I recognize the real Alexander Hamilton in “Hamilton.” Sometimes Lin-Manuel shades the character differently than I do in the book, but that’s only natural. I think he has plucked out the dramatic essence of the character – his vaulting ambition, his obsession with his legacy, his driven nature, his roving eye, his brilliant mind, his faulty judgment. He gives us a very interior look at Hamilton, with many well-educated guesses at what he was thinking and feeling.
This is Ron Chernow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Alexander Hamilton, discussing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” in Jody Rosen’s article in the July 19 New York Times Style Magazine, “The American Revolutionary.” I haven’t seen the musical yet, but re-reading Chernow’s superb biography of our first Treasury Secretary over the past couple of weeks has put getting tickets high on my to-do list.
In case you haven’t heard, Hamilton’s story is told in hip-hop style in the musical. When I first read about it shortly after it opened off-Broadway several months ago, I figured it was way too far on the edge to last long, and I certainly wasn’t about to line up for tickets. Well, I was obviously wrong. It seems to me that “Hamilton” does what educators at their best should always be doing: opening up new – even radical – avenues to understanding more fully complex personages and phenomena in new ways. As composer Stephen Sondheim says in Rosen’s article, what “Hamilton” does is “empower people to think differently. There’s always got to be an innovator, somebody who experiments first with new forms.”
As a former ancient history teacher, I plead guilty to being a wee bit conservative about my own learning. I passionately love books – their heft, their touch and smell – and I must confess that I can’t image downloading (even if I could) Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for re-reading on a small screen. But as Miranda’s hip-hop musical reminds us, educators must be willing – nay, eager – to stretch the boundaries of teaching and learning in the quest for understanding – not just now and then, but as standard practice. If this is to happen consistently, of course, then your district’s Strategic Governing Team – the board of education working hand-in-hand with the superintendent – must pay close attention to creating a culture that celebrates and rewards such experimentation. I would call doing so truly high-impact governing at the highest level.
I invite our readers to share their experience in shaping the culture of their district to foster the kind of educational creativity that “Hamilton” exemplifies.