Expanding the Minds of the Next Generation with Poetry: Foundations of Freedom is our latest television program. We are so excited to get share it with you here on WallBuilders Live! In this series, will be discussing The Founders Bible, what kind of influence the Bible had on America, and we also discuss the foundations of law! Tune in now for the fourth part of this five-part series!
Air Date: 05/29/2023
Guest: Mark Bauerlein
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders. We’re always taking on the hot topics of the day from a biblical, historical and constitutional perspective. Thank you so much for joining us. My name is Rick Green. I’m a former Texas legislator, and America’s constitution coach. And it’s my honor to be here with the Barton family. Tim Barton is a national speaker and pastor and president of WallBuilders, David Barton, America’s premier historian and our founder at WallBuilders. And of course, WallBuilders, comes from the scripture in Nehemiah that says, arise and rebuild the walls, that we may no longer be a reproach. For us to do that, to rebuild the walls, we have to do it right by our homes, just like in the book of Nehemiah. So we start there, you got to rebuild in your community in your neighborhood, and then branch out to your state and of course, the nation. But to do all of that to equip people to do the job that Nehemiah did in that day, takes money. You know, he was backed with some pretty significant dollars by the king, right? Well, we don’t want government backing, we want your backing, we want your support, we want to band together. And you can do that in small ways or big ways, whatever the Lord puts on your heart. But if you go to WallBuilders.com today and make that contribution it helps us to continue this message, to teach truth, to defend truth, to equip and inspire others to do those things, and you can be a partner in that by donating and WallBuilders.com today. Lives, fortunes, sacred honor, we skip that second one too much, right? But lives that’s our time, go become a constitution, coach, start hosting classes, start doing your part. Fortunes, yes, donating, making sure we’re investing in good candidates, good causes out there. And then sacred honor standing up for truth, being willing to say what’s right, and to speak against what’s wrong, even in a culture that wants to cancel you for it. We’re certainly not afraid to do that here and WallBuilders and we know you’re not as well. So thanks for listening to us today. Alright, David and Tim a very different program today. Not politics, not business. Poetry. That’s right, folks, on WallBuilders we’re going to talk about poetry. And I… that’s a foreign subject for me. So for maybe just a couple of them. I remember having to read Beowulf in high school. Does that count? That’s not really poetry is it? It was kind of a weird thing. Anyway. So this is going to be an interesting topic. But it really comes back to the brain, and teaching kids and getting them to work hard, and memorize things. And David, I’ll never forget the first time you told me about how much scripture you memorized as a kid. And I said, Man, I want to build my memory muscles. And you still, to this day, credit, your memory today, whether it’s founding fathers stuff, and that sort of thing, but it was in those young days, memorizing Scripture that your parents had you do?
Yeah, it’s one of those things. And Rick, for me, look, I’ve been through enough generations that I went through a lot of stuff that you guys didn’t go through, in Gen X and Gen Y for Tim and Gen Z, now. So I went through stuff including back when JFK had the fitness program, and every kid in school was doing physical fitness in a serious, aggressive way. I mean, we were a fit nation physically, in a lot of ways. But it was always about training. And so you trained your body, and you trained your spirit. And I think that’s what memorization really does. The scripture says Thy word have I hid in my heart, how do you hide it in your heart if you don’t memorize it? How do you know it’s in there? How can you bring out what’s not in there? And so Jesus saw often as he would open his mouth, the scripture would flow out of it. You can count how many times in the New Testament, he’s just quoting from the prophets, and especially in the book of Matthew. He says, but didn’t the Prophets say, and don’t you read an Isaiah? And he would go, how did he do that? Because he had memorized the Scripture. So we really train the body, we really train the spirit, but we also train the mind. And one of the ways we train the mind was through memorization. We did a lot of memory work in schools, we memorized a lot of stuff, we memorizec math tables, we memorizec scientific tables. Remember back in science, we went through and memorized all the periodic tables and the elements and all the things that were there and their various components and weights. Well, we can look that up on the internet, now. So we don’t need to memorize it. Well, you can. But that’s like being grossly overweight in your mind, you’re not in good shape, which means you’re not as fast, you’re not sharp, you’re not responsive. And so we just don’t train the mind. And as you go back and look in the founding era, some of the stuff we’ve collected a WallBuilders, and we use it very often. And by the way, in the summer, coming up on the summer, we have a couple of sessions for teachers, teacher training kinds of sessions, where we bring them in and show them a lot of the books that were used in previous generations. And particularly the pedagogy that was used. And pedagogy means a teaching method. And we keep changing teaching methods in America. And the more we do it, the more scores go down. We keep thinking we have a better idea, and it’s not a better idea. And so you go back to the pedagogy and the one thing that was consistent in American education for 300 years, was serious memorization. And they call it a catechism. So we had memorization of questions and answers on math and on science and on history and on law and on music and electricity, and every science you could think of. There were questions and answers you memorized on it. And that gave you a foundation, was always at your disposal always there ready for you to build on. And so the aspect of training body and soul and spirit; body, mind and spirit, we’re just not really doing much of that, today, in the way we should be doing, and we’re more advanced than we’ve ever been. But we have less cognitive ability, individually than we’ve had. We rely on computers and other things. Now we’re getting into AI and Google’s now fully into AI, fully committed to AI. So we’re getting into things that think for us. And we’re not needing to think. And that’s where poetry is such a big deal, trying to memorize that and memorize the rhetoric and the rhyme and the temper and everything that goes with it. That’s a really, really big deal. And it worked successfully for centuries to train some of the brightest people we’ve ever had. And we can’t abandon it just because we have AI and computers that can think for us, we have to train our mind. And so poetry is one of the ways we did it.
