Inauguration Day is two days away. Like many Americans, I’m furious that our country is divided. While it’s my sincere hope better days are ahead for our country, I think it’s important to have conversations with kids about how we got here since this isn’t the first time our country has been at a crossroads.
The last time our country was this at odds with itself was the in 1860. President James Buchanan failed to hold the Union together and didn’t stop the secession of the South in early 1861. Many historians contend was one of the greatest mistakes in presidential history.
President Buchanan’s home, Wheatland, is located a few miles away from our house. Even though it’s closed to the public now, due to COVID-19, the grounds are open and a virtual tour is available.
This morning, I bundled the kids up and took them to visit Wheatland (and the Tanger Arboretum, which has over 200 varities of trees). While Ari viewed our field trip as “morning exercise,” Isabelle and I had the chance to talk about Buchanan’s legacy as we walked around Wheatland.
You might be wondering why I chose a freezing winter day to talk about Buchanan’s failures? Because Isabelle saw part of the Insurrection at the Capitol unfold at the tail end of a movement break. (Backstory: She watches kids’ HIIT vidoes on YouTube for daily movement breaks. She has the habit of exiting out of YouTube at the end of a movement break. Of course, the news was on when she exited out on January 6th so she saw the Capitol Steps flooded with people.) She knows what happened after she returned to class and has a developing understanding about why people stormed the Capitol.
I minored in history as an undergraduate. My understanding of American History was shaped by three professors: Tyler Anbinder, Edward Berkowitz, and Linda Grant DePauw. And while my daughter is only in fourth grade, I felt that today — as we stand on the cusp of what I hope are better days for our country — we should talk about what happened in the past. As the saying goes, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” It’s time for all of us to make sure our children — whether they’re are own or the kids we teach — have an understanding of America’s past so we don’t repeat the mistakes of those who came before us.