May 7, 2015

Teaching your children about the history of the United States — through reading and travel.

Is this something you've done or will do for your children? Did your parents do it for you? Mine did, a bit, with trips to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. I appreciate what they did, and I wish I'd done more. It's too late for me now to take any inspiration, but I was quite moved by a description I read yesterday of American History Parenting on a truly grand scale. I read it in in Robert A. Caro's "Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson)," but it's not something Lyndon Johnson did with his daughters. It's about Johnson's rival in the 1948 Senate election, Coke Stevenson. Stevenson had remarried (12 years after the death of his first wife) when he was 66, and a daughter was born 2 years later:

As soon as the little girl was old enough to understand (and she was old enough very young; at three and a half she was not only reading adult books but could speak fluent Spanish), Stevenson began telling her stories— wonderful stories— about the history of the United States, and of Texas— and of Greece and Rome. After she started school, on days when snow or ice made the roads impassable and she couldn’t get to school, he and Teeney would take over her education themselves, reading to her. And when Jane was nine, Coke and Teeney started showing Jane history for herself. They had read her the accounts of the Alamo, of course, and of the battles of San Jacinto and Goliad and Sabine Pass, and they took her to all those sites, but they also ranged farther afield. They took her to see the Oregon Trail, reading Parkman’s The Oregon Trail as they drove; the three of them followed the trails of Lewis and Clark. “And many of the other Western trails, too, trails we never hear of,” Teeney recalls. “Coke knew all the trails.” There was the Revolution and the Founding Fathers, and there were trips to Mount Vernon and Monticello, and there was the Civil War, and all the battlefields that made up part of the history that Coke Stevenson loved. By the time Jane was a teenager, she had been taken by her mother and father to every one of the forty-eight states, and to several provinces of Canada, also. And there was a trip to a place nearer home. Coming home from school one evening when she was eleven, Jane told her father and mother that her class had begun studying how the state government worked. Coke took her to Austin so she could see it work for herself; once again, there was the whisper in the halls of the Capitol, “Coke Stevenson’s here,” and people came out of their offices into the halls to see a tall, erect old man holding by the hand a skinny little girl in pigtails.
The little girl was Jane Stevenson Murr Chandler, who died in 2010. I can't find an obituary for her, and I wonder what she did with her life. Perhaps she lived in quiet obscurity, endlessly reading history, walking the great trails, visiting the battlefields and landmarks.

We were talking just a few days ago about parents who travel with children, and the subject was more the way parents these days take pride in keeping up an adventurous travel program even after their children are born, how they'd like to jet to Europe, baby on board, and are a bit ashamed when they resort to resorts where one lolls about by a pool or on the beach. That looks so dismal and pathetic compared to what Stevenson did for Jane — did with Jane, because what he did was only possible because he loved reading history so much and he really believed in something about America.

38 comments:

Bob Ellison said...

My parents took us kids on a driving trip from Arizona to Washington, DC and other points east. They also took us up the west coast, down to Mexico, and up to Canada. These are some of the most vivid memories of my life, and I did learn a lot about the history and culture of America, Canada, and Mexico.

Ann Althouse said...

It's easy to combine travel and reading while driving in the U.S. using audiobooks (e.g. "Undaunted Courage").

David said...

Recent survey: 26% of US 8th graders meet minimum acceptable standards in knowledge of US History. Black percentage was 8%.

MadisonMan said...

We would routinely stop at Civil War battlegrounds on our family trips. After a while, to a pre-teen, they all look alike.

When I traveled with my kids, I gave them the Road Atlas and quizzed them on it.

Patrick said...

We took only one trip when I was a kid, to St. Louis to see relatives. On the way back, we stopped at Springfield, and New Salem to see the Lincoln related sites. I credit that trip for my interest in history.

On a recent trip to Chicago, we played a US history CD. The kids could not get enough of it.

traditionalguy said...

I blame Henry Ford. Before the 1920s travel meant taking ships across the sea from Charleston and Savannah up the east coast to the Chesapeake Jamestown and Williamsburg) and then from Norfolk up to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Cape Cod.

