I ended up teaching a class on the American Revolution today to a group of 9 year olds. Of course, the plan was to spend a wonderful morning together playing games but conversations do have a way of changing course and such was the case this morning. Although we began with discussing Monopoly, it was only a matter of time before I found myself talking about the American Revolution.
The day began beautifully: the balmy sun was shining brightly and the freshness of spring was in the air. We sat outside on an unpainted wooden garden bench and table set. The wood was still cool from the night before but comfortable. We were all in good spirits and enjoying the sounds of the geese flying overhead. We talked about different literary authors and I recommended some classics that the kids could read including, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jane Austen. Trevor, a shy boy with an unusually quiet voice remarked that he had almost finished William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that he had borrowed from me two weeks ago. He then told us that his fourth grade class viewed a video yesterday on how babies are born. I could see that he was uncomfortable with the subject. The main reason he mentioned it was to tell me that even though he had enjoyed reading Romeo and Juliet, watching the video had put him off about any ideas of romance altogether. I decided to switch the subject to avoid embarrassing him any further amongst his peers.
The kids had brought along different board games including, Sorry, Scrabble and Monopoly. We chose to play Monopoly first. As we divided the money, I asked if everyone knew who Alexander Hamilton was. At first, I thought their blank looks were simply a ploy to get me excited (they all know I am an historian) but then I realized they were truly clueless. I took a deep breath and said, “The guy who is on the ten dollar bill, remember?” Justin, a rambunctious boy, always ready with an answer, quickly pulled out $10 from his wallet—it was his birthday money from last week---and displayed it proudly for everyone to see. Their small heads huddled closer to inspect the features of the brilliant man. The girls smiled and the boys frowned. Then they all said, “Oh!”
I proceeded to tell them about Hamilton and added some explanation about capitalism in terms they could understand. Everyone appreciated the idea of having the opportunity to make their money in the way they deemed fit. None liked the idea that the government could take as much of their hard earned money as it wanted. Therefore, I asked them what they thought happened during the American Revolution. Again, the blank stares followed. I prodded further, “What was the American Revolution about?” Many furrowed brows, some looks of frustration, and much head scratching only produced incoherent answers.
Before continuing any further on the American Revolution, I asked them if they knew about the United States Constitution. Again, Justin jumped up and gleefully responded, “It’s a tree!” I shall admit, I almost fell off the bench on that one. I looked around our circle and noticed they were all eyeing me: some with curiosity, some with mild interest, one with boredom. I felt sorry for the lot of them and angry towards a system that wastes no time to educate our children about sex but keeps from providing them with adequate information about their own country’s history.
It is impossible to cover all of the American Revolution in one morning. It is even worse when you have to teach it to a group that is unaware of the value of understanding the fundamental principles that make ours the greatest nation on earth. For this, I do not hold the children responsible but the system that undermines the greatness of our nation and parents who either are oblivious to it or support it themselves.
Overall, I think I managed to reach out to them (or so I pray). By employing analogies and showing parallels between our revolutionary beginnings and today, I was able to excite some interest in the hearts of these youngsters. We used movies, wildlife, professions, economics, the military, the world--- all as analogies to better understand the founding generation. There were no lectures; these kids actively participated in the discussion bringing their own ideas about how things worked during the Revolution. It was exciting, it was exhilarating, it was challenging, and it was all beautiful. We could have discussed the American Revolution all day but time was short. As we said our goodbyes, I prayed that they would always remember the lessons shared about the American Revolution one spring morning and that it would keep the fire alive deep in their hearts forevermore.