September 21, 2005
Dear grandparents of a middle school student,
This year is history class, your grandchild will be learning about United States history from the Age of Exploration through the early 1900s. Along with the many hands-on activities we will engage in, we also look at primary sources of information so students can get a feel for language and attitudes of the day .
I need your help in making one activity I'm planning a success! In about October, we will be reading letters that famous Americans have written to their grandchildren, giving advice on life and a sage perspective on the 'modern world' of the time. One of the letters we will be reading include Jefferson's letter to his fourteen year old grandson, Francis Eppes, as he was heading off to boarding school.
At the end of the activity , I would like to surprise them with a letter from their grandparent or grandparents. Would you help me? Below is a format for the letter so that it allows us discussion similar to the themes of the historical letters I've chosen to share with the class.
Have fun with it and call or email me if you have any questions. One last request is that the letter be handwritten rather than typed. I'm sure your grandchild will treasure the letter as a keepsake for years to come!
I hope to see many of you at the Grandparent's Day this year! Your grandchildren will be our servers, greeters, and performers and you will be impressed with how well they handle themselves in all regards!
In appreciation,
MichelIe Willard
Middle School history teacher, Princeton Montessori School

Date written
Dear .
When I look at you today, I see I am proud of   You remind me of    As you are studying American history this year, I want to share with you some of my memories of significant events in our nation 's history that I have lived through. Two of the most vivid memories for me are (name the event and tell what you were doing at the time, where you were, what you felt, how it impacted your life)
As you make this transition from childhood to adolescents, I want to offer you some advice that I have come to believe in after living these years. I wish for you I have come to learn that...
My best guiding principle to offer you is...
Closing sentiment (up to you, but if you 're stuck... "Have fun learning this year in school and remember to mind your teachers!" (Ha!)
Your full signature!

Here is my letter to my grandson Paul Douglas Zetterberg in Princeton Montessori School. It follows roughly Ms Willard’s outline given to us grandparents, but adapted to suit a grandparent looking at US history from abroad.

November 10, 2005


I am embarrassed. I did not read the instruction for the Grandparents' home work carefully. It referred to President Jefferson's letter to Francis Eppes. You had read it in history class. Francis was about to enter boarding school. I mixed it up with Jefferson's letter to another grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who had received his letter when he was of college age. So instead of writing to a very young teenager (like you Paul this winter) I wrote on ideas that belong to the education of a much older teenager.

Please forgive me Paul -- and apologies to Ms Willard.

And Paul, you may want to read this letter (again) when you are off to college.


October, 29, 2005

My Dear Paul,

When I look at you Paul, I see not only a fine soccer player and athlete but someone in Middle School who can understand much of what is said to college students. As you are studying American history this year I want to share some thoughts with you, college-level thoughts some would say. If you want me to explain something difficult in this long letter drop me an e-mail (

The United States of America, as you have learned, was the first of the new nations that broke loose from a European colonial power. It declared independence on the 4th of July 1776 from the British Empire. In the following two centuries other colonies in the world followed suite. Today, all the many big colonies that European powers once held in South America, Asia, and Africa are free countries. The last colonial empire, the Soviet Union, had its colonies, not overseas but on the adjacent Eurasian land mass. It collapsed in 1989, a few years before you were born.

The new nation of the United States had elections with majority rule, representation in legislatures, rule of law (not of men) enforced by courts (not rulers). It had division and balance of the powers of President, Congress, and the Courts. It gave entrenched rights to every citizen. Provisions for all this were entered into a written constitution drafted in 1787. The American Revolution, like the French, was carried out in the name of republicanism. The revolutionary zeal was against the European kings, and the new order that the revolutionaries wanted was democracy. This democracy is a genuine innovation by the founding fathers, not just a copy of an ancient Greek order. It has become a model for the world.

Many of the great ideas enacted in the United States came from European thinkers. I can only mention some of them; some day in college you may learn more about them. In England, a philosopher and essayist Francis Bacon (1561-1626) laid bare the canon of scientific inquiry that is grounded in facts and in consistent thoughts, not in magic and baloney. His compatriot philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) explained the nature of human understanding of the world. He also discovered that it is necessary to limit government to the tasks of defending freedom and property. The French philosopher François-Marie Voltaire (1694-1778) denounced bigotry and the tyranny of kings and dictators. His compatriot Denis Diderot (1713-1784) explained all known technologies in a monumental encyclopedia. In Germany, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) wrote philosophies of knowledge and morals and his compatriot Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) gave universities an organization fit for the pursuit of science. In Scotland, David Hume (1711-1776) wrote a philosophy of skepticism, that is, you can only believe what is checked by your waked eyes and ears and by your own considerations. His compatriot Adam Smith (1723-1790) discovered how markets create enormous wealth without the use of violence and plunder. All these ideas were called "The Enlightenment." They became part of the American creed.

