Sussex County History Today: Education

| 25 Mar 2023 | 03:57

As a nation, we have growing concern about what we hear with respect to changes in how young people are taught.

I’d like to share some perspective and insight from what I have experienced.

Occasionally, I have the opportunity to go into schools to teach kids about history. Sometimes there are funny outtakes.

In Ogdensburg, I recall that the key takeaway was that Phoebe Ogden had somewhere over a dozen kids, this back in the times when death at childbirth was a real danger, but this was the “key takeaway” by the kids - unexpected but amusing to see how youth interpret our intended results of teaching.

More hands make light work as Ben Franklin had said, and in Sparta, Janine Allen and myself went in as docents for the ways of the 1800s and we were surprised by the kids and their impression of how people dressed back then.

Franklin Boro students helped plant a new oak tree from the ancient Quaker Oak in South Jersey and were amazed by the centuries separating the sapling from the Old Oak Tree honored by generations of students and the need to actually water the tree for “history to continue” and the tree to keep living.

I have also taught college students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) for a decade which adds to my perspective. In all, working with the youth has been rewarding and also has been a lot of fun, with the chance of helping the youth.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the fortune to be asked by history teacher Holly Romahn to provide some information to the fourth grade in Hardyston about the Revolutionary War, which they were studying at the time. There were three classes really, because of the number of students in the school. Here is what I found.

Each class was excited, anticipating my visit (I had been there before). They were wide-eyed and eager to encounter the hour that I was there. No one fell asleep nor had diverted attention. They were lively.

I tend to talk, then ask questions to keep them on their toes and provide feedback if they are following the discourse. Not just one but each student in the whole class provided good responses to the questions I posed, alert and astute and following my points with lucidity.

Getting “technical” for a moment, we spoke of their own, fairly rural, hardly noticeable Hardyston. Hardyston is so small, so unique, that the township is the only return that one gets when asking Google.

But it is rich in history.

Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence; Ogden, Patriot leader of the New Jersey royal legislature; Lord Stirlng’s mine; the Continental troops camping in Hardyston for a season, Burgoyne’s defeated troops, who marched through here after the Battle of Saratoga; and General Washington is said to have stayed here. We spoke a lot on this and the kids really appreciated their heritage.

They also realized their connection to Colonel John Seward of Snufftown, in Stockholm.

I showed them my recently discovered letters of Seward, written to home from the war front in the darkest days of the Revolutionary War. The kids looked at the letters, written in the cursive that people my age were required to learn but which has lost favor in the age of computers and voice texts.

The fourth-grade students looked to the overhead projector and witnessed the letter written in cursive from a nearby place to their own house but composed a long ago time.

To my utter astonishment, the kids started reading, actually reading out loud, the writing from the colonel stationed in Manhattan shortly before the Battle of Brooklyn to his beloved wife in Snufftown. Who says that they can’t read script?

Digging a little deeper, these students are cheerful and happy with their schooling. They are eager learners and have appreciation for our country’s history.

These children are not depressed or demoralized with life - to the contrary, they are full of the youthful enthusiasm and fresh outlook on life that I remember back in my own childhood days.

On cute thank-you notes, some shared with you here in photos, they explained the same information back to me that I had expressed to them, showing a good memory of facts with some variation on the theme through their own creativity and displaying a good outlook on life.

So, in contrast to much that I have heard, my experience has shown me that our youth are alive and well. These are the same kids that in a few short years will be running the country and leading the world. If my time with them gives any indication, I will be proudly and confidently accepting their leadership.

Bill Truran, Sussex County Historian