JN Fenwick | Former U.S. History Teacher and author | May 24, 2021

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If you teach them to hate, they will hate. If you teach them to devalue themselves based on the color of their skin, they will judge others based solely on theirs. If you teach them they deserve without the benefit of hard work and sacrifice, they will live their lives with their hands outstretched and their minds closed.

And if you teach them that their country is inherently evil, they will see evil at every turn.

It doesn’t take a genius to know this. It’s truly just common sense. But common sense seems to be in short supply these days. And sadly, we are witnessing firsthand the consequences of just how deeply these destructive ideas have been embedded in our education system, for decades, largely without our awareness, and definitely without our consent.

Unchecked, these dangerous ideologies have spread into almost every area of our country, our government, and our lives. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at the last few years alone. From the pandemic to the riots, to the 2020 election, these narratives have been used to spread disinformation, bolster rioting and violence, perpetuate racism, compromise law enforcement, undermine the Constitution, and destroy the very liberty and freedom that built this country in the first place.

Why? That is the question. The question whose answer we know but are hesitant to articulate out loud. Perhaps because we know that answering out loud will brand us as racist, as evil, as any number of labels used to suppress opposition to the narrative. No one wants to be labeled a racist, after all. Perhaps because as studies have repeatedly shown, Americans are among the least racist people on the planet.

Then why work so determinedly and methodically to ingrain these doctrines in the most impressionable among us? Why start the process at such an early age, targeting children before they’ve even had an opportunity to enjoy their childhoods? Why spend so much time, energy, and countless resources to plant these seeds and then doggedly sew them throughout their entire education, including most especially at the college and university levels?

The answer, in my opinion, is more chilling than not asking the question in the first place.

Is it to remove all roadblocks standing in the way of power? Yes. Is it to maintain power, once gained, in perpetuity? Yes. Is it to expand a voting base? Yes. Is it to increase the wealth of the ones writing and perpetuating the narrative in the first place? Yes. Is it to undermine the history and the foundations of America? Yes. Yes to all of the above, and then some.

Say what you will about the reasons behind the dogma, but the one thing they all have in common is their total disregard for the common good and the demonization of anything and anyone who stands in the way of their agenda.

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My first encounter with this unspoken agenda occurred during my undergraduate studies at Florida State University in the early 1990s. In one of my sociology classes, I came face to face with the consequences of not toeing the line.

Thinking that as long as I presented my arguments knowledgeably, backed up with reliable, factual sources, and wrote within the parameters of the APA or MLA style guides, my work would be judged fairly. I was gravely mistaken.

I learned quite quickly that my writing style could be as on point as possible, but that if I were espousing ideas or arguments contradicting my professor’s positions, I would not pass the class. And passing the class was, after all, the endgame.

So, contrary to my better judgment, I swallowed my pride, began regurgitating my professor’s brilliance back at him, and received an “A” along with the three credits I needed towards graduation. No, I didn’t do so mindlessly, I still held on to my principles, but I did bend so that I would not break in the end.

This occurred again and again as I made my way through two more degrees over the course of about a decade, becoming more the “norm” as time went on. In the end, I more than understood that these pieces of paper I had earned were only half the story. The real story was that I had retained my objectivity, my thirst for knowledge, my dedication to critical thinking and reason, and my love of history and my country despite the system’s best attempts to force it out of me.

I count myself lucky. I came from a generation and a family that still held on to those values and beliefs. I was able to withstand the pressure and still retain a clear sense of self.

That’s not been the case for successive generations. No, that innate pull toward self-determination is being rapidly forced out of them, especially the current generation, thanks to social media and the in-your-face consequences of being true to yourself and charting your own path. And as many of the byproducts of the indoctrination are currently running the show, the repercussions are getting worse; dangerously, frighteningly, worse every day.

In his article, American Universities Have Lost Their Prestige, published April 29, 2021, by Real Clear Politics, renowned Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, Victor David Hanson, provides a succinct and compelling look at the post-WWII evolution of America’s university system. And it’s not good.

“Imagine a progressive place that once renounced unconstitutional “loyalty oaths” but now rebrands them as “diversity pledges” and requires reeducation and indoctrination training,” states Hanson. “Imagine a place where “diversity” is the professed institutional ethos, while studies reveal that liberal faculty outnumber their conservative counterparts by over 10 to 1.”

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. From politicking from the lectern to restrictions on freedom of speech and suspension of constitutionality, Hanson uncovers the disquieting reality of what it truly means to get a liberal education today.