Well, and Dad, as you mentioned, the idea we shouldn’t be changing the pedagogy all the time. But it’s true unless right now we’re changing it to go back to the way we used to do things. And so just to add that caveat, because yeah, we are in favor of changing it right, now. Let’s go back to doing things the way we used to when it worked. And if you go back to early education, as you’re mentioning, even some of the textbooks we have, it’s always struck me as fascinating when you go to something like the New England Primer, which was the first textbook printed in English language in America in 1690. And it was a essentially a first grade textbook. This is a level one textbook. This is what students used to learn to read. It’s what kind of education, the formation of it started is working together for them. And the New England Primer is something that we’ve talked about for a lot of years. It’s something we have reproduced one from 1777. We’ve reprinted it. It’s the one that John Hancock had in Massachusetts, it’s super cool for people to see and go through it. But what was consistent, and all of the early New England Primers is not only were there different alphabets that were full of Bible verses and Bible stories, there was always questions about Bible characters and individuals like Bible trivia along the way, there was so much religious content, but consistently with every single primer, at the back of the New England Primer, there was the Westminster shorter catechism. And it’s more than 100 questions on faith and theology. And these students in first grade or back then would have been a level. And in level one, They had to memorize Westminster shorter catechism. And ultimately, they had to be prepared, that the teacher could ask them any of the questions in the catechism, and they had to be able to answer and give the appropriate response to that catechism. And we’re talking about students that are, you know, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 whenever they start school, they’re in level one. These are young students, and through this catechism on faith and theology, that there’s more than 40 questions on the 10 commandments. Well, right now, most adults would have a hard time even listing identifying the 10 commandments, much less going into depth with the commandments. One of the questions that we will point to at times to give people an example, an illustration of some of what is in the New England Primer. Is that the question number 36, in Westminster shorter Catechism is what are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification? And for most of us, today, we go well, that’s kind of a theologically deep question. Yes. Especially for first graders! That’s crazy asking first graders those questions. Why would we do that? Because we wanted them to learn the knowledge of the answer. But here’s the point bigger picture, is what we have done in modern education is we’ve so dumbed down the standards, to make it… We’ve argued, we need to make it more accessible, we need to make it easier, we need to make it where more people can pass, more people can be successful and feel better. So we’ve lowered the standards to make it easier for people to pass level one go to level two, right pass grade one, go to grade two. And sometimes they don’t even pass those grades. They just get pushed to the next grade anyway, in some of these government funded schools. However, were it was so different in early America, the standards were so much higher, and we perform so much better and part of the standards were they had to memorize many things they would then be quizzed and questioned on and memorization, Dad, you’ve talked about it a long time. It’s just a muscle. It’s a tool that you can develop. And even as Rick pointed out early on, one of the things that you have long said was one of the reasons you’ve been able to memorize so many of the founding fathers speeches, and longer speeches, is because you’d already practiced memorizing long passages of the Bible, chapter upon chapter from multiple books of the Bible. And this is something that in modern culture, we have lost the development of some of these mental tools that have not helped us achieve and be more successful in academics. And where there is good news, I think, and as part of what we’re going to do on the program for this interview today, is that there are some states saying, hey, maybe we should go back to at least a few of these old ideas, and let’s see if we can reapply those in modern culture, things that could help once again, students develop this memory, develop this muscle of a brain and use it. And if we start doing things, maybe the way we used to do them, maybe we’ll get more of the outcome we used to get, which is a much better product coming out of the educational system.