Going far inland was too hard to do until the Erie Canal opened the Great Lakes all the way to far off Wisconsin.

There a steamboat down the Mississippi opened up places past Memphis to New Orleans where a ship over to Galveston tied into Houston's newly won nation of Texas.

That was about it until the Railroads were built, except for a few dangerous Wagon Trains to Oregon through Comanche lands.

Sean Gleeson said...

Oh yes, my parents did this with us. Once, we took a two-week car trip from Chicago to Disney World, but it was during the academic year, so my parents needed to get permission from our school. So they promised that it would be an extreme immersive U.S. history education. We saw many Civil War battlefields, and some museums and monuments. Dad made us a cool photo scrapbook that was really a handwritten history textbook, illustrated with our own photos and souvenirs (e.g., I remember a Confederate banknote pasted in there) complete with quizzes at the end. This book was evidence for the school that educating transpired.

It worked as promised. We spent a couple days at Disney World, but I don't remember it nearly as well as the cannons at Shiloh, and that homemade textbook. Someday, I would like to do something like that for my own kids.

Eleanor said...

I live a couple of miles from the Old North Bridge in Concord. I grew up a few miles from Plimouth Plantation. I have family all up and down the east coast. Our family vacations have all been steeped in colonial and civil war era history. When we moved to the Chicago area for a few years, and I asked my neighbors about planning local outings to see historical sites, they told me I could go into the city to see the water tower, but that's all they could come up with. We did find more than that to do, but I think growing up in an area steeped in history that celebrates that history encourages history travel more than living where it's not valued as much.

Patrick said...

Having relatives now in DC and Boston, I've been able to see, and take my kids to see lots of historic places (including the Old Both Bridge, Eleanor). I think my kids view travel as a way to learn history, which is pretty much what we do.

Michael K said...

In 1978, I took my then three kids to the east coast. WE went from Mt Vernon, to DC, to Boston and the Freedom Trail and finally to Maine. I wound up with tennis elbow from using a heavy movie camera although I don't know where those movies are now.

I took the kids to England when they were teenagers but it was hard to get them out of bed for history tours then. I finally gave them all Underground passes and told them the boys had to stay with the girls but they could go anywhere. That was about 1983.

I took them all to Alaska and rented a motor home in 1991. We spent a week driving to Denali, to Homer and points in between.

I've taken the younger ones to Europe many times. The older ones got married and went to law school. Stuff like that. I tried to make the Europe trips to historical places.

surfed said...

As a school teacher my daughter and I traveled all over the United States for months at a time - me behind the wheel of a Westfalia VW camper van and her with the Delorme gazetteers firmly in hand acting as a 6 year old GPS. I'd give anything to have those days back again. Oh wait, grandkids. My Sarah and her Chris need to get crackin'!

Curious George said...

My parents took us to about 35 of the states. Two weeks camping every year. Hit the historical markers. Went to Philadelphia, Boston, Gettysburg, Fort Sumter...and lot's of others, too many to think of. Henry Ford Village. Chicago Museums.

So yep. Lots. Why I did the same...and never Disney Land for my two boys.

m stone said...

I did the Michael K. east coast route with the kids, all the historic places.

To this day, their most memorable trips are to the eastern shore of Maryland--the beach.

mezzrow said...

What about an alternative history of America where Lyndon Johnson doesn't find success in stealing that election from Coke Stevenson with a ledger full of bogus votes late in the night from Duval County. How would this nation be different re: Vietnam, the "War on Poverty" and the like. If you haven't read Caro's book, go read it and get to know Coke Stevenson and every single thing about that snake Lyndon Johnson.

Roger Sweeny said...

When our kids were in middle and high school, we took a long, (relatively) slow trip from Boston to San Francisco, much of which involved the Oregon Trail (which had inspired a popular early video game).

Part of the idea was for them to see how BIG the country is, and to try to imagine doing the trip in a covered wagon, with no bathrooms or restaurants, setting up camp every night for months on end. To see how different the past was and how different other parts of the country are.

kcom said...

I thought you posted this because of this recent story in the news, which is directly on topic. But I guess not.

