Raise your hand if you knew that today was Patriot’s Day. In fairness, this holiday commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord doesn’t get much play these days apart from some re-enactments in Massachusetts and a few other New England states. Today is the 230th anniversary of this battle which began the Revolutionary War. It was on April 19, 1775, that the “shot heard round the world” was fired.
There are so many great stories and characters in early American history that it’s criminal how badly the period is covered in many classrooms. I just read a really fun book called “George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War” by Thomas Allen that provides fascinating details about our country’s earliest covert operations and secret intelligence network. The book is written for middle schoolers but most adults I know could learn a lot from it. You’d think there’d at least be a bunch of riveting movies about the Revolutionary War but the ones that exist don’t do it justice. Sure, there was “The Patriot,” in which the entire war is seen as Mel Gibson’s revenge against the sadistic British for killing his son. Or “Revolution” which was so bad it almost sank Al Pacino’s career (he didn’t make another movie for four years).
It makes me crazy how certain right-wingers have tried to co-opt and twist the word “patriot” to suit their needs. To me true patriots are people who are willing to challenge authority and the status quo at every turn if it goes against their values and ideals (look at Washington and his co-horts!). They are also people who are willing to admit mistakes and fight for their less fortunate neighbor’s freedoms as vigorously as they fight for their own. In my book, that makes someone like Jane Fonda fifty times the patriot that George W. Bush will ever be, despite the incredibly dumb mistake she made (and bitterly regrets) climbing into that anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam.
My friend Christina Cocek Anderson, who lives and breathes American history, joined forces with the National Council for History Education (NCHE) this year to create the first annual “Make History Strong in Our Schools” Day. This event will be held on Patriot’s Day each year and is designed to raise awareness about the outrageous situation in our schools in which history is being crowded out of the curriculum—disappearing in some schools entirely thanks to the panic surrounding the high-stakes testing of the dreaded No Child Left Behind Act. This afternoon Christina spoke at the U.S. Capitol with Senators Robert Byrd, Lamar Alexander, and Ted Kennedy on the importance of teaching children about our history. As Christina said—“Our democracy depends on it!”
Tomorrow morning I fly out to Pittsburgh for the annual NCHE conference. The theme this year is “Conflict and Cooperation in History” and it’s in Pittsburgh to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War. Pulitzer-Prize winning author David McCullough is the keynote speaker. I usually just attend sessions and meet with potential and current authors at these fun history conferences but this year I’m manning the Heinemann booth by myself. Gulp—I’ve never done that before and I’m slightly terrified. Maybe it’s my unpleasant memories of fighting for customers at my grandfather’s clothing store. Okay, get a grip, Danny, social studies books are not polyester leisure suits! It’s always gratifying to see how well respected Heinemann is at these events. I just hope I don’t need to tackle any impoverished teachers in the corridors who want our books so desperately that they sneak them into their Paul Revere canvas bags or try to hold me up with one of the muskets from the Colonial Williamsburg booth!
History is all around us today as those happy-go-lucky cardinals chose their new Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Benedict XVI. Okay, let’s admit it, the first thing every Jew on the planet wondered when they heard the news today was what the 78-year-old German was doing between the years 1933 and 1945. Turns out he was in the Hitler Youth movement but that it was compulsory so we can’t really blame him. And his father is said to have spoken out against the Nazis on numerous occasions. More worrisome than his connections to the Nazis are his arch conservative views including vehement stands against women in the clergy, homosexuality, birth control, and divorce. That can’t be good for the future of the church despite the international reverie going on in the wake of John Paul II. If only the cardinals had chosen a Latin American or African Pope as some speculated they would do, wouldn’t that have given the church the 21st century shot in the arm it so desperately needed? Oh well, it’s obviously not my decision to make—believe it or not, the 115 cardinals in Rome neglected to contact me for my opinion. But seeing all of those serious, red-cloaked men in the Sistine Chapel today and knowing the new Pope’s antiquated views about women, it’s hard to imagine the church winning back many of the disenchanted Catholics who have left the fold. And since I’m in an American history mode, the Pope would do well to read the words that Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her husband on March 31, 1776:
“Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
You go, girl! Now there’s someone to admire!