FIRST PRINCIPLES: Teaching Students Who Aren’t Interested

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Every Veteran who has joined the American military since 1973 volunteered.

The 16-18 year-olds you will speaking to, from groups as small as a dozen, to classroom sized, even auditoriums as you get better known, may not be there voluntarily. Their parents probably sent them.

We’ve all been students in a class room. Think back. We had to be there. Certain rules applied as to how we could behave. But just like a horse to water, they couldn’t make us drink.

From middle school through college I had teachers and professors who clearly didn’t care whether I paid attention or not. That would show up on the tests. Marxists had developed ways by the 1960s to identify students in their class who were easy-pickings for recruitment over to their cause. I’ll tell you about those sometime.

But for now, just know that we all had teachers who inspired us, who made us think, and some even about the subject they were teaching us.


You will be a guest-speaker in the room for probably not more than an hour. Parents may also be there. But unlike school, those kids will likely not be there voluntarily, anxious to get to listen to Veteran simply because he’s a Veteran. 5th graders, yes, 18 year-olds, not so much. Some of their parents may have been Veterans, or had a relative that was a Veteran. It may have been a veteran’s group who set this speaking engagement up for you. We are pitching this program to them as well.

But the kids likely won’t be excited and they didn’t have a vote. Stand-up comedians call it a “hostile room”:

So when they sit down and you stand up it’s a blank slate. You have to get their attention.

Certain rules apply:

First, just like a school teacher at the head of the class, or a preacher in a pulpit looming over the congregation, you have a certain degree of authority just by standing where you are.

Your authority comes from the fact that you are a Veteran, an American who has volunteered his or her service to the United States for a period of your life. You have postponed what they consider to be a regular life for one that required a lot of sacrifice and physical effort. You nay been shot at. You may even have been hit.

Bottom line, you’ve spent four years or more of your life to your country.

And you didn’t have to.

Whether you have scars, lost a limb, or like me, just sat behind a desk for five years, you have street cred, and you need to project that to your audience. You need to define your authority to talk about the exceptionalism of America because you invested skin in the game they don’t and probably have no intention to invest.

So right off the bat, you’ll want to tell them a little bit about yourself, just as you might remember a staff sergeant who talked to your platoon in Basic; the way he stood, and walked, and the authority in his voice.

Your job isn’t to make them want to join the military, but to make them understand why you joined.

I’m told that it has been since the 1980s, after my kids were out of school, that American public schools stopped teaching American History as if it were a thing to be proud of. So I didn’t see that change happening while most of you, if under 50, probably never knew it was any other way. I’m told teaching about American heroes, the Founders, General Washington and the Revolutionary War and the whole idea behind us becoming a republic of free people, and our greatness, had been slowly de-emphasized for several years, but in the past decade there has been a serious up-tick.

There is certainly no talk about America as being the “first” at anything anymore. Or best. Still, almost 250 years after we were formed, we were not only the first, but in some cases, the only nation to have done some incredibly important things.

You need to get that message out to young people… because no one else will.

This is how I suggest you start.

In 1993, I began teaching inner city mothers trying to get a degree so they could get a job and get off welfare.

Now most of those ladies didn’t want to be there. They had a little bit of an attitude. And my American Government course was just a check-off; they had to have it to graduate, but it meant nothing to them in the job world they were about to enter.

I had to make it relevant to their lives, just to keep their attention.

I always began my first lecture by drawing a line across the board, starting with 5000 BC, then printing Ancient Egypt, then a hash mark for Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and the birth of Christ, marking the modern era, and then a few recognizable European empires, Napoleon being one everyone recognized. Then, at the end of the line I put a hash mark and marked it “1993”. I went back down the line about a quarter of the way, and I put a hash mark, “1787- America”.

I then turned and asked a question: “Can you tell me how many nations in the history of the world, from Ancient Egypt forward, ever sent their military, their sons, to liberate another people?”

The girls fumbled around a little but no one offered and answer.

After a few moments of silence I held up a finger. “One. Only one.” And then I placed another hash mark just to the right of the 1776 mark, and wrote “1860- American Civil War.”

I had their attention.

