Letter to Students: George W.

Two of my students were out of class today as a result of illness.  I wanted to share what happened with them in class — we introduced a certain guy named George into our classroom discussions for the first time, and his character and nature were and are really important to understanding the American Revolution.

Here’s the letter I wrote to them and e-mailed.  How do you think I did?

Dear X and Y,

You should both check the website for any missing assignments from your classes.
For history class, please read. pp. 104-107.  Answer questions 2, 3, and 4 using the words from question 1 on p. 107.
Also, read George Washington’s rules for civility on p. 97 in the tan-colored box. Washington is known to have lived by these rules his entire life — the notebook in which he kept the rules remained in his possession from the time he wrote them out by hand at age 16, until he died in his 60s.
There are two stories I told about George Washington in class today: one famous and false, the other almost-unknown but true.  The famous, false story is that George Washington was eight or nine years old, and chopped down his father’s prize cherry tree.  When his father noticed and grew angry, George is reported to have said, “I cannot tell a lie: I chopped down the tree.”  His father, so proud of his son’s honesty, did not whip him (as the custom of the time said was appropriate for boys who destroyed valuable property).  Alas, the story never happened:  it was invented as a short-hand way of describing George Washington’s proverbial honesty and good character, which were famous even when he was alive.  But the cherry tree incident never happened.
The unknown-but-true story is that at about age 14, Washington was told by a teacher that he was bad at mathematics.  George decided to save his money for a year, and used it to buy a very fancy book about mathematics, which had to be shipped all the way from England. The book was an important math text for adults — no answer key, lots of very complex problems, and very difficult explanations of how to do all of the kinds of math known to the 18th century (calculus, trigonometry, geometry, topologies, as well as advanced algebra).  It was like a kid saving his allowance for a year to buy a computer today — that expensive.  George got the book, and proceeded to for his way through every problem in the book, one at a time, night after night, until he’d done the whole book, every problem, beginning to end.
The same month he finished the book, he went to the richest man in the American colonies, Lord Fairfax, and said something like, “You’re the richest Englishman in America.  I know more math than anyone else in America.  Hire me.”  Lord Fairfax did, and gave him the job of chief surveyor of Virginia; Lord Fairfax owned most of Virginia at the time.  Washington spent five years traveling in the Virginia wilderness, making maps and surveying property and meeting people… and using his etiquette book to guide him in how to behave.  His success at THAT got him his second job — commander of the colonial forces during the French and Indian War.
Feel better soon.

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