There’s a story told about Abe when he was president of the United States. Seems
he was holding a cabinet meeting, and the discussion became unnecessarily catawampus.
Lincoln finally just up and asked, "How many legs would a dog have if you
called the tail a leg?"
There was a pause. Much thought. Careful political
head scratching. Diplomatic toe turning. Then somebody said, "Well, Mr. President,
it would be five."
"No," said the man who began his
life on a farm in Kentucky. "It would still be four. Calling a tail a leg
doesn’t make it a leg."
Calling a false statement a truth, a disparity
an agreement, or a school an education fall approximately into the same category.
Abe was born February 12, 1809, near the South
Fork of Nolin River, but his boyhood home was on the edge of Knob Creek, a tributary
of Rolling Fork, both places in LaRue County. These streams are a vital part of
the great water cycle and make Kentucky so unusual (more miles of navigable waterways
than any state in the Union, except Alaska).
Thomas, Nancy Hanks, Abe, and sister Sarah
moved to Knob Creek in the spring of 1811. Carl Sandburg described the place in
his book, Abraham Lincoln. "That Knob Creek farm in their valley set
round by high hills and deep gorges was the first home Abe Lincoln remembered…
He scrawled words with charcoal, he shaped them in the dust, in sand, in snow.
Writing had a fascination for him."
Today, teachers are required to force writing
portfolios into the consciousness of sleeping Abes and Abigails. A prime-time
reason for it is the easy availability of video-movies and television-and Internet
sleights of hand.
Too often, this is true on snow days when there
is no school. Instead of reading by the fireside or at the kitchen table, students
and parents hover and seek warmth from television. It’s like a "free"
vacation, and the post-Lincoln age habitually resists learning as much as Abe
longed for it.
The same power that produced the Great Emancipator
continues to create opportunities throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Good
people can still reach for the stars, drawing from within themselves, trusting
in authentic intuition, relying on values derived naturally, not artificially
from the media entertainment centers of Hollywood, New York, and Washington, D.C.
The birth month of the 16th president of the
United States is a good time to reflect upon the life of Lincoln and how it is
to be growing up today in Kentucky. A promising start would be to read Sandburg’s
book, which could lead to David Donald’s Lincoln Reconsidered. An idea
for spring might include a visit to Lincoln country-Hodgenville and Knob Creek.
Go and listen. Take along a candle and a book in case there’s no power outlet.
It has been more than ironic that Kentucky is
the birthplace of the two opposing presidents in the American Civil War. Eight
months older than Lincoln, Jefferson Davis was born June 3, 1808, in what is now
Todd County. Both he and Lincoln were as reviled as they were revered. Perhaps
Kentuckians will find increased understanding of Davis by reading Robert Penn
Warren’s Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back.
A short reading list should include Frederick
Douglass’ Life and Times, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery, and James
Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain.
The point of all this is not to push the envelope
of political correctness, engage in hero worship, or open old wounds. The main
thought is to encourage reading, then writing, at each stage of a lifetime of
Winter is a good time to put another log on
the fire and ponder the depth and breadth of the process of our education as individuals.
Neither Lincoln, Davis, Douglass, Washington, or Baldwin allowed others to do
their thinking for them. Nor should we.