In his book, Is College Worth It?, former U. S. Secretary of Education and author, William Bennet, demonstrates how higher education is failing our students on multiple fronts. “Higher education isn’t solely about financial returns,” explains Bennet, “the first duty of any school is education.” Bennet goes on to expose “the frighteningly paltry amount of learning taking place on some college campuses.”

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So if learning isn’t taking place, what exactly is?

As a former United States History teacher, I can only answer that question from my own experience. I think it’s safe to say that all teachers, no matter the level at which we teach, come to the lectern with our own experiences, values, and beliefs, political or otherwise. However, our own ideologies are not what we’re hired to teach. In a sense, we have a captive audience before us, made up of young impressionable minds. To tamper with these minds for our own gain or to advance our own agendas is a sacrilege and a dark mark on this otherwise noble profession.  

I understood this from the outset, mainly because, as a student, I had experienced that very attack on my own mind, and I vowed not to perpetuate it moving forward. My job was to teach my students history, not just within the confines of the books in which it was written, but also how to think critically, to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to form their own opinions, and to seek knowledge, not as an endgame, but as a life-long endeavor.

Punishing students, whether overtly or covertly for not toeing the line, for questioning what they are being told, for asserting their own individuality, and yes, their own character, is not only wrong, it’s extremely dangerous.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is just one example of exactly how dangerous it’s becoming. First introduced in the 1970s, as an idea originating at Harvard Law School, CRT has become part of mainstream academia and media.

“Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline, based in Marxism, that teaches racism pervades every corner of American society, and therefore, that American institutions must be torn down and remade so that all of society’s benefits can be equitably redistributed.”

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) | May 21, 2021

What CRT does is boil everything down to race. What it does not do is take into consideration a person’s character. What it does is reject the very foundations of liberty, freedom, and the Judeo-Christian values upon which America was built. What it does not do is leave any room for logical, scientific, or critical thinking. What it does is find racism everywhere, even if it has to interpret peoples’ motives to do so. What it does not do is take into consideration the whole of a person, including their behaviors, values, and individuality — YOU ARE THE COLOR OF YOUR SKIN, PERIOD.

In other words, if you happen to be a member of one racial group, you are a victim; of another, you’re an oppressor, whether you mean to be or not.

CRT asserts that any progress made in this and other countries towards equality is but a mirage because racism never died, it simply hid better. The fact that we have worked hard as a country to move forward from the sins of the past, to create a system of government that continues to reach toward the ideals embedded within its foundations, and to uphold those ideals for ALL Americans, is nothing more than a smokescreen behind which to hide the truth.

And what is the truth? To CRT proponents the truth is this, “White Americans can never judge blacks by the content of their character. They can only judge them, always unfavorably – consciously or unconsciously, by the color of their skin,” James Lindsay, April 2021.

The danger inherent in this way of thinking is far-reaching. It not only boils human beings down to race, a characteristic that was never in anyone’s control, to begin with, but it goes a step further by assigning specific and divisive labels to that distinction, those of victim or oppressor. That IS racism. Call CRT what you will, but don’t try to sell it as anything other than racism.

So what happens after you’ve allowed these misguided principles to seep into every aspect of government, justice, education, and business? Exactly what proponents want to see – a complete dismantling of America from the ground up. A “reimagining,” if you will. Into what? I haven’t discovered any credible answers to that question, but I can surmise, based on CRT itself, that it is not something I’d ever wish for, and certainly not something I’d wish to leave my children, grandchildren, or future generations.     

But the fact remains, CRT, diversity training, systemic racism, the 1619 Project, all have one thing in common — they are designed to divide rather than unite. They are designed to destroy rather than build up. They leave no room for compromise. If you are white you are inherently racist, it’s in your DNA, in your “whiteness,” whether you acknowledge it or not. If you are not white, but another race, most notably black, then you are a victim, it’s in your DNA, so no matter what you do, you will always be oppressed.

America is NOT a racist country.

Though advocates for such destructive thinking argue that America is racist, there is actually no real science or evidence to back up their assertions.  As Liam Smith, writer for The Falcon explained in his February 11, 2021 article, “Since the earliest days of American history, the governing philosophy of the United States is rooted in the protection of individual rights.”

Smith goes on to back up his premise with facts, including statistical evidence. Fact number one, The Constitution of the United States explicitly protects every citizen from unequal protection under the law. Fact number two: the top median income groups in the US by distinct race are non-white. Fact number three: success is achievable in America because hard work, innovation, and ingenuity are its backbone. Fact number four: and perhaps the most important rebuttal to the argument of systemic racism, is that the political system of the United States itself protects minority rights. As Smith explains, “The Bill of Rights was explicitly written to protect the minority from the majority.”

