects for these unconnected applicants, who are predominantly middle-class whites and Asian-Americans, are even bleaker. The poor shmucks have to walk on water—during a tsunami.”  There has certainly been a demonstrable advantage for the well-heeled; however, Golden’s observations may be an oversimplification and hyperbole.  Allow me to shed some light on how this Waldorf Teacher broke into the Ivy League.  This first piece will explore: how my family helped me break into the Ivy League, and get into Columbia University.

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First, I will provide some key attributes which I shall elaborate upon in this and my next installment in this two part series: curiosity, faith, grit, hardworking, imagination and grace.  An excellent book on this subject that I first read four years ago was How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.  Consider this passage from James: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 NRSV.  Let perseverance and faith do its work in developing your character and destiny, which can be a painful process but it remains our divine calling to self-actualize and push through–but many of us have both divine and mortal help.

When I was a young child, we moved from New Jersey into rural Pennsylvania and we did not yet have cable television.  On account of my father’s career, we had a personal computer — an IBM PS/2.  I wrote short stories on the word processor, and I “composed” music with the MIDI music software.  It may sound strange, to some, to read of a Waldorf teacher actively embracing this kind of technology; the computer was a piece of cutting edge technology that was fun to engage with and allowed me to express my creativity in storytelling as well tinker with a diverse array of musical instruments to produce “entertaining” sounds.  This “tinkering” and exploration through play developed into a passion tempered and cultivated by discipline, practice, precision, literacy.  As I grew older, I continued to develop a keen interest in history and literature as well as music.  I took Advanced Placement and honors classes as well as accelerated college bridge classes.  I learned to play four instruments: the clarinet, the saxophone (alto and baritone), the violin and the guitar — with varying degrees of continued proficiency.  I would really love learn the piano.

My mother was a high school mathematics teacher that taught AP Calculus to rural high school students.  She was also quite creative at home.  Delicious meals and desserts from scratch.  And made Play-Doh from scratch–our toys.  And always encouraged my creativity.  For a school project, I made a longhouse from popsicle sticks and craft glue as well as my homemade Play-Doh to make people, bowls and a campfire.  My masters thesis explored the struggled for recognition of a local Native American tribe.

My maternal grandmother was the first in her family to attend college and she earned a bachelors degree in economics and later a masters degree.  She had the most amazing collection of books and antiques!  When I was younger and visited her house, I would have quiet time sitting in the living room scanning through her encyclopedias and books on ancient Egypt.  My paternal grandmother always encouraged my learning. Perhaps too much too early, she gifted my Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book to me when I was six years old.  LOL.  My maternal grandfather was a local public official, from a longline of civic leaders dating back to the colonial era.  My paternal grandfather was an absolute lion of a man but also a kind, gentle and courtly soul.  A decorated war hero, successful business executive and generous community leader.  He was a absolute Lion, and we, his family, were his pride.

My struggles made me.  You see, its not the “A” that often defines the student but the “C.”  I was encouraged to take risks, explore, hit dead ends, try harder, and try a different way.    I took risks.  I hit dead ends.  I was broke.  I sometimes worked two jobs.  At my lowest point, I was deathly sick and housebound, but I had faith in myself and with God’s help, I got up and pushed through.  I had role models.  I always “gave back.”  My first job was in environmental policy before working in healthcare, and then in banking before becoming a social studies teacher at a Waldorf high school.  As a social studies teacher, I encourage students to learn the hard yoga (breathing, flexing and strengthening) of living in a complex, social world.  Each one.  Reach one.  Teach one.

In the words of Kurt Hahn, as I tell my students: “There is more in us than we know.  If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

So, you see, this is how my family helped get into the Ivy League.