One of my favorite lectures to give is our discussion on Roman legends and values. I use this as an introduction to Livy in my Greek and Roman History Class and as a discussion on Roman character in the World History Classes. I have several goals in mind. First to explain why Livy selected many of the events found in his 48 books of Roman history. A second would be to assess how little my students have been taught about their own Roman and particularly their American heritage, and finally to inspire them with the virtues of the great men whose stories make History valuable as a tool for building character and defending Western Values.
I always begin by asking them to tell me about Washington and the Cherry tree. Most students have no idea what I am talking about. There are always a handful, at least one, who will admit to knowing the story. I have this student recount the tale. There inevitably follows a condemnation of the story; the “it really didn’t happen” disclaimer. I usually retort with a, “well, I’m sure historians revising history for their unique agendas in the late 20th century knew more about it than Washington Irving.” I hope my sarcasm is not lost on them. I then ask them to explain the lessons of the Cherry Tree story.
“That great men are always honest,” is usually the answer we arrive at.
“And why is that an important lesson to teach and learn?” I ask.
“So we will be honest, and expect our leaders to be honest.”
At this point I tell the following story, strictly for comic relief;
A very upset father stumbles through the door of the one room shack he shares with his two sons. “Who pushed the outhouse off the cliff,” he demands. You see; to save them the trouble of re-digging the outhouse hole the old man built his master work on a strut out over a near by cliff. The two boys look at each other and responded they have no idea. Then their father tells them the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree, ending with:
“And since George Washington told the truth his dad didn’t beat him. Now tell me, who pushed the outhouse off the cliff?” The boys look at each other and with a grin tell their dad:
“Okay, we did it.”
The father lit into them with a switch and beat them near to death, as the oldest brother goes down he cries out:
“But pa, when George Washington told the truth, his dad didn’t beat him!”
“Ya” says the old man, “and George Washington’s father wasn’t sitting in the cherry tree!!!”
I then ask if any knows the story of Abraham Lincoln and the pennies. Someone usually can recount the story of Lincoln’s journey to return a few pennies over charged to a customer, but most have gotten through ten years of American education without ever hearing the story.
Now comes the real tests. I ask if any of them have ever heard the story of John Paul Jones. None ever have. Here I launch into my indictment of the poor quality of their history lessons, and ask them how can they possibly learn what it is to be Americans if they don’t know our national legends. After telling the story of John Paul Jones, I ask them what the message is. They always know that it is that Americans never give up, that the tougher things get the harder we (Americans) fight. How painful that they have never been taught the stories that define their character, no wonder so many seem to have lost that attribute.
My final American example is always Nathan Hale. I almost never find a student that recognizes his name. Rarely, after I have told the story, someone will claim they have heard it; but even that fading link is growing rare. Once, Nathan Hale instructed a nation of young people on the “terminal value” of freedom, a treasure more valuable than life. I still get a bit emotional as I tell of his death. I find myself wondering how a generation of Americans who are growing up without their defining legends will survive.
We then go on to discuss some of the Roman legends that define Roman Character, attributes Americans once admired as they did the Republic built on the seven hills.
The stories include:
1. Romulus’ defense of Rome against any enemy, even his brother.
2. Brutus’ overthrow of the unjust king, Traquin, in response to the rape and death of Lucretia.
3. Horatius at the bridge, where one man saves his nation by courage and sacrifice.
4. The execution of Brutus’ sons, when the Council gives justice against those he loves the most in order to save his city.
5. Gaius Mucius who places his hand in the flames to show that torture can never move a Roman boy to betray his country.
6. Titus Manulus, who executes his own son for disobeying an order on the field of battle.
7. Cincinnatus who left his plow in the field to save his country from its foes and then returns to his humble farm, putting down the absolute authority of dictator, once he has served his country.
There are many other stories that craft the Roman and the American character, but more and more the stories students are taught belittle and villainise the great men of the past in order to fulfill modern political agendas. More and more the ideas that once bound Americans together are disregarded as our children are actually taught to be ashamed of American values and American accomplishments.
We are losing the common heritage that made us who we are and are losing the common values that made it possible for this nation to stand against its enemies. Consider this in the light of a statement from the film *Obsession – Radical Islam’s War against the West*:
Hussein Saad AL-Qassam, Brigades Commander in N. Gaza, December 2005 – from the Hamas Website -
“We succeeded, with Allah’s grace, to raise an ideological generation; that loves death like our enemies love life.”
This threat becomes particularly frightening when we consider that the present American generation is not being taught to love their country, their heritage, or their heroes. Instead they are being taught to be ashamed of the accomplishments that have brought freedom and prosperity to millions.
6 months ago