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Van der Veer

Van der Veer

"You are supposed to be teaching business," my wife said to me when I talked about the rough outline of what follows.

I said, "I do teach business, but in my own way. Any professor would tell you (that) in higher education we teach students to think, analyze and put knowledge together in new ways. It is not just memorizing stuff for the test. I try to put material in their brains that can pop out later when needed."

So, let us go into my class and watch what happens. Just this week I showed a photo of this classy woman. Her huge hat is really striking and gives the photo a 1910 look. Her name was Anne Van der Veer; she was my great-grandmother, the wife of Carson Hamill (my namesake), in Terre Haute.

Tell me a story

Her birthday was May 26 and in 1896, she is pregnant with my grandmother. Where might this be going? Well, May 26, 1896, was the very first day of the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the Dow. It closed at 40 points that day. Think if you had been in from the beginning. The story is fun and it gives a hook in the brain, as we look to the future from where we have come.

I visited a small state park just west of Cairo. Holding onto a branch, I put my foot into the water. My big toe was in the Ohio and the little one in the Mississippi. I looked out in awe, just as Mark Twain described in "Huckleberry Finn." The blue Ohio swirled into