Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lincoln and The Men Who Built America

We are taking a break from our formal history curriculum.  But we are learning so much about history in a meaningful way that I am almost ready to disregard a formal curriculum.  Allie has been reading and researching and writing about periods in history that fascinate her.  She has spent hours with these topics and loves to discuss them in a way that I seldom saw with our history curriculum.

Piper has asked if we can read Story of the World, Volume 4, because she really likes the way the books are written and the accompanying Activity Guide.  I don't want to rush what is going on here, though...I want to savor every moment and discussion and conversation and see where this leads us.

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Last week we watched the movie Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis.  My friend Debbie at Keeping Up with the Joneses, wrote in comments last week about her feelings about Lincoln: "When I have been at the Lincoln Monument in D.C., it feels like a holy place -- almost a temple. I have been moved to tears reading his words. I believe that Lincoln was inspired by God in all he did to save and reshape our country." I feel the same way.  I think the Lincoln Monument was done so well, it is so humbling to stand at the feet of that statue, as it should be.  To read the words on the walls always moves me to tears.  To see the step where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood...the whole thing, our history is so moving.  If you have never been, I hope you get a chance to go.  We all loved the movie.  I loved that rather than demanding his way or being curt,  Lincoln was portrayed as a merciful, humble man who told wonderful, poignant stories that held reason and logic and age-old lessons.  I don't think my girls will ever forget Thaddeus Stevens role in the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment after seeing Tommy Lee Jones stellar performance and when he brings the bill home, I got chills and cried a little--I was blown away!

I had read about The Men Who Built America on Alicia's blog and ordered it for the library.  The Men Who Built America begins with Lincoln's death, the war has just ended, the country is in turmoil, things are changing.  We actually began the first episode the night before the movie Lincoln was released on DVD and we decided to wait until after watching Lincoln to begin watching this series, just so we got a feel for the order of events.

The series begins with Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who grew up poor on the docks of New York City, but took big risks and borrowed money to buy a ferry.  He transported goods and capitalized on his investment and soon owned a fleet of cargo ships and then sold THEM ALL because he saw the railroad as being a better investment.  None of us will ever forget the closing of the Albany Bridge!  We learned that entrepreneurs often have an uncanny way of seeing what the next BIG thing will be and often take BIG risks.
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The second episode of this series is about John D. Rockefeller, whose father was a snake oil salesman, John has the entrepreneurial spirit but wants to do something legitimate.  He looks for the next big idea and decides on oil.  Vanderbilt has also been realizing that oil is the next big thing because people are starting to use kerosene for lights--it's the first time people have had light after dark and it's a big deal.  Vanderbilt offers Rockefeller a deal to transport his oil on Vanderbilt's rails.  
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We learned that just as people were beginning to like the idea of having light when the sun went down, kerosene was causing numerous house fires and people began to not trust it.  We learned how John D. Rockefeller came up with a simple name and logo for Standard Oil and reshaped the oil industry.

We learned about Andrew Carnegie's benefactor, Mr. Scott and his idea to connect the East with the West by building a bridge across the Mississippi River.  At that time 1 in 4 bridges failed and no one had ever built a bridge as wide as the one it would take to cross the Mississippi.  Andrew Carnegie came up with the idea of using steel.  He ended up DEEPLY in debt, with collectors taking legal action and the bridge way over budget and time, but Carnegie never gave up.  The bridge was built and it changed not only transportation but how people build things.  Carnegie opened a steel plant in Pittsburgh and became a millionaire.
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We learned about Carnegie's alliance with Henry Clay Frick, who was a ruthless, merciless man.  We learned about the Johnstown Flood and how it was, at least in part, Henry Clay Frick's fault.  

And that was only the first three episodes.

In addition to learning about history, we are learning about entrepreneurship, capitalism, and free market economy.  We learned that there were several Depressions in the late 1800s, when the railroads failed and many, many people were out of work.  The episodes for this show are about 43 minutes in length, with both dramatic acting and interesting commentary.  

This series is remarkable and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in American history.  It is presented in a meaningful way so that I feel we will all retain what we learn.

Jason and I are obviously not moguls and we are not really even risky investors, but we do have investments and we have discussed buying stock in different companies for different reasons--we see what the company doing as something sort of cutting-edge or something that is new and very valuable to society, that sort of thing.  Normally Jason and I discuss this when the girls are playing or doing something else, but we have decided to make these discussions part of our dinner conversation and make the girls aware of them.  We hope to get the girls included in the conversations, get them to learn and think about forward-thinking companies and possibly even give them each some money to invest.