By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
I realize it is the end of June, but since the Fourth of July is just four days away, I wanted to touch on ‘liberty’, its definition, and what it should mean to all of us. Very often in life we take for granted the gifts given to us by our ancestors. We look with hindsight at the mistakes they made and forget the struggles they endured to establish the United States of America. It's easy to forget these people lived in a time as different from ours, as future generations will look upon the way we live. They experienced things on a daily basis we cannot comprehend, and they forged a nation that (at least to me) is the greatest nation on Earth. [Photo Credit: Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA – Richard Cummins, Corbis]
Still, more and more people rake Founding Fathers over the coals, and look at their lives with arrogance and contemporary disdain. Rather than be grateful for the wisdom and light they brought into the world, and the good they accomplished, they focus on the mistakes made. And yes, there were many mistakes during that time period that not only scarred the tapestry of this nation but seem to now be having a growing ripple effect in the 21st century. Modern day sensibilities cannot be applied to history. Rather, let us strive to remember they were learning and growing, just like we need to do today regarding certain issues and events.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to diminish in any way the negative, often horrible things that happened. Nor do I think society must become complacent. Quite the contrary; I think it vital people remember.
It was a War for change; change from slavery to freedom, and overhauling an economic ideology (that had been passed down from previous generations).
One side fought for continuing their way of life, threatened by any change being forced upon their beliefs, fearful of how such a change might affect them personally and financially. The other side fought for stopping a way of life that was cruel and denied people freedom and the lawful right to be treated with equality. This side fought for compassion and acceptance, for the nation to move forward united toward a better life for everyone.
Battles were waged, thousands upon thousands died. Cities and towns were destroyed. Land was stained with the blood of brother fighting against brother.
In the end, the nation moved forward, slowly, surely, along with a hope that the loss of life was not in vain. That the country had learned to be better as a united people. That the wounds that tore the nation apart would mend and heal. Amazing strides have been taken, yet there is still more to do. Change is not easy to accept. Unfortunately, rather than deal with the present and work toward peaceful progression, some people now want to blame reminders of the past for any act of ignorance or hatred in the present.
So, do we build over Gettysburg Battlefield now? Pretend it never happened now?
Rather, isn’t it imperative to learn from the past and move forward? Remembering the past, especially for future generations, means learning about history—good and bad. In order to ensure continued growth of a country and its people, and gain perspective on the individual rights of all its citizens, as we learn from the past, so must children be educated so they can carry on the high ideals of their country. From history, individuals learn from the hard-fought principles of justice and equality, purchased with blood and sacrifice.
There will be people (and trust me, there already are), who do not believe the Holocaust even happened.
For example, Sophie Nelisse, the talented child actress from Canada who portrayed Liesel in the powerful film, The Book Thief, admitted on a press tour that the Holocaust was not taught in her school. She had never heard about it before the book and making the film. And she voiced that she felt it was very important that young people learn about what happened. [Pictured above: The book burning scene from The Book Thief, 2013, directed by: Brian Percival; distributed by: 20th Century Fox]
When I write a historical novel, incorporating the history of the period is important to bring that time period to life – warts and all. When I read a book like Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, it brings awareness to not just how people lived, but documents the cruelty and injustice prevalent at that time. Films like To Kill A Mockingbird and Schindler’s List (both of which are based on a book) are important for the truth and light they cast on history. It would be irresponsible for a writer to NOT include that important aspect of history.
Hence, how can a person grow if they are prevented from learning the truth? What happens if books (fiction, non-fiction) or now school textbooks do not address the bad, the injustice, or anything considered not “politically correct” today? What happens if classic books are banned from summer reading lists? If teachers are handicapped from teaching the true history of their country, often reflected in literature, if that material is censored? What becomes of humanity if the struggles and battles fought, and what was learned from them, are never addressed?
Don’t we all fight struggles and battles in life? Every generation has obstacles it must overcome to move forward—hopefully. Humanity must evolve. Every generation learns from the past and improves—hopefully. But people cannot grow if they wear blinders, or put them on children. We cannot ban something because we don't like or believe what it says. And we, as a nation, cannot learn and grow about the rights of all people, regardless of their color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation if we are divisive, and close our minds and our hearts.
Eventually, the bell came into the possession of my widowed great-grandmother. She lived in what was then rural Dallas, in a tiny house situated between two of her daughters’ houses. One of those daughters was my grandmother. My great-grandmother would ring this bell if she needed help. She was quite elderly at the time, and they had no telephones in their homes. For my great-grandmother, that bell meant ‘liberty’ -- a means to have her voice heard.
The bell was given to my grandmother, who gave it to my mother. My mother gave it to me. So, I sit here – looking at this small bell – thinking about Emma, the spinster schoolteacher in my family tree, and her love of education and children. I think about how brave she was to endure loneliness and hardship on the almost barren frontier, dedicating her life to sharing her knowledge with children who would not have had an opportunity to attend school if she wasn’t there.
