March 28, 2015

Finest Hour 131, Summer 2006

Page 14

By Suzanne Sigman

Winston Churchill: Thoughts and Reflections Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois, March 11th


The second Churchill Centre seminar, with eighteen participating teachers, met with broad approval by attendees, though detailed evaluations revealed our formula is not yet perfect. The seminar series is a complex undertaking because so many components change each time we offer one: geographic location, time of year, venue, instructors and topics. Overall enrollment was lower than our first seminar last year in Washington, but our no-shows were fewer, perhaps because of our email reminders including the day’s schedule.

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Steve Hayward, a member of The Churchill Centre College of Fellows, did an excellent job handling three sessions, with Centre governors Susan and Phil Larson presenting a fourth session on “Churchill and Chicago.” Susan gave a splendid introduction to the exciting nature of historical inquiry, describing her and Phil’s delight in uncovering previously unknown material about Churchill’s visit and their quest for primary documents and contemporaneous news accounts. This in and of itself would seem motivating to history lovers. They used PowerPoint to illustrate their presentation, showing cartoons, photographs and newspaper articles.

Steve Hayward compared many aspects of Churchill to other leaders, particularly American presidents. I joked that a better sub-title for the program might have been “From Cicero to Bush II;” his suggestion of “Plato to NATO” had a better ring.

In discussing Churchill’s political style, Hayward noted that Churchill was ideally suited to be a U.S. president, consensus is not always required and presidents have some unilateral powers. He felt WSC was out of sync with the British cabinet style: discuss, ponder, discuss more, and ponder until consensus is reached. After listening to him, several teachers expressed their resolve to read his excellent book, Churchill on Leadership.

We hope in future to have two professors for each seminar. We asked a lot of Steve Hayward to cover more than four hours, and we are grateful that he was able ably to do so. Executive Director Dan Myers and Joe Troiani, a CC member from Chicago, were in the audience and offered support and confirmation at various points throughout the day.

A notable change for our second seminar was the inclusion of reading materials, sent to teachers in advance. My Early Life will be included in each seminar: a splendid introduction to Churchill and his world. Over 90 percent of teachers rated the book highly.

Other readings included the essays “Mass Effects in Modern Life” and “Shall We Commit Suicide?” Are we so democratic that we can’t recognize excellence? Steve shared a question he often presents to his own students: Would you rather be elected president of the United States (or another democracy) or be the premier of China (a dictator)? Churchill’s political writings speak to a basic tension in American politics; Americans want to look up to their presidents, but don’t want to think that their president is looking down on them.

As in Washington, several teachers expressed an interest in future seminars. This reminds us continually to evaluate our seminar program, examining the balance between breadth and depth. Should we continue our efforts to reach more teachers by scheduling seminars in more cities, or should we offer a second seminar to previous attendees? This year an in-depth experience was offered through our two-week, NEH-sponsored Summer Institute. Since none of our one-day seminars has been over-subscribed, this offers a cautionary tale.

Comments from teachers on the essay contest for the Chicago conference caused the contest’s conclusion date to be advanced to June 6th so as not to conflict with SATs in May. The needs of teachers must always be considered.

From Early Life to Finest Hour Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass., April 29th

The day-long seminar of four sessions began with Richard Langworth’s, “Churchill on Churchill,” based on WSC’s autobiography My Early Life, which teachers were sent in advance. While sharing a selection of salient remarks from the book, Richard offered perspective on Churchill’s early life and brief notes on the many offices he held through 1929. Academic Adviser Professor John Maurer followed with two PowerPoint-enhanced lectures on “The Gathering Storm: Churchill and the Fight to Rearm Britain” and “His Finest Hour: Churchill in 1940.”

In addition to My Early Life, teachers received a 150-page excerpt from Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War and several articles by William Manchester. In “Gathering Storm,” Professor Maurer described the intellectual climate of the 1930s and popular thinking against WSC’s beliefs. Using photographs, documents, charts and diagrams, Maurer explanation “Britain s Divided Body Politic,” a vivid contrast to Churchill’s own view expressed in the abridged version of The Gathering Storm.

In “Finest Hour: Churchill in 1940,” Professor Maurer reviewed the strategic plans of Hitler, Stalin and the British and French. After explaining the many reasons major British politicians and historians gave for making peace with Hitler (including those of Alan Clark and John Charmley), Maurer detailed Churchill’s own strategy in 1940. Maurer reminded us that issues of war and peace are more often battles of ideas, not just physical conflicts. Great leadership, then, is about great communication skills.

The day concluded with a five- member panel discussing “Churchill’s Relevance Today,” moderated by Joe Hern, chairman of New England Churchillians. In addition to the instructors, the panel included Dr. Pfaltzgraff; Dr. Deborah Winslow Nutter, Senior Associate Dean of the Fletcher School; and NE Churchillian Ted Hutchinson, editor of the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

Ted stressed Churchill’s willingness to work hard to gain a clear understanding of facts and issues: an extremely relevant character trait that should be demonstrated to students. He could lead and speak on these issues because he had done his homework. Deborah Nutter believes that Churchill had a “kaleidoscopic mind.” He thought strategically in the long term. “Strategic minds,” she noted, “are irritating minds.” As a leader he was able to change. His capacity for self-learning was all-important to his success. Robert Pfaltzgraff recalled reading Churchill’s war memoirs in Life and described his life-long interest in Churchill. In addition to an increased understanding of WW2 and the postwar era, he learned about perseverance and overcoming adversity.

Teacher evaluations provided good information for improving our work. For the first time, parts of the sessions received 100% excellent ratings. Our thanks to Karen Linebarger who reproduced, packed and shipped the materials to the Fletcher School.


Ms. Sigman is The Churchill Centres educational outreach coordinator.

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