The European Enlightenment, however, did not always appreciate life’s fullness. It rarely found a balance of a many-splendored society between the life areas of science, economy, and polity and the more emotive life areas of art, morality, and religion. Among the many people who worked to redress this balance was Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor and teacher, who inspired the way things are taught in your school.

The Enlightenment of our own days is based on new discoveries in brain research. They are very exciting.

The longest developmental period of human brains took place before the creatures of the Earth were capable of using languages. The oldest part of the human brain is often referred to as the "reptilian brain." It governs purely bodily actions that we share with animals and that emerged in earlier stages of development. The reptiles and other less complex animals are constantly alert for danger. They flee if the danger is big and strong, and fight if it is small and weak.

Man has developed another and newer part of the brain, the "language brain." The efficient use of speech separates the child from the infant, and man from beast. Through language, we tell each other what we have seen, heard or felt, what we like and dislike, and what we want to be done and want to avoid. A language acquaints us with a historical past we have not seen, distant people whom we have never met, and a universe through which we have never traveled. Thanks to language we can know something without personally having experienced it. Without the language brain we would not have had any civilizations.

Order is shaped by language: language states the laws of the land, and leaders use language to give the commands in their teams. Language and its numbers represent riches in your bank statement, it summarizes knowledge in your text books, it embodies beauty in poetry, it defines sacredness, and it expresses virtues.

Remember when you were small, how often your father and mother told you and your sister to tell your problems and conflicts with words, not with crying and tantrums, and not with fist fights. They wanted you to use your language brains, not your reptilian brains.

When a whole society is inspired by our language brains the situation is very different from the rule of the reptilian brain. Now we see man and fellowman exploring each other’s views and peacefully persuading one another about their relations, their environment, and the mutual development and survival. A new social order begins when people gather in the commons to discuss mutual problems and decide how to cope with them.

I guess, Paul, that you by now know almost 4,000 words, most in English and many in Swedish, my native tongue. The great playwright William Shakespeare used about 21,000 separate words in his writings. Of these he invented about 1,800 words himself. And with words he created characters such as Cleopatra, Falstaff, Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth, Rosalind, one or two of whom you may already have seen in a play. Throughout the centuries many in Shakespeare’s audiences got to know these characters and their worlds, sometimes better than they know themselves and their own cousins. Certainly language can create realities in a play on stage. Once we have seen it there, we realize that it also creates and maintains the social reality of our everyday living. And in history class you have seen the drama of the American Revolution with its commanding words in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution. Their language is the language of human liberty.

Freedom of speech is the basic freedom, the source of human creativity in all its forms. Different life areas develop their specific freedoms. The search for the truth about the universe and of humanity requires academic freedom. The economic exchanges, i.e. the setting of prices by sellers and the offerings to purchase by customers require freedom of trade. Political discourse requires civic freedom. The arts need artistic license. The practice of a faith requires religious freedom. The morality is empty without the freedom to follow one's conscience.

Freedom for the language brain is different from freedom for the reptilian brain. In the introduction to the book On Liberty from 1869 John Stuart Mill stated: "Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." Freedom thus came to mean that you can do what you like also with your body, including violating social norms with which you disagree, and engaging in uncivilized behavior. This was a mistake; freedom concerns the mind more than the body. Yes, there is freedom of physical movement celebrated by the reptilian brain, but freedom in the main is a freedom for what is governed by the language brain.

Now, Paul, let me tell you something that is not so easy to understand. It took me a long time to understand it.

Societies have four ways in using the reptilian brain and the language brain. I will number them 1 to 4:

1. Let the reptilian brains battle reptilian brains, e.g. violence against violence, one person’s urge against another's. When our view of man and fellowman is inspired by our pre-language, reptilian brains, any community seems founded on murders, massacres, and rapes. In the Bible Cain clubs Abel to death. In Greek mythology Zeus captures and rapes Europa. In Roman history Romulus kills his brother Remus. In this view, the key elements in living are to identify enemies, to celebrate friends, to exercise any appetites, and to defend and extend territories. Here life is nasty, brutish and short; it is not civilized.

