Former Marquez Teacher Releases First Book, Revealing and Explaining Inaccuracies of ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’ Poem
By SPENCER JUNG | Intern
Jeff Lantos, a former fifth-grade teacher at Marquez Charter Elementary School, is on to his next adventure: His first book, “Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride,” was released at the start of August.
The book, published by Charlesbridge Publishing, is about the famous 1860 poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Inspired by a curious Marquez fifth-grade student who asked Lantos if Longfellow’s poem was accurate, Lantos said he wrote “Why Longfellow Lied” to expose the historical inaccuracies from Longfellow’s poem, explain why Longfellow wrote the poem the way he did and tell the real story of Paul Revere’s ride. He believed it is important for students to be able to distinguish between history and poetic whimsy.
“This is especially true today,” Lantos said, adding that “teaching the mythology and the poetry are fine, as long as students see where it veers from the historical record.”
In 2009, Lantos was given a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to research cartography at the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois. Once in Chicago, Lantos was able to gather information that contradicted Longfellow’s writing. Within the book are pictures, paintings and scrolls that contain relevant information.
After multiple drafts and cutting out redundant words, Lantos got in contact with an agent from Charlesbridge, with the help of a former student’s father. Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, reached back to Lantos with positive news that she liked the book’s idea.
The process of publishing the book was not easy: “Publishing a first book is like getting over a huge wall without a ladder,” Lantos admitted.
After three additional years of rewrites, Lantos finally submitted his final draft, which ended the writing phase and started the design phase. Lantos praised the work of the design team, referring to the layout and artwork of the book as “adding a visual dimension to the story.”
Lantos encouraged anyone interested in American history and over 10 years old to read the book.
One of the many lessons one can learn by reading “Why Longfellow Lied” is the colonial alarm system, which consisted of about 30 riders. Even before British soldiers arrived in Cambridge, news of the invasion spread more than 40 miles to the New Hampshire border as a result of the system.
Many colonists in the Massachusetts countryside became so active that British officers urged the commander to call off the invasion. As history states, however, that was the last thing the commander had in mind.
Known as “Mr. L” by his students, Lantos taught full time for 28 years, with 22 of those years at Marquez. In 1988, Lantos started his career teaching sixth grade at Hancock Park Elementary School. When Los Angeles Unified School District voted to implement sixth grade into middle schools, Lantos joined Marquez and taught fifth grade.
“Best career move I ever made,” he said.
During his years of teaching, Lantos estimated that he taught around 2,000 different students, sharing that one of his favorite parts about teaching is “seeing kids smile or laugh during a lesson or during a rehearsal for one of our musicals.”
The musicals are shows Lantos wrote about major historical occasions such as the Constitutional Convention, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Lowell mill girls. Fifth-graders at Marquez have performed these plays for decades, doing so to make memories with their classmates and teachers while also learning American history by integrating performing arts.
“Such a program makes music an integral part of a child’s education,” Lantos explained. “I’ve long believed that music is a vital, joyous, cost-efficient and under-utilized teaching tool. Any student who learns by performing history [rather than just reading about it] is likely to absorb the content more quickly and retain it longer.”
With the use of his musicals, Lantos said he considers his greatest accomplishments as a teacher to be motivating introverted or students with special needs to take challenging acting roles and become a critical part of a team.
“I feel I’ve changed lives because I’ve instilled in students an interest or a love that wasn’t there before,” Lantos stated.
Although he retired from teaching when the class of 2016 graduated, Lantos continued to be involved part-time at Marquez by giving lessons on American history and directing the performing history program.
For his book, Lantos has spoken on a number of podcasts, including one with Publisher’s Weekly.
Charlesbridge has already bought Lantos’ next book, “Radar and the Raft,” which is about the invention of the radar and its role in saving an American family.
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