Monday, December 13, 2010

Life Lessons from Paul Revere

My freshman honors students complete a long-term research project during the second semester that approaches history from two directions. First, they are providing a bit of biography of a key figure from the American Revolution. Second, they have to demonstrate an understanding of the themes of the revolution as a whole by explaining how that one person affected the direction of events. The result of the project is a 10 minute documentary complete with images, music, and student narration.

After reading David Hackett Fischer's Paul Revere's Ride, I confirmed that Paul Revere should definitely remain on the list of historical figures that students may choose for the project. The trick for the students who chose him last year was to sort out the mythology from the scholarly historical evidence. David Hackett Fischer’s book is definitely a source I will lend to the student(s) who select Revere this spring. He articulates the truth about Revere with eloquence and evidence, something we are striving for our students to accomplish.

Some of the characteristics of Revere that students should understand, in context of the impact an individual can have on the course of historical events, are:


  • Paul Revere relied on others in order to accomplish his goals. He was not a lone rider single-handedly saving New England from the dastardly Regulars.

  • Paul Revere was not a man of privilege, nor was he impoverished. He worked for what he had and stood firmly on his morals, even if it meant sacrifice. Few lessons from the media our students are exposed to are focused around this philosophy of life. Revere is an example of real-life success as a result of strong ethics alongside a strong work ethic.

  • Paul Revere did not ask for his leadership role. He gradually took on responsibilities and was trusted by the leaders of the movement because he proved himself trustworthy.

  • Paul Revere knew when to speak and when to listen. He never made any quick calls to action in the weeks leading up to Lexington and Concord. Although rumors flew about when Gage’s men were going to march and where they were going, Revere kept a cool head and listened to all the information before making a call to sound alarms. In a second example, although he remained defiant during his brief captivity on that fateful night, he always addressed his captors with respect and never pushed them hard enough to earn execution. His good judgment during a time of such tension, when New England was a powder keg ready to explode, is a quality to be admired.

  • Paul Revere pushed through exhaustion in order to accomplish something that really matters. Even after his long ride had ended, he continued to work toward the Patriot cause. While his fellow rider gave up and went home when faced with opposition and obstacles, Revere remained in Lexington to hide Hancock’s trunk and continued to work through the night.

While these are historical lessons, they are also life lessons. In order to have a positive impact on history, we and our students need to strive for these characteristics and values. I do not mean to imply that Revere was not flawed at all. He was human and he certainly made mistakes. But when all is weighed and measured, he did more right than wrong in helping to organize and struggle toward to goals of the Whig cause.

Please Note: This reflection was completed as part of the author's participation in the History Connected program. Please see the History Connected Wiki or the History Connected Official Website for information on the federal grant that provided the opportunity.