I couldn’t help but think as both of you were describing the intellectual really, I guess, we use the term academic rigor. You know, without that, it’s just like not having the physical training, David that you were talking about, it creates soft men, soft women. It makes us soft, mentally and physically, we don’t have the fortitude, we don’t have the grit and I know it seems counterintuitive to say poetry is going to make you tough, but in a way, that’s what we’re saying. It’s making you mentally tough, you’re building that muscles. So this is very, very intriguing in an area that that, you know, again, we haven’t talked about this culturally in a long time. So I was really surprised to see, like Tim saying that some of these states are saying, hey, we’re going to get back to this. And we think this is part of the academic rigor that’s necessary to make strong men and women, not soft men and women and so to talk to us a little bit about it is actually a college professor that has been advocating… for this for a long time. And glad to see this happening. Mark Bauerlein will be with us. Stay with us, you’re listening to WallBuilders.
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. The year after the American War for Independence ended, we began addressing the issue of Muslim terrorists in North Africa, who were attacking American ships and killing and enslaving American seamen. Congress dispatched John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to negotiate peace. And when they asked the Muslim Ambassador the reason for the unprovoked attacks, he told them that “It was written in their Koran that it was their right and duty to make war upon them whenever they could be found.” 16 years of negotiations failed, and in 1801, America sent its military to crush the terrorists. When that war ended in 1805, the first American edition of the Qur’an was published urging Americans to read the Koran to see for themselves that its teachings were incompatible with the safety and peace of non-Muslims. To see the first American Qur’an and to get more information about America’s first war on Islamic terror, go to WallBuilders.com .
Welcome back to WallBuilders. Thanks for staying with us. We have with us Mark Bauerlein, is that how you say it, Mark? I want to make sure I say your name, right?
That is correct. If you want to say… Professor, Dr. Bauerline, that would be fine.
All right, senior editor at First Things and professor of English at Emory University, and you know, I have to pronounce your name, right, because if you’re reciting poetry, you’re supposed to pronounce everything right. Correct?
Down to the very syllable.
All right, all right. Well, this is a cool trend. And of course, David Barton, our founder is really big on recitation. It was memorization of Scripture, that really what he thinks made his memory muscles so good, and being able to memorize so many things later in life as well. And you’ve got a great article out there at National Review talking about poetry and the memorization and recitation of poetry coming back to the classroom for the very same reason. It’s good for the culture, and it’s also good for these kids brains. But talk to us a little bit about this. This is actually started in what Arkansas, Georgia?
Well, we got some memorization recitation laid out in the standards that had been proposed in Arkansas, and Georgia. And it’s fantastic. Yes, I mean, it’s old fashioned, right. And it’s something that progressive educators put down for many decades, rote memorization this doesn’t teach kids how to think, it doesn’t give them critical thinking and problem solving skills. But of course, we know that they’re absolutely wrong. And if we want to know why oratory, for instance, was so great, in the old days, big reason, memorization. You mentioned your boss memorizing parts of the Bible, parts of the Old Testament. Abraham Lincoln, he had whole verses, sentences, from the Bible, the parables in the gospel, they were just in his head. They were part of the language that he fought in, because he absorbed it. He assimilated these words, it was part of his sensibility, so that when he’s giving the speeches and fourscore and seven years ago, that the cadences, the language of the King James Bible, it was just there and it’s why, Lincoln… it’s one reason why Lincoln was Lincoln, and we can say this with all the rest, as well. And to take memorization recitation out of the schools, out of these misguided notions of child centered learning, blah, blah, blah. That was a crime. That was an educational crime done to the young.
Yeah. And it. How long ago did that happen? So how many… We’re basically two generations into that? Right?
