And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” Deuteronomy 4:8-10 (NIV)
It has been two weeks since I posted and a lot has happened. Here is what I have been learning both in school and out.
1. When Governments disagree, the people suffer
During the revolutionary war, it was the common people who suffered the most. The farmers who took at stand at Lexington and Concord, the women who were raped by the Hessian soldiers (German mercenaries hired by Britain to fight the war for them), the Tories who stood with Britain and suffered persecution at the hands of their neighbors in the name of liberty, and the soldiers who died from exposure and starvation were all every day people caught in the middle of a conflict. As I spend my days trying to figure out how to reduce my budgets by ten percent, I can’t help but remember that it will be the people who suffer as local governments fuss with our state’s governor over tax cuts. The voters agreed with our governor who some revere like a king. They followed his lead and voted for property tax relief. On average, they will get $250 taken off their tax bill. In response, local governments are privatizing libraries, closing museums, reducing hours at park facilities and laying off staff. It feels as though some decisions are being made in revenge and based on how to hurt tax payers the most. Because I made the decision not to lay off any staff and because I have to keep the electric on in order to protect the artifacts and buildings entrusted to us, all of my cuts will come in the form of supplies and services. Historians and librarians with master’s degrees will be cleaning toilets and painting buildings instead of hiring that work out. Supplies to do their work will be virtually non existent. At one museum for example, they will have $104 per month to buy school tour and exhibit supplies. I think we will begin asking visitors to bring their own toilet paper.
2. Don’t give up the fight
There are some who debate whether John Paul Jones really said, “I have not yet begun to fight,” but I think it is a good motto for my line of work anyway. Jones was commander of a small ship that sank. Just prior to its sinking, he captures and occupied a British frigate after a desperate battle. While Jones was just a gnat fighting against the big fly of the British navy, he had support from a friendly foe, the French, who helped to capture British held American ports and eventually backed up the Americans at Yorktown to end the war. In my work, I am fighting our local school officials who have decided to tear down a 1926 school building that for a time was the only High School in our county. The decision was made in secret by staff and presented to the School Board practically as a done deal. Some truths were stretched to make their point that the building was not worth saving. With the help of an incredibly organized alumni association and historic preservationists on a state level, we are making a good case before our elected officials as to why they need to listen to the people and reconsider the decision of their staff. The building may yet be saved.
3. Somebody needs to be in Charge
After declaring themselves free of British rule, Americans really did not know how to set up a government. No one had time to think during the war what they would do with their liberty if they could gain it. It was just survival of the fittest and indeed the primary reason the Patriots won was because they outlasted the British. One thing they did know, they wanted no part of a monarchy or a strong centralist government. So, from 1781 until 1788, Americans united under the Articles of Confederation. This agreement loosely bound the colonies together as states or in some cases commonwealths but it gave no real power to congress, so no one was really in charge. When economic crisis and fear of mob rule finally mobilized the states to come together, our Constitution was born along with the republican government with its checks and balances that we still follow today. I experienced my own time with no one in charge as a group of us tried to pull together a Sweetheart Banquet at church last week. The date had been on everyone’s calendar for a while, but no one stepped up to be in charge. Some of us who are known for being good organizers were assigned the task (believe me I said no twice, but no one was listening). But because we had very little time, only three weeks, and no one really wanted to be in charge, it was rough going. The only thing that saved us is that we all are Christians who want to serve God. It was His intervention that kept us from killing each other. We came close to walking away from it several times and harsh words were on everyone’s lips a time or two, but peace reigned in the end. The banquet turned out to be well attended with beautiful decorations, fun entertainment and great food. I just hope no one ever asks me to do that again.