In short, though you may decry that America is racist at the top of your lungs, if there’s no evidence to back it up, the argument is weak and always will be.

Further, if you boil everything, including every political issue, down to racist vs. antiracist, and every individual down to victim or oppressor, then you remove from public discourse the opportunity for open dialogue and any chance for unity.

Imagine if our Founding Fathers had been so closed-minded? Considering the task they undertook, and the sacrifices they had to make to arrive at that moment in history, had they been unwilling to consider the greater good along with the potential our fledgling country had to become something better than anything the world had ever known, I, for one am ever grateful their minds remained open.

Which leads me right back to the question, Why?

Why embark on this road in the first place? And why continue down it regardless of the consequences? What possible motive could there be for perpetuating these fallacies, for encouraging these unsubstantiated narratives, especially in our classrooms?

Power. Greed. Control. Entitlement. This is not a positive list. It never has been. With goals such as these, logic, reason, laws, justice, even our Constitution, get in the way. With goals such as these, in order to progress, you must first destroy. And as history has repeatedly shown us, progress through destruction is not progress at all. It’s simply destruction; with few benefitting at the expense of the many.

That’s not America. It never has been. And it’s certainly not what we should be teaching our children America is.

We are now reaching critical mass, and regardless of the consequences speaking out may engender, the fact remains, this premeditated and blatant indoctrination of our children has got to stop. If America is to survive as a free country, as the republic it was established to be; if our God-given rights are to be protected, if liberty is to prevail, then it has got to stop. Now.

“Many Republican lawmakers and parent advocates describe CRT as racially divisive, teaching children to judge differences in skin color above the content of character.  They say adding curriculum rooted in CRT also teaches children to search for racism in all aspects of life over teaching civics and history education.”

Ellie Bufkin | Sinclair Broadcast Group | May 2021

At the grassroots level, at local school board meetings, at the state level, and at the national level, we have to fight back. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s not a them or us issue. And it’s certainly not a black or white issue.

This is a fight for the very fabric of our Nation. For what we will and will not tolerate.

In the past few years, we have been forced to tolerate many things we would not have chosen; things no morally responsible, ethical, humane person would have chosen. But tolerance has got to take a back seat when it comes to the rights of our children and our responsibility as their parents, teachers, and society as a whole to protect them from harm.

“Not only is government-sponsored CRT poisonous, pernicious, and demeaning to all Americans, it is also illegal in many ways. The United States Constitution guarantees the equal protection of the laws. This foundational principle protects all individuals against discrimination or harassment based on race by the government. And so, it is no surprise that a theory that rejects “colorblindness” and “neutral principles of constitutional law” would also run afoul of the foundational principle of equality under the law. Public school teachers who treat students differently because of their race undoubtedly violate the guarantee of equal protection.

Moreover, the Constitution protects a “freedom of conscience,” meaning that government schools cannot force students to adopt a certain point of view, such as those core propositions of CRT about white supremacy, white privilege, or systemic racism. Relatedly, the Constitution prohibits “compelled speech,” meaning that teachers cannot force a student to speak a certain message, such as a confession that “I am a racist.”

WILL | May 21, 2021

Some states, including, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Arizona are beginning to push back against CRT through legislation banning its inclusion in public school curriculum.

Likewise, parent advocates are also beginning to push back. FightForSChools.com is one such grass-roots effort. A non-partisan political action committee whose focus centers on “electing common-sense candidates that commit to policies that support equal opportunity, tolerance, meritocracy, and achievement.” Through petitions, school board recall efforts, and proposed legislation, FightForSchools is doing just that, fighting to take back America’s schools.

If American values are to prevail, it is vital that we stand up for those values. Our government institutions and elected officials work for us, not the other way around. And just because something is repeated again and again via social and mainstream media, by politicians, Hollywood, and big business does not mean it’s true.

It’s time to call out these divisive ideologies for what they really are and to stand against them, regardless of the personal attacks, ostracism, public branding that will undoubtedly occur. Those may be the weapons of choice of the proponents of these ideologies and their supporters, but that doesn’t mean we have to fear them. Not when the future of our country, the rights of every American, and the protection of our children and their future are at stake.

As has often been quoted and more often seen throughout history, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” (Edmund Burk, 1729-1797)

Let’s not be that generation. The one that cedes control, the one that allows evil to prevail, by doing nothing.

Jennifer N. Fenwick, former American History teacher, author, In the Eye of the Storm

American History is our worst subject. Our students do not know who they are as Americans.

Dr. William Bennett, author, America: The Last Best Hope

Why do I have to learn history? What’s it got to do with me?

