Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

I recently attended a Charles Dickens Christmas Party and in order to mark this wondrous day of anticipation, Christmas Eve, I thought I would share the passage I read at the party. It's one of Dicken's few selections on Christmas that appear outside of A Christmas Carol, and when I found it, I knew it was perfect. It captures so much of what we love about this time of year, the feelings it engenders, and the way it draws people together. I hope you enjoy it! It is taken from The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 28:

As brisk as bees, if not altogether as light as fairies, did the four Pickwickians assemble on the morning of the twenty-second day of December, in the year of grace in which these, their faithfully-recorded adventures, were undertaken and accomplished. Christmas was close at hand, in all his bluff and hearty honesty; it was the season of hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness; the old year was preparing, like an ancient philosopher, to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away. Gay and merry was the time; and right gay and merry were at least four of the numerous hearts that were gladdened by its coming.
And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families, whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual goodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight; and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilised nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future condition of existence, provided for the blessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!
We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!

All of us here at BFB wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas! We hope you find some wonderful literary treasures underneath the tree. We would love to hear about them, so share in the comments below.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Update from Samantha!

Today we have a special treat for you! Samantha is back and is sharing her thoughts from her first semester of using BFB. If you missed Samantha's first post, you can read it here. And here's Sam:

Let me start by saying, I love history.  This is a new development for me.  Social Studies, as it was called when I was in school, was always so boring.  It seems like so many facts and dates I had to memorize about boring dead people.  But now as we have been studying Early American History this past fall, we have found it is full of amazing people, far from dead, who struggled and failed and triumphed in their quest for a better life for themselves and their children.  As a mother I can relate to this.  I had a well-to-do upbringing with my parents still married.  I went to a private school and had the opportunity to go on to college.  But education is so much more than just the degree after the work.  It should be about the journey, and this is the “better life” I want for my children: to fall in love with the learning process, to know the joy of a job well done, and to develop the character of perseverance when working on hard subjects.
This is our third year homeschooling.  In the first two years, kindergarten and first grade, we focused on what I felt were the essentials: reading, writing and math.  We also did a national classical program that included memory work.  I really felt that if we could get a great foundation of reading under our belts, everything else would come easier. So this year I decided to branch out and do history and other subjects.  I was so grateful to come across Rea at the Great Homeschool Convention in California this past summer.  As my boys (twin 7 year-olds and a 3 year-old) loved the group setting we had, and as I am the “starter” among my group of friends, I decided to start a group.  Here is what we have done:
  • We decided to start with the Early American History pack, primary edition.  The kids involved are from 3 years old to 8.  The 3 and 4 year olds spend half the time with Playdoh, but they do spend half of the time with the group.  We did two lessons together in class, and then everyone did one at home on their own.  We wanted to get to Pilgrim Stories by Thanksgiving.
  • As I told my friends about this group there were many that wanted to join us.  We had 11 in the beginning.  For scheduling reasons, we are now down to 9, which include my 3 year old and a 4 year old.  This size group really is perfect.  At 11 kids, it was a bit more to manage.  The kids who also stopped coming were younger, in kindergarten. I think this pack would still be great for kindergarteners, but the level the rest of the kids were working at, the majority being 2nd and 3rd graders, made them feel a bit behind.  It may also be my lack of experience in working with a multi-age group.  It might just take someone who is more experienced with an age gap. 
  • When we started, we also wanted to do a bit of music and art.  I had read For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schafer Macauley and wanted to do it the way she described. 
  •  For art, I went to the Getty and tried to find one specific artist, got copies of four of his works and then had the kids narrate the art for me.  Then we did reproductions of the work in different mediums.  Then we would go back and visit the museum and the kids would have an instant connection to the artwork.  The artist I picked was Anthony Van Dyck.  The works I picked I think were a bit too advanced for these kids and they struggled with reproducing them, but they did enjoy narrating them.  So we kept  that portion and I let the two artistic children in the group draw them for me after everyone else was done. 
  • For music, the initial idea was to have the kids color while listening to the Music Masters CDs.  I think the problem we encountered with this, as this was the last thing we did, was the kids couldn’t sit still anymore and wanted to play with their friends.  I also think we needed to spend more time on each composer.  One week was just not enough time.  The last couple of weeks of class we decided to study Beethoven.  So they all listed to the Music Masters CD, colored pages, and we watched a movie called “Beethoven Lives Upstairs”. 
So here are some highlights from the year.

