Everyone knows George Washington was the first president of the United States.  Many know the second (John Adams), and the third (Thomas Jefferson), as well. After that, it gets a little fuzzy for most people. 

 One of my favorite questions to ask in our Old School workshop is, "Which president was Benjamin Franklin?"  

I am usually met with blank faces.  

I say again, "Which president was Ben Franklin?"

"He was never president!" is usually the second reaction provided by a smiling student.

"Not true...He was president - President of Pennsylvania."

In fact, Franklin did preside over the government of the soon-to-be-known-as Keystone State from 1785-87.  Officially, his title was "President of the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council." (We would call him "governor" today.)

His 310th birthday is this coming Sunday, January 17.

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn." - Ben Franklin 

We often tell stories like this concerning thirteen well-known historical figures we call our Old School "witnesses from history."

Here are the rest:

Abraham Lincoln
George Washington 
Albert Einstein
Booker T. Washington
Orville and Wilbur Wright
Patrick Henry
Helen Keller 
Mother Teresa 
John Wooden 
Socrates 
Winston Churchill
Vignettes, like the one just shared about Benjamin Franklin, are an important aspect of teaching our students the power of storytelling. By sharing one odd or typically unknown fact about his life, we teach several concepts at once:
Importance of details.

Seemingly trivial, the fact that Franklin held a high executive post gives more insight into his ambition and the fact that he was likely more of a shrewd politician than a dawdling town elder at the Constitutional Convention.

Perceived, then real expertise.

Whether substantiated or not, when I share that small bit of information concerning Ole Ben's presidency, I must admit I feel pretty smart for a moment.  I am "obviously" an expert on Benjamin Franklin, right? Maybe or maybe not - but the perception is that I know a considerable amount about his life.  By telling non-mainstream stories, you can set an initial "halo effect" of expertise that is hard to lose. And what's more - your "wiser persona" can actually lead you and motivate you to be better informed. A self-fulfilling prophecy that can make better students, employees and citizens.

You are more interesting.

Sometimes our techno-centric world can make us pretty boring.  Gone are the days of being "well-rounded" via classical education deemed necessary by our parents and grandparents. But by knowing "something more" in this modern age can't hurt you - and can make you much more interesting to be around.  Not a bad thing at all!

So who is your favorite historical figure? Do a little research and see what you can uncover about them.  You will be amazed, entertained and a better storyteller.

Have a story to share with the Old School?

Send it in and we'll send you a free 2016 "Witnesses From History" calendar.