See dad's response to principal who won't excuse absences for 'educational' trip

DKWalser said...

Public schools make it much harder for parents to do these kind of things these days. My friend had a week-long business trip to Washington, DC, and he wanted to take his wife and kids so they could tour all the historic places. Over the summer, as a family they read about the places they would see about the people and events that had shaped our nation.

Then, about a month before the trip, he contacted each of his children's teachers to arrange for homework assignments so his kids could keep up with their peers while missing school for a week. The schools refused permission for the kids to miss school. The district threatened to fail all his kids if they missed that week of classes without a "legitimate" excuse. One sympathetic teacher suggested that they just call in sick. That's what they did. The district sent a truant officer and, finding the family away from home, there was hell to pay when they returned.

They homeschooled after that.

JSD said...

“Coke took her to Austin so she could see it work for herself; once again, there was the whisper in the halls of the Capitol, “Coke Stevenson’s here,” and people came out of their offices into the halls to see a tall, erect old man holding by the hand a skinny little girl in pigtails.”

The Texas Legislature is currently wrapping up its biannual session. It is a sight to behold. It’s a 4-5 month session where were deals are made and scores are settled. All the kings and their makers from across Texas make the weekly pilgrimage to Austin for longs meetings lasting into the night. You get one shot to make your case. Unlike other states where the legislature is always in session, in Texas, failure means the matter is closed and you have two years to regroup. I don’t know if this is the best way to run such a large state, but there is finality to everything.

WES said...

My parents took us on an RV trip touring the NE states, with stops in Mystic, CT, Sturbridge village in MA and Boston too, Acadia National Park in ME, Mt. Washington in NH and places in VT and RI that I cannot remember right now.

We went to Williamsburg VA, Grand Canyon, Hoover Damn, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Niagara Falls. St. Augstine FL (not sure if that one counts). And well I visited DC as part of the March for Life events.

As an adult I have done more in the Minute Man National Parks, Walden Pond, the re-enactment of the Battle of Lexington. Some places in San Francisco were also explored.

My husband did not do much travel even some of the history here in MA where we live and he grew up! With our kids yes they will be doing some visiting of the historic sites here and around the country.

Michael K said...

"They homeschooled after that."

It's always good to take kids out of abusive situations, which public school is.

paminwi said...

My kids learned history up close and personal on a trip to DC. On a very, very hot day and we were walking from some museum along embassy row to our hotel.

Lots and lots of sprinklers on embassy lawns. My kids wanted to run through the sprinklers and the first embassy we saw was the Iranian Embassy. I told them I think we need to pick a different one because they didn't like the US very much right now. So, every sprinkler we encountered was " do they like us?" The embassy that let my kids run the longest thru the sprinklers was the British Embassy. (They finally did ask us to move along). But, the response from my kids was "they must really like us because they let us play so long in the sprinkler!"

You learn in many different ways who your friends are!

Tari said...

On the subject of schools not issuing excuses for travel: public schools only get paid for the students who are there when attendance is submitted. Therefore, you child must be in his seat at that time, or bad sh!t will happen to you. That is the ONLY reason why public schools won't let kids travel: they want their money.

You can go ahead and do it anyway, provided your district doesn't have the right to take you to truancy court and make your life hell ... and if you're not in a magnet program. Our middle school is magnet (Houston ISD has tons of them, developed to avoid a busing order) and if kids have more than 3 unexcused absences a year, they are booted back to their zoned school. Fun times.

Sebastian said...

"Teaching your children about the history of the United States — through reading and travel.
Is this something you've done or will do for your children?"

Doesn't everyone?

Soon to be outlawed by Progs, no doubt. Contributes to "inequality" and might foster affection for America. Can't have that.

Ann Althouse said...

