A few weeks ago, my heart sank as I read, “The Scoop,” my son’s fifth grade teacher’s week in review. This particular week he wrote about his students’ apathy. They had just finished reading, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and Mr. P asked them if it was inspiring? Not one of them said yes. Then he asked about their heroes and who inspired them and this usually-engaged class sat silent. He worried that this was about a bigger issue: these fifth graders were starting to wear masks. They are fearful of being seen for who they are, so they pretend not to care and forego any vulnerability (or embarrassment) by staying silent.
I suppose it is normal for 11-year-olds to act this way. Yet just a few months ago these same students willingly raised their hands and entered into discussion about important topics. They are so bright and full of life. I have seen their creativity as I have watched them grow over these last several years. I adore them. But I do fear for this next phase of life.
I fear that they, too, will succumb to our culture… that they will learn that heroes are people who are on stage singing or on T.V. acting in a sitcom, or throwing the football at the Super Bowl. Some of these people might have reason to be heroes, yet most of them are nothing more than pop culture icons. Like so many of us, they are confusing populatrity with character.
Last Friday each of these same students knocked my socks off with speeches of true heroes. For the past month, each child had been practicing a patriotic speech from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, Patrick Henry, Frederick Douglas, Francis Scott Key and other historical heroes. Each of them stood in front of their classmates and their parents reciting every word of the speech they had chosen. Some were confident and dramatic. Some trembled and stood still like a deer in headlights. When it was over, they all breathed a sigh of relief as they waited to hear which four students would move on to the Patriotic Speech Festival this week. I was so proud of each of them. Some of these speeches were long and contained vocabulary that is not part of their every day conversations. Yet, each of them, the introvert and extrovert alike, rose to the occassion. They shared a piece of history from the contributions of these great men and women who helped influence our country.
To be honest, I was not looking forward to hearing 16 patriotic speeches, but as I sat there listening to the words of Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural speech and Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, I was mesmorized. I sat amazed that each boy and girl knew all of the words to these works, and even more amazed at the actual content. The words, the ideas, the fight for a better way of life drew me in. I wanted to jump up and shout: “Hear what you are saying. Take note. These are the great heroes. These are the people who still inspire.”
And isn’t that what these speeches and our heroes are to do: inspire?
My hope is that each student will remember the words of their speech not only as marks on a piece of paper that they had to remember, but that they will truly recall the ideas that these heroes wanted to convey. And maybe, just maybe when they grow up a bit more they will shed the masks and take a stand, just like the one Sojourner Truth took when she delivered her speech at a Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio:
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
She was a hero for the anti-slave movement and ultimately for the women’s rights movement as well. Who knows what her real agenda was in giving that speech. One thing is certain: She didn’t sit still and fear looking stupid. She spoke up and in turn, she inspired.
Long live the words of our heroes!