I then told the ladies something I know they had never known before, “This was when two-and-a-half million young men, mostly off the farms of Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Indiana, and mostly because all their lives they’d listened to preachers in their small churches preach against the evil of one man owning another, volunteered to fight to liberate all the slaves south of the Ohio River (we were in Cincinnati at the time), people they had never seen in real life, or knew by name.

“And almost half a million of them died in the process.”

Their eyes gave them away. Now I had their attention, times 2.

“In the 5000 years of man’s history, when all men did was invade, conquer and kill one another taking other people’s territory, it took 4750 years for one of those countries to finally go out and rescue people instead.

“And America has done that three-four more times since. Still, no other country has done this.

“This makes America unique, even exceptional, and explains why our government was designed differently from all those other countries. Our country was never like all the other countries because our people were not like all those other people.

“America was designed for the people’s benefit, from the bottom up, and not by kings, from the top down..

“Now that you know this, you’ll know how I’m going to teach this course. It’s all about you and not those buildings in Washington. It was always about you.”

That’s how I set the hook into several classes of students in a small business college in Cincinnati in the mid-1990s.

So, Veterans, your street cred established, all you have to do is get their attention and keep it. There won’t be any tests, they won’t have to take notes.

In the time you have, whether an hour, or a few hours, you will be offering a list of American First Principles and Facts as ways to grab their attention.

You’re mission will be to imprint on their subconscience little bits of information that, every time they hear someone bad-mouthing America, one or more of those bits will be awakened. These will be like fragrances and songs, that every time we smell or hear them, we can recall an event in our past, reawakened and new, as I still do when I hear “16 Candles” by the Crests (1958)  and my first slow-dance with Becky Hall when I was 12.

These are not pep rallies. Our job, your job, is to tell these young people things they don’t know but should know. Think of a SitRep, a unit commander briefing his troops on a coming mission, telling the troops about the enemy, the stakes, and the role they can play in carrying it out.

In the past 25 years our public schools have been downright enthusiastic in teaching how bad America was all the way from the beginning. And they now include the moral teachings that students used to get at home, and in the churches. They believe that all the have to do is wait til those parents die out and they will have total control.

We have to fight back, and there is no one group with more skin in the game to reverse that trend than Veterans.

We will begin publishing here outlines of lectures we recommend you use. You will be working with local groups in your town who have their own input.

For your own reference library, there are all sorts of books about American History. Some are much better than others, and some are written coming from the Other Side. Anything written after 1980 should be vetted. (I have nine books on Abraham Lincoln, and it’s scandalous the way he’s being redefined by modern scholars.)

I recommend only one American History book, and it’s A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. I have an older edition, but it’s 900+ pages of factual history, highlighting the high points that a person who looks upon America as a beacon of freedom would appreciate.

I have an old printing of the Jerusalem Bible, and next to this large Bible, A Patriot’s History is my most dog-eared and underlined book. Every Veteran who teaches who teaches should have a copy. I also recommend Dr Schweikart’s Patriot’s History of the Modern World Vol I and Vol II, which covers Americas ascent in world history since 1898. Pay close attention to their bibliography, for those are also books you can rely on.

And as for studies in American Government, I can make no better recommendation than the several FREE Online courses offered at Hillsdale College.

I’m just sorry these aren’t part of the public school curricula already. We’re playing catch-up in a desperate race against time.

With these books and these courses you won’t need us steering you any longer. You’ll be more knowledgeable and wise than most of the college professors who refuse to teach America as an exceptional exception to history.




About the Author:

Vietnam era Army JAG, Asia, 17-yr Cold Warrior in Soviet-China Bloc green zone, Been shot at and hit, but in crime, not war; twice-broken nose for lying (same fellow) hence good law school candidate; Could have been Somebody in Corporate world and politics, but at every crossroad chose to be a man with a tawdry past instead. Gave up law and am now a redeemed American.
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  1. Allen  September 25, 2018

    I guess it’s time to bathe, curl my mustache and take this show on the road.

    • Vassar  September 27, 2018

      His does appear to be where we’re taking this part of our project. You’re more handsome than me, besides

      • Allen  September 27, 2018

        Sorry brother, it’s all in the majestic beard. The well curled mustache doesn’t hurt either.


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