Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Man of Many Names

        The grave stone of my paternal great-grandfather lists him as W. F. L.  Northen. Sources of family history list his name as William Fitzhugh Lee Northen. Nick-named Willie, he was described in the 1900 Northen Family History as having being 5 feet 10 inches in height and slender” with “light hair, red beard, and light blue eyes.”  I’d always wondered who the Fitzhugh Lee might have been since it clearly seemed to be some sort of family name.  An additional twist was added on a 1910 census in which his name is listed as W.H.F.L. Northern [sic]. 
        Last October, when speaking with James Hoffman a distant relative of who is also a descendent of Willie Northen, the mystery began to unravel. Hoffman told me that Willie was known in the family as the man of many names. Family legend had it that he was named after William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, the second son of Robert E. Lee who was passing through Richmond Country passed through the area with the 9th Virginia Calvary when Willie was born in 1863.  Apparently either one of his older brothers (Willie was the youngest of about 10) or his father met Lee and was impressed enough that Willie was named after him.  The facts about William Henry Fitzhugh Lee check out, so apparently a little Civil War history was injected into a name on our family tree.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Elementary School Graduation

       Today I attended my grandson Connor’s graduation from New Eagle Elementary School in Wayne, PA.  The elementary school only goes up to grade 4, so next year it will be on to middle school. The graduation was ceremony was a pleasant one – despite the torrential rain. The auditorium crammed with parents and the graduates participating themselves through singing and playing “Ode to Joy” on recorders.
        When I first began teaching at the end of the 1960’s I was full of enthusiasm about the transformative power of education., believing that if we could get kids excited about learning, the future of the country would be so much brighter. Forty-five years later, I’m a good deal more jaded. Fostering the love of learning has been replaced by the push for high test scores and battles over school safety. This past week, though, has restored my faith somewhat.
         Thursday last week, I attended the school’s Wax  Museum event for my grandson Andrew.  The way it works is that each student picks a famous person they are interested in learning more about.  They research that person and then write up a report.  They then dress up in costume as that person.  On the day of the event parents and students from all the other classes are invited.  Andrew’s event was held outside on a sunny day in a small park-like area in front of the school.  The children presenting were lined up around the area and had to stand stiff as though they were the wax figure.  Each child had a sticker  – black circle – attached to their hand.  When a visitor touched the circle, the wax figure came to life and delivered his/her speech.  Andrew came as Michael Jordan and had a constant line of visitors – many students from other classes – coming up to touch the circle and hear his speech. It was a definite success for him.
       Shortly after the wax museum, we went into Connor’s classroom where he was making a power point presentation.  The students could choose any subject and Connor chose France because his maternal grandfather is of French descent and Connor wanted to know more about his heritage. Other students in the class got to ask questions and the teacher gave him pointers – the pros and cons of his presentation (with a heavy emphasis on the positive).
       We all live in the shadow of 9/11, of xenophobia, homophobia and economic uncertainty.  As I sat at Connor’s graduation today, I was glad to have a chance to see that at least some of his generation will be leaving elementary school with a positive out look on learning and a chance to carry that into the future.  It is a hopeful sign, when teachers are actually being allowed to teach.