News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 19, 2011

FLASHPOINT: Indiana learning from a founding Hoosier family

Mike Delph
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — The Delph family excursion through southern Indiana over the Labor Day weekend was as memorable as it was enjoyable. Lilly turned 5 and got to spend her birthday at Holiday World riding rides and eating sweets. Abby got to drive Dad around on the pretend cars foretelling our new world order. Emma, Anna and Evelyn further cemented their status as rollercoaster girls dragging Mom and Dad on the Voyage, arguably the most brutal ride of all for parents.

But in the quiet of a southern Indiana woods, we experienced something all Hoosiers should experience, especially all school-age Hoosiers. In 1816 a young family moved from Kentucky to Spencer County, Indiana, in search of a better life. This was the birth year of our state and Indiana offered stronger title to property as a lure to inhabitancy. We also rejected slavery while Kentucky favored it following most of the south.

The mother of the family, Nancy Hanks, made sure the family read nightly from the family Bible. She also made sure her children were reading and exercising their minds as well as their brawn by running the family farm. This was rugged Indiana, but it was a new start after the death of the family’s youngest son while in Kentucky.

Tragedy would again strike as the local Hoosier community was struck by a mysterious illness taking the lives of many including young Nancy. Her daughter Sarah took over cooking and cleaning for her younger brother and father along with another relative that was taken in because of the illness.

Sarah was very close with her little brother. So much so that within a few years of dying during childbirth, Dad and brother, in part due to incurable grief, decided it was time to leave Spencer County and Indiana altogether. But it was the home education that began the thirst for knowledge of this family.

The son of the family spent less than one year with a handful of tutors, not one lasting more than two months in duration. Yet his exposure to biographies of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, Aesop’s Fables along with his Bible reading in a log cabin in southern Indiana not only propelled this young man to Illinois where he served as a lobbyist to the railroad industry, but also a state legislator, and later a one-term congressman.

It is President Abraham Lincoln we learn about in our history books today, our 16th President. The man who said a nation divided against itself cannot stand. It would all need to embrace or reject slavery. His personal position strongly favored rejection due to his experience viewing a slave auction in all of its inhumanity while in New Orleans as a young man. Such earnest common sense is sorely lacking in our current public discourse.

He was a lawyer, a statesman, a congressman, and eventually and arguably the most important president in the history of the United States of America. He did not graduate from a modern high school. He did not attend college even though he could have been in the inaugural class at Indiana University. He did not go to law school. His thirst for learning couldn’t keep books around unread. He was taught and believed deeply in life-long learning.

Walking around Lincoln farm where Abe lived from ages 7 to 21 was invigorating. He suffered heartache in the loss of his brother and sister and mother all before the age of 21. He later lost two sons during his lifetime, one of which died during his first presidential term. He didn’t have a formal education and yet he thrived and prospered with and under God’s Divine Providence. Every Hoosier must understand this, especially those who are involved or care about education.

There were no excuses back then, nor should there be now. If you don’t know something, learn it. Quit listening to the naysayers. If you see someone who needs help learning, help them. We have a wealth of knowledge in individuals throughout our society that haven’t been tapped to help students or older citizens who have fallen through our educational cracks. Let Abraham Lincoln be an inspiration to us all. He was and is the original Hoosier home-schooled and self-taught kid. Let us all embrace his belief in life-long learning.

The world is a better place because of Abraham Lincoln. But we must also remember Mom’s role in all of this. First Nancy and later Abe’s stepmother who continued feeding Abe’s appetite for knowledge even though Dad just wanted Abe to learn no more than the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic so that more time could be devoted to work on the farm. Dad listened to both moms and we are the beneficiaries for it.

After all of this time this story still proves invaluable. Perhaps all involved in our current education policy debate could benefit from studying the learning of early Indiana and young Abe Lincoln. He turned out pretty well.

State Sen. Mike Delph serves the west side of Indianapolis, Carmel, and Zionsville. He and his wife, Beth, are the proud home-school parents of five daughters. He can be reached at (317) 232-9488 or at senator.delph@iga.in.gov.