Sunday, July 18, 2010

Takeaways from Madison's Montpelier, Part IV

This is the fourth and final post in a series about my experience at Montpelier, the home of President James Madison. These are in response to a week of tours, discussions, and lectures. Here are the first, second, and third posts transcribed from my personal and like this one are not necessarily ideas endorsed by the Center for the Constitution. Here is part four of my takeaways:

One of the primary purposes of an educator is to challenge student's upbringing. Show them what they cannot learn at home.

Madison put a large emphasis on prudence. Here's a humorous example of it in practice.

One of the professors asks his students on the first day: "what percentage of my job is to change you?" Most say very little. He then responds with: "what if you're a jerk?" That convinced me that even if students do not want me to change them, I should.

Educators often spend an exorbitant amount of energy on convincing their students they are knowledgeable. Does that teach our students that you can get to a level where you don't need to learn anymore? Perhaps we should teach them that adults don't know what they are doing most of the time, but that they still manage to function.

A lecturer pointed out that it is an American rarity that we fly our flag so much. This question from the UK seems to corroborate that.

One way to draw young students into the content of history is to start each day with "once upon a time".

In any social science (but economics specifically), teachers should give their students the vocabulary tools required to describe the world.

Every elementary school teacher has at one time felt like a babysitter. Every high school teacher has at one time felt like a prison guard.

James Madison's famous wife, Dolly, looks an awful like the woman from the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Something I appreciated from the week's lecturers is they treated us like academic equals. I felt pulled up. I need to do that for my high school students.

In the long run, there are few jobs more influential than a very good public high school teacher. I see 150 students a year for 90 days for 90 minutes each day. That's is both encouraging and terrifying.

When you find a truth do you simply say "huh, interesting" and move on to your next task? Truth, because it is hard to find, should change our world view.

Many people are clever, but few are wise.

History remembers people in one sentence. Positive example: James Madison was the father of the Constitution. Negative example: John Payne Todd (Madison's step-son) was a drinker, a gambler, and one reason why Dolly Madison had to sell the family home.

America was founded on disagreement. The Constitution was built on conflict (internal and external).

One reason why this week had such a strong impact on me was the combination of fact and fiction. Hearing the content was helpful, but hearing the personal stories and seeing and standing where they happened made the ideas come to life.

When I say the word America, what does your mind's eye imagine? Mine is the eastern seaboard, public speakers, and the American military. Not sure how to interpret those three things together.

Something I did not fully grasp, or more accurately realized I did not fully grasp it, was citizenship. Americans have a looser understanding of that word than most of the world. I think I have an even looser definition.

Part of the experience of the week was meeting new people. More than race, age had a larger impact on who I was drawn to. All the people I met were fabulous, but I am naturally drawn to my generation. I am an agist.

If you can't govern yourself, you can't govern others. This is a problem for voters and politicians.

There is value in concern for your family. There is value in concern for your community. There is value in concern for your country. There is value in concern for your world. When the two conflict, who do you side with? It's either the first or the last. I think the difference in your decision is the difference between a liberal and a conservative.

The Leviathan, or a strong central government, used to be seen as the solution to man's troublesome nature. Today democracy, or the wisdom of the masses, is seen as the best tool. I think there is a third solution, with more of an emphasis on governmental competition and less on educated voters.

All teachers should find ways to get back behind a desk every so often. The National Endowment for the Humanities offers a wide range of options, but there are plenty out there.

And finally, I am very thankful for all of staff and participants who made the week so worthwhile I had to split it into four posts. I'm slowly being convinced we should use the blogosphere for our daily learning and trips like this to give us that regular push forward.


  1. Harrison, I stumbled across your blog and loved the 4-part series on your time at Madison's home. I especially like the fact you bring out in several of the posts about his ability to grow, develop, and change his mind without either being accused of being a "flip-flop" by the ignorant or of feeling he had to make elaborate excuses. From the time he was a young man, his inquisitive mind was always mulling everything. It was also what made him such a successful politician over a long career. He could usually see the points of view of the other sides and then look for ways to develop a way for enough people to come together to get something done. One small quibble, Madison and Washington were both members of the Constitutional Convention and "made" the Constitution they then defended as president. Also, the belief at the beginning of the Republic was that part of the job of the president was to interpret the Constitution. As the court asserted more power, especially after Marbury v Madison and several other cases, the president ceased to be seen in that role. "Original intent" was to see the president as the interpreter -- luckily, the third branch brings that balance that would be missing if only one person could make those complex interpretations. Anyway, I've become a follower and looking forward to your continued posts.

  2. Good point about Washington, though we would both agree Madison had more of a direct role in the creation of the Constitution. Though it's fairly certain the meeting wouldn't have even happened without the promise of the famous General Washington being there.

    Thanks for reading and I hope to hear more from you in the future.


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