Tag Archives: Suzanne Munson

Revisiting the Intellectual Foundations of Conservatism — One Book at a Time

by Suzanne Munson

From time to time, members of every great movement such as American Conservatism need to stop, take a breath, and see where the movement is going. Great movements, founded by great individuals, can sometimes be hijacked by lesser minds.

Many of the founders of modern conservatism were intellectuals. William F. Buckley was able to criticize liberalism articulately from the foundation of a fine education, intellectual curiosity, and deep reading.

While there are knowledgeable thought-leaders in today’s conservative movement, there are others who call themselves conservatives who may be giving the movement an unfortunate image.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines conservatism as “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” Much more can be added to this definition, such as limited government, fiscal responsibility, and a belief in traditional, wholesome values.

It is interesting to examine a recent incident in Florida to see where some who term themselves “conservatives” have created an embarrassing situation. Members of a book club, reported to consist of conservative members, rescinded an invitation to a respected author to speak to their group.

The program was a book and author event at $100 a plate, so one would assume some level of education and sophistication. Rachel Beanland, a well-regarded Richmond, Virginia author and teacher, was invited to speak about her new novel, The House Is on Fire.

She had spent hundreds of hours researching the tragic theater fire of 1811 in which some of Virginia’s most prominent citizens perished. The book features individuals, real and imagined, who resided in Richmond at that time–tradesmen, theater workers, politicians, slaves, doctors, widows.

Yes, there are slaves in the book and yes, their lives were difficult, and yes, some white characters in the book treated them poorly. What else is new? There were white characters in the story who also had poor treatment at the hands of other whites. There is always plenty of trouble to go around in an interesting novel. Continue reading

Ignorance Erases George Wythe at a Virginia Community College

George Wythe

by Suzanne Munson

Virginia Peninsula Community College recently announced the removal of the names of two historic American leaders from its buildings, George Wythe and Dr. Corbin Griffin, a surgeon for Virginia patriot soldiers, presumably because they once owned slaves. It should be noted that these were heroes of the American Revolution, not the Civil War, individuals who fought for this nation’s freedom from despotic foreign rule.

One wonders how much time school officials spent on their American history homework prior to this decision, particularly with regard to the great Founding Father George Wythe.

Yes, Wythe did inherit slaves and owned them for a while. But he also freed his slaves later in life, when he was legally able to do so, and provided generously for several of them in his will.

Further, as a state judge, he shocked his contemporaries by becoming the first and only judge to rule slavery illegal, based on Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. (Hudgins v. Wright, 1806). The ruling was overturned by a higher court, but it was a principled stab by Wythe at the evil institution. Continue reading

Virginia’s Schools Really Do Need More Money

by Suzanne Munson

Recent General Assembly debates about state budgets open a cornucopia of questions about the future of education in Virginia — charter schools, lab schools, vouchers, funding for religious schools? Now might be a good time to examine some background about public education in Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson proposed the state’s first legislation in support of universal education, for rich and poor alike, in 1779. He viewed pubic education as necessary for an informed, successful democratic republic: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”

As school funding involved tax dollars, well-to-do Virginia legislators ignored Jefferson’s appeal for decades. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north were educating their populace. It would take a Civil War and its aftermath for this state to develop a nascent system of public education.

Today, Virginia’s school divisions across the board receive 14% less funding from the state than the 50-state average, equal to about $1,900 less per student. This is neither admirable nor sensible, if we are to have a successful economy, students trained for challenging work, and an informed electorate.
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