Gettysburg & Mr. Dreyfuss

untitled.jpgIt looks like Mr. Dreyfuss had a nice day recently at Gettysburg as he continued his crusade championing American civics and history instruction. Last Friday thousands showed up for the keynote Dedication Day speaker and Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. After giving what appears to have been a well received speech on American ideals and virtue, the following event occurred:

When the United States Marine Band opened the 10 a.m. ceremony with a rendition of the National Anthem, hundreds spontaneously joined along, singing the Star Spangled Banner in unison. Similarly, when the band closed the 60-minute program with “God Bless America,” many throughout the crowd waved small American flags. [link]

The Governor chimed in saying, “We’ve got to remember that what made this country great is the American spirit,” said Rendell. “If we retain that spirit in our hearts, there is nothing that this country cannot do.”

Despite the apparent success of Mr. Dreyfuss, I’m still not sure what place Hollywood stars and Rock-n-Roll singers should have as cultural warriors.

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6 Responses to Gettysburg & Mr. Dreyfuss

  1. In a Celebrity-centric culture, only celebrities are allowed access to media, or so it seems. I agree to a wariness about audiences who might follow blindly the Celebrity of the Moment and his cause, but that is myth and not reality; but since that is the system handed to us I will take advantage of it. A majority of the time I speak I say all that up front. Changing that glib and distracting system to one that demands more of all, teachers and students and parents, for instance, is in the long run a superb goal. a I am not an expert in education, but an American citizen seeking to raise up in an inert civic body of the dangers of not teaching essential things.
    Nobody opposes the teaching of ‘Civics’ to our elementary, middle school, and high school students. They may not like me, or my style, or they may love me; what is important is that no says we shouldn’t teach ‘civics.’.

  2. I did not ask anyone to recite the Bill of Rights. I asked if anyone could enumerate the rights in the 1st Amendment. That you heard otherwise is incorrect in fact. It is that factual error that almost all other negative comments were built.

    If there is a thought to be considered from all the comments I just read its that no one heard me say that We have failed in teaching correctly, and we certainly have failed the generation in school by not teaching them how to Listen. You seem to prefer to play “Gotcha !” rather than take a moment to reflect on the dangers of not teaching the essential basics to those we
    bequeath this nation to.
    To those who wrote that I failed in Virginia, there is a simple test: How many are satisfied in the way ‘civics” is taught now, and how many are not? And did I raise up any unease, which was my intention?
    Clarify for me and your students whether you dislike me, as many do, or you dislike teaching the reality of political power and how we can exercise it, and why. . ….(and if it’s the latter, I challenge you to defend your position in the same kind of public forum.) I do not present myself as an expert in anything, unless as an actor I could be expert in human behavior. My job is to ignite your outrage and demand for accountability. I am terrified that there is an ugly unspoken truth in our lives, that perhaps we’re not up to Republican Democracy, that we are not adult enough).
    If you are the experts in teaching civics, history, the potential Meaning of America, than we are on the same side, sharing the same decay, worried that we are not developing potential and commitment to our values, since they are not taught and no one is yet objecting. Emphasis on how we can do it better would be more helpful to the nation and the kids you are charged with educating. Help me. You only hasten the death of the Republic itself by trivializing this critical problem.
    Can I do it better? Yes, and I will. For that I thank you. But look, you’ve read my whole response and yet we’re told we cant focus for that long. Maybe ‘they’ are wrong about other things too.

  3. Chris says:

    Richard, I trust you realize that I have defended you for the most part, I wrote, in response to a gentleman by the name of Kevin Levin here:

    >>>”"One thing that does concern me is this, Levin wrote, “From the beginning Dreyfuss … alienated much of his audience when he asked for a volunteer to cite the Bill of Rights.

    Not sure how asking those students for a volunteer to recite a cornerstone document of our country was a problem or “alienated” those students? Was it because they could not do so? Was it his asking them to do so that offended?”"<<<

    I posted the above blog post noting your success.

    As I said above, you had a very successful day at Gettysburg and I am pleased with that. I still do not know where I want Hollywood actors as, once again, as cultural warriors.

    But I do agree with you that, “In a Celebrity-centric culture, only celebrities are allowed access to media, or so it seems.”

    You wrote, “I am not an expert in education, but an American citizen seeking to raise up in an inert civic body of the dangers of not teaching essential things.” And fair enough, indeed. And in counter point to that, there are plenty of so-called “experts” in education that are not doing their jobs.

    I thank you for posting, and once again, for the most part I am a supporter of what you are attempting to do. As a teacher and father I think it important that my students and kids are exposed to the founding ideas of this country. I think if you spent a few minutes on this blog you would see we are one in the same for the most part.

    I do though hesitate to blame teachers in general as, frankly, we have many students who are not very interested in our founding principles and have far better things (in their eyes) to focus on; no matter how hard I try as a teacher.

    Look at the fabric of our society and the direction we are heading culturally. Just look at the music awards from last weekend, embarrassing.

    Kind Regards,
    Chris Wehner

  4. I have a teenaged son, and so I am well acquainted with the difficulties of interesting kids here in civics and America in general. To a certain LIMITED extent, I think kids’ resistance is natural and even in some ways (stick with me!) laudable — there is a seed in it sometimes of a willingness to stand apart and think independently (ha, not so much independently from their peers, but one step at a time). But of course this kneejerk resistance is every bit as dangerously empty of meaning as blind acceptance, if it’s left untended — adolescents generally need to go through a stage of establishing psychological distance from their country, okay, fine, but they do absolutely need as well to be, well, OBLIGED to learn the basics, and gain some understanding of the (highly variegated) context of it all in order to come, through all the side-turns and bumps along the way that each of us follows, to a solid and informed understanding of what it is they sniff at — or, in most cases I believe, ultimately love and respect deeply. Oh well, I am preaching to the choir I suppose; both of you are obviously firmly in the teach-it camp.

    Re: celebrities as culture warriors, I am agnostic (I don’t follow celebrity stuff, which probably inclines me to peaceable indifference), but I think the main risk was hit on above: “is it me or my cause that you’re reacting to?” I haven’t the faintest notion whether this would end up being more useful or distracting (and if I were a celebrity, I would find that uncertainty enormously frustrating!).

  5. Chris says:

    Kate thank you for the thoughtful response. I agree to an extent, if I understand you, that the mind of teenages is far more complex than we can know… even though we all have been there!! To reach out and engage our students if the task at hand and no matter it is the hand we are dealt!

    I have read of some private school teachers with 7-8 in a class?? 12 in 2 sections? My God, the classes would be canceled! I have 30-32 students, usually, in ONE standard U.S. history or Government class!! Talk about the issue of engaging all 30-32!!


  6. Ha, yeah — we WERE all teenagers once…and very thankful, I think, not to be such any more! (I am even more thankful that there is no record of the infinitely embarrassing things I would have said in my teen years re: civics.) My son’s also in AP US History right now, in a public school with about 30 kids in the class; it is just not possible to accommodate PERSONALLY to each of them! (Nor, really, do I think that it’s useful to accommodate THAT MUCH to each individual student anyway…but I am a total amateur there, so I defer to those who know better.) He was assigned this class — it was the single one on his schedule he didn’t want. (“OO, US History, no, you’ll love that one!” I burbled. “You *would* say that,” he sighed.) But then of course he has ended up enjoying it… Something the students seem to like a lot is what must be a fairly antique practice, because it was around when I took history classes: being assigned by fiat a historical position to defend (Federalist/Anti-Federalist, Articles of Confederation/Constitution, or anything that can be broken down into a FIGHT!).

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