Teaching The Little Ones

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The hostess is holding a twenty dollar bill.  “This next question,” she promises, “will be a bit harder.  You ready? You ready to earn this $20?”

Though 40 years out of formal education, I still have a weakness for a pop quiz, for multiple choice challenges, for a Jeopardy binge.  The good people at PragerU’s Street Smarts know that nothing focuses the mind quite like a question.  Speaking personally, I have found, if I’m losing my audience, I can yank them back by picking out a random guest and asking them a question.  You re-gain the whole room.  Everyone wonders whether they will be next.

Yesterday, the PragerU crew taped three or four episodes here on the farm, and it was encouraging to watch bright kids, urged on by beaming mothers, as they tackled questions about history and civics. In the interval of a few seconds, as the correct answer is pondered, you feel something like a collective, silent prayer being offered up for the young scholar.  And then he gets it right.  He proves himself a credit to his family.  Fist bumps. High fives.

Without giving anything away, one theme yesterday touched me.  It was a reference to the diversity of colonial America.  I’ve studied the colonies for years, and I’ve found that it’s very difficult to generalize about the Americans of 1776.  They were of English, African, Dutch, French, German and Native American extraction. Their denominational differences were so profound, they had to work overtime to forget religious hostilities that had led to bloodshed in the not too distant past. New England and the middle colonies were full of religious dissenters and separatists, bound up, nevertheless, in covenantal townships.  The South was was so casual about their high church worship that New Jersey Presbyterian, Phillip Vickers Fithian, was scandalized by their approach to the sabbath.  Congregational minister Ezra Stiles was fascinated by the curious worship habits of Rhode Island Jews. John and Samuel Adams had to be careful not to be considered merely political opportunists by the Southern gentry. The abolition of slavery was gaining ground, as a cause, in the north, but it was such a controversial topic, it could barely be addressed when the colonies gathered to ponder their collective grievances.  New York had its birth in trading Dutchmen, Boston in religious reformation, Virginia in tobacco.

They were very different, very diverse people.

We tend to think our national diversity is the product of Irish potato famine immigration, Chinese railroad labor, and Ellis Island arrivals, but we have always been a mixed lot, from the very beginning.

It’s a miracle the whole experiment worked.

Our living history field trips explore the historical fact of what appears to be a miracle:  a diverse set of people, from widely divergent cultural and economic backgrounds, really can build an empire if they hold to a few common truths.  I can’t ponder those covenants without getting emotional.  “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.”

Ponder any club, or family, or nation, built on such a premise.  If you could look at your neighbor, and you could rest assured he knew you were entitled to seek your own happiness, that your life was sacred to a common Creator, that you were both entitled to a freedom that had the blessings of heaven itself, would your lives be better or worse?

It isn’t a difficult question to answer.

It’s a lofty ideal, and one we’ve never fully realized, but it’s inspired hearty souls to cross continents and brave storms to dig gold out of the earth.  It led to a terrible and heroic family fight, where the principle itself was put to the test. It forced men to take the final measure of their commitment: is life worth living if we aren’t free?

This unifying ideal has had enemies from the beginning of time, but they are getting bold these days.  Critical theory is the effective opposite of the American ideal.  We aren’t common heirs of a divine right, but a mere gaggle of the oppressed and the oppressing.  Life is nothing but bullies and whipping boys.  That plucky fellow who risked life and limb on Little Round Top?  He’s a major general with too much privilege; stop giving him credit for ending slavery.  That fabulously wealthy hotel-owner with a gold-prospecting fortune?  He didn’t earn it; he stole it from you. Those beautiful couples out on the dance floor?  Stop romanticizing them; those are mere heterosexuals trying to demonize your identity.

As I write these lines, I find it terribly ironic a few “progressive” educators seem to believe they have the right to force your middle school student into pondering gay pornography, but our own living history field trips are forbidden, not because of their historical content, but because of my own personal, political opinions.  Catch that?  Professional “educators” have the right to actually traumatize children, on the public dime, to lard a child’s education with their own weird and personal fetishes, but I don’t have the right to even educate them, if, on my own time, I express opinions they deem “unsafe.”

Let’s return to the ideal.  If we really do agree on our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, how would our common liberty be furthered by your forcing my children to celebrate your version of sexuality?  Is your liberty, or your pursuit of happiness, hindered by your not being able to indoctrinate my children on your terms?

The answer is “no.”  You don’t need my children for your happiness. That’s a deal breaker.  It’s also thoroughly un-American.

Stay away.

For all the rest of you sane school teachers, administrators, and parents, book a field trip with us.  It will focus your mind, the way a great question really should.

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This post was written by Jim Riley


  • G. Cathe K. says:

    Been going to Oak Glen since I was a teen; I’m past 70 now. Love it there. Eaten & savored many, many wonderful local apples for years, decades actually. We knew the late Lucille Wilshire/Riley as a friend. Rented a couple of apple trees from her for 2 seasons; fertilized, pruned, picnicked, harvested & had a blast doing so. Been 2 Ur place after U started the Colonial re-enactments. Highly approve. Way cool! Seen some bits of it; enjoyed it all immensely, VERY well done BTW! Great educational, historical FUN 4 kids & adults alike. Bought apples at Ur store on several occasions, excellent of course! Getting ready 2 make the trek out 4 apples this fall, so was catching myself up on the current status of Oak Glen farms, post 2020 fire damages, as we have not been out there since. So, checking out each remaining farm’s website (some of the farms I’ve known going back 2 the 60’s/70’s/80’s no longer exist) & eventually I got round 2 Ur webpage. Naturally, I had 2 notice Ur Save Riley’s Farm, Donate, 1st Amendment etc posts. My initial reaction was OMG, WOW, what’s happened? & of course I’ll make a donation! Spent the better part of an hour reading the history, posts, blogs, watching YouTube interviews & even scanning linked court docs, since today was the 1st I’ve heard of ANY of this. Regular reader of LAT but missed Gustavo’s recent column on Ur legal issues till I followed the link U provided. I’m compelled 2 tell U what all of this looks like (2 someone uninvolved, uninformed & unbiased) who knows the locale intimately but has NO knowledge of Ur ongoing issues prior 2 innocently clicking on Ur farm’s website, just 2 “catch up” & see when apples season bgins.

  • Danielle says:

    Beautiful, thought provoking words. Thank you for sharing. So thankful for homeschooling in order to be able to teach these ideas.

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