@mezzro You made me think of another passage in Caro's book:

"The philosophy embodied in the Texas Constitution dovetailed with the philosophy of the man who studied it in the light of a predawn fire in his ranch house by the South Llano; its character was his. Thrift, frugality— parsimony, in fact— the Constitution enjoined these on government as he had enjoined them on himself: the saving that had begun at the age of ten; the diligently kept account book; “in him,” a friend was to write, “there is an ingrained hatred of debt of all kinds.” Limits on government; the devotion to individuality, to free enterprise, to individual freedom— he had lived his entire life by those principles. And the lessons of his life— almost the only lessons, in effect, that he had had— had convinced him that the Constitution was correct. He had saved, stayed out of debt, foreseen his own destiny, known what he wanted, fought, with the aid of no one but his wife, to get it— and had he not attained his dream? His whole world added to that conviction. If the phrases of the Texas Constitution were phrases out of the nineteenth century— well, the Hill Country in which Coke Stevenson lived was, really, a nineteenth-century world."

Caro, Robert A. (2011-11-23). Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II (Kindle Locations 3779-3787). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Ann Althouse said...

Also:

"Teeney insisted that Coke show the reporter the historic marker that had been erected by the Texas State Historical Commission on the lawn of the Kimble County Courthouse. The marker had been placed in honor of a Texas institution. “Coke R. Stevenson,” it began. “Strong, Resourceful, Conservative Governor …” The reporter realized he was talking to “the only man in Texas who can look out his office window and see his own monument.” He realized how proud Coke was of the marker— at least partly because it bore the key word. “A conservative— he’s one who holds things together,” he told the reporter. “He shouldn’t fight all progressive movements, but he should be the balance wheel to hold the movement to where it won’t get out of hand.” He had been a conservative Governor, he said. “When I left office I left a thirty-five million dollar surplus.” He mentioned the old-age pensions he had tripled and the public welfare payments he had increased and the prison reforms and the more humane treatment in state institutions for the insane, and the reporter realized how very proud Coke Stevenson was of his whole life. Then Teeney and Coke drove the reporter out to the ranch, and he saw the house, and the love with which it was filled."

Caro, Robert A. (2011-11-23). Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson II (Kindle Locations 9257-9266). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

BudBrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Pawlak said...

Do today's children learn the following?A. "No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms"; "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government"; "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants"; “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. LET THEM TAKE ARMS.” (President Thomas Jefferson)
B. "The very atmosphere of firearms any where and every where restrains evil interference---they deserve a place of honor with all that is good."; "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty teeth"; "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master"; "Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected"; "A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government."; And, as still true, "The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves" (President George Washington)

Jim S. said...

I've always had the dream of letting my kids spend every other year studying whatever country interests them as an extended assignment, followed by a trip to that country. Obviously it would have to be a country where we'd be safe, but I still think it's a good idea. Now I just have to find a way to afford it.

mikee said...

I grew up with an incorrect understanding of the US Revolution against Britain, because for an inexpensive day trip my parents frequently took the family to King's Mountain, NC, on Sundays.

I thought for years as a child that the Revolution effectively ended in NC after the eponymous battle.

We also went to the beach quite often, which made me realize I liked the mountains more than the sand.

traditionalguy said...

King's Mountain battlefield is over the line from Charlotte and in South Carolina. But it was the deciding battle in the Revolution because it was the signal that made the British Empire's southern first strategy fall apart and sent Cornwallis' army to Yorktown to meet a British Fleet and sail north to restart the war in New York.

The French Fleet arrived instead.

Tom DeGisi said...

She had a son who got elected:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Murr

Yours,
Tom

BudBrown said...

facebook never passes?

https://www.facebook.com/jane.s.chandler.7?fref=nf

Unknown said...

All you evil people, hurting blacks by having and giving to your children such experiences!

Fat Man said...

"The little girl was Jane Stevenson Murr Chandler, who died in 2010"

Apparently not. Bud Brown and Tom DeGisi are to be complemented on their detective work. Ms. Chandler seems to be alive, well, happy, and the grandmother of three. May her tribe increase.

Fat Man said...

We made our children suffer through trips to places like Plymouth Plantation and Colonial Williamsburg. I hope they have forgiven us.

ken in tx said...

The statue at the Ellis County court house, Texas clearly shows that Frodo Baggins fought for Texas in the War of Northern Aggression.

ken in tx said...

I Tried to find a photo online but I couldn't. I guess you have to go there to see it.

BudBrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.