A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Tripoli


Last night Teenage daughter asked me to help her study for a social studies test.  Specifically, the history of the United States between around 1790 and 1812.  It became apparent in the first ten minutes that she had been struggling with studying for a while. 

After looking at her book and determining what concepts looked important I asked her to give me any pertinent worksheets. “We don’t have any”.   Okay, well what did the teacher say to study in the book?  “We don’t use that book.”   Well, what DO you do in class?  “I dunno”.

“I dunno” is one of those vague terms that could go either way.  It could mean “I am not really paying attention in class and I don’t want you to know about it” or “My teacher is about two years away from retirement and she inspires no one”.  I’m not positive what’s happening here.

I pressed on.  We looked over the chapters together and I quizzed her on definitions and concepts.  “Okay, what does the word ‘impressment’ mean?”   She smiled, “It’s like saying to someone ‘I like your new jeans'”.  That would be incorrect – it means forcing someone into the armed services against their will. 

I kept trying.  “Alright, the US paid a tribute to Tripoli – what does that mean?”  She was thoughtful.  “It’s like when you like someone so you sing a song about them.”  Hoo boy – this was getting better by the minute.  “No, dear, it’s when you pay someone a bribe”.  She at least had the decency to laugh.

By the time we got to the War of 1812, cannons were going off in my head.  We started to talk about the Battle of Lake Erie and Oliver Hazard Perry.   “Okay, this took place somewhere that we visited.  We even saw a war monument there.  It starts with Put-“.  Youngest Son, who had walked into the room and found the scene entertaining, yelled out, “Put-in-Bay, Ohio!” 

I was thrilled.  Teenage Daughter looked thoughtful for a moment.  “Oh, that’s where they got the name ‘Perry’s Cave’ because he was the one who discovered it and that’s where the soldiers stored things”.  

I wanted to cry – she had remembered.  All of those educational trips I’ve planned over the years were finally starting to sink in.  We then talked about Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island and its role in the War of 1812 and how we live in Wayne County named after General Anthony Wayne. 

The spell was broken by her cell phone buzzing.  We were done studying and she was done paying attention. 

There really is a better way to learn about history – go and be a part of it.   I’ll have to remind my husband of that because he just told me that he hates to travel.  Now I can say that it’s for the childrens’ sake.  You never know, it just might work.


6 thoughts on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Tripoli

  1. Have you read any of Sarah Vowell’s books? Assassination Vacation is all about her traveling around to historical sites – she is really the only writer I’ve read who writes about history in a way that I find engaging.

  2. Ahhhh–the time for your family trip to D.C. has come! We were talking about it for the next couple of years sometime when the kids get just a little older. My father-in-law started telling Craig about Civil War stuff in the D.C. environs and Craig was ready to pack up and leave NOW to go see it all. (Sorry, John, you’re going to D.C…..the way I see it, ice cream shops are always accessible in all tourist areas…who says you can’t also touring the ice cream parlors and diners of the nation’s capital and its environs.)

  3. I’m a total history GEEK, so of course I love this post! We have annual passes to Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum that allows us to bring 2 additional people with us, so anytime you want to go…

    • Thanks, Marie. We’re fans of the Village and Museum ourselves! Maybe we’ll accompany you sometime. Halloween at the Village rocks.

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