4. Take a stand for what you believe
One of the most interesting things I have learned about the Revolutionary War is that one third of the Americans did not take a stand either for the Patriots or for the British during the war. They stayed on the fence just waiting to see who would win the war. It is interesting to think what might have happened if that group had taken a stand. One way or another, they would have influenced the outcome of the war. I am now serving on a committee at church that is drafting people to serve on the different committees that keep the church functioning. We are trying to learn about people’s talents and gifts and put them on committees where they can serve best. But, it gets very discouraging when you think you have found just the right person, and they say no to service. Of course, everyone has their reasons, but until more people step forward to help, the same people will carry the entire load and in the end, the church itself will suffer.
5. Get the shot
There is a bad bug going around our community. So far, I have managed to avoid all but a little touch of it. I think it is because I got a flu shot last fall. Some of my staff have been sick, and we have all had to work to cover for the ones who are out. It reminded me of another thing that changed the outcome of the Revolutionary War, the smallpox vaccine. Smallpox was a greater killer than battle injury during the war. In fact, the Patriots lost the first battle of the war, not because they were outnumbered by the British but because the American troops got smallpox. In the winter of 1777, George Washington took a great gamble and ordered the inoculation of all the troops. The British did not do the same and smallpox continued to decimate the Redcoats. In a war that was won by being the last to hang on, smallpox helped American win the war by killing off the British soldiers faster than gunfire.
6. Decline of deference is nothing new
Along with an economic crisis, social changes helped our Founding Fathers to decide to enact our Constitution and government. They looked around them after the Revolutionary War and noticed what they called “The Decline of Deference.” In other words, before the war, there were marked differences in class in the colonies. Dress, housing, methods of transportation, language and education marked the upper classes from the lower ones. After the Declaration of Independence, people began talking about liberty and it was not just freedom from the constraints of British rule. Women and slaves as well as the lower classes wanted equality. The poor began wanting to dress like the middle class. They did not get off the sidewalk to let the wealthy pass by. Women agitated for property rights. The government leaders began thinking it would not be long before mob rule would take over. I see mob rule enacted every night in my college class. This group of students is so unlike what I knew thirty years ago. They are rude, talking, eating, reading the newspaper or playing on their cell phones while the professor lectures. Half of them do not take notes at all, but sit glassy eyed and seemingly deaf to the stories he tells. What they wear to class is simply amazing. Half of them wear less than I do to the beach. They get up in the middle of class and leave, wandering in and out carrying pizza boxes and soda. They pack up their belongings twenty minutes before class is to end and walk out while the professor still stands on the podium talking. I took this class to see what it would be like to be a professor myself. Now, I am not so sure I want to take that route. It seems more like babysitting than educating.
7. Stand your ground even if people think you are crazy
The men who signed the Declaration of Independence went against every grain of common sense of their day. No one had fought against the British and won. They were the largest empire of their time and all powerful. The British were heavily favored to come in and squash the revolution in a matter of months. In fact, if their generals had not been so cocky and if Providence had not ordained several close escapes, the Revolutionary War would have been over almost before it began. Most thought that when they signed their name to that paper, they would be headed for the gallows. Yet, they stood their ground and stood up for what they believed in. I stood my ground as well these past few weeks. Oldest son is coming home from college and was bringing several of his friends, boys and girls alike. I cleaned the house thoroughly and fixed up his room for the girls. When I told him what I had done, there was silence on the other end of the phone before he said, “We can talk about that.” “No,” I replied, “there is nothing to talk about. Boys and girls do not sleep together in my house until they are married. This is my house and my rules.” He made an excuse and hung up only to call his dad a few minutes later and announce that they would not be coming. I was disappointed in him and his friends, but not about to change my mind. Funny thing, though. While some of the boys have decided to come after all, the girls are staying elsewhere. It seems their mamas did not even want them coming to my house even though they would sleep in separate rooms, it was too close in proximity to the boys. It’s good not to be the only old fashioned mom on the planet.
So ends your History lesson for the day and a summary of the reasons why I have not had time to blog in the last two weeks. There are wars to fight and battles to win. And not all of them happened two hundred years ago.