BOUNTIFUL – Not every history teacher has a beard and a headscarf, rides a Harley and says “y’all.”
Not every history teacher has his own TV show either.
Stan Ellsworth is his own kind of history teacher, reaching out beyond the classroom to those who watch “American Ride,” his weekly history show on BYUtv.
Monday, he was back in a classroom, this time at South Davis Junior High, telling students about the role they should play in their democratic government.
Later, he addressed a larger gathering of students, talking to them about what he learns and what he feels as he gets a close-up look at American history for his show.
He told students of the feeling he had when standing on the same floor that John Adams stood on as he “fought so passionately for independence for the people.”
He spoke of being in the place that Benjamin Franklin shared his brilliant ideas with humor and insight. He said standing next to the chair that George Washington sat in to preside over the conferences was emotionally moving.
“Providence wanted to create this nation,” he said. “Providence indeed set its hand to the doings of man” in Independence Hall.
Ellsworth was born in Salt Lake City and grew up surrounded by American history in North and South Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
He remembers riding his bike to a statue of General Stonewall Jackson and reading everything he could about Jackson and General Lee.
After graduating from BYU, Ellsworth had a career in the NFL as a linebacker for the Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks. He worked as a college football coach and then taught high school history for 10 years before starting American Ride. He recently completed shooting its third season.
“The thing I love about the program is how he puts things together,” said Linda Strunk, who had heard about Ellsworth’s visit and taken off work to attend his presentation at South Davis. “I love history and I like to understand the chronology of what’s happening. I love his passion for this country and for our history.”
Kids can relate to the program because of his style, she said, adding, “I’m a groupie and proud to say it.”
This was the second visit to South Davis for Ellsworth, who was invited by history teacher Scott Bishop.
After the first visit, Bishop said one of his students wrote Ellsworth a thank-you letter that read: “Thanks for tricking us into liking history.”
Each 25-minute segment of Ellsworth’s television show is amazing, said Bishop, and adds interesting sidelights to the history kids already know.
“He’s pretty awesome,” said one student. “His hair is awesome. He’s a motorcycle guy.”
But while the hair and the motorcycle may have won him their attention, it wasn’t the focus of his remarks.
When asked to name the most spiritual places he’d visited, Ellsworth listed Independence Hall, the Black Hills and the Appomattox Courthouse, “where our nation came back together.”
Ellsworth talked to students about George Washington, calling him a visionary leader as a general, as a rebel leader and as president.
“Every decision he made was to help this nation be what it should be,” he said.
Ellsworth also spoke to students of Valley Forge, where thousands gave their lives “because they believed in liberty, they believed in freedom, they believed your generation should be free. They paid such a high price for your opportunity to be the best you can be at whatever you do,” he said.He encouraged students to stand up for what they know in their hearts to be right.
“You’ve got the stuff, let it shine,” he said, as he turned their thoughts from the past to the future. “That’s what American exceptionalism is all about. Make the world a better place because you are in it.”