Monday, July 4, 2011

Lesson 69: I Suggest Firewords Instead

Eloise is happy today for a couple of reasons, Readers.  As you can see above, my posting problem has been solved!  Thank you to Stew, a long time family friend, an Erie native who was pretending to be a Chicagoan for most of his life.  Recently he wised up and returned to his roots to reside back in his hometown.  After all,  the fish caught out of Lake Erie are much more tasty than the ones caught out of Lake Michigan anyway.  Luckily for me, Stew's stint in Chicago did allow him to gain a vast knowledge of computers while hobnobbing with the big city folks.  While at a family picnic yesterday, he diagnosed my posting problem and told me how to fix it. Yeah!

Eloise loves a reason to celebrate, so the day itself greets me in a happy mood.  Today is a national holiday in America, Slovenians.  America's Birthday, July 4th, Independence Day, The Fourth of July--they are many ways of saying it-- a day of picnics and parties that begin in the afternoon leach into the sunset, to commemorate the beginning of our nation 235 years ago.  My fellow Americans and I don our red, white, and blue apparel and gather with friends and family to eat, drink, and be merry.  The kids play games and after a few drinks, sometimes the adults join in too.  It depends on what drinks were in the adults' cups that help determine how fun(ny) the games can be.  The most popular picnic games in America are Corn Hole, Horseshoes, and a pick up games of softball.  After the last piece of pie has been eaten and everyone is afraid to touch the potato salad because it has been sitting out in the sun all day, people gather up their things and move to somewhere they can watch a fireworks display, so the merriment lives on a little longer.  Americans drive to any nearby field with a blanket and some loved ones to top the night off with a resounding display of fireworks.  Sparklers are passed around to the children and everyone enjoys seeing the joy it brings to them.......well everyone except for my son Sam, that is.  

This year Sam decided that he is afraid of fireworks and is not shy in telling anyone from the store clerk to the newspaper man that he doesn't like them.  Fireworks and moths.  Yes, harmless little moths.  Sam is deathly afraid of those, too.  This from the kid who spends more time in the Naughty Chair for punching people than any kid I know.  I am trying to be patient and rationally try to explain to a four year old that fireworks don't hurt you and that they are part of the way our culture celebrates the birth of our country.  Instead Sam shoots back fieryWORDS in my direction:  he HATES them, fireworks are STUPID, he is going to live with GRANDMA & GRANDPA (CLICK!--Did you hear that?  Grandma and Grandpa just turned the lock on their door).  Surely, some fiery words spoken from the passion of a four year old with an irrational fear.  Today's blog will be about another set of fiery words born from passion. History lesson for today-The Declaration of Independence.

Our Declaration of Independence, Slovenians, is much older than yours.  Ours is 235 years old today.  On June 25th, I see that your country celebrated its 20th birthday, as it gained its independence from the communist ruled Yugoslavia in 1991.  I spent a little time reading about YOUR history this morning and Eloise found it very interesting.  After your Slovenian Declaration of Independence was signed, you were attacked by Yugoslavia sparking off the Ten Day War.  Just how did you all manage that?  It took us much longer than that, but then again, you have to consider our push for independence came prior to the cell phone and the Internet.  

I loved reading your history, Slovenians, but I skipped the part about the actual war.  Eloise is a peace-lovin' lady and it pains me to read about people killing people, no matter what the cause.  What I like to spend more time on are the stories about the catalysts for conflict.  What Little Events led up to the Big Event?  A war doesn't break out one day for no reason.  What leads someone to the breaking point--unfairness, disrespect, money problems?  The events that lead up to a war are far more interesting than the actual battles themselves if you ask me.  There are passions and great ideals that mark the start of any movement.  They are the things one holds true to and will fight for if need be.  Today I want to brief you on a few individuals and events that were the catalysts for the independence and freedom that I enjoy today.  The fiery words of some fiery individuals who deserve a few moments of fame on this blog.  

The Colonists were lucky to have some brilliant people involved in the revolution.  On the photo history lesson I created for you above,  you will see paintings of whom I refer to as The Fab Five, the five men who had the most say in the wording of the Declaration of Independence.  They were Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.  They were appointed by the Continental Congress to draft a formal declaration to send to King George of England in June of 1776.  This marked the point that we had had enough.  If Twisted Sister were around then, the colonists would have blasted We're Not Gonna Take It from the tower of The Old North Church for all to hear.  The details of that couple of weeks are sketchy because the Committee of Five left us no minutes.  Historians do agree that Thomas Jefferson was given most of the credit for the wording of the draft.  The Fab Five emerged from their work session and presented the draft to the Continental Congress on June 28, 1776.  The men involved in the government at the time had a few days to mull it over, and got to vote on it.  On July 2, 1776 representatives from the 13 colonies voted--12 yeses and one abstention, to officially sever ties with England.  July 4th is the day that the final wording of the document was approved and sent to the printer for publication.  

You will see John Hancock's portrait on the photo movie.  I never knew what the man looked like, as he is most famous for his big signature, smack dab in the bottom, center of the document.  History rumors tell us that Mr. Hancock did that intentionally, to make sure King George could see his name without his spectacles on.  The man who actually copied the words with a feather dipped in ink was Timothy Matlak.  I put his picture on the movie, too.  You never get to hear much about him.  

