Jonesborough Herald & Tribune - Lisa Kereluk-Whaley
In the hopes of fueling a fire for history in American schools, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander traveled to West View School last week.
He wanted, he said, "to find the good and praise it."
"I'm really here to compliment the teachers and the children," said Alexander at a Wednesday assembly gathered to celebrate the school's new book, Treasured Times: Life in the West View Area.
"One of the most important things I'd like to do as a United States senator is what your teachers have already done right here."
What the teachers and about 80 eighth-grade students have done is compile an 150-page book chronicling the history of the entire West View School area, from Washington County, Limestone, Telford, New Salem and Asbury to Conklin, Leesburg, Bowmantown and Broylesville.
The history book was begun earlier in the 2002-2003 school year as a part of the Appalachia Cares project, funded by AmeriCorps. And, since its release, the book has been selling fast and furious, according to Joyce Hale, one of the teachers behind the project.
It was also impressive enough to gain the attention of a United States senator, though Hale admitted to not really being surprised by that.
"It's that good," Hale said with pride.
"One of the reasons I think you were successful with it is I can't think of a more interesting part of our country to write about," he told the school assembly, which included the West View student body and teachers, David Crockett High School Band and the West View chorus, as well as school and county officials from around the area.
He is, however, a little bit biased, Alexander admitted.
Ancestors on both his mother and father's side came through East Tennessee in its early years.
The area has also born the footsteps of Sam Houston, David Crockett, Andrew Jackson and Hacker Martin, "the best gun maker in the Eastern United States," Alexander said.
"This area is so rich in stories," he said. "You don't have to go 10 miles to write a history book around here. You just dig around Washington County and Jonesborough and Gray and Limestone and find so much."
Alexander also applauded the teachers and students for the ingenuity and hard work necessary to bring the work to fruition — calling the book "one of the most remarkable community histories I've seen."
"I salute you for that," he said.
History is something of a pet project for the senator, both personally and professionally.
"I love history," Alexander said. "The older I get the more I enjoy it. And I love the Upper East Tennessee history."
Alexander also believes strongly in its importance in United States schools, as evidenced by the bill he introduced shortly after taking office in January called the "American History and Civic Education Act" - a bill which would help fund summer academies throughout the nation designed to strengthen the knowledge of history and civics in teachers and students.
"It's very important to understand history," Alexander stressed.
Nearly everyone, he said, has heard reports that Americans are now living in some of the toughest times in history.
"If you know history, you'd know that's not true," Alexander said. "Imagine what the pioneers were like when they came to Limestone, Tennessee." Danger, deprivation and struggle were all part of those early Americans' lives, he said.
Then there is the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Great Depression and the Cold War. "Those were really hard times," Alexander said.
"If you know your history, you know that the world has always been dangerous," he added.
Knowing that - and taking pride in the fact that Americans have and will survive - "help young people face the future a lot more confidently."
And that, according to Alexander, is what West View is helping to do - and he wants it to spread.
"When the teachers and the students at West View do such a good job, its such a good example for others," he said. "I know at South Central they'd also done a similar sort of project a couple of years ago, so it's infectious.
"And I like to catch people doing things right."
Cost is $10 per book to purchase History of the Area. For more information on purchasing a book, call the school at 753-1175.