Ben Franklin Comes to Tobin!

Ben Franklin Comes to Tobin!
Posted on 09/25/2015
Ben FranklinOn Wednesday 9/16/2015, Friends of Tobin sponsored an amazing visit from none other than BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, as portrayed by character actor Kyle Blanchette of the Young Audiences of America Company.  With energy, humor and personality, students were engaged by interactive storytelling all about Ben Franklin’s life experiences, learned lessons and values.   

According to the show, Ben Franklin’s favorite subject was READING.  “You can learn ANYTHING from a book!” he proclaims… even how to swim.  He attended school for only TWO years to study reading, writing and -his most challenging subject- arithmetic, “which I believe you people call ‘Math.’”   He was born in Boston, “a city not far from here,” in 1706.  His family lived on Milk Street -“they were just beginning to name streets back then”- and he had 16 brothers and sisters!  His father was a candlestick maker, which was an important job back then because candles were the only source of man-made light available.   

Ben FranklinAfter introducing himself, he demonstrated the customary clothing of his time, including breeches (short pants), stockings and (itchy) wigs.  He then transformed into the childhood version of himself, running around the auditorium sharing games of his childhood including playing in the “woods, rivers and streams” near his house (in Boston!), and creating a stir with our Tobin students as he hid and crawled through the rows of seats.   He recalled buying a whistle for a “half-pence,” and coming to regret paying so much.  From this experience he vowed to never repeat such a frivolous mistake and committed to saving his money whenever possible thereafter, adopting his father’s view and affirming; “A penny saved is a penny earned.

When caught admiring the ships in the port of Boston, he was advised to “build yourself up a bit.”  Having learned to swim from a book, he also taught his friends to swim, and practiced swimming with his legs tied together “so I could build myself up a bit.”  Wondering if he could swim faster, and inspired by the webbed feet and fins he observed on ducks and fish, he tinkered in his father’s workshop and invented wooden swim fins, ”which helped me swim faster but really tired out my arms and legs.”  

At home, his mother would make stew, pickles, and pudding for dinner, and father would talk about books, ideas and problems in the town.  For example, houses would often burn down after being struck by lightning.  The family also practiced charitable acts towards others in the community (eating less in order to bring food -and blankets- to the families who’d lost their homes, for example). 

In school, arithmetic was always a struggle.  Then when he worked in his father’s candlestick shop, he “hated everything there was to hate about it.”   Yet he continued his love of reading, especially during his lunch breaks.  From reading “SO-CRATES,” he learned that “it doesn’t do any good to yell and pound and go on about your point of view, but instead to be polite about it, ask questions, listen to others, ask more questions and gently win others to your point of view.” 

Ben FranklinTrying this technique on his father, they looked around until they eventually found a different trade for him to learn.  That is when he went to work as an apprentice for his brother’s print shop, 14 hours/day 6 days/week.  Benjamin also disliked this job, but he loved working the press, reading the articles and discussing issues of the day with printshop clientele.  Then Brother James got arrested for something he wrote.  “I didn’t always get along with James but I did respect him for writing what he believed, and the government was wrong to arrest him.  So I wrote articles to support him.  I ran the business pretty well for 4 years.  I increased sales while I was in charge.”  When James returned, Benjamin set off on his own, now 17 years old with a trade and ready to make a life for himself.   He caught a ship out of town and began to reflect on his life & values, such as; “Waste not want not,”  “Nothing is useful if it’s not honest,” and the importance of keeping one’s temper in check.  From his father he’d learned the value of always working to make life better for people, and he determined to start every day by asking: “What good can I do today?

After a harrowing ocean voyage to Philadelphia, he found a position in a print shop where he started a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette.  He married a woman named Deborah and had three “blessed children.”  Because he was committed to solving problems in society, he; 
• founded the first free public school, 
• first public library, 
• figured out how to get the mail delivered faster, 
• inspired the citizens to pay a small tax for paved roads 
• lighted streets, 
• police and 
• fire department.  

He also  invented the Pennsylvania Fireplace which produced more heat with less wood and more safely.  By the time he was 40 y/o he was able to sell his business and “retire” in order to work on things that had always interested him… such as electricity

He understood that every object and person has energy.  “YOU ALL HAVE ENERGY!” he exclaimed, “As I’m sure your teachers know.”  He explained that objects charged with static electricity can pull or push other objects, and proceeded to conduct several experiments on stage, some using Tobin student volunteers. First he “chargeda metal rod by rubbing it with a cloth in order to pick up paper, string and influence a ball to swing.  Then he shared an example of a home-made “Vandergraph Machine,” which charges a metal ball from the inside with the turn of a crank.  His enthusiasm for experimentation and excitement at discoveries was infectious. He even created lightning right on stage. “You turn the crank to build the charge, the kite flies closer and -ZAP!- lightning strikes!  AH HA HA, FANTASTIC.  I must write that down!” His famous experiment flying a kite in lightning eventually lead to his invention of the lightning rod, which is what keeps our buildings safe from lightning strikes to this day. 