So Jefferson got most of the credit for the wording of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock is our most famous signer, and Timothy Matlack got picked to do the feather dipping because he had the neatest cursive.  But who got everyone riled up the most?  Who is the one responsible for convincing the people that we needed to make the break---a writer--Thomas Paine.

I doubt the revolution movement would have gained the support of the people without Thomas Paine's publication, Common Sense, published in January of that same year.   Paine began working on Common Sense, which he originally called Plain Truth, in 1775 after he was tired of putting up with the bull@#%$ from England.  Paine had strong ideals and knew that the written word was the best way to make a connection to the people.  Humans can gather to listen to passionate speeches about any subject, but in time, the words are forgotten.  Putting thoughts in writing, in plain and simple terms that common folk could understand, was the best way to get the word out to the people.  They could read Common Sense at their leisure, and discuss it with family, friends, and neighbors.  If something came into question, they could always refer back to the pamphlet for clarification.  Oh, the power of the written word!  It doesn't matter if it is a word printed with an ink dipped quill or if a word is typed on a keyboard and sent out into cyber space.  A word in print is a beautiful thing.  Fearing punishment dolled out for treasonous acts, Paine too wrote anonymously, and signed his 48 page pamphlet, "Written by an Englishman."  Smart move.  Paine's pamphlet sold 500,000 in the first year.  He donated all of the money back to the Continental Army that was forming and I am sure some of it went to the stockpiles of weapons at Lexington and Concord.

Putting drawn pictures to music and song is not my idea, but it is how I grew up learning best.  I am a child of the 1970's and woke up every Saturday morning with the bliss of Saturday cartoons.  A couple of hours every day number six of the week,  dedicated just to kids.  During those cherished cartoons on lazy Saturday mornings, the networks inserted little School House Rock episodes.  The creator of the historical cartoons ingeniously made 3 minute clips about American history, things ranging from how a bill becomes a law to the American Revolution.  Grammar sure is boring, but will any of you ever forget Conjunction Junction?   Lessons 67 and 68 are homework assignments for all of you---a little brush up on American history Schoolhouse Rock style, before you go to your fireworks displays tonight.  You never know if Eloise may show up, and if I do, be prepared to answer a few questions.

Many years ago, when I first began teaching, I noticed how little kids knew about American history.  It's confusing and spotty and without the heavy national curriculum like some countries have, individual states address American history in schools differently.  I actually prefer the states to hold more say in schools, but as a result, not every kid in America studies the American Revolution at the same time.  God forbid if you are a military family and move from state to state.  You jump ship in Louisiana and move to Pennsylvania and you may miss the Revolution entirely.  For kicks, I remember asking kids sitting next to me why we were having fireworks.  I remember some replying, "It's George Washington's birthday," and another stating "It's the end of the Civil War."  I decided then and there that I would do what I could to bring American history, especially this time period, into school whenever I could.  Even just telling students how excited I am about this time period sparks off their inquisitive nature to see what is so great about it.  I like to do my best Eloise trick on them--I tell them not to bother looking up the American Revolution---that I felt that it was too violent and upsetting and difficult for them to understand.  Beep, beep, beep--Did you hear that?  That is the sound of books being checked out of the school libraries from the American History section.  Those little buggers are defiant just like their predecessors back in the 1770's---go on--tell us what we can't do and we'll show ya.

Readers, if you want to revisit some of the most exciting stories of our nation, take a trip back to 1775.  What a year!  The Colonists were at their tipping points.  Wounds were still raw from the Boston Massacre five years prior, and they had dumped their tea in the Boston Harbor in 1773.  They were sick of King George and his taxation without representation.  From what history tells us, the British were pretty sick of us, too.  The soldiers wearing the red coats, weird hats, and dorky knee socks were ordered to seize the arsenals at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775 and round up the rabble-rousers Samuel Adams and John Hancock.  We caught wind of the plan, stuck a light in the tower of the Old North Church, and Paul Revere and pal William Dawes took off on horseback on their famous Midnight Rides, warning everyone that "the British were coming!"  Exciting!  You can't make up a story this good, folks.

I normally would feel bad about the length of this piece.  You may have needed a second cup of coffee to drink to get through it, but I always am long on words when they are written about my great nation.  I've assigned you an extra bit of homework, Lessons 67 & 68 Schoolhouse Rock Episodes, and this lesson and photo story #69.  But hey, many of you have an extra day this year as the Fourth of July fell conveniently on a Monday.  That spells LONG WEEKEND for most of you.  Carve out a few extra minutes to review some firewords along with your fireworks.

Enjoy your history lesson and I hope you, too can find a renewed interest in American History.  Make sure if a tall, blond woman asks you in a fake Slovenian accent, "What are the fireworks for?" you are able to answer correctly.  If you say, "To mark the death of Abraham Lincoln" you will blow my cover.  You will experience fireworks of a different sort---the kind you see after coming to after a fist connects with you jaw.  I have a mean right hook---don't make me use it on you.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Happy 235, America!
Proud Patriot Eloise

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