I think we are, yeah. And you know, the 60s was when the progressive reforms really took hold. I mean, the ideas go back 50 years earlier, but the real takeover of the curriculum with child centered learning and, you know, giving the kids a chance to, you know, own their own education. Why should we have them learn the word of the old guys? We’ve got their own… They’ve got their own words, they’ve got their own experiences to offer. I remember when I was at the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia, the chairman, created this program called Poetry Out Loud. And it was a poetry memorization recitation contest, on the model of the National Spelling Bee. And you’ve seen those, how intense that contest is, well, this was one run through the high schools at the state level, and then National Finals, where kids would get up and they would perform a poem. Well, this was a fantastic thing, and the kids loved it. But a lot of the educators objected to one thing. We created a list of classic poems for them to memorize, you know, Shakespeare and William Wordsworth. And a lot of the educators said, No, let’s let them recite their own poems. And we said, absolutely, positively not. This is a bad trend for 15 year olds. I mean, what better for a 15 year old than to get out of his or her own head, and actually absorbed the words of Emily Dickinson? Get out of your own adolescent, little, little focus on your own ego, get out of the language of your social media, and say, words, that Emily Dickinson thought, and wrote. These are words for the ages, make them your own. And we did. And it’s really popular. I mean, 300,000 kids participate in this typically, each year, and it’s wonderful for them.
I, you know, as you’re describing that, Mark, I can’t help but think about the impact… I had one teacher that really challenged me and one of the things was memorization and reading things, and… that I wouldn’t have chosen to read and the poetry and all of those things. And I think about, I mean, you know, pop culture here, I mean, I think about Dead Poets Society back in that day, you know, I’m a child of the 80s. And that movie, and the impact it had on me in terms of even, I mean, even to this day, I can remember Robin Williams, you know, quoting Whitman, and Oh me, Oh my, Oh life, what amid these. I mean, all that, we’ve lost. that. We’ve dumbed down our education to the point, and I mean, I’m not educated on poetry at all. So I’m kind of in the middle there of that dumbing down. But today, it’s not… almost non existent. So how did you, you know, how did it get… How did these folks in Georgia and Arkansas, in this movement? How did this even come back? Because it seems like there would be so little support for it?
Well, look, we got to look at what has happened to scores in the last 20 years. Look at reading scores, look at writing abilities. You know, the SAT added a writing component to the SAT in 2006. Every year except two years for… when the… when scores were flat, everywhere for the next 10 years, scores went down. And the SAT actually dropped it as a requirement. It’s still there if you want to do it, but they dropped it because it was getting so embarrassing. ACT test for college readiness in writing, those scores have gone down in the last 10 years. Reading scores, I mean and look, especially with the pandemic reading scores have fallen precipitously. So you guys, they have to realize, listen, we’ve got a big problem. We are not getting the achievement that we’re paying for because tons of… billions and billions of dollars are poured into reading instruction, you know, from No Child Left Behind which emphasize reading and the tests. And what did we get for that? What do we get for that? We’re not treading water. We’re actually sinking a little bit.
Well, brother, I’ll just close with the last line from that Whitman poem that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. I’ll never forget that. I’ve said that to my kids a million times. I’ve said it to students that I’ve taught and even now in this debate in this restoration of education, this is a verse that needs to be contributed for sure and so thankful for your article and your efforts to help make that happen and to help educate our listeners as well, Mark, thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you, sir.
Stay with us, folks. We’ll be right back with David and Tim Barton.
Hey, guys, this is Tim Barton with WallBuilders. I know you hear my dad and Rick talk a lot about our Founding Fathers, about the original intent of our nation, a constitutional heritage that we have. And, really we’ve seen how far we slipped away from that. And, I know a lot of us as we hear my dad and Rick talk think, “I wish there was a place that I could go where I could see these documents and I could read and learn about the Founding Fathers firsthand.Â See the things they did.” I want to give you some websites today that can help you accomplish that very thing. If you get online you can go to places like Library of Congress and you can look under their century of lawmaking or historical documents. You can go to the Avalon Project, to the Founders Constitution, Google Books, or even the internet archives. Or you can just go to WallBuilders.com. We have a section for our WallBuilders Library. And, under that section we have different subgroups for historical documents, historical writings, even a place where you can get helpful links to find out more information about other websites.Â Where you can do research for yourself and find the truth for yourself. Friends, this is the time that we need to know who we are and where we came from. WallBuilders.com is a great place to go.
We’re back here WallBuilders. Thanks for staying with us. Thanks to mark Bauerlein for joining us as well. And I was thinking that this would be a great time for David to recite some poem from you know, I don’t know, 500 years ago or something? No, no, this is… I love this academic rigor we’re talking about here. And here’s the thing, folks, you don’t have to go to particular school to do this. This is something every single one of us can spend time doing, starting to memorize Scripture every day, starting to get your kids to memorize poetry. I mean, this is something regardless of whether you homeschool, private school, public school, whether you’re out of school, this is an area that we can all improve on.