As an American History teacher, I was often asked these questions by my students. They got bored digging around in the past and more often than not, failed to make the vital connections between history and the present.

I knew I had to change that or lose them.

Through the magic of technology, history teachers today have at their fingertips a vast array of primary sources that allow them to take their students out of the classroom on a journey into the past. | Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Teaching history in the millennial generation was a challenge to say the least. These kids were used to technology and fast-paced entertainment. They were used to answers at their fingertips.

They lived on social media and unless they had a family member or members serving in the military, their only experience with war and conflict were those presented on their iPad screens or engaged in on their X-Boxes and PlayStations.

Teaching them to value American History was a challenge.

This country is the greatest political story ever told. We are uniquely blessed and we have taken unique advantage of those blessings. And although it’s the greatest political story ever told, our children have not been told that story.

– Dr. William Bennett

Undeterred, rather than beating them over the head with history, I decided to use the tools and technology they understood to my advantage, and to theirs. After all, it wasn’t the memorization of names and dates they needed, it was understanding. And what better way to help them understand history than by living it?

Each year my students embarked on a historical journey to Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Yorktown, and Jamestown where the history they’d been learning came to life before their eyes. | Image by JN Fenwick

From American colonization to the modern age, I set about doing just that. And along the way, I realized there were other important skills, like critical thinking, reading comprehension, debate, and writing they would learn along the way.

History does not exist in a vacuum, and the teaching of it should not either.

Jennifer N. Fenwick

As a teacher, my first responsibility was to my students and to their parents who had entrusted them to me. My podium was not a pulpit from which to preach my ideals, force my interpretations down their throats, or advance any predetermined narrative or agenda. It was a platform from which to engage in research and debate, in learning to distinguish fact from opinion, in presenting all sides of an argument, and most importantly, in allowing my students to form their own opinions.

I knew the only way they would come to understand history was by taking ownership of their learning of it. And the only way they would do that, was by making the past relevant to them in the present.

My students became archeologists, explorers, settlers, revolutionaries, founding fathers, framers, activists, and more.

By assuming the role of delegates, they debated at the Constitutional Convention, put forth their arguments for or against ratification, and engaged in compromise for the greater good.

Through diaries and first-person narratives, they traveled the agonizing journey from Africa on a slave ship to a foreign land where they were considered property and nothing more.

Through diaries, letters, and historical documents, they assumed the role of drummers, infantrymen, soldiers, and nurses marching alongside the Union and Confederate armies. Along the way, they encountered both victory and defeat. They witnessed President Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address, how the Emancipation Proclamation turned the tide, and the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Through documentaries, on-line archives, virtual tours, first-hand accounts, and classroom re-enactments, they became part of some of the most significant events shaping our country. Some of the events we studied, listed below, are often merely footnotes in our history books, while others take center stage. To me, it was all significant and worth exploring.

  • October 19, 1781, when General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown marking the end of the Revolutionary War and the birth of a new nation. “I bore much for the sake of peace and the public good. My conscience tells me I acted rightly in these transactions, and should they ever come to the knowledge of the world I trust I shall stand acquitted by it.”General George Washington, Letter to General Nathaniel Greene, October, 1781
  • December 2, 1823, when President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine, forever closing the North American continent to European colonization. “The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are not to be considered subjects for future colonization by any European powers.” – President James Monroe, December 1823
  • January 24, 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill marking the beginning of the Gold Rush, American westward expansion, and the significance of these events to America. “Many, very many, that come here meet with bad success and thousands will leave their bones here. Others will lose their health, contract diseases that they will carry to their graves with them. Some will have to beg their way home, and probably one half that come here will never make enough to carry them back. But this does not alter the fact about the gold being plenty here, but shows what a poor frail being man is, how liable to disappointments, disease and death.”S. Shufelt, in a letter to his cousin in 1850, from California.
  • September 2, 1862, when the deadliest one-day battle in American history was fought at Sharpsburg, Maryland, and how the outcome of the Battle of Antietam turned the tide of the Civil War. “In the time that I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield.” – Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, USA, Commander, I Corps, Army of the Potomac, September, 1862
  • March 30, 1867, when one of the largest land purchases was finalized and the United States, acquired Alaska from Russia for approximately two-cents an acre (roughly 32-cents today). “Tomorrow, if you like, I will come to the department, and we can enter upon the treaty.” [Senator Charles] Seward replied, “Why wait until tomorrow, Mr. ]Edouard de] Stoeckl? Let us make the treaty tonight.” – Assistant Secretary of State, Frederick Seward, the Senator’s son, later recalling the conversation of March 29, 1867.
  • December 17, 1902, when Orville and Wilber Wright successfully took their first flight at Kitty Hawke, North Carolina. “After running the engine and propellers a few minutes to get them in working order, I got on the machine at 10:35 for the first trial. The wind, according to our anemometers at this time, was blowing a little over 20 miles (corrected) 27 miles according to the Government anemometer at Kitty Hawk. On slipping the rope the machine started off increasing in speed to probably 7 or 8 miles. The machine lifted from the truck just as it was entering on the fourth rail. Mr. Daniels took a picture just as it left the tracks.” – from the diary of Orville Wright, December 17, 1902
  • July 16, 1945, when The Trinity Test successfully detonated the first atomic bomb, establishing the United States as the most powerful nation on earth and ushering in the atomic age. A month later, two bombs were dropped on Japan ending World War II, but revealing the true horrors of nuclear war to the world. “In that brief instant in the remote New Mexico desert the tremendous effort of the brains and brawn of all these people came suddenly and startlingly to the fullest fruition. Dr. Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarce breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and then when the announcer shouted ‘Now!’ and there came this tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter by the deep growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief. Several of the observers standing back of the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast.”General Leslie R. Groves, Head of the Manhattan Project, July, 1945

