Whenever I think of Independence Day, my mind automatically conjures up images of Independence Hall, the signers of the Declaration of Independence who labored there in that hot, muggy summer of 1776, the Liberty Bell, fireworks, the Revolutionary War, and Mendell E. Beattie, long-time Principal of Triad High School. What has Mendell E. Beattie to do with independence, you may well ask? If you were one of his students at one time or another you would be able to answer the question without my input. For those of you who never had the privilege of experiencing Mendell E. Beattie in the classroom, pay apt attention.
In addition to his many other duties as Principal, Mr. Beattie was the American government teacher for Triad High School students. He took great pride in being an American, and encouraged his students to emulate his patriotism and love of country. He wanted his students to be grateful for the liberties and freedoms which they had inherited because of the dedication and sacrifices of others. To this end, he was a real task master.
Mr. Beattie not only talked about liberty, freedom and independence. He knew it by heart because he had made it his life's effort to do so. He could recite many of the famous quotes as expressed by our Founding Fathers. The words of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe were all securely locked away in the folds of Mr. Beattie's brain, ready to spring forth at any given moment when the occasion called for them. He could recite long passages of the writings of Thomas Paine, and put tremendous feeling and meaning into them as he stood before his students. He could evoke all of the imagery and emotions associated with the battlefield as he recited Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address." He could give a stirring rendition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself" speech.
And, Mr. Beattie expected his students to be just as capable of knowing and understanding the words which were important to our nation's history.
Students looked forward to Mr. Beattie's class in American government with trepidation. They heard the horror stories of all of the memorization and recitations which he required of his students. They were ever hopeful that someone would come along to replace Mr. Beattie before the government class was a part of their Senior year routine. Hundreds of students held out hope; hundreds of students were eventually disappointed.
In addition to all of the material he presented in his class lectures and discussions...in addition to all of the reading assignments which he made...in addition to all of the who, what, where, why and how questions which made up his periodic exams...there constantly loomed the memorization and recitation requirements.
At one time or another, every student was required to learn and recite before his/her classroom peers:
- The Magna Carta
- The Mayflower Compact
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Preamble to the United States Constitution
- The Gettysburg Address
- and other such items of historical significance which he deemed necessary for the well-educated Triad High School graduate.
Each student labored long and hard to master the unfamiliar language of these documents, and then stood all alone at the front of the classroom for those few moments of trial and tribulation. The process was as sure as night and day, year after year.
It's been 48 years since I studied the Declaration of Independence and committed it to memory. It's been 48 years since I stood at the front of that gray-walled American government classroom and recited the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence. It's been 48 years since that day in 1963, and I have passed from a tow-headed teenager to a gray-haired old man. Still today...because Mr. Beattie demanded it as a meaningful exercise in Americanism so many years ago...I can open my mouth and give voice to the words which are forever etched in my memory - "When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness..."
It's not a parlor trick...although it is something with which I have often amazed my friends, my children and my grandchildren. I imagine that there are other men and women throughout the country - all former students of Mr. Beattie - who can do likewise. It's merely the end result of a masterful teacher's way of promoting life-long learning and a deep and abiding love of country.
Thank you, Mr. Beattie.