John A. Tures: Future leaders respect the past

August 12, 2013 

Eighteen years ago, my wife and I camped out at Williamsburg, Virginia. We camped near there because it was a living history site, and my wife was about to start a similar type of job back in Florida. We had never been there. And, as graduate school students borrowing FSU gear, it was one of the few things we could afford at the time.

So we decided to try and see how the kids would like camping, and Williamsburg. We brought my sister-in-law, her husband, and their kids. So we had four kids, ages 5-10 in tow. How would they take early American history? Would they love it as much as I did as a kid? You hear so many horror stories about kids just not caring about their heritage anymore.

I got a clear indication on the very first stop of what it was going to be like. Along the South Carolina-North Carolina border, we stopped for a break at King's Mountain.

For those of you who don't know, it was the site of one of America's greatest military victories. Patriots described as "Overmountain Men" took on a force of more than a thousand loyalists led by Major Patrick Ferguson, a British officer. The British forces held the high ground, but the "Overmountain Men" had rifles, cover, and motivation to provide payback for the massacre at the Waxhaws and perform better than the Continental Army did at Charleston and Camden, all in South Carolina. Thomas Jefferson called it "the beginning of the end" on the road to victory at Yorktown, Virginia.

I took the kids on an extensive hike through the battle park. When we got to a gravesite of an American officer, my daughter knelt down, picked a flower, and placed it at the base of the grave. "I want to show respect," she said. The other kids turned, and posed for a picture, in a sign of the pledge of allegiance. I have to admit complete surprise at that gesture.

But I was more shocked at what happened next. We climbed to the summit, then descended down toward the grave of Major Patrick Ferguson, the British officer who fell during the battle attempting a breakout through American lines. My daughter plucked another flower.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"I want to show respect to the British too, even though they were our enemies."

I'm not sure this is something that I've explicitly taught. But a combination of school, church, friends, and maybe an indirect parental lesson or two may have contributed to this very interesting moment.

The rest of the week the kids soaked it all up: There were Jamestown's ships, Indian village, and fort. Williamsburg had a cool spy game for the kids that emulated the National Treasure movies. The kids enjoyed getting into the act at the Yorktown Victory Center.

But our kids are hardly the exception. As I talk to others about our historical visits, I hear similar stories of the younger generation soaking up our nation's past with great enthusiasm. Rather than just write off anyone under 40 as lost, see what you can do to get them excited about history as you are.

John A. Tures, professor of political science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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