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Sat, Aug. 24

Column: Teaching requires love, passion

Courtesy photo<br/>Kelly Cordes stands next to a statue of James Madison in the Hall of Statues, which is in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The center opened on July 4, 2003. Its website is

Courtesy photo<br/>Kelly Cordes stands next to a statue of James Madison in the Hall of Statues, which is in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The center opened on July 4, 2003. Its website is

Kelly Cordes gave a talk this past week before the Prescott Noon Lions and proceeded to tell them how the cow ate the cabbage. (That's Texanese for stating facts in a clear, concise and understandable manner - condensation sans condescension.)

Cordes, a fourth-generation member of the original Cordes family in Arizona (Cordes Junction was named after his great-granddad), is a 1973 grad of Prescott High School who is in his 28th year as a social studies teacher, with 20 of those years having been spent at Prescott's Granite Mountain Middle School, where he is teaching at the present time.

The topic of the day consisted of an audiovisual presentation focusing on our system of government, with particular emphasis on the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where the founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia's Independence Hall to fashion, and eventually adopt, our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Drafters of the documents, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison (the latter whom Cordes described as a man of incredible intellect - "he must've had an IQ of about 180," he said - and is the person who is generally credited with being the "father" of the Constitution) went at it hammer and tongs before agreeing on the common good and arriving at the document that would guide the nation thereafter.

Their task was not an easy one, to be sure. For example, the danger of an all-powerful centralized federal government had to be weighed against rights claimed by the individual states, with the burden including how to resolve a situation such as a river dispute pitting, say, Maryland and Virginia when the river separates the two states. Do the federal courts step in? If they don't, anarchy could well be the result.

Cordes noted that few realize how tenuous things were for the very survival of the Republic at the time of the Constitutional Convention. After all, the Revolutionary War following the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 could have gone either way and included the British army's occupation of the city of Philadelphia, where they forced the Continental Congress to abandon Independence Hall and the city altogether. They used Independence Hall's furniture as firewood, he said, with its surviving remnants being only the chair that Washington occupied during the drafting of the Constitution and the inkwell they used in its signing.

And then there was that War of 1812, which Cordes said is something of a misnomer because it raged until late 1814 and included the sacking of Washington, D.C., in the summer of that year, when the British army advanced on Capitol Hill and began destroying all public buildings in the city, including a torching of the White House. The Americans successfully defended Baltimore at Fort McHenry, however - with that battle inspiring Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner" - and the United States prevailed with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Dec. 24, 1814. Had the fledgling U.S. lost that one - it's often referred to as the "second war of independence" - and days later Andy Jackson and his bunch hadn't prevailed against the Brits in the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, the map of our nation might be quite different now and we could be answering to Parliament instead of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Oops, my own cheap shot there, but it has a grain of truth.)

Meanwhile, there remains hope for this nation that we love when there are people such as Kelly Cordes to guide young minds in the right direction. Each year he takes a group of his students to visit Independence Hall (invariably invoking goose bumps, he noted) and, when students ask him to which political party he's registered, he replies "American."

There are two things that apply to being a good teacher, he said: first, it's a love of kids, and second, one must be passionate about the subject that he or she is teaching. Needless to say, he qualifies on both counts.

Now, to end this homily with a bit of grit, I'll preface an anecdote by referencing Great Britain's one-time dominance as a far-flung power. There was the colonizing of America, of course. And Rhodesia (now spelled "Zimbabwe"). And Hong Kong (now part of our creditor nation, China). And India (remember Kipling's "Gunga Din" and its reference to "now in Injia's sunny clime, where I used to spend my time a-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen")? Those one-time worldwide conquests, along with others, prompted the adage that "the sun never sets on the British Empire."

Anyway, the story goes about a baseball ump who had had a really bad day at the ballpark, with disgruntled fans screaming things like "kill the umpire!" So he was in a sour mood when he came home and found that his wife didn't have dinner on the table and his 3-year old kid had left his trike in the driveway. So he bawled out the little boy good and proper before cooling off and asking him to come sit on his lap. But the kid would have no part of it. All of which just goes to show that: The son never sits on the brutish umpire.

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