2. Let the reptilian brains battle language brains. Here violence is used to suppress opinions. A society, however, is never civilized when the spoken words are met with violence and the written words suppressed by censorship.

3. Let the language brains battle with the reptilian brains. Non-violent resistance to an enemy using violence is very difficult, but may work in some situations. Mahatma Gandhi achieved independence for India by non-violent means. It was very civilized.

4. Let the language brains battle other language brains. Here we settle arguments by words as is done in conversations, disputations, mediations, or assemblies. A society is civilized when its main line of coping with conflicts meets words with words, and I mean with words alone. This is the hall-mark of civilization. This is also the democracy that the founding fathers achieved for the United States.

This last point does not mean that we all shall be peaceniks and never fight wars. It may seem self-evident that raw power against raw power is inherently uncivilized. And so it is, and so it has been in most instances. However, it is a civilized duty to meet violence with violence when, and only when, it is necessary for the survival of civility. Then the civilized part of mankind must have the ultimate resource: use of force to fight the uncivilized who threaten human dignity and the rights of man. That is why we fight terrorists and those who give them money and those who harbor their training camps.

The most powerful forces in society come into play when the reptilian brain and the language brain pull in the same direction. This happens, for example, when the language brains organize people into the building of shelters and monuments – most dramatically illustrated when mankind builds its pyramids. Or, it happens when language brains organize people to use concerted violence – that is, organize for mankind's wars. Like it or not, most nations have evolved within borders set by wars; the United States is one such nation. It was, as you know, established by George Washington’s war, The American Revolution.

Organized violence by armies and guerillas is a far graver problem than spontaneous acts of violence. A small group or network that does not shrink from using violence can subdue a whole society that has lived peacefully and has learned to avoid violence as far as possible. The Chinese civilization had its Great Wall to keep out violent invaders. It was originally about 5 000 kilometers long, built of stone, wood, grass and dirt. The Wall was renovated and extended under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to some 6 400 kilometers. Now bricks were produced in kilns set up along the wall. The bricks were transported by men, donkeys, mules, carrying them on their backs. Also by goats with a brick tied to the head before being driven to the construction project in the mountains.

Organized violence today by rouge states or terrorist networks has at its disposal cheap technical, chemical, and biological weapons, that can be transported anywhere on earth. It can effectively kill, paralyze, and subjugate civilized people. Prevention is both difficult and extremely expensive – as was the Great Wall of China. But it can be achieved, and America is taking the lead.

-- -- --

As you make this transition from childhood to adolescence I want to offer you some advice that I have come to believe in after living these seventy-eight years.


All of mankind – from all parts of the world – are equal in that they have language brains, and all are capable of participating fully in a civilized society.


Women’s language brains are as advanced as men’s. Never treat women as inferior as they did in bygone times when the reptilian brain dominated over the language brain. The modern civilized society is based on language brains and the helpful engineering they have given us. Here women and men are equals and have equal rights and opportunities.


Defend freedom, particularly the freedom of using words. Freedom of speech is the most important freedom.


Love words in books, love words in conversations with others. Put words together into helpful and humorous sentences. Live by good words, not mean ones. Remember from your history class what Thomas Jefferson wrote to his grandson that freedom of speech is best when it is framed in  humor and politeness:

"I have mentioned good humor as one of the preservatives of our peace and tranquility. It is among the most effectual, and it's effect is so well imitated and aided artificially by politeness, that this also becomes an acquisition of first rate value. In truth, politeness is artificial good humor; it covers the natural want of it, and ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearly equivalent to the real virtue. It is the practice of sacrificing to those whom we meet in society all the little conveniences and preferences which will gratify them, and deprive us of nothing worth a moment's consideration; it is the giving a pleasing and flattering turn to our expressions which will conciliate others, and make them pleased with us as well as themselves. How cheap a price for the good will of another! When this is in return for a rude thing said by another, it brings him to his senses, it mortifies and corrects him in the most salutary way, and places him at the feet of your good nature in the eyes of the company."

(From President Jefferson’s letter to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph dated Washington, Nov. 24th, 1808)

This also means that we shall never use words of hate to entice violence. It is not civilized.


Learn new words all the time. Get in the habit of looking up words you don’t know in a dictionary. If possible do it right away.


Pay attention to the words of your teachers.

Love from your "Farfar",

Hans L Zetterberg