This is my column in Today’s Greenville News

Earlier this month we took the children to Washington, DC.  One of the advantages of being an un-socialized, unregulated, fringe-living home-school family is that we can just pick up and go where, and when, we like.

Our trip, taken with my wife’s parents, was fun in ways we didn’t anticipate and educational in ways we didn’t foresee.  On a practical level, we taught the children how to navigate a large city using a train/subway system.  By the time we were finished with our trip, the children had memorized every stop on our Metro line

We learned a couple of other lessons on the Metro.  Like ‘don’t let your Metro cards get demagnetized.’  They won’t replace the passes.  And every time you have to show them instead of swipe them, someone will ask ‘so, were they next to credit cards, cell-phones, i-Pods, Blackberries, magnets or other other electronic devices?’  ‘No sir, they weren’t.’  ‘I bet they were!’  That little exchange was repeated at least twice each day as we rode the rails around the Washington, DC area.

I personally learned that the little red button on the kiosk door at each Metro stop isn’t a microphone to talk to the attendant.  No sireee!  I pushed it one day and was met with this response:  ‘Why did you push that button?  I am right here!  Do you not see me standing here?’

‘Well, no ma’am, but I thought it was the…’

‘I am standing here.  Do not push the button, do you understand me?’

‘Yes ma’am, but I thought…’

‘I want you to show me every one of those passes next time you go through, do you understand?  By the way, were those cards next to a cell-phone, i-Pod, Blackberry, magnet or other card?’

We even learned about the wisdom of scruffy street vendors the day we emerged from the Metro into rain, and he offered us cheap umbrellas.  ‘A little rain never killed anyone, right kids.’

‘Heh, heh, heh, you gonnna be soaked,’ he laughed.  Turns out the Smithsonian Metro stop isn’t as close to the Air and Space Museum as you might hope in a cold, drenching, spring downpour in the former swamp that is our nation’s capital.  We all but swam to the museum, where we shivered and squished past rockets and dioramas of space that suddenly seemed quite realistically cold.

But learning is more than facts and practical experiences; more than distances in space, cultural history and which Metro line to use.  Learning is also a feeling; a sense of place and wonder.

And it may be that our best learning in Washington, DC was the instillation in the children, and recapture in the adults, of a sense at America’s greatness embodied in the grandeur of the amazing city named for our incredible first president.  I knew it was sinking in as we walked past that president’s stone tribute, the Washington Monument. When we looked up at it and touched it, I saw the flicker of wonder in my children’s faces.

I saw them take in Lincoln’s sad, resolved face at the Lincoln Memorial.  I felt it in my own heart as we received a rubbing from a distant cousin’s name at the Wall, and watched it wash over my wife while we read the crushing numbers lost in the Korean War, where we revisited a struggle almost forgotten in modern times.

We also learned the lesson of reverence, a thing lost on too many young people.  I saw the children absorb it when we were implored to silence at the changing of the guard by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the concrete worn by their endless steps, the sun bright off their buttons and bayonets.  And it was in the air at the resting place of President Kennedy, where silence and decorum were demanded (quite directly) by the guards.  We were all overwhelmed by the white crosses and stone markers that cover the holy ground of that holy place.

There was even a palpable sense of greatness in the bustle and chaos of the Capitol building itself, where we were led on a tour by Rep. Gresham Barrett’s assistant, the gracious Miss. Elizabeth Edwards of Walhalla.

Washington was full of learning for our little academy.  And hopefully, one of the most enduring lessons will be a sense of the way our Capital city still bears the marks, and carries the spirit, of the greatest nation on earth.

And hopefully, we won’t press that dang red button again.

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