Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why is he on the one dollar bill again?

Yesterday, in response to my own post, I made it clear that we here at case4theright do not in any way believe that the founding fathers were infallible or inspired by God or anything like that. These were men that made mistakes and had inconsistencies in their lives just like every other human being on this earth. We do believe, however, that both the lives of these men, and the ideas that they came up with, were great. By “great” I don’t mean a casual, everyday expression “great”, I mean that in a monumental and historical sense, these men lived lives that should be studied by all Americans and developed ideas that should be memorized by all Americans.

Unfortunately, many Americans today have very little knowledge of people like John Adams, James Madison, Jon Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton (I thought they’d like being next to each other in the list), Henry Knox, and yes, even George Washington. As a high school history teacher in a school where kids are supposed to be a little more learned than most, (It is a college prep school after all) I have witnessed this ignorance firsthand. To most, people like George Washington are mere symbols of their country. Like the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty. But who was George Washington really? And why is he considered a great man? Is it merely because he was first?

George Washington demonstrated many qualities of greatness throughout his life, but he was certainly not a man without a mistake on his record. Early on in his military career, Washington learned some lessons the hard way. As a twenty-two year old Lieutenant Colonel in the British army, he was ordered by Virginia Governor Dinwiddie (What a name!) to clear The French from the Ohio River valley in the spring of 1754. He led his men into a fiasco that ended with him surrendering to the French at the hastily assembled “Fort Necessity”, and signing a document that basically put all the blame for the occasion on the British. The British government quickly repudiated Washington’s note and the French and Indian War began. Later in the war, Washington tried to influence the pompous general Braddock with what he had learned while fighting the French in the woods, but Braddock refused to listen and was killed in an ambush. I believe this experience contributed to Washington’s resolute nature by allowing to him to learn from his mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. When Washington went to war nearly twenty years later against several equally prideful British generals, he knew the mentality that he was up against, and the type of attitude he should avoid as a leader.

Washington continued to exemplify excellent leadership qualities and character throughout the rest of his life. Whether it was fixing the latrine situation in the continental army camps, putting down the whiskey rebellion, neutralizing the troublesome Citizen Genet, overseeing the constitutional convention, or even learning to control his temper, Washington became a figurehead in American society for a variety of reasons. But Washington did not let his eventual success go to his head. The greatest thing about our first citizen was not his accomplishments, (though they were great) but the fact that performed those accomplishments with a great sense of duty and humility. Unlike many other revolutionary leaders throughout history, Washington did not sink his claws into the power that was all too willingly given to him by his people. Washington did something that stands out as a shocker throughout the annals of political history. He stepped down after one term. Washington was not interested in creating a cult to himself, he was interested in continuing the dream that he had helped to start. In doing this, Washington demonstrated the attitude that has been hallmark of American heroism throughout the ages. Men returning from World War I, World War II, The War on Terror, and many other wars throughout our history, have been called heroes, But so many of these true heroes have exhibited the same attitude that our founding father did – an attitude of humility, duty, responsibility and servanthood. Not a sense of entitlement or a thirst for personal gain. Most of these public servants have denied the fact that they are heroes and insisted (and continue to insist) that they were simply doing their job for God and country. It is this spirit of humility, duty, and honor that has made America everything good that has been throughout its short history and everything good that it is today.


  1. Not the other anonDecember 4, 2008 at 2:21 PM

    Bob, it seems that you absolutely love history and expect everyone else to follow your lead. THERE’S A GOOD IDEA! Exemplify the character traits that you value. The people around you will be more likely to follow your living example rather than when you point to some dead guy that you’re all excited about. . .

  2. NTOA,
    I'm sure your insights will really turn things around for Bob. You have given us all alot to think about! Maybe you could just dumb it down a little more so we could all see where you're going with those thoughts. Also, if you could use 'Caps Lock' more liberally so we better understand all the nuances of the life lessons you have for Bob.

  3. NTOA - I'm not sure what you're getting at.

    We certainly agree that it's important to live by our principles, but if we cannot adequately explain why they are correct, we have no hope of convincing others.

