Monday, July 11, 2016

Alexander Hamilton: Before We Rapped We Read

Hamilton with his nemesis Burr

Every year on January 11th, or, if that glorious day falls on a weekend, the nearest weekday, I read just one book to every class at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School, "Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words", by Chicago author Dennis Brindell Fradin (sadly attempts to lure him to Hamilton School have been unsuccessful). January 11th, Hamilton's birthday, is celebrated with great gusto at his namesake school, in fact the founding father himself has visited almost every year (quite confusing to some younger children who were almost certain that he was dead).

Before there was a healthy school, there were cupcakes for every child, and a school wide birthday sing along lead by the choir or the music teacher or a willing guy with a guitar (thankfully for my children this celebratory task was never assigned to me). My self designated role on the greatest day of the year has always been to read about Hamilton and to talk about his accomplishments and his shortcomings. To remind children that while what he might be most well known for, until recently, was his tragic death, that his list of achievements is long, and often overlooked.

Three things that students are expected to know:

1. He was never, ever a President,
2. But he was the first Secretary of the Treasury, and
3. His face is on the $10 bill; one of only two men to never serve as President honored in this way.

Older students get to listen to me blather on about his leadership in the creation of our system of finance (and his advocacy for reasonable public debt), his want of a strong Federal government, his role in the compromise to unify the states and locate the new capital in northern Virginia, and his mad writing skills, most notably found in that page turner, The Federalist Papers.

We do not discuss his indiscretions, poor decision making skills or Maria Reynolds.

Talking with children about history is fun and interesting. When you create stories, rather than facts, it's engaging. Of course when you create awe inspiring musicals that sing, dance and rap the story it's even better. Teaching children history is important because some day it might be cool to know exactly who this founding father without a father really is; students at Hamilton School already do (I hope).

Kindergarten classes are spared the tragic and sad story of the duel. Conversations with young classes focus on the idea of honor and the long held belief, and hope, that Hamilton shot into the air.

July 11th marks the anniversary of the duel, fought in Weehawken, New Jersey 212 years ago. 

Books We Love to Read

Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words, Dennis Brindell Fradin and Larry Day
Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider, Jean Fritz
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History, Don Brown
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Judith St. George

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