They became part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, marching alongside the thousands upon thousands of activists seeking to break through the barriers and extend civil, voting, and human rights to all. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse College Speech, 1948

They were there when the Berlin Wall went up and when it came down. “Everything was out of control. Police on horses watched. There was nothing they could do. The crowd had swollen. People were blowing long alpine horns which made a huge noise. There were fireworks, kites, flags and flags and flags, dogs, children. The wall was finally breaking. The cranes lifted slabs aside. East and West German police had traded caps. To get a better view, hundreds of people were climbing onto a shop on the West German side. We scampered up a nine foot wall. People helped each other; some lifted, others pulled. All along the building, people poured up the wall. At the Berlin Wall itself, which is 3 meters high, people had climbed up and were sitting astride. The final slab was moved away. A stream of East Germans began to pour through. People applauded and slapped their backs. A woman handed me a giant bottle of wine, which I opened and she and I began to pour cups of wine and hand them to the East Germans.” – Andreas Ramos, from his written personal account of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin, November, 1989

The Fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, marked the end of the Cold War and the division of communist East Berlin from the West. | Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Their seats weren’t at the end of a history book or in front of the screen of some long-forgotten projection. No, thanks to technology and the primary resources it offered, they had no seats at all. Instead, they were moving, seeking, learning, and growing right in the middle of it all.

And still I went further. Reaching out to other educators, individuals within my community with historical ties to some of these events, and even to my own husband who researched and collected Florida pre-historic artifacts, I invited them to my classroom. And with them they brought tangible pieces of history my students could feel and touch and learn from.

Like the pieces of a Spanish moss-woven Confederate soldier’s blanket, Civil War-era ammunition, and a soldier’s pipe. The hand-written diaries and letters of a local businessman’s ancestor who fought in the Civil War. The first-person videotaped interviews of World War II veterans living in our area. And my husband brought them pieces of his collection of ancient pottery, projectiles, tools, and fossils. I think every classes favorite was the mammoth molar (tooth) as big as some of their heads. That sure put the size of the beast in perspective for them!

And perspective was, after all the point.

Their seats weren’t at the end of a history book or in front of the screen of some long-forgotten projection. No, thanks to technology and the primary resources it offered, they had no seats at all. Instead, they were moving, seeking, learning, and growing right in the middle of it all.

For me, teaching history was never about names and dates. It was always colorful and alive, relevant and real. That’s how I‘d been lucky enough to learn and receive it, and that’s how I wanted my students to experience it.

I viewed being a teacher as my vocation and I was passionate about fulfilling my responsibility as a mentor and a guide. My goal was to give my students tools they could use throughout their lives, to encourage them on their journey, but to ultimately step back and allow them to take the helm.

And Civics was no exception. Even though it is no longer taught as a subject in our schools, I believe it to be one of the most vital pieces of education, and for me, an essential part of teaching American History.

To that end, my school participated in mock elections, hosted local and state leaders in our classrooms, participated in letter-writing campaigns to our Congressmen and women, and perhaps more importantly participated in community service activities like food drives and raising money for victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters across the globe.

One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.

– Amanda Litvinov in a 2017 article, Forgotten Purpose: Civics Education in Public Schools

Through the years I learned that just as history cannot afford to be viewed as a static entity, neither can the teaching of it.

That’s why to me, this current trend of using history as a means to a political end-game; of actively seeking its destruction through tendentious and divisive narratives determined to rewrite it, are lethal to all that unites us and makes us American.

