Former history teacher Stan Ellsworth tours the country on a Harley Davidson for unconventional documentary television show “American Ride.”
“When you watch most history shows, you’ll notice that their spokesman – the talking head of history, if you will – is normally a scholarly gentleman that’s in a sweater vest and bow tie and is going to discuss with you in academic terms what happened,” Ellsworth said on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-2 onetime stunt man and TV show host obviously doesn’t fit that mold.
“We’re giving everybody – kids, young people – a chance to listen,” he said.
“This character breaks down the stereotype just long enough for them to pay attention, then they’re hooked.”
Ellsworth was in town to tour the Delaware River-docked USS Olympia for Season 5 of ByuTV’s weekly show, which will cover the Gilded Age through the Roaring 20s.
“The Olympia is one of the first American steel battleships,” he said.
“She’s actually the first ship to fire on a foreign enemy, in the American steel navy. This is the last vestige of a bygone era. All the other ships have been sold for scrap or sunk to make a reef.”
No stranger to the City of Brotherly Love, the pilot episode of “American Ride” was shot at Valley Forge and has in the past also visited Independence Hall.
“We’re pretty much unscripted so we don’t use any notes, we don’t have a board or a teleprompter – we don’t use that,” Ellsworth said.
“Really what I’m doing is teaching the history of America from the notes I had as a teacher,” he said.
“It’s just that finally I’m in a classroom that’s big enough for me.”
Still, Ellsworth said he’s careful not to emulate what he calls the “Ferris Bueller”-like classes he endured as a child.
“Education isn’t something you can give somebody,” he said.
“It’s something that people have to take for themselves. So if we get people interested, they say, ‘Now I want to know more,’ we did our jobs. We got their minds engaged in the subject matter.”
And there’s plenty of matter to engage minds of all ages, as in Ellsworth’s view, history is not a stale and static relic, but a breathing text with plenty of wisdom to confer on those who study it.
“I think that the number one lesson from all this is being actively involved in our political system – at the local level, at the state level, at the national level – is part of who we are,” he said.
“Too many times people say, ‘Well, my vote doesn’t count,’ and it does. Not just because of the counting of the votes and who goes into office, but it’s that we kept the covenant. We’ve kept our commitment to the people that sacrificed and gave so much that we could have our freedoms.
“We said, ‘We took advantage of the rights that you protected for us’ – and that reaches all the way back to 1776 and it will reach forward as long as there’s an American Republic – ‘We did our part. We took advantage of this freedom that we had and we tried to make a better world for those who came after.’ That’s the lesson we want people to learn.”