Today something devastating happened.
I was stripped of my rank.
You heard me. I was on my way to becoming a Four Star General, but was cut short.
No, I’m not in the armed forces. I’m just taking a class with my kids. It’s called Key of Liberty and we are learning about the men and women and the documents that formed this great country we call home. We read books, write papers, memorize documents, scriptures and the states, and participate in simulations. We have a list of requirements for each semester that, as we accomplish them, we earn rank. It is in the form of a paper that we put in the front of our binder and a colorful ribbon that we tie to these old-fashioned iron keys. The really cool part is that those of a higher rank get to order those of a lower rank around, asking them to get water, or whatever else we feel the need for during the course of our class! We don’t have to do the requirements if we don’t want to, but if we do then at the end of each semester we can earn a really great prize. The first semester’s prize is to have a flag flown IN OUR HONOR over the Capitol in Washington DC! Cool, huh! The second semester we earn a package with a quill pen, real parchment paper and ink. And then if we go ABOVE AND BEYOND by doing all the requirements each semester and a few more we earn the rank of Four Star General and we get to go to an etiquette dinner wherein we are honored and are presented with framed copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America!
So, I have been busy with my girls reading and writing and memorizing and reading and writing and memorizing and reading and........it has taken a lot of time! Writing doesn’t come easy to me. Teaching my kids how to write is even harder. I have sweated and cried over these paper - we have to write one essay per week! Actually three per week for me because not only do I have my own to do, but I have to help my girls with theirs before handing them in. And they aren’t easy questions; they take a bit of pondering:
Why are a moral people required for good government?
What are your God-given rights?
When is it right to defend your liberty with physical force?
On top of all the writing I have memorized the 10 commandments, the 13 original colonies and can place them on a map, and I have memorized almost HALF of the Declaration of Independence, researched and given a report on The Stamp Act, read several books, and much more, somehow fitting it all in along with being a mother, wife, homemaker, chauffer, physician, chef, maid…
Essentially, I have worked hard for all this, only to have it stripped away today.
And why was it stripped away?
Well, I shall tell you.
In class today our instructor laid on the table a plate of very delicious treats—and then proceeded to eat them in front of us, not offering to share. She gave her lecture and we discussed a book, during which she ate two or three treats in front of us while we all sat there drooling. Finally, she asked if we would like some. We all excitedly said yes. She then proceeded to give us a very tiny piece. She asked if we wanted more, of course we did! Well, she said, these treats represent liberty. She had worked and slaved over them. She had spent her own money and time in order to make them. She wasn’t just giving them away. If we wanted some we had to play a game. If we won, we would get the treats. If she won, she would get all our ranks and our ribbons. Did we still want some? Most of us said yes, but a few were apprehensive. But, we thought, it was just a game, surely it wouldn’t be too hard; and those treats looked might tasty, so in the end we agreed to her terms.
Our instructor had taken the Declaration of Independence and divided it into six sections. Each of these sections was cut into strips and placed in an envelope. She told us we had twenty minutes to put together the strips in the correct order. If we did so we won. However, if even one phrase was out of place, we lost. Four students were picked to represent the rest of the class, I being one of them. The rules were, we (the representatives) weren’t allowed to speak to anyone but each other, and the class was not allowed to help us.
She dropped the envelopes on the table and the game began. Thankfully, because some of us had memorized the first part of it, we were able to proceed through the first three envelopes fairly quickly. Then it got hard. Imagine, sorting through the strips, trying to piece 20 random phrases together into something that made sense, feeling the eyes of your classmates on you, knowing that if you fail, you not only affect yourself, you affect everyone in the class, some of who agreed to the terms, but others, who did not really want to do it, but were coerced into the game—needless to say, the pressure was a little intense. We persevered and were down to the last envelope...and then the time ran out.
Surely, we thought, she wouldn’t really take our rank, would she? After all, it was just a game and this was just a class...but no, we had to hand in our ranks along with the ribbon from our keys. All that hard work flashed before my eyes. And not only my work, but the work of my girls. They had been so excited about this class and about earning those awards. I had let them down. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was embarrassed to be crying, but I couldn’t help myself.