A quick run through of the Revolutionary War —after England demanded tariffs from the Colonies, cutting off trade, denying trials by jury and the representation of votes, the resistance was organized in coordination with his buddies Thomas Jefferson and George Washington— independence was won and we became a FREE NATION, which “was just the beginning.”  

Now we are free to live in this great nation, and ask ourselves every night, “What good have you done today?”  

* * * * * * * * * *

After the presentation, Kyle the actor introduced himself and entertained wonderful questions by our inquisitive Tobin students, such as: 

Q: How many wives did B.F. have?
A:  He had one wife.

Q:  Why did his brother James get arrested?
A:  An English rule called “sedition” saying you can’t criticize by England, which we don’t have now.

Q:  How did you bring that electricity machine?
A:  In this trunk.  It’s called a Vandergraph machine.  BF didn’t invent it, but he did build his own.

Q:  How old was he when he died?
A:  Born Jan 17, 1706, died April 17, 1790 he was 84 y/o, which is about twice as long as most people lived back then.  His funeral was attended by more than 20,000 people, and remains the single largest gathering of people at a funeral in this country.

Q:  Did he visit his daughter?
A:  He did visit his daughter Sarah many times over the course of his life

Q:  Where did you learn all this?
A:  Books!  Books can teach you anything!

Q:  Did he ever visit England?
A:  Yes, 3 or 4 times.  Early in life to learn about the printing press.  Later in life to try to prevent the Revolutionary War. 

Q:  Is that your real voice?
A: Yes, it is in fact my real voice. 

Q:  How did he survive on the ship during that big storm when he ran away to Philadelphia?
A:  BF survived b/c the sailors were very skilled, and also b/c BF helped!

Q:  Was it difficult for him to run away from home to Philadelphia?
A:  Yes. He did it mainly b/c he felt his brother James wasn’t treating him fairly.  He was exhausted from the storm, dirty and hungry when he arrived.  He’d also broken the law by running away from his legal apprenticeship to his brother.  So he didn’t even tell anyone where he was for the first year.

Q:  What is your favorite event Ben Franklin’s life?
A:   I love his work in helping to write all FOUR documents that helped found this country; 
• The Constitution
• The Declaration of Independence
• The Articles of Confederation (states’ responsibilities to each other within the new country)
• The treaty that ended the war with the Brittish (The Treaty of Paris, 1783)

But my favorite is his experimentation with electricity.  For example, he once tried to cook a whole turkey with the Vandergraph Machine, and when it wasn’t working he went over to move it closer and got shocked w/ electricity so hard it knocked him unconscious.

Q:  How did he survive his famous experiment with the kite?
A:  How it actually happened:  He flew the kite up BEFORE the storm came, grounded it with a rod in the ground (w/ his 22 y/o son William).   The lightening struck and traveled down the copper wire where the key began to spark.  BF went over to grab the wire and it shocked him so badly his arm went numb for 6 hours!

Q:  Was the charge on the ball, actually pushing and pulling things away, or were you *pretending.*?
A:  Because it’s humid today, the effect wasn’t as great as it usually is, and although the effect was real, I did give it a little theatrical help.  

Q:  What were all of his siblings names?
A:  We actually DON’T KNOW all of his siblings names!  Over the course of history we’ve lost some of those records, and back then we didn’t have birth records or death records.  Most of what we know have learned from BF’s LETTERS, which he always kept safe.  Some of his siblings names were; Josiah, Jr., Abraham (not Lincoln), Jane and Sarah (which he also named his daughter, although they were both called Sally for some reason.)

==>  If you have a question I did not answer, please do one of these three things: 
• Ask your teacher
• go online with your parents
• go to the library and READ a book about it!

Remember, Ben Franklin only went to school for TWO years, but by reading EVERY day of his life, he become one of the most important diplomats, politicians, scientists, inventors and businessmen in the world! 

NOTE:  Deep thanks to Friends of Tobin —and to all who contribute to this vital fundraising initiative in our school— for making this enriching presentation possible!