The evidence of that is being seen now more than ever. Just turn on the television —from dangerous and destructive riots that encourage division and hatred, to anti-American rhetoric spray-painted across our cities, toppled monuments and burning flags, — and most destructively of all, this sweeping narrative that demands we view everything through the lens of racism; this lack of patriotism is destroying more than our culture, it’s threatening our way of life and our very existence.

A free people cannot be controlled. That’s why oppression is the goal of tyranny. It has been since the dawn of time. It is only through the dismantling of liberty, the destruction of freedom, the promotion of division, and the usurpation of the inalienable rights granted to ALL human beings by God that tyrants gain power. 

Sewing the seeds of fear and division is the first step, so that all the steps that follow can be painted with that brush and that brush only. And for one purpose only. Power. And power gained through oppression can only be maintained and strengthened through fear, by force, and by silencing any voices that rise above all the noise they created in the first place.

Jennifer N. Fenwick

The only weapon we really have against this tide is knowledge and our willingness to continually defend our right to seek it, especially in this age of intentional misinformation, misdirection, and rhetoric presented as fact.

When it comes to the history of our country this is most vital. As Dr. Bennett so eloquently stated, “If they [students] do not know what they came from, what their legacy is, what their inheritance is, how will they support or defend it?”

Through the years I learned that just as history cannot afford to be viewed as a static entity, neither can the teaching of it. How can we expect our children to value our Nation’s past if we do not value the teaching of it? | Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task.

Haim Ginott

I left teaching in 2008. As the years pass, I realize that I left a bit of myself there too. In the lives of all the students I taught and in all the ways they enriched my soul.

For the past decade I have worked in the government contracting industry as a developer of training and educational products for the Department of Defense (DoD). Still a form of teaching, I suppose, but not in the same way as the fifteen years I spent in the classroom and as a coach. Those years, I admit, were the pinnacle of my career, for nothing else I would ever do would feed my soul or fill my heart with so much gratitude and pride.

My students are now adults, college graduates, husbands and wives, parents, contributing in their own ways, to the world around them. I keep in touch with many of them, thanks to the ease of social media, and I’ve even worked with a few of them at times. They still call me, “Ms. Fenwick, or Fenny,” even though I tell them they can call me “Jennifer,” now that they are grown. They have a hard time with that, as I suppose no matter how old they get, I’ll always be their teacher. A title I wear with extreme pride. As much pride as I feel every time I see their successes, celebrate another milestone in their lives, or witness the moments in which they truly blossom.

Any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone’s knowing how to bring about a better condition of things than existed earlier.

John Dewey

For a year or two, I was witness to their growth and learning every day, then I had to let them go – on to the next chapter of their lives. But I never stopped holding them in my heart, and more than that, I never stopped being poignantly humbled and eternally grateful for all the lessons they taught me.

Empowering my students was a daily goal. Teaching them to think for themselves and to embark on a journey where seeking knowledge was always at the forefront.

For the short time I had them, I felt a deep sense of responsibility for helping to shape their attitudes and perceptions toward knowledge and learning, and not simply to just teach them American History. “Learning,” I’d explain to them, “is a lifelong endeavor. It’s not something that has a finite end, but instead, it’s something that continually shapes our lives and ultimately our growth.” And truly, isn’t that the real goal of education, to continually grow and evolve, as we gain knowledge through experience, as well as through education?

Understanding that middle school students wouldn’t understand this perspective from my words only, I set about teaching them through example. My goal? To instill in them a lifelong desire for knowledge; a deep and intrinsic desire to continually ask questions and to seek, of their own volition, the answers. In my own experience, and through the guidance of my parents and some of my own teachers, I was shown the value of the quest and ultimately the lasting effect of earning knowledge.

As a history teacher, I found myself in the unique position of being a mentor to hundreds of students over the course of the fifteen years I taught. I took that position very seriously, constantly seeking new and meaningful ways to teach my kids the great importance of looking deeper than the history books, beneath all the clutter and noise, in order to find a truth that does exist. It takes time and focused research, which in this day and age, is becoming a lost art. Still, the impact of seeking, of being willing to dig deeper, is so very rewarding and necessary if we are to become informed citizens. 

One of the easiest, and most underused methods available to us all is simply this, learn to perfect the art of distinguishing fact from opinion. In doing so, you become more adept at drawing relevant conclusions, thus arming yourself with one of the most powerful weapons available, knowledge that is earned and not simply given. It’s not hard, but it makes such an important difference. 

