Independence Day, 2013

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration:

Georgia:    Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

North Carolina:    William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:    Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr.,Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Massachusetts:   John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Maryland:   Samuel Chase,William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia:   George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

Pennsylvania:    Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware:    Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

New York:    William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:    Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

New Hampshire:    Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Rhode Island:    Stephen Hopkins    William Ellery

Connecticut:    Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott


Happy Independence Day to the United States of America! 

Instant Art: A case for memorization

I originally posted this on Oct. 9, 2012, but since people are still discovering the post – and because poetry & memorization in schools have been in the news of late – I thought I’d repost, it in case you hadn’t seen it…

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could wave a magic wand, and somehow “Poof!” call into existence a classic work of art?

Moreover, you could decide how that art would suit your mood – perhaps happy, or dark, or funny, or melancholy.

You already can.

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Keeping those words in mind, consider this:

One may view a beautiful painting and later recall its basic image in their mind, but many of its details – the brushstrokes, the hues, etc. – will be lost.  One might be mesmerized by the taste and aroma of a magnificent meal, yet once it is eaten, only the memory of that meal remains.  However, when one reads a poem and then commits it to memory, the beautiful experience of reading and hearing those words can be immediately recalled and enjoyed in all its splendor at any time, anywhere, for as long as one can remember the words.

It’s like instant art!

If what Poe said is true, why would we not want to encourage more people, young and old, to develop their ability to bring forth this beauty, at will?

What has happened to memorization?

In high school, I had to memorize poetry from time to time in my various English classes.  My wife, who went to a private school, was required to memorize a different poem each week while in middle school.

Conversely, my daughters went through 12 years of schooling each and were rarely required to memorize anything by rote other than basic academics like multiplication tables, the Periodic Chart, and US history timeline.  Memorization of poetry was sadly deficient.  Fortunately, they loved reading, writing, and music – and had a father who obviously wrote a great deal of poetry – so they all ended up memorizing a few poems outside of their classes’ syllabi.

Now that I have a two-year-old, though, I wonder what he will be taught – or not taught.

It seems like memorization has been slowly disappearing in schools over the past half-century, and I’m not sure why.  Long before they enter school, children like my little dude learn the joy of putting sounds together, whether those sounds are from favourite songs, TV shows, or nursery rhymes.  Although a toddler may not know whether Black Sheep has any wool, or how much wool can fit inside three bags, or even how many ‘three’ is, he or she can fell the cadence and enjoy the sounds the words make when put together.  If you then read William Blake’s “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright…” to that same child, he or she might subconsciously notice both poems utilize the same rhythm, before you do.

(Although I just told you, so you might not be able to test that.  Dang.)

My point is, memorization has its benefits, and it’s a shame we don’t use this form of teaching more often.  Say what you will about learning things by rote, but if we’re going to place as much emphasis on language and visual arts as we do on social studies and mathematics, there should be a place for memorization…and not just memorizing the words but, when age-appropriate, what they mean and how to read them.

Learning leads to memorization.  Or is it the other way around?

I know many educators who feel that as a student learns something, he or she will remember what they learn.  That may be true, but the reciprocal is also true; memorize, and you will also learn.  Rhythm, rhyme, tense, order, and myriad other concepts are difficult to teach adults, much less kids…but the more one memorizes poetry, from “I am Sam / Sam I am” to “How shall I compare thee,” the more one starts to appreciate and understand these things.  This helps not just in writing poetry, but any type of creative writing.

Poetry is immensely diverse when it comes to subject matter, too; one can find dozens if not hundreds of poems on nearly any subject.  Given the opportunity, students can learn about poetic forms and devices on their own terms, to a degree.

For example, one of the few times my now 20-year-old was asked to memorize something was when she was in middle school, and was given the task of memorizing a favourite poem.  She loved cats, so she looked through a few books and decided upon the modern classic, “Fog,” by Carl Sandburg:


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

But in her search for a poem to memorize, she also fell in love with several other poems, including Thomas Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat” (one of my favourites).  In this case, a memorization assignment served to teach her lessons before she even began memorizing anything.  Plus, she had now experienced two very different approaches to the same subject: one was a free verse poem about fog using the cat as a metaphor, while the other was structured rhyming verse about a human experience involving a member of the family.

What to do??

Kids love music, and when they hear something that catches their ear, their mind is like the proverbial steel trap.  It gets stuck in there, and they won’t let go of it.  Heck, my two-year-old sings a couple of Eric Church songs all the way through, without music!  There is a rhythm and repetition that he enjoys, and even though he doesn’t understand the lyrics, he is learning how to put words together in a rhythmic pattern.

Likewise, one of the great things about poetry – especially classic poetry, with its proper meter and structured rhyme schemes – is that it is structured and can be almost musical.  Tying together the musicality and lyricism of poetry with art, history, language, and social studies seems obvious.  The more connections we can help our children make between these things the more apt they are to remember what they learn.

Twenty years after Paul Revere made his famous ride in 1775, Samuel Taylor Coleridge met William Wordsworth, in 1795.  Five years later, in 1800, Napoleon conquered Italy.  At the same time, the Romantic period of visual art was just beginning in Europe.  And of course, how can one imagine England in the early 1800’s without Dickens or Austen?  Personally, I can’t imagine it without Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” published in London in 1819.

And you know who was an 11-year-old schoolboy living in London at that very time?

Edgar Allan Poe.