Then our instructor started talking about the founders of our country. She picked up a handful of our ribbons and as she dropped them one by one, she started naming off things that were taken away from those who had signed the Declaration and those who had fought for our freedom: homes, family, friends, health, wealth. She asked us what we were willing to give for our freedom. Would we be willing to give up the comforts we have? Would we be willing to watch our husbands and sons march off to war? These ranks we just handed in were just pieces of paper after all, just colorful pieces of fabric. They were nothing compared to what others had given up.
Class ended. We didn’t get our ranks back and I drove home devastated. I tried to make sense of what had happened. I thought about all the time and effort I had put into it. I tried to relate it to my country. I could see what she was trying to help us understand, and it was very effective; I was grateful for the sacrifices of the founders of our country, but still, this was just a class. Did I really have to earn my rank back? I wouldn’t be able to read all the books again and write all the papers again before the end of the semester. It was too much for me to comprehend. I went through a variety of emotions, from frustration, to anger, to self-pity.
Then I started to contemplate the game. Why did we lose? I pondered on it for a few minutes, thinking about the document that we had been striving to put together, and then suddenly it dawned on me...we lost because of knowledge, or rather, a lack thereof. We didn’t know the Declaration of Independence well enough to win. If we had memorized the Declaration of Independence we wouldn’t have lost. We wouldn’t be in the position we were in. We would have emerged victorious, with our rank intact and the grateful praises of our fellow students.
After that realization my thoughts wandered elsewhere. I thought about Proposition 8. It is a measure on the ballot in California that if passed will be a constitutional amendment that will restore the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. A few weeks ago I was out campaigning door to door for Proposition 8, and out of the hundreds of doors that we knocked on, not one person knew what the proposition was about. Not one. The problem doesn’t stop there though, when people do find out about it, they think it's just about giving same sex couples the right to marry. But it’s about so much more. It’s about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and parental rights. It’s about fighting against tyranny by not allowing activist judges the power to go against the will of the people. There is so much at stake if this is voted down. But they don’t know this. Why? Because the educational system in our country has failed. They had not been taught the fundamental principles that are the foundation of our freedom and liberty. They lack the knowledge required for liberty.
Fifty years ago children had to memorize the Declaration of Independence in order to graduate from school. It was considered one of the most important documents ever. Today, I would venture to say that most people don’t even know what’s in it, aside from a few phrases. I stand guilty of that. As I have been memorizing it I have been awed by the timeless treasure of knowledge contained within that document. My mind is opening and expanding as to what liberty truly is. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America are an accumulation of the wisdom of the ages garnered through hours and hours of study by men and women who knew what true liberty was and who were willing to do whatever it required to obtain it and to secure it for their posterity. They had families to care for, church duties to fulfill, children to educate, houses to clean, farms to run, and businesses to operate. Many men were gone from their families for long periods of time leaving their wives to care for the farm and educate the children. But they were willing to sacrifice all this for liberty. And in doing so, they changed the course of history.
I thought of how I spend my time. I’m not really a TV watcher, but lately I’ve been tuned into the news a little too long. I’ve watched a few more movies than I should have. And, I’m on the computer way longer than I need to be. Just the other day I was looking at my bookshelf and lamenting that I hadn’t read many of the books there. I don’t read near as much as I used to because I have allowed other things to take precedence in my life. I used to study my scriptures on a regular basis, but now it is spotty at best. While I acknowledge that I am a busy person; like my predecessors, I have a family to care for, heavy church calling to fulfill, children to educate and a house to clean; still, I know that I don’t use my time wisely. What if, instead of watching a movie last night, I had spent that time working on memorizing the Declaration of Independence? Perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this post right now!
So, to my dear teacher - THANK YOU for the simulation. While the lesson you were striving to teach, that we would have a deeper appreciation of our country's founders, was ingrained in me, the larger lesson that I learned was that knowledge is the key that will save our country. It is the key that will preserve our liberty. If we “seek…out of the best books words of wisdom; [if we] seek learning, even by study and also by faith” we can do what those who fought so valiantly for our liberties did. By sacrificing of our time to learn and understand what our fundamental, God-given rights are, we too, can change the course of history.
And I’ll do everything else over again, but please, please, please don’t make me read the books and write the papers again!!!