When we were embarking on the history of the U.S. Constitution, I wondered, what better way for them to understand the process, the debate, the compromises that went into shaping this document, then to recreate the Constitutional Convention in my classroom? To assign each of them to the role of one of the delegates? To give them the opportunity to step into the past and assume the perspectives, if they could, of the very men who met in the Summer of 1787 to draft the document? It wasn’t the names and the dates, after all, that were important, but rather the lessons learned and the words that were drafted, that still held relevance today, that were at the heart of the lesson.

From the activity, many questions arose, many debates ensued, and many new perspectives were gained. I think one of the most important lessons my students learned, something I myself had learned when I was their age, was that history should not be judged by the principles of the present, but rather we should acknowledge the evolution of those thought processes and the changing mindset of ensuing generations. How else are we to learn from the past? How else will we prevent the repetition of events that have already transpired, that have already been sacrificed for, that have already left their indelible marks?

There’s a wealth of beauty and sustaining principles upon which our country is founded. Is it perfect? No. But I firmly believe it strives to be. I’m not talking about politics here, I’m speaking of the rich and meaningful history of our country. The good and the bad. The foundations upon which our Constitution was founded and the amendments that have been added since the Bill of Rights. The foundations that have guided us through centuries of growth and progress, through wars and discord, through changing centuries and a changing world. These are not obsolete, but very much relevant even to this day. 

Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.

Josef Albers

When studying the U. S. Civil War, my classroom became a replica of the country during that period of our history. My students were divided into the Union and the Confederacy. They were tasked with researching each battle, each conflict, each principle, from the perspective of the side they were on. It was difficult at times. There were many issues that were difficult for them to wrap their minds around, many questions that we needed to address together. But in the end, by the time we reached the surrender at Appomattox, they shone with a sense of pride, and a deeper understanding of one of the most poignant and agonizing periods of American History.

Above all, I hoped that they walked away with a deeper understanding of the power of actively pursuing knowledge, rather than simply receiving it; of being willing to ask the questions, of doing the research, and seeking the answers on their own, and then, and only then, when armed with the information and the facts, in forming their own, individual opinions. Their successes became my reward. Their pride in themselves for a job well-done, my gift.

The teacher’s task is to initiate the learning process and then get out of the way.

John Warren

Teaching is in fact a calling. There are no grandiose salaries. The work itself can be at times, frustrating and it often goes unappreciated. Our society doesn’t go out of its way to value teachers or to stress the importance of their role in the lives of future generations. Teachers go into this profession, knowing and understanding that. But thankfully, still go into it nonetheless.

I can only hope and pray that the call to teaching continues to beckon future generations. That individuals who understand the value and necessity of embarking on this career, aren’t dissuaded by the negative aspects, but look at it instead as an opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of so many.

You may be wondering at this point, if I feel so strongly about this profession, why I left? It wasn’t an easy decision, nor was it one I took lightly. An opportunity that enabled me to provide more financial support for my family, better benefits, and a better retirement package presented itself. It was as hard and as simple as that.

Though my new position has many perks, it hasn’t, nor will it ever, replace the things I gave up when I left teaching. I will always be an educator at heart. And though I’ve been out of the profession for a decade, I continue to support my fellow educators and the individuals and programs that give them the support and the tools they need to continue to do their jobs effectively and with passion.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see (Alexandra K. Trenfor),” while, “A good student is one who will teach you something (Hanifa Jackson-Adderly).

That’s the beauty of being a teacher. It’s a two-way path. The path we chose, to become teachers and the preparation we undergo to ensure we are effective ones; and the path our students walk; eager to learn, often frustrated and combative, wanting desperately to reach that capstone year so they can graduate and enter the “real world” finally.

My students are now young adults, embarking on their own lives and successfully pursuing their goals. In my heart though, they will always be the best reminders of what it truly means to teach, to inspire, and for me, to always be a lifelong learner.

I encouraged my students to strive to become individuals of accomplishment in their quest for knowledge as much as they were in the other areas of their lives. I reminded them daily that they lived in a country that values and protects their right to do so. That they should, in fact, embrace this gift and even more, actively seek knowledge, for it is this that will ultimately enable us to prevail and to grow from generation to generation.

Afterall, The best and most lasting gift we can give our students, is the ability to critically think and the desire and passion to pursue knowledge and learning throughout their lives.

It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts – it is to teach them to think, if that is possible, and to always think for themselves.

Robert Hutchins

(©2019)  Jennifer N. Fenwick, former teacher and author Four Weeks and In the Eye of the Storm  

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”
~ Albert Einstein.

My students used to tell me I was a nerd. I’d laugh and thank them, taking it as a compliment. I wasn’t ashamed of the fact that I loved books, and words, and writing and research, and well, learning in general.

