Monday, July 4, 2016

Hamilton and Education

I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.

Burr, as he is presented in HAMILTON, is a tragic figure. Burr is who I strive to keep my students from being. Think about the potential. He's "brilliant in court, succinct, persuasive." He's "the prodigy of Princeton college." He's "a trust fund baby."*  With all that he's only a footnote of history- the vice president who killed a man in a duel. In the show he's only the second lead because his name isn't the one on the front of the playbill, a strong metaphor for his life next to Alexander Hamilton. But his is the first voice we hear. He's got two of the most affecting songs in the show. He kills the lead.

Yet, who is Aaron Burr? He has no beliefs. He takes no stands. Even after the war he still won't step up. He justifies these things to himself, he sees his actions as prudent. Why not hedge your bets?

A. Burr is so far from who I am and who I want teachers to be it's not even funny. I admit, everyone probably wants to think of themselves as Alexander Hamilton (except those who want to be Lafayette and the many who want to be Angelica Schuyler). What a surprise, you think to yourself. The loudmouth who thinks he throws verbal rocks at mediocrities wants to be A. Ham.  But think about the teachers who are Burr. They know what's right, it's staring them in the face, but they just won't commit. Again, it's hard to fault Burr. Leslie Odom, Jr plays him with such deep humanity that you are forced to understand him. Can we fault teachers who wait?

We tell them the revolution is coming. But for many it's coming again. They've been through The Revolution. You could say that some teachers probably feel like they've been stuck in a revolving revolution their whole careers. Every four years a new trend, a new study, a new something. These teachers have grown a mind for work, not at work. When hiring we’re looking for a mind at work, but that doesn't mean it stays that way. Imagine if the American Revolution had had as many false starts and blind prophets as education has. See some mindsets switch for work work.

What if Hamilton had been a little less self-centered (before you argue think about literally anything the character does, up to and including how he dies), and a little more open. What if when Washington had told Burr to close the door on his way out Hamilton had dropped in a good word? Hamilton didn't just disagree with the other Founders. He straight up picked knock down fights with all of them, including Washington, who he loved. He had no interest in making friends. One of my favorite bits in the whole show is in Right Hand Man when Washington says they're completely outnumbered and Hamilton's solution is, "I know literally three other people, we're good."**

He doesn't make friends. Imagine if he had. Could he have pulled Burr over? At the least he probably wouldn't have been shot by his first friend. He stops being a great collaborator pretty early in the show. Sure, he bonds tight with his First Three, but after that who but Washington? Reaching out to Madison and Jefferson instead of going toe-to-toe might have meant one less paper he had to write, changing the refrain that he ain't never gonna be president now.

We know the Jeffersons in our classrooms. We even know the Samuel Seaburys. How do we treat the Alexanders? The loud motormouth with more gumption than is good for his current level? He’s a harder kid to teach sometimes, but the rewards are so great. Be his Washington and get on his side. And I would be remiss not to mention our Peggys, so easily pushed to the side.

We get caught up in our pursuit of the best teaching strategies sometimes. Could HAMILTON be a warning to us? Or instead of Alexander Hamilton maybe we take our teaching lesson from Eliza. Who doesn't take crap from him, yet forgives and is strong. She carries on his legacy. She starts an orphanage. She tells his story. Is she the teacher, the center between Alexander and Aaron?

During the chat (Weds 7/6 at 7pst) we'll cover more than Ham v Burr. This is a fun show and it'll be a fun chat. I want to talk about neutrality between Bri- no. No, I don't. But I want to talk about sacrifice and choices and Daveed Diggs being incredible and Washington being a model leader and how wonderful King George is. Of course you'll get to share your favorite characters and lines and songs. But there's so much to HAMILTON, it's such a dense work of genius, that it would be overwhelming to try to cover all the themes. I'm sure this is one we'll have to do an Act II of some time in the future.

*or is it "a trust fund, baby"? I love how many double meaning turns of phrase are sprinkled through the play. It's true that his parents left him money.

**first pointed out on twitter by Sunil Patel, who is a great non-teacher follow.


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