  • Leif the Lucky – We loved studying Leif Erickson.  The sense of adventure and courage that Leif seemed to embody really came across to the boys.  And then to see him believe as a Christian and want to bring the faith back to his people was part of that adventure.  Of course the illustrations were amazing and the writing was done so beautifully that it captured and kept their attention easily. 

  • Columbus – Again, we loved studying Columbus.  The book was wonderful and so beautifully done.  You can’t praise the D’Aulaire’s enough for all their beautiful books, the wonderful writing and the amazing detailed pictures.  We loved the Your Story Hour CD’s and the expansion of Columbus’ story.  Each child prepared an amazing oral presentation of the book.  Some were more detailed than others.  But all seemed to have a very full experience of who Columbus was and the type of man he was.  It was so much more than “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”.  I loved how they all got that he had to wait for his adventure, how he was turned down by Portugal, and even after he ventured to the Americas, things did not always go well.  It was definitely not a fairy tale version. 
  •  Pocahontas– Since I have 7 year old boys, I was wondering how I was going to sell the whole Indian princess thing to them.  But as it turned out, this was their favorite book.  In these lessons, they visited the library and learned more about John Smith, which was really neat for them.  I almost would say, they thought the whole Pocahontas lessons were more about John Smith.  What an amazing character to study.  Here was a man with many talents and abilities.  His natural drive and sense of adventure led him all over the world as it was known then, and elevated him in the ranks of foreign military.  It is believed that if Jamestown had any success, it was due to his leadership.  But because of his harsh nature, he was hindered.  It wasn’t actually known if the injury he sustained to his leg was by accident or was a failed attempt on his life.  It was a great study for my growing boys to see how the undeveloped portions of a man’s character can hold him back from becoming all that he can be. 
  •  Jamestown, New World Adventure – This was a great book to read. I loved how all the children were able to connect to the children in the story...   It was a good portrayal of how hard life was for these early settlers.  It again chronicled how hard John Smith was to the people.  But at times it seemed he needed to be stern with the gentlemen who didn’t want to do their share of the work. 
  • Pilgrim Stories – As I write this, we are only halfway thru this book.  Our group only met thru November.  We would have met thru the middle of December, but my family moved and we needed to take some time off to get re-settled.  But I will say, I was shocked to find out the Pilgrims did not come straight to America from England, but first escaped to Holland.  It’s realizations like this that have me further convinced of my own poor education.  The boys think the names of the children in the book are funny, Patience, Fear and Faith.  But I remind them that I am sure those children would think their names equally strange.  It has been interesting to watch them wrestle through the idea that both the pilgrims and King James were all “Christians” yet they did not worship the same or believe the same.  It is a foreign idea to them to not be able to worship God the way you want and need to escape to another land to do so.  The descriptions of Holland have been so interesting that I have been wanting to do more study on this distant  country.  The mental picture of the frozen canals and the boats on runners is fascinating.  And the boys love the idea of a little boy walking by a dike and seeing a small leak, and the boy putting his chewing gum in the hole to save the town.  We are now just leaving England on the Mayflower and can’t wait for the rest of the book. 

I can’t wait to share more with you all on our adventure thru history in the coming.

Thank you Samantha! It's such a joy to read about your adventures. If anyone has any questions about the books mentioned in this post, feel free to leave a comment below and we will get right back to you.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Encouragement for Dads

As we're all thinking of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school I have heard over and over from parents that this event caused them to "hug their kids a little closer." From our nation's President, to the minister in the pulpit, to the conversations overheard in grocery stores, this is the sentiment universally expressed. And while plenty of moms have said it, I have actually heard more dads say it in public settings. And that has been so encouraging to me. Fathers play such a pivotal role in their children's lives and development and one glimmer of light in this tragedy is that it can turn our thoughts back towards home and we can spend more quality time with the children in our lives.

Graham Scharf, writing for Q Ideas for the Common Good, tells us of his time as a stay-at-home dad. His column, available to read here, is the story of a dad who discovers the joy of sharing books with his daughter. He begins reading Honey for a Child's Heart and stumbles into a world of literature that he both remembers from his childhood and rediscovers with his daughter. As a young man bent on achievement his focus shifts and he comes to see fatherhood as a vocation. It's a great article and one you may want to share with the fathers in your life.

I was blessed with a father who read to his children nearly every single night. Whether we were making our way through Bible Stories for Children or The Little House in the Big Woods, it was something the entire family looked forward to. And this is in a family where plenty of hours were spent during the day reading with mom. Now that I am an adult my appreciation for this time continues to grow. I now know how much easier it would have been to turn on a movie, send us to bed to read to ourselves, or just zone out. I am so grateful that I grew up before the days of the personal computer, the iPad, and the iPhone. It's so easy to have our attention sucked into that vortex.