    History is full of dead guys who did great things and many who did foolish things. It would be foolish to ignore their experiences, otherwise every generation would start from ground zero.

    We would never be able to progress technologically if researchers ignored the successes and failures of those who came before. Why should we ignore the vast experiences of the human race simply because we don't care about dead guys?

    None of us at C4tR expect people to just follow because we are excited. It is our hope to lay out our principles clearly so that our readers at a minimum understand what conservatism is.

    It is our belief that a proper understanding is what eventually will cause others to accept it.

  4. Not the other anonDecember 4, 2008 at 4:27 PM

    It seems that Bob is lamenting that his students don’t understand what a great guy GW was. I’m saying it is more important for people to experience those good character traits than just study them. Of course, I’m not saying that one shouldn’t study history. History has infinite lessons to teach. Nor am I saying anything about Bob’s character specifically. I don’t know him. My statement, "Exemplify. . ." was meant to be general statement for everyone.

    I’m not sure how to respond to the snarky Mr. Anonymous. Sorry for wasting 15 seconds of your time with my presumably inane comment?

  5. NTOA - I didn't take your comment as a stab at Bob's character (I don't think he did either).

    However, while I can't speak for Bob, I think the lament is that our nation has almost consciously attempted to ignore the past and the works of those who founded our nation.

    I believe you are incorrect in your assumption that living your principles are more important than teaching them - as far as instruction goes.

    We should live our principles because they are right, but we can't expect anyone to follow principles they don't understand.

    As far as the propriety of your post, I didn't see anything wrong with it. In fact, we've appreciated your contribution to the various conversations we've had here.

  6. I never would have spent the time to write a piece on George Washington and the principles he stood for if I did not try to implement them in my own life and exemplify them to my students and the other people that look to me for leadership. There are many lessons we can learn from history that can be applied to our lives in the current day. I wouldn't make a profession out of teaching it if there weren't. I suppose I could've written an article about myself, but that would've seemed a bit egotistical. As my students would say... "lol".

  7. Not the other anonDecember 4, 2008 at 8:08 PM

    Living one's priciples is teaching those principles. Most certianly, giving background and reasoning about your priciples is important -- "what mean ye by these stones?"

    When I read Bob's post, I was sensing more distress about students not loving history like he does. I've been in that place: telling students some excellent truth about the universe and getting an arrogant dismissal in return. You can grab their face, look them in the eye and scream that they need to know this stuff, but that doesn't work. . .

  8. I don't think that's where Bob teaches from. One can distress about students not caring about important things - but that doesn't equal grabbing their face and screaming that they need to know it.

    He merely commented on the ignorance of our nations history - as part of his description of why it is important. He then proceeded to read it. Individuals can choose to read it or not. They can choose to agree or not.

    I'm not sure how his post could be interpreted as forceful. It seems you are focusing on a brief comment and ignoring the larger body of the text.

    You are free to do this, but in so doing, you misconstrue the message he is trying to convey in describing Washington's journey.

  9. Oh my, I wasn't implying Bob screams at his students. I don't even know him. I was saying that kids will be kids. A teacher can dance a jig, scream loudly, or sob at the big desk. Inspiring students to love anything is nearly impossible. Teaching students an attitude of humility, duty, responsibility and servant-hood is easier to do through example than by reading a textbook.

    I suggest that the reason that kids don't consider anything weightier than an IPOD is that they aren't confronted with a good model at home.

    Regarding the larger body of the text, I'm not impressed by GW's military activities. I don't understand them and I don't want to. I can respect GW for putting a nation before himself, though.

  10. Oh yeah, I don't have anything to say about Bob other than he *seems* to be one of those guys that gets more out of history than most...

  11. I think I see the disconnect here.

    What you saw as a simple narrative of Washington's exploits, I saw as an example of how Washington realized his fallibility - and learned from it.

    Yes Bob is one of "those guys that gets more out of history than most". That's why we have him here - to share some of that with us.

  12. thanks guys... I, I'm touched.

  13. Good article, Bob. While I never discounted history, or what Washington and our forefathers sacrificed for our country, I never really stopped to think of them in terms of actual individuals. Thanks for the lesson!!!