Well, and as he was even talked about poetry, I thought, you know, when we were growing up, man, we went through a lot of poetry, mostly as what was included in the Louis L’Amour books as we were going through them, when somebody quotes a piece of literature along the way. However, right, we heard a lot of this stuff. And I say that tongue in cheek, we read a lot of books, and we learned a lot of stories. And one of the things that is certainly fascinating, even as we study the founding fathers, and go back through some of their writings, is how often they would reference literature, how often they would quote, some of the classics that are at such a different academic level than a lot of what we do today. And Rick, you mentioned even kind of the academic rigor, some of the standards that have changed over time, but what they used to be, and it’s so encouraging to hear there are states that are actually maybe going with the idea of having some level of academic rigor again. What a novel concept to challenge students to use their brain to actually be able to memorize. And as we’re looking at culture around us, it’s even kind of fascinating to think, what kind of problems might we be able to solve if we had a generation who was being taught to use that massive muscle in their head if they could develop it and use it. Man, what kind of problems could this next generation solve? And unfortunately, the government funded public schools have not done a good job of challenging students to use their brains in a lot of ways. And maybe, I mean, honestly, even a lot of Christian schools, a lot of homeschool is charter schools, private schools, we’ve embraced the same false political ideology, the same bad philosophy of education. And it’s something that all of us should be challenged to think, Okay, we need to go back and change some of this thought. We should have a lot more Bible memorization, maybe go back, learn… read some classics, right? Do some tough literature, memorize some poetry, some poems, things that could really help develop our mind and help us advance a lot of what we want to see accomplished in America.
You know, Noah Webster is called the schoolmaster to America. He’s one of the greatest educators in our history. And in the front of his textbooks, he gave guidance on what to do and how to teach those courses. And in his elementary spelling book, came out in 1782, the first real speller in American history. He talked about the fact that he understood that some of the words in that elementary spelling book were probably high and hard for some of the kids. But he pointed out you don’t ever want to go down to where the kids are, because they won’t come up to a level. You want to put the level above them, so they reach for something higher. You always want them reaching for something higher. And so it’s elementary spelling words, included words like contumelious, and ichthyology and bronchotomy and eschatology and that’s like beginning spelling words. You go, oh my gosh, that’s tough. Now I remember a letter that John Adams wrote to Abigail. John was away from Abigail for three years in the American war for independence, as a diplomat overseas and he said, Abigail, our children a really young, but as they’re growing, do not talk to them in baby talk. You talk to them in full complete sentences. You talk to them as if they are adults, because they are learning from what they hear and they need to learn the right structure. If you talk to them in baby talk. It’s like having to learn two different languages. They’ll have to figure out how the real sentences come together later. And so we always went really high, we always expected the best. And so this nonsense we have now of child centered learning is one of the worst things you can do. If you go down to the level of the child, they will stay at the level child, you want them not to be a child, you want them to be an adult, you want them to grow out of that childhood. And so we keep making things easier and lowering the bar more and more to make it easier for the kids. That’s not what they need. It’s like an athlete, if you’re going to be good athlete, you don’t keep lowering the bar and you expect perfection. If you’re an athlete playing basketball, you have to get the hand motion right every single time you shoot a free throw, so you shoot thousands of free throws. That’s not easy. It’s not fun. But it’s how you learn to do the thing, right. And you have to do the same thing with your mind. And poetry is a great way to do that. It’s a great way to train your mind. It’s challenge. It’s hard. It’s not the way you talk to your friends. It’s not the way your parents talk to you. But it really makes you think, and that’s one of the best things you can do. So I really love that this is starting to happen to some of the states that they’re actually passing laws to get poetry recitation back in classrooms and schools. That’s part of what we used to have when we were such a great thinking nation.
And even all the way back, David, to the very beginning. You know, you’ve been traveling there in the northeast and in Boston there at the Old State House. That’s where I really learned about Phillis Wheatley. They had a whole display on her in her teens writing poetry about George Washington and all kinds of other people. In fact, I think she was one of the heroes of history that Tim talked about back in February. So you know, poetry has a rich history here in America as well. And there’s a lot to learn there. And a lot we can be teaching our kids and ourselves. Really interesting program today, folks, we’re sure glad that you joined us. Thanks so much for listening to WallBuilders.