George Washington was not a perfect president. Is this sacrilege? I once thought so. I believe today's students need to take the history lessons from past generations and think more critically about such subjects. This does not mean throwing out these ideas, rather, taking what history has given us, re-evaluating conventional understanding, and applying it to the modern world. Mount Vernon did this for me, and we as educators strive to do this for our students.
Towards the end of the school year, my 7th graders are tasked with using primary and secondary sources to grade Washington and his presidency in the form of a report card. As students approach this task, they begin to realize that Washington was anything but perfect. As the students research, I can see them transform from quietly accepting their previous understanding of our first president to uncovering new information that changes the way they view history. For instance, the students are surprised to learn that they have received nearly as much formal education as Washington. He was friends with politically savvy individuals such as George Mason and gained experience by serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses (yes, the same one from Jamestown, students!). That being said, Washington was more than aware of his modest educational background—he knew he would need to rely on others when he assumed leadership of the fragile new nation. As a result, Washington set the precedent of establishing a cabinet; a move overwhelmingly applauded by students who are thrilled to hear that we are finally talking about Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton, along with Thomas Jefferson, helped guide Washington through his first term as president. As we study the cabinet, students discuss the importance of asking for help and listening to the perspectives of others in order to achieve success. Every president has learned this lesson and expanded upon it. Today my 7th grade students apply it to their lives.