I think about my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and all the mothers who teach their children about heritage, their personal history, and what they learned in life. How hard we try to teach our children about faith, goodness, right from wrong; to fight for what is right, to respect all people; to be polite, have manners, show kindness, and be compassionate.
As more and more families moved west and towns were established, education and the establishment of a real school became very important. The schoolhouse, built by townspeople, symbolized an investment in the future—the future of their children, their community, and their country.
In an effort to document their history and the importance of these historic schools, there are many one-room (and two-room) schoolhouses being preserved across the country.
The Log Cabin Village located in Fort Worth, Texas has a preserved one-room schoolhouse from the 1870s. The Marine School, originally located on Commerce Street on the north side of Fort Worth, is constructed of vertically placed boards and batten.The interior of The Marine School is similar to the photograph you see pictured here, except its blackboard was not slate on an easel.
With regard to the interior decor of the schoolhouse, unless the town provided supplies (which was unlikely), or the teacher owned materials, i.e., maps, books (literature, history, botany, or a dictionary), portrait of George Washington, etc., that she brought with her, the classroom was not at all colorful or well supplied, but rather Spartan. The school usually had a cloakroom, as well as a wood-burning stove. Coal stoves were also used in certain areas.
Small in size, the school had one main room where children of various ages were instructed together. The grade level went from 1st grade to 8th grade, with the younger children seated closer to the teacher at the front of the room.
If you are curious about the marks on the “Blackboard” painting from 1877 [pictured], they were to teach drawing to school children during the 1870s. Another interesting note is that when he signed the painting, Winslow made it look as if written in chalk.
The photograph [pictured below] is of a one-room schoolhouse from 1921. Note the simple wooden construction of the walls, and the handmade benches for the children. The older boys in the back row are reading from a book in their lap, while the younger children in the front are listening to the teacher. There is also a stove in the center of the room to provide heat. Since these simply constructed schoolhouses were not insulated at all, imagine how cold and drafty the building would get during inclement weather.
In fact, in 2013, the National Trust for Historic Preservation added Montana’s rural schoolhouses to a list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, an action that speaks volumes about the significance of these structures.
By and large, most schoolhouses resembled a simple frame construction. Depending upon the climate, and what building materials were available, they might resemble a log-cabin. The more common schoolhouses were constructed of milled wood, usually painted white. Where trees were few, the school was constructed from other materials. For example, in the Southwest, a one-room schoolhouse might be made of stone or adobe. Early schools on the plains of the Midwest were made from sod. If the town had funds for it, the school might have a school bell housed inside a cupola, or a bell mounted to the building outside the door so that the teacher could sound it every morning. More often than not, the teacher had a hand-held bell, like the one my long ago relation, Emma, owned.
Very much like the country doctor making visits to the sick in his horse and buggy, these early rural teachers were valued, respected, indispensable members of the community. Long before the school day began at 9 am, particularly during bad weather, the teacher would light the stove so that when the children arrived—perhaps having walked a mile or more to school—the room would be warm and inviting. Some children rode a horse to school, and a paddock was nearby to secure it. If many children lived far from school, families might take turns bringing them to school by wagon. Would you call that wagon-pooling???
Each school day ended at 4:00 p.m. Many teachers were hired from advertisements in newspapers back east, and the expense for their transportation to the township was paid by the school board or community. Often children who had received an education at their local one-room schoolhouse later taught there as adults. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about attending school and become a teacher in her books. [Pictured: Painting of ‘Snap the Whip’ by Homer Winslow, 1873]
There is much to be learned from the past, and from the lessons we've learned individually and collectively. Whether that lesson happened in a one-room schoolhouse, on a bloody battlefield, researching your family tree, making your way in the world, fighting for an important cause or hope of acceptance, watching a powerful film, or reading a book—the important thing is to keep learning.
Holding tight to our history is important. So is learning from history and moving forward to protect freedom, justice, and equality. Preserving history and learning from history are critical aspects of having Liberty. They go hand-in-hand. Perhaps we should all have a little bell to remind us that every generation has struggled, and that the freedom and opportunities we all cherish apply to everyone. A bell that resonates inside our hearts and minds when we become judgmental, to help us remember we are all connected as human beings.
[Photo Credit: Liberty Bell, Philadelphia PA - Racheal Grazias, Shutterstock.com]
My personal hope for this Fourth of July and every day is that all of us--as individuals and as a collective humanity--focus on the positive, honor the wonderful foundation of freedom and democracy given to us, yet also learn from past mistakes. Show compassion and respect toward one another--especially for our differences as human beings. I pray we can be united as a people and a country, and treat each other with respect. dignity, and acceptance.
Thanks for visiting today, and I hope you enjoyed the post. Out of respect for the other members of this blog, please be aware the comments made in this post reflect my personal opinion...which, I hope, others will share. ~ AKB