Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Moses Waddel: Teacher who shaped South Carolina, America

Moses Waddel is a perfect example of how much one teacher can matter.

Good teachers and great teachers matter surely to the lives of the children they teach, but their influence can and, I believe, absolutely does shape the entire community, a state and a nation. That's what Moses Waddel did.

Don't go looking for any historical markers erected by the state of South Carolina for any notice of Waddel's influence, though. Thanks in part to our state culture's do-it-yourself, individualist mythologizing -- which asserts that great people got to be great entirely on their own -- and thanks in part to the state's refusal to honor teachers for any of the good they've done, there is no state marker to indicate where Waddel taught or why he's important.

Thankfully, the McCormick Lions Club in 1962 took matters into their own hands and created a dignified granite marker on the site of Waddel's Willington Academy.

The text of the marker speaks volumes, literally: Hundreds of scholarly works have been written by and about the names contained in this brief note.

Site of Willington Academy
Established 1804 by Moses Waddel D.D.

Men who influenced the destiny of our country were educated here - The Calhouns, Crawfords, Legare, McDuffie, Longstreet, Simkins, Martin, Covan, Gilmer, Carey, Walker, Collier, Noble, Butlers, Brooks, Grayson, Wardlaws, Cobb, Harper, Dawson, Hunter, Petigru, Morrow, et. al.

Erected by McCormick Lions Club 1962

No, to find a state marker honoring Waddel, you must travel to Athens, Georgia, where presumably state leaders have slightly more respect for the profession and its professionals. There, a beautiful bronze sign erected by the Georgia Historical Commission honors the "educator and minister" who began teaching children at the age of 14 near his home. He taught in Willington, South Carolina, until 1819, when Georgians lured him away and installed him as president of Franklin College -- now better known as the University of Georgia.

Why is Waddel so important to us as South Carolinians and Americans?

From Wikipedia:

Waddel's Willington Academy was... often called "Eton in the woods', as a comparison to Eton College in the UK that produced the leadership of Britain. Students were required to memorize, translate, and recite 250 lines of classic Greek or Latin every night – and they did, often several times more. Later SC Governor George McDuffie, who once recited 2,212 lines of Horace, held the record.
This 'Cromwell of the Classroom' produced a generation of Southern leaders including William H. Crawford, Madison’s Secretary of the Treasury and 1824 US Presidential candidate; Hugh S. Legaré, editor of the Southern Review; Governor and U.S. Senator George McDuffie of South Carolina; Judge James L. Petigru, the Unionist who famously stated that South Carolina was too small to be a nation and too large for an insane asylum; Governor George Rockingham Gilmer of Georgia; Judge Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, author of Georgia Scenes and president of two universities, and John C. Calhoun.

According to Dr James McLeod's book 'The Great Doctor Waddell' (page 8) the list of students from all of Waddell's schools includes: two Vice-Presidents, three Secretaries of State, three Secretaries of War, one Assistant Secretary of War, one US Attorney-general, Ministers to France, Spain and Russia, one US Supreme Court Justice, eleven governors, seven US Senators, thirty two members of the US House of Representatives, twenty two judges, eight college presidents, seventeen editors of newspapers or authors, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops, three Brigadier-generals, and one authentic Christian martyr.

At one time, five South Carolina governors in a row had been his pupils.

In the presidential election of 1824, three of the five candidates had been his pupils -- and the men who won the presidency and vice presidency had studied under him, President Andrew Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun.

That's influence.

Could you imagine if Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford, Jim Hodges, David Beasley and Carroll Campbell had all been the students of a single instructor, who had also been the instructor of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden? If that instructor were a South Carolinian, do you imagine that the state of South Carolina might want to recognize the amazing influence of this man or woman on our state and nation?

That we continue to ignore and disregard the influence of good and great teachers in our lives and our children's lives today boggles the mind.

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