Since I was a young girl. I got excited at the thought of finding a new author to follow, eager to read their words and to become a part of the fabric of their story. I got downright giddy when I’d come across a new word. I’d excitedly add it to my “Word Journal” – yes, I kept a journal of new words I came across. I’d write them down and then look them up and use them in conversation and in my writing. I’d been doing it since I was very young. When I shared this with my students, hoping to encourage them to do the same, they’d look at me as if I’d just spontaneously sprouted wings and a tail right in front of them! “What?” I’d ask them.

“Google transformed the way most of us get our information with a search engine that enables us to find citizen-created media content alongside the work of professionals.” ~ Rebecca MacKinnon, American Journalist

“Ms. Fenwick,” they’d explain, exasperatedly, “You can Google anything;” like I was from a different planet, rather than a different era. “In my day, Google wasn’t even a word in the English language,” I’d mutter under my breath, further proving the vastness of the cavern between us.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, the man who never reads lives only once.”
~ George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

What was the fun of “Googling” everything? It wasn’t the same as writing a word down and then looking it up in an actual dictionary. The act of writing it down made it personal. And seeking out the meaning, turning the pages of the dictionary, running your fingers across the pages until they located the word you were searching for – it was like a treasure hunt; and writing down the definition, well that just meant you’d taken ownership of the knowledge. It was tangible and therefore something that would then become part of your vernacular, part of your story.  

“You can’t get that from GOOGLE!” I’d say, throwing my hands out, pleading for my students to understand the beauty of the process as I did. Nothing. Blank faces.

“Um, Ms. Fenwick,” one brave student would finally raise their hand slowly, speaking for the whole group, “Google has dictionaries too.”  Of course, it did! Apparently, GOOGLE had everything. How had I managed to get through my life, let alone three college degrees, without Google!

My love of language, history, reading, of learning in general, I could attribute to my father’s influence. He grew up in a poor, rural community in Georgia. After graduating from high school, he entered the Coast Guard, where he served for four years. College wasn’t something his family could afford, so the service was the next best thing.

For my Dad though, life was his university, living, his degree. He surrounded himself with the classics. He made sure we had a beautiful set of encyclopedias and a Webster’s hardbound dictionary in our home. A library card was a well-earned privilege. I spent many hours talking with him about history, current events, even philosophy and spirituality. He was well-read, and wise, and engaging, encouraging us to think for ourselves, to never stop asking questions.

“When you cease to learn, to continually seek knowledge, no matter what your position or pedigree,” he’d explain, “You cease living.” I loved that about my Dad, his humility and his understanding of the importance of being an active seeker of knowledge, rather than a passive receiver.

I couldn’t help but wonder at times, if the advancements being made in technology and the ease in which today’s students could access information, wasn’t somehow diminishing that active pursuit of knowledge my father was talking about.

The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.” ~ John Locke, English Philosopher (1632-1704)

Was “Googling” for information the same as opening a book and searching for answers? Was it the same as actually going to the library and looking up book titles and then searching the shelves and finding them, checking them out?

Though a great tool that allows access to a wider world of information, should Google be the only way students seek information? Is the resulting knowledge somehow less appreciated because it is so easily gained? Or am I simply as antiquated as my students think me to be; resisting the new because I had grown up in an era when Google wasn’t an option?  

I taught Language Arts and American History, so reading, research and writing were a big and natural part of my lessons. I found incorporating modern technological advances into my curriculum, along with a good dose of the old-fashioned tools – like the library and actual books – was a happy medium. I wanted my students to experience both worlds. I wanted them to uncover the answers to their questions and to seek out knowledge on a personal level; to understand the intrinsic value of life-long learning and to experience the feeling of pride and accomplishment for a job well done.

“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” ~ Bill Gates

I understood that Google was part of their generation, as were electronic books, video games, social media, and easy and instant access to everything on their cell phones.

In order to grow with my students, to engage meaningfully with them, and to remain relevant as an educator, I would have to embrace these things, BUT – and it was a pretty important “but” to me – I also felt a responsibility to keep the past alive as well. To give them opportunities to do things the old-fashioned way; to open actual books; to understand how to use and to experience a library, to write a research paper, to increase their vocabulary through reading, and yes, to keep a word journal – even if it was using the notes app on their phone.

Acquiring, retaining, and applying knowledge was the most important part of their education. And though they might not appreciate that in the moment, I knew there would come a time when some of them would actually be grateful. And for this life-long logophile and lover of learning, that’s the reason I became a teacher in the first place. 

© 2019 Jennifer N. Fenwick, Author, In the Eye of the Storm: Stories of Survival and Hope from the Florida Panhandle