By Jason L.S. Raia
This summer, Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge introduced the Joshua Chamberlain League, a membership society for teachers that allows them to make a donation toward the Foundation’s high-quality professional development programs.
More than half of the teachers who participated in this summer’s programs have already joined the League, donating more than $18,000. That’s a healthy demonstration of support from teachers as Freedoms Foundations begins the work of raising $500,000 for next year’s graduate programs.
Every teacher who attends a Freedoms Foundation graduate program does so on scholarship, thanks to the generosity of donors who believe in the power and importance of civic education. By signing up for the Joshua Chamberlain League, teachers ensure that the Foundation’s tradition of providing transformative experiences for educators continues. So enthusiastic were the teachers when asked to join the League that many donated considerably more than the $36 annual membership fee. Their generosity has already inspired Freedoms Foundation to consider other membership opportunities that could provide resources for current programming and for the development of new educational offerings.
Membership in the Joshua Chamberlain League will provide access to a new video library of speakers and scholars, early notification on next year’s teacher programs, regular communications like the Foundation newsletter and blog posts from its president, and invitations to special events, with more benefits coming in the future.
Who was Joshua Chamberlain? An educator, soldier and statesman who was an icon of civic responsibility, the ultimate ideal Freedoms Foundation hopes to inspire in all Americans, especially young citizens. Throughout his life, Chamberlain demonstrated the civic virtues of accountability, respect, generosity, participation and productivity.
A college professor, Chamberlain took a sabbatical to volunteer for duty in the Civil War, though he had no formal military training. As an officer of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Unit, he fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, defending Little Round Top and ultimately receiving the Medal of Honor for his courage and sacrifice. (He is among the heroes honored in the Maine Area of the Medal of Honor Grove on Freedoms Foundation’s campus.) After the war, he returned to the classroom, won four successive terms as governor of Maine, became president of Bowdoin College, and wrote about his wartime experiences.
Lynette Wescott, a teacher from Kansas, wrote of the experience, “We are armed with new ideas, self-reflections on the struggles of race and civil rights, and an understanding of the necessity of teaching the Civil Rights Movement and its connections to today. … [W]e are better equipped to help our students recognize their responsibility to move the country forward by building bonds and bridges.”
Teachers engaged with a wide range of scholars and other inspiring speakers at Valley Forge and beyond. In addition to Medal of Honor Recipients like World War II and Iwo Jima veteran Woody Williams, Korean War veteran and POW Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, and Afghanistan veteran Kyle White, the educators heard from experts such as David Eisenhower, on his grandfather’s planning of D-Day; Karen Korematsu, who continues the civil rights work of her father, Japanese-American Fred Korematsu, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Korematsu v US; and Dr. Muhammed Al-Maliki, an Iraqi refugee and physician who suffered under the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein.
The experiences offered through Freedoms Foundation’s teacher programs are like no other. Take it from one of this summer’s participants.
“I wanted to thank you … for the amazing and life-changing opportunity to be a part of this summer’s Civil Rights Movement program with Dr. Allen,” wrote Cyndy Tatum of Colorado Springs, CO. “It was not only a highlight of my summer but also of my teaching career. … I have been struck by the bravery and love of those that have gone before us … It inspires me to be bold and brave also, and I hope I can pass that on to my students and teachers.”
Jason L.S. Raia is executive vice president of Freedoms Foundation.
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