If you want to encourage a dad to read more with his children, I would highly suggest putting the following titles under the Christmas tree:

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Thoughts and Prayers

It is with the heaviness of heart that is being felt everywhere across this nation that I am beginning this blog entry. In light of the tragic events of last Friday it is necessary to mark this loss, to recalibrate our hearts outwards, and to join with those who mourn. We are all struck by the innocence of the young victims and the heroism of the teachers and administrators who died defending the children they served. Today, as children around the country return to classrooms, let's remember those who are lost:

Robbie Parker, the father of Emilie, gave a moving tribute to his daughter, and extraordinarily expressed sympathy for the perpetrator's family. As Christians we believe that as difficult as it may be this is the response we are called to and so we ask that you would join with us in praying for the victims, their families, and the Lanza family. 

In the midst of heart wrenching tragedy, we are grateful that our God is one who suffers little children to come to Him and one who "binds up the brokenhearted." We ask that His promise of peace descend on those affected by this tragedy. ‎"But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

For those of you who are comforted by action, you may want to sign up to commemorate the victims through acts of kindness and service. You can find information here

I found comfort in these two blog entries. 
A Connecticut Winter: Why Our Heart Breaks
Where is God in the Dark of this Weekend

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Losing the classics

I've spent the past semester reading some of the greatest works of literature known to man. It seems like a pretty lofty way to open a blog entry, but I know that it is a huge gift to be able to devote as much time as I have been able to to reading Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, and Aristophanes. I am also acutely aware of the fact that these books have greatly influenced the way I am seeing the world. The gift of great writers is their ability to leave their wisdom to the rest of us. What would this world be like without the influence of Shakespeare, without the wit of Aristophanes, without the pathos of To Kill a Mockingbird? Unfortunately, we may soon find out.

It was was great alarm that I read an article last week about a national push to remove fiction from the public school curriculum. According to this article the industrial model of our educational system, has reached its logical end. The classics are slowly but surely being removed from classroom curriculums due to the adoption of "Common Core Standards". These standards state that across the curriculum 70% of reading should be non-fiction. In order that students be able to fill that 70% requirement there is an accompanying list of recommended texts "like Recommended Levels of Insulation by the the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Invasive Plant Inventory, by California's Invasive Plant Council." The purpose of this emphasis on technical texts is to create students who are better equipped for the workplace and who have the ability to write clearly and concisely. 

The emphasis on non-fiction and technical writing is going to have devastating consequences for our schools and our nation. I do not generally take an alarmist view of things but this is truly sad, especially for those students who do not have parents ensuring that they are fed a regular diet of great literature. Reading this article coincided with me pulling out Louise Cowan and Os Guinness' wonderful work Invitation to the Classics (truly a must for any  literature loving family) to prep for my final exams. As Os Guinness so eloquently states in the introduction:
...with the Western world at large urgently needing renewal, we should all remember that great periods of renaissance and reformation spring from a return to first things. Once we recognize the classics' lyric beauty, their aching tragedy, their probing intellectual inquiry, their profound imagination, sympathy, and wisdom, we see that their capacity to restore is fundamental to our continuing liberty and vitality.
Having had the benefit of growing up in a family devoted to reading great literature, I know that it is impossible to innumerate the myriad ways in which that shaped who I am and how I think. While this initiative is backed by such well-regarded organizations as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Governors' Association, it is one that is doomed to failure. Even the most basic goal of educating children so that they will be capable future employees requires a nurturing of the soul, something only possible in an education based in great books. The imaginations and creativity of children not encouraged by the imagined worlds of Narnia and Gulliver will stagnate and the creative solutions sought by employers will be severely lacking. In order to create employees who are willing to serve their customers, you have to be able to hire people who know empathy and I know of no better way to encourage the growth of that essential human trait than a childhood steeped in books like The Hundred Dresses, The Family Under the Bridge, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Most concerning is the fact that those behind this sort of educational push seem to have a purely capitalistic view of people. People have become commodities. There seems to be very little concern with the moral, social, and spiritual aspects of students, only a concern in their future as good workers able to produce product for our consumption based economy. This is the product of a worldview that sees no distinction between us and the animals. Someone pointed out to me that what we now call HR or Human Resources used to be called Personnel. This shift in language is very telling in that the personhood of individuals has shifted from one that recognizes people's innate value to one that sees them as "resources." These shifts have been enabled by a populace whose moral and creative education has been neglected and that has occurred as we forsake reading the classics. Any student of Shakespeare knows that King Lear vividly shows the devastation caused by such a utilitarian outlook.

