Our trip to Monticello happened to coincide nicely with some of the work the kids are doing in school. Geeky Girl is doing a whole unit on colonial America. They visited a colonial cabin nearby, a trip I served as a chaperon on. Geeky Boy has been studying the French Revolution, a movement inspired by Jefferson’s words and work. We were able, then, to make concrete many of the lessons they’ve been learning in school. It’s one thing to read about slavery. It’s another to see the conditions under which slaves lived. The history of our nation is written as a kind of grass roots movement by people who wanted to be freed from royal tyranny. The truth is much more complicated and visiting Monticello brought that complexity home. There’s the matter of the land and house itself, which clearly show that Jefferson was a well off man. Though he considered himself a farmer, he was not like the farmers who scraped out a living on a borrowed piece of land. He grew a mass amount of fruits and vegetables. And, he had slaves to tend all of it. Another complication for a man who wrote “All men are created equal.”
It occurs to me that this kind of immersion into history is not something available to everyone. We didn’t go with the intention of the trip serving as an educational moment, but we were able to make it into one without, I think, taking away the fun. The reason we could do that were a) we knew what the kids were doing in school because we talk to them; b) we have the financial means to travel, stay at a hotel and pay the entrance fee; and c) we ourselves are educated and know enough about the period to connect the dots. The first reason is easy enough for anyone to do. The second is harder. Certainly, there are budget hotels, but the cost of entrance is quite high. It’s a trip that I think many would have to budget carefully for. The third reason may seem impossible to overcome, but I think a combination of the library and available online resources could even alleviate that. But still, it’s a lot of work for a small trip, and it was no work at all for us to manage. It just made me think about advantages I often take for granted.