We’re Gonna Teach ‘Em How to Say Goodbye

This summer I saw Hamilton.  If you have been living under a rock somewhere and the genius of Lin Manuel Miranda has somehow escaped you, do a quick Google search.  I’ll wait.

Much to my 6 year old’s dismay, I did not take him with me–I took my husband instead.  We didn’t get to sit beside one another; there were only single seats available when bought the tickets in April.  This meant that I was sitting next to total strangers when I finally got to see the musical I have been teaching since Miranda performed at the White House in 2009.

I warned the poor souls sitting next to me that I was a historian but I’m not sure they understood what that really meant until I started ugly crying in the middle of Act II.  *SPOILER ALERTS* At this point in the musical, George Washington is president and Hamilton is stunned when he chooses not to seek a third term.  The song Washington sings is called “One Last Time” and while I’ve always found it moving, watching Washington decide to retire from political life *IN PERSON* blew me away.  Yes, that was an intentional Hamilton reference.

Miranda has Washington explain to Hamilton that he has to step down so that America can experience a peaceful transition of power.  He has to “teach ’em how to say goodbye.” What would America be if Washington had served a third term and died in office? How would Americans have responded to the jockeying for power that would have inevitably occurred? These are profound questions as a historian and an American.

But, more than that, every day I feel like I am teaching my students how to say goodbye.  Washington tells Hamilton that “If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on, it outlives me when I am gone.” My students know how to do school.  Some may struggle with time management or accepting occasional failures, but after 13 years of formal education school feels comfortable and certain.  My job in some ways is to make them uncomfortable in school and to give them the tools to learn outside of the classroom.  My job is to help them put school away but keep learning for the rest of their lives.

The beginning of the school year is the wrong time for goodbyes.  Yet, this song has been haunting me all week.  I taught it on Tuesday when my Early American Republic class talked about the Washington administration and the republican ideals that Americans were fighting over in the 1790s.  Americans give Washington a lot of praise but not enough, I think, for this political action.

I hope that this school year I can give students the confidence in their analytical abilities to go independently in the world. I just keep thinking that while I’m still learning students’ names, I’m also (hopefully) preparing them to leave me.  It is a beautiful thing.

 

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