While I find much to cause despair in our nation's educational system, I am daily encouraged by you! Your desire to provide your children and students with an education that broadens minds, encourages imagination, embraces humanity in its beautiful brokenness, and ultimately, creates caring, responsible, generous adults who see life as a gift is reassuring to me. I admire you for your dedication and the labor you are investing in the next generation.

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Education as Legacy

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Friday, December 07, 2012

December 7, 1941 a date that will live in infamy

Seventy-one years ago today, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese military and America's role in the second World War was escalated to full involvement. Immortalized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a "date that will live in infamy" this tragic event was the impetus for a decisive shift in American military action. Almost immediately American soldiers were preparing to ship off to a war ravaged Europe while thousands more were sent to the Pacific theater. In order to help you learn more about this event, I wanted to share some fascinating resources that are available online.

You can listen to FDR's famous speech here. I found it fascinating as it reminded me that the attack on Pearl Harbor was one prong of a many faceted attack on many Pacific countries and islands. On this website you can view handwritten drafts of FDR's first drafts of the speech and see photos of him signing the declaration of war. You can read articles from newspapers reporting the events here. Photos of the attack can be seen here. For those of you wanting to dig deeper, here are our favorite books that deal specifically with the Pacific Theatre of World War II.

Pearl Harbor Attack by Edwin P. Hoyt
The dramatic story of the sneak attack by the Japanese Navy on the U.S. Naval Base in the Hawaiian Islands. In minutes the U.S. Pacific fleet was all but destroyed and WWII began for the our country. War correspondent Edwin P. Hoyt takes us from the secret preparations in Japan to the flaming wreckage and tragedy of Pearl Harbor.

Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida
Story of one Japanese family during the relocation of 120,000 Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Bittersweet, yet noble, presentation of this tragic episode in American history.
Like any 11-year-old, Yuki Sakane is looking forward to Christmas when her peaceful world is suddenly shattered by the bombing of Perl Harbor. Uprooted from her home and shipped with thousands of West Coast Japanese Americans to a desert concentration camp called Topaz, Yuki and her family face new hardships daily.

Victory in the Pacific by Albert Marrin
Victory in the Pacific covers events from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor through the battles of Midway, Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands, Savo Island, the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, Corregidor Island, Leyte Gulf, Iwo Jima , and Okinawa. In each case, readers see the battles through the eyes of the men who were there, landing on the beaches, running raids in PT boats, dodging kamikaze bombers, and flying missions over Japan. In an easily accessible style, Marrin relates not only the important details of these conquests but also explains the military strategies of both the Allied forces and the Japanese. Readers get an overarching view of the war that helps to bring understanding especially as American forces drew increasingly closer to Japan and the Japanese grew ever more determined to fight to the bitter end. Marrin helps readers to understand the Japanese mindset that made surrender impossible and ultimately led to the decision to drop the atomic bomb in the interests of saving millions of lives. For the young adult reader, or even an adult unfamiliar with this period of WWII history, this book provides a sobering but inspiring look and the men and women , the nations and ideologies, that battled over half a century ago in the Pacific theater. Illustrated with diagrams, maps and photographs.

So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins
Though Japanese, eleven-year-old Yoko has lived with her family in northern Korea near the border with China all her life. But when the Second World War comes to an end, Japanese on the Korean peninsula are suddenly in terrible danger; the Korean people want control of their homeland and they want to punish the Japanese, who have occupied their nation for many years. Yoko, her mother and sister are forced to flee from their beautiful house with its peaceful bamboo grove. Their journey is terrifying — and remarkable. It's a true story of courage and survival. Our boys loved it! 

The House of Sixty Fathers by Meindert DeJong
Tien Pao is all alone in enemy territory. Only a few days before, his family had escaped from the Japanese army, fleeing downriver by boat. Then came the terrible rainstorm. Tien Pao was fast asleep in the little sampan when the boat broke loose from its moorings and drifted right back to the Japanese soldiers. With only his lucky pig for company, Tien Pao must begin a long and dangerous journey in search of his home and family.

Hiroshima by John Hersey
On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city. This book, John Hersey's journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day. Told through the memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic "that stirs the conscience of humanity." - The New York Times
Almost four decades after the original publication of this celebrated book, John Hersey went back to Hiroshima in search of the people whose stories he had told. His account of what he discovered about them is now the eloquent and moving final chapter of Hiroshima.

