- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Lynne V. Cheney yesterday gave fourth-graders from Arlington’s Francis Scott Key Elementary School a quick tour of America’s continuing struggle for human freedom and announced the administration’s second selection of classic books for the nation’s schoolchildren.

Surrounded by 18 9- and 10-year-olds before panels of the former Berlin Wall at Freedom Park in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney caught the class off-guard with her first question: “Can anyone tell me what a minuteman is?”

No one raised a hand.

Mrs. Cheney held up a book that she said was her grandchild’s favorite in the set, “Sam the Minuteman” by Nathaniel Benchley, recommended for kindergarten through third grade.

“A minuteman was someone who could get ready to fight for our country on only a minute’s notice” when Colonial settlers decided to throw off British rule in the American Revolution, she explained.

The event was part of a $100 million “We the People Bookshelf” program started by President Bush last year through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to teach youngsters more about American history and culture.

The set of 15 books recommended last year, and provided free to school libraries, were on the theme of courage. The selections this year focus on freedom and include a complete set of C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” for grades four to six and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” for high school students.

“These books are about freedom sought, freedom denied, freedom lived,” said Bruce Cole, NEH chairman and art historian, who accompanied Mrs. Cheney, a former NEH chairman.

During question time, Jose Grijalza, 9, wanted to know: “If you could change anything in history, what would you change?”

“I wish we had never had slavery in this country,” Mrs. Cheney replied. “That is what I would change.”

Alison Ramirez, 9, asked: “Is it true that the Civil War was our country’s bloodiest war?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Cheney said. “600,000 people died. Can you imagine? And it was when our country wasn’t so big, so everybody had somebody in their family, somebody close that they knew, who died.”

Mrs. Cheney, the author of six books, told the children that she most enjoyed writing her most recent, “A Is for Abigail,” about heroic women in American history, and “America: A Patriotic Primer,” an alphabet book for children of all ages and their families.

She was asked for the title of her next book. “Well, I’m actually writing another book right now, and it’s called ‘When George Washington Crossed the Delaware,’” she said.

As she spoke, Mrs. Cheney looked over her shoulder at the eight slabs of graffiti-filled concrete from the old wall that once divided East Berlin and West Berlin — the largest such display outside Germany.

She said the world had former President Ronald Reagan to thank for exhibiting the same courage and commitment to freedom as first President George Washington had.

“He did some things that I think changed the course of history,” she said of Mr. Reagan, who appointed her as NEH chairman from 1986 to 1992. “The communists built this wall so that people [who] didn’t want to live under communism … couldn’t get out.

“Ronald Reagan was so good at knowing that some things are wrong, and saying so … And so he stood up in front of this wall, and he said, ‘Chairman Gorbachev,’ who was the leader of the Soviet Union and all the communists, ‘tear down this wall.’”

Mrs. Cheney said this was a Washington-like action, in that “it was exactly the right thing to say, and together with other things that Reagan did, he really helped bring this wall down.”

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