The secret to reaching the next generation
by Keli'i Akina, Ph.D., President / CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
If you want to create a generation of leaders and engaged voters for the future, you need to understand what is going on with our education system today.
And according to Connor Boyack, the featured speaker at the latest Grassroot Institute of Hawaii luncheon, our education system isn’t doing so well.
Boyack is founder and president of the Libertas Institute in Utah and creator of the “Tuttle Twins” book series aimed at children and young adults.
In 2019, he was named one of the “25 most politically influential Utahns” in The Salt Lake Tribune, and his books have sold more than 5 million copies. The adventures of the Tuttle Twins — Ethan and Emily — also have become the basis for a popular cartoon series on YouTube, now in its second season.
Sharing the stage with me at the Grassroot Institute’s sold-out event on Oahu, Boyack said major studies of student proficiency in America have shown pathetic results, putting our nation’s future as a free nation seriously at stake.
He said his own review of modern social studies books found them teaching “superficial factoids of history” but failing miserably at teaching “the substantive ideas that motivated these historical actors.”
Boyack said he started looking into the world of education about 10 years ago so he could talk to his own children about what he did every day at his job at the Libertas Institute.
“How do I teach them that I was fighting eminent domain at City Hall, battling with these lawmakers or talking with reporters? How do I express to my kids the ideas that I believe in, that I’m fighting for?”
He said he was surprised by the lack of any materials for children that explained the principles of freedom and the free market. After all, he said, there are plenty of materials that parents can use to pass on their religious beliefs. Why not the same thing for those who want to pass on other values?
Thus, the Tuttle Twins were born.
Over the years, the Tuttle Twins have done more than just help children understand freedom and America’s founding principles. They also have become a clever way to get parents talking and thinking about these principles too.
Boyack cited the story of a 12-year-old Colorado boy named Jaiden who made nationwide news a few weeks ago after he was banished from a class for refusing to remove a Gadsden flag patch from his backpack. The historic flag features the well-known coiled snake and the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me.”
During a conversation with Jaiden and his mother that his mother videotaped, the school’s vice principal cited the flag’s alleged “origins with slavery” and said the patch was disruptive to the class environment.
Jaiden’s mother pointed out that the flag originated during America’s Revolutionary War and had nothing to do with slavery. But the vice principal said she was only enforcing policy and Jaiden's mother would have to speak to more senior school officials if she wanted to keep pursuing the issue.
Jaiden, however, was a “Tuttle Twins” reader, and he recalled for his mother how in “The Food Truck Fiasco” episode,the media was able to help the twins resolve an injustice. He asked his mother if she would help him reach out to the media.
So his mother drove Jaiden down to the local TV station, where he went up to the front door and asked if someone there could come out so he could share his story with them. No one would.
Next, Boyack said, Jaiden went home with his mom "and they were talking about what to do, and he was very adamant that he wanted to stand up for his rights. He knew that the vice principal was wrong. They were trying to figure out what to do. So the mom messaged me on Twitter, said her son’s my biggest fan, he wants to stand up for himself. Can you help?”
Boyack said he posted the mom’s video on Twitter the next morning, then went into a 45-minute meeting. By the time he came out of the meeting, the Tweet had already amassed 5 million views.
Since then, more than 50 million people have seen or heard the story about Jaiden being kicked out of school for wearing a Revolutionary War symbol. Even Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis came to Jaiden's defense, describing the flag's message as "iconic" and a “great teaching moment for a history lesson."
Jaiden, of course, was allowed back into the class — Gadsden flag patch and all — and Boyack couldn’t be more pleased.
“Let’s create a million more Jaidens,” he said to the applause of our Hawaii audience. “Let’s educate kids that understand their rights, that understand what freedom is.”
He added: “What I’ve been blown away with is that kids not only can understand these ideas — if you present them in a simple and story-based way — but they want to.”
Boyack said organizations like the Grassroot Institute and Libertas work hard to uphold freedom, but they can’t do it alone. To ensure that the next generation is prepared to uphold these values, we need the help of every parent and family.
Said Boyak: “I don’t believe that we’re going to save our country at the Capitol. … I don’t think we’re going to save our country in the courtroom. … I think if our country is to be saved, it’s at the dinner table. … It’s engaging families. … It’s rebuilding social fabric. And it’s fostering critical thinking — demonstrating to our children what civic engagement looks like. That’s … where the magic can happen, and where so many of us are trying to apply our efforts.”
E hana kakou! (Let's work together!)