Thank you, Mr. Limbaugh
Petrus Paulus Vergerius, (1370-1444) educator, doctor of medicine and canon law wrote what has become known as the preeminent Renaissance treatise on education wherein he asserted that "what can we do better than gather our books around us... to see unfolded before us vast stores of knowledge, for our delight, it may be, or for our inspiration."
Every educator has bemoaned the struggle to fill heads with knowledge and to that end, in my English composition class this term, the students worked on deciphering the rhetorical devices of John F. Kennedy's Inaugural speech. Most had never been taught about communism so they could not understand Kennedy's exhortation to the newly independent African and Asian countries not to fall prey to "a far more iron tyranny" and seek "power by riding the back of the tiger" only to end up inside the beast.
Thus, I exposed them to the real-life stories of people who lived under communism. These poignant and painful memories are recorded at the site "Victims of Communism" and highlight the horrors of communism whether it reigned in Hungary, China, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, the Ukraine, or Poland.
As we progressed further in the analysis of Kennedy's speech, it became clear that the students could not appreciate what our 35th president meant when he stated
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation."
So I brought in the speech titled "My Father's Speech" by Rush Limbaugh's father which describes the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and the courage it took to engage in their treasonous behavior. The students learned how Thomas Nelson destroyed his own house rather than allow the British to shoot at Americans. We learned that John Hart never saw his 13 children again. We learned that the British deliberately "trampled and burned" the finest college library in the country when they occupied what later became known as Princeton University.
The college freshmen learned that the wives and children of these American colonists also suffered grievously at the hands of the British. They became aware that the majority of those who fought for freedom were not impoverished -- in fact, they were men of property and wealth. They had everything to lose by embarking on this endeavor for liberty.
But it was not until I read the portion about the New Jersey signer, Abraham Clark, that the full extent of the sacrifice became starkly clear. Clark had two sons who were captured and sent to the hellship Jersey where "11,000 American captives were set to die." The British gave Clark an ultimatum -- either he would recant and come out for the king and the parliament or his sons would be killed. The ethical dilemma was clear to these 19-year-olds as we discussed the horrific choice put before Abraham Clark.
The unedited comments are below:
I learned the depth of the sacrifices made by the founding fathers. The agony the American people had endured. There were words that I had learned from so long ago. This article made me ask myself some very important questions -- if I were in the shoes of these men would I have the strength, courage and faith that they had. What the people endured because of this was not pleasant but their sacrifice was worth it for a bright future for all. The most disturbing and unusual part of this was when Abraham Clark had to be put in the place where he had to dicide [sic] his children's fate.
Then there was this:
The most unimaginable story to me was when the British captured the two sons. Once I heard this story it really made me realize just how seriously Americans wanted their freedom from the British and just how far they would go to achieve it. I could only imagine if that was me in the same situation. You have to appreciate your freedom in this country because it did not come easily, but with major sacrifice.
A young woman wrote:
Even when things seem to go south for them, not once did these men recant their actions. It's important to understand. They knew if they stuck together they could not be broken easily. They lived in fear simply to give us the liberty and freedom. Mr. Limbaugh wrote this piece to inform us. It allowed us to see a deeper appreciation for these men who gave it all up. He wanted us to see that signing for these men was like a death wish but they did it regardless. Now I understand as to why they did it. I truly want to thank these men for their courage in building this great country we call America, our home.
From the student who barely does his assignments came the following:
I never knew that many who signed the Declaration of Independence died from wounds or hardships during the war or were captured and imprisoned by the British. This article made me realize what all 56 men sacrificed in order to sign the Declaration of Independence.
I have never been so interested in history until now. Hearing about what these men went through to give us freedom is amazing. It truly amazes me that someone could be so dedicated to their country.
From the young woman who quietly sits in the back of the room --
We defentely [sic] owe a lot of gratitude to the men and women that gave it all for the freedom we have today. I enjoyed seeing the picture of the Culpeper Flag in the article.
I started noticing and learning not only about their sacrifices but also who they are and what they stand for. One thing that I will take away from this reading is that sacred honor is a huge part of the success that Americans had to gain their freedom.
From a sensitive young man
A part in the speech that was disturbing was when Mrs. Lewis was captured and treated brutally by British soldiers. Only my imagination could picture what they did to that poor helpless woman.
There was the student who wrote:
I would not have my kids killed. From the start, these men knew what they were getting into. I feel as though if they knew it would put their family at risk of being unsafe, they should have objected to it.
One articulate woman penned the following:
I learned that their families were captured, tortured and killed. The men were the ones to go to war and actually fight the British but they weren't the only ones who felt the wrath of the British. The innocent wives and children of these men were subject to the British evil tactics to get the Americans to recant. Mr. Limbaugh wanted us to understand the intense level of patriotism that these men had by explaining what they said, what they did and what they lost. The parts that were disturbing to me were how some of the American soldiers were starved to the point of emaciation. This piece gave me a bit more insight on the theme of the Declaration of the Independence and the American Revolution.
Not only were these students informed, they were inspired.
As historian David McCullough has written "[a]t their core, the lessons of history are lessons of appreciation. Everything we have, all our great institutions, our laws, our music, art and poetry, our freedoms, everything is because somebody went before us and did the hard work, provided the creative energy, faced the storms, made the sacrifices, kept the faith."
Thank you, Mr. Limbaugh and thanks to all whose shoulders we stand on to bring the story of American exceptionalism to life.
Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org