These days when one hears a reference to “Hamilton,” the first thought that tends to come to mind is the landmark Lin-Manuel Miranda musical that has captivated audiences around the world. But this isn’t the case for Ms. Kris Larson’s twelfth grade class in St. Joseph, Missouri. When they hear “Hamilton,” they light up with excitement, eager to share stories about the in-depth scholarly research they’ve conducted on the Founding Father himself. And a few weeks ago, thanks to national education nonprofit DreamWakers, these young history buffs got the chance to meet via video chat the original Hamilton scholar, Dr. Stephen F. Knott, Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College and author of Washington and Hamilton: the Alliance that Founded America.
Ms. Kris Larson is a member of the White House Historical Association’s Teacher Institute, whose twelfth graders were eager to learn more about professions in the historical field. However, after their flashchat with Dr. Knott, the students got much more than they bargained for — just a few days after their virtual conversation, Professor Knott sent the entire class a copy of his book, prompting Kris to create an entire lesson plan based off of his act of generosity.
“We have been studying the events leading up to the writing of the Constitution and Dr. Knott could not have been a more perfect fit for our topic. The insight he gave to the content and character of the Founding Fathers added depth to our class conversation. As a class, we were able to dig deeper into the topic. I never expected a very busy author and professor take time out of his day to contact the publishing company to give a copy of his book to each of us!,” said Kris. With copies of their new books in hand, she and her AP students created a book study, where they reflected on the biography, discussed key takeaways amongst themselves, and gained a new insight into the historical figures they had already been covering in their classroom.
The connection between Dr. Knott and Kris’ classroom is the type of long-lasting and impactful relationship that DreamWakers seeks to create. Particularly because two-thirds of U.S. employers don’t interact with our country’s classrooms, and 88% of DreamWakers students have never met a professional in their speaker’s industry, these virtual conversations are more important to broadening students’ horizons than ever. Although a flashchat may only last for 45 minutes, its resonance is immeasurable. By introducing her class to Dr. Knott, Kris may have inspired a few future historians, political scientists, and authors to dream big about their future.
Kris and her students were not the only ones who were impressed. The chat was so successful, a local news channel even decided to cover it. Dr. Knott also remarked afterwards that he could have talked to the students for hours, and that “they repeatedly demonstrated a grasp of both American history and of contemporary politics that was truly impressive. It became clear to me very quickly that their teacher, Ms. Kris Larson, is a remarkable educator. My conversation with them convinced me that our nation’s best days lie ahead of us. Anyone who interacts with these students would realize that the stereotypes one hears about young Americans is way off the mark. I cannot think of a more rewarding program. Getting to meet interested students who, in my most recent flashchat experience, live 1500 miles away, made my day; no, let me clarify that, it made my month.”
Dr. Knott has had a legendary career in the fields of history and political science, and he is the author of several successful books on past American presidents, including Alexander Hamilton himself. Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America covers the collaborative relationship between the two founding fathers, the formation of America’s government, and gives readers an in depth look at the personalities that helped to shape a world superpower.
Dr. Knott and Kris’ students were able to virtually connect despite the many miles that separated them, and it proved to be a rewarding experience for all parties involved. When asked about the effect DreamWakers has had on her classroom, Kris responded that “[DreamWakers] has added a new dimension to my classroom and we have been exposed to a different style of learning by visiting with experts in the field. It has challenged [my students] thinking and made them better critical thinkers when reading history. It has been an invaluable resource and I am so glad I learned about it at the White House Historical Association Teacher Institute. I firmly believe in trying new programs and ways to learn in my class to make history come alive for my students.”
About White House Wednesdays
DreamWakers has teamed up with the White House Historical Association for a series of flashchats called “White House Wednesdays,” in which we virtually connect under-resourced History, Social Studies, and Civics classrooms around the country to professionals who have had outstanding careers in and around the White House. Some of our past speakers include: Anita McBride, former Assistant to President George W. Bush and Chief of Staff to First Lady Laura Bush; Maurice Owens, former Special Assistant to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Stewart McLaurin, President of the White House Historical Association; and Adit Hardikar, former White House Liason to the LGBTQ and Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.
Teachers: to bring a professional into your classroom, please click here.
Speakers: to connect with a classroom, please click here.