By Dr. Jeff Scott, Vice President of Education at Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge

According to author Joseph Ellis, when George Washington led his troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Washington understood that winning the war was more important than being himself. Hence, he had to adjust his thinking, actions, and tactics. We must also do the same thing.

It was more important than anything for me to come here to Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge and increase student and teacher understanding of civic education. We all face a similar challenge today. Do we put our commitment, faith, money, and focus on something bigger than ourselves? Let me briefly explain how I got to Freedoms Foundation, why I’m here, and what I envision for civic education as we go forward.

When I first came to Freedoms Foundation as a teacher, we were asked to introduce ourselves to our peers. When it was my turn, I was so excited about being here I almost fell out of my seat, but I remember turning to everyone and saying, “We are here at Freedoms Foundation in VALLEY FORGE. Without VALLEY FORGE, we probably aren’t here like this, and if that doesn’t get your blood flowing, then you probably need to check your red, white, and blue levels.” When I went home after a wonderful week on campus learning about the Medal of Honor, hearing and spending time with Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness, spending time in our amazing chapel, and walking around campus soaking up the visuals of what we have here, I told my wife if there is one place that could take me away from the Tennessee mountains it was Freedoms Foundation. And here I am.

From that time, I have seen and experienced that we need Freedoms Foundation and a rebirth of civic education more than ever and that only increases each day. We must strengthen our foundation in the United States through a shared understanding of our Constitution and principles of democracy so everyone can build their future incorporating different personal views, ideas, and beliefs. So, when the opportunity arose to leave Tennessee, move to Pennsylvania, and join Freedoms Foundation as Vice President of Education, my wife and I prayed. We knew opportunities to make a difference in society only occasionally came along. One day when I was standing and looking out the window, my wife approached me and asked me what I was thinking. I told her I hoped this was the right decision, not just for me but for her as well. She said, “I know it is.” I asked her how she could be so sure. She said, “I knew it was the place once you heard about this opportunity, and I saw a fire and excitement in your eyes that I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

What we have here at Freedoms Foundation and down the road at Valley Forge National Historical Park is special. Sometimes we get so caught up in our personal jobs, money ventures, and random things that we miss the meaning behind all that. People are hungry. They are hungry for connection, to believe in something bigger than themselves, for authentic leadership, and for America to be the foundation of democratic strength that we call all to build our houses upon.

Hence, we must look deeper at what we have here at Freedoms Foundation.

We don’t just have the General Douglas MacArthur building, which houses our classroom, dorm rooms, and dining hall. Instead, we have a place that represents a man that dedicated his life to the United States and believed in the goodness of America by serving and leading the greatest military on earth – who was also a Medal of Honor recipient, as was his father before him.
We don’t just have the Martha Washington building. Instead, we have a structure representing a lady who dedicated herself to her family and continuously supported her husband throughout his military, political, and farming life. She knew they were stronger together, which is one of the important reasons Martha Washington would travel to be with the General during winter quarters, including Valley Forge.

We don’t just have a 45+ acre grove with plaques representing those that received the Medal of Honor. Instead, we have a beautiful living memorial that highlights the greatest of who we are – people that were committed to something bigger than themselves, people that put others first, and people that were committed to making things better around them. This includes Dr. Mary Walker, the only female Medal of Honor recipient who said, “We live in deeds, not years.”

What we have here is the spirit of America. We must embrace our country, our idealism, and our country’s history to love and cherish the things of our country. We must commit ourselves to improving what we have in our country, loving what we have in our country, appreciating what we have, and cherishing what we have here. We can accomplish this through Freedoms Foundation and the amazing opportunities provided to students and teachers across the country.

Ronald Reagan described America as “that shining city on a hill.” It is up to each of us, people that love this country, to do our part each day in reminding others of how important our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and republic are to us all. Our founders laid the foundation for a great nation, veterans of every war have fought to protect that foundation from crumbling, and it is up to us to keep the foundation strong for our children and their children.

I am proud and honored to be here at Freedoms Foundation, a place I genuinely believe in and love. I am committed to making Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge THE destination for teacher and student civic development, understanding, and engagement. Our education team works tirelessly to create a place of dynamic energy, learning, and pride. I can promise you when students come for our programs, they will always leave with a better feeling for their country than they may have come in with. And teachers will be given the tools, encouragement, and a soul-filling experience to take back to their classrooms.

Freedoms Foundation was started because Dwight Eisenhower, Don Belding, Edward F. Hutton, and Kenneth Wells felt that the freedom of American citizens was gravely at risk, not only from the communist threat at the time but also because Americans took their freedoms for granted. At a 1949 foundation event, E.F. Hutton said, “Present events in the world and on the domestic scene make it quite clear that our American heritage of freedom and the good life which such freedom makes possible are now in perhaps their greatest jeopardy since 1777.” These words could almost be said of our atmosphere today. What does that tell us? It means that educating citizens about our founding documents, their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and our country’s history never stops. Some of us here may be a little bit more liberal, some a little bit more conservative, but we all need to work together as Americans.

I leave you with this quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Freedom bestows on us the priceless gift of opportunity – if we neglect our opportunities, we shall certainly lose our freedoms.” Let’s ensure we never lose our freedoms by making Freedoms Foundation and our citizens the strongest and best we can be.

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