Japanese and American documents dealing with the origins of the war, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the major battles of the Coral Sea, Midway Island, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and others, reveal an interesting perspective. 

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

Favorite Christmas Titles

I love Christmas stories and in the spirit of this season I wanted to share some of my favorites. These will be much-loved additions to the classics like Dicken's A Christmas Carol and the books previously listed in our Advent readings. Some of the titles are available for free online and I have provided links for those.

The Bird's Christmas Carol, available free online here, is a touching story by Kate Douglas Wiggin. It tells the story of a sickly little girl who choses to focus on the needs of those around her. This story is truly moving and will inspire everyone in your family to turn their focus outward this Christmas. 

The Lion in the Box by Marguerite de Angeli may be difficult to locate but if you can find a copy be sure to buy it! It's one you'll want to read each and every Christmas. It's the heartwarming story of a needy family and the love each one has for one another and their willingness to sacrifice. 

The Gift of the Magi by O'Henry, illustrated by Lizbeth Zwerger is one of those books that immediately takes me back to my childhood. This is probably my mom's favorite Christmas story and so has been a part of nearly all our Christmas celebrations. The story of generosity and love will bring tears to your eyes in the best possible way. And the illustrations by Zwerger add deeply to the story. I will never be able to separate this story from the gorgeous and emotive work of this talented artist. 

Christmas In My Heart Volume 3, edited and compiled by Joe Wheeler is a wonderful collection of holiday stories and one I highly recommend purchasing for your family. Tucked into its pages is Christmas Ballad for the Captain by William J. Lederer. Easily one of the stores I love best, this is sure to become a family favorite. If you are unable to find a copy of Christmas In My Heart, you can read Christmas Ballad for the Captain here

Henry Van Dyke's The Other Wise Man is a classic and one your family will grow to love. It can be read for free here, and there are many beautifully illustrated editions available for purchase.

Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon
In the midst of the horrific trenches of World War I, two groups of soldiers chose to embrace the better aspects of their nature and set aside suspicion, prejudice, and nationalistic pride to celebrate Christmas together. While the truce only lasted one evening, I love how it shows the power of our Savior's birth to draw all men unto the one who is the true Prince of Peace.

The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald
A perfect treasury of MacDonald's best-loved holiday stories these will transport you to Dickensian England and your family will fall in love with the interesting and colorful characters. I spent many hours reading these stories as a child. The version pictured above is no longer in print but you should be able to find used copies.

The setting is Olvera Street, the site of Los Angeles' original Latino settlement, which is still preserved very much as it once was - a busy and colorful Melange of small artisan shops, restaurants, and strolling musicians. Pedro tells of the community's Christmas tradition of the "posada", a procession that reenacts Mary and Joseph's pilgrimage to Bethlehem, and of the "pinata", a papier-mache vessel filled with toys that children break open at the Posada's end. Pedro hopes to find a music box among the toys that will spill out of the pinata. But first, he is asked to don the red wings of an angel and lead the procession. Because he not only is costumed like an angel but also sings like one, he is asked to lead the chorus in a traditional Posada song. Music and lyrics for the song are included, and with them children may create their own Posada pageant.

Greener Trees, a blog written by a homeschooling mom, provides a wonderful list of books for the 12 days of Christmas!
The Best Little Christmas Story blog is a compilation of all sorts of holiday poems and stories. 

We hope that in the bustle of this season you can take time to read together as a family. I know that the moments spent with the ones I love are those I remember most dearly. What books are part of your family's Christmas tradition? Do you have a story you have to read every year?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Books by Reading Level!

One of the great things about our Facebook page, this blog, and the BF Users Yahoo Group is that they provide opportunities for us to get to know you a bit better. It also gives you opportunities to point out things that we can change and improve. For instance, the latest change to our website was suggested by a Facebook fan and it's a great improvement. There is now a section on our website that lists individual titles by reading level. This is a great resource for people who are wanting to add books to their children's curriculum, those seeking the best books for their children to read, and those who are looking for great read-alouds. There are four sections corresponding to a range of reading levels. Within each section you'll find our favorite titles and we hope you find this helpful. Here's the links to each section.

Each section contains all the titles we carry for that particular reading level so you can choose books according to interest and historical period. We hope you find this useful and also want to encourage you to feel free to let us know how you think we can improve your experience. Whether it's suggestions for the website, the FB page, the blog, or our curriculums, we love hearing from you. Your input is very much appreciated as we seek to constantly improve your BFB experience.

In 1818 Illinois became the 21st state admitted to the union and in 1828 Andrew Jackson was elected as the seventh president.

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