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We the Teachers

A Valley Forge Week-End Wrap Up

October 22, 2019

by Ray Tyler

Most professional development takes place inside schools and school district offices, and good teachers glean useful pedagogical ideas from these programs. Rarely do teachers enjoy an off-site program that completely reframes the content they teach. Sixteen teachers who recently traveled to Valley Forge, PA for a Liberty Fund/Teaching American History Week-end Colloquium used words like “powerful,” “incredible,” and “invaluable” to describe their experience. Now, back in their classrooms they are developing new lesson plans and fine-tuning old plans that incorporate their deeper understanding of Washington and his legacy.

Well-fed and comfortably treated by our host organization, Freedom Foundation, we spent three days reading and discussing the writings of George Washington. We considered how his leadership of the Revolutionary forces and president of a brand new nation exemplified the American ideal of freedom, tempered by responsibility. Noted Washington scholar, Dr William Allen facilitated the discussions, posing questions on Washington’s career and touching on themes such as Washington’s views on republicanism, civic virtue and religious liberty.

Back home, teachers quickly began thinking about effective ways to share their insights with their students. Molly Beck, who teaches in the St Louis area is planning to incorporate her take-aways in a unit plan on the presidency. Her students will extract traits they see in Washington, by reading some of his letters and compare those traits to another president. Molly says, “Ultimately, this will be an examination of what makes a president effective.” Pennsylvania middle school teacher Scott Fischer is “stressing Washington’s duty to country, commitment to republican ideals, and vision for the young nation” in his lesson plans. Another Pennsylvania teacher, Brandon Gruden, is assigning his students primary sources discussed in the colloquium that highlight Washington’s views on “civic virtue .. a foundational principle in a well functioning republican form of government.” Brandon is also using documents from Washington’s presidency to illustrate his foresight about the future of the country.

Every TAH/Liberty Fund week-end colloquium includes a visit to a historical site. This colloquium’s site was the Valley Forge National Historical Park. On Saturday afternoon, Freedom Foundation’s Arch Hunter led us on a tour of Washington’s headquarters, soldier huts, remains of redoubts, and the training field where General von Steuben turned Washington’s ragtag collection of spirited but undisciplined troops into an effective fighting force.Todd Beaudoin from West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, MI, enjoyed the chance to “walk the fields where the revolutionary soldiers were stationed.” And Jesse Hankins said; “By seeing the same sights historical figures saw, we can bring them alive” in the classroom
Teaching American History is continuing the week-end colloquia tradition this fall and in 2020. Week-ends are planned at Valley Forge, Madison’s Montpelier and the World War I Museum in Kansas City in 2019 and at scattered sites around the country in 2020 from Williamsburg VA to Las Vegas, NV. Teachers selected to participate will have the cost of lodging, meals, and materials for the colloquia covered through the generosity of our donors. In addition, participants will receive a stipend of $300 (contingent on full attendance at program activities) to defray the cost of travel to and from the program site.

Each seminar is limited to 20 participants.

Participation is based on a competitive application process. Qualifications are below.

Applicants must be current K-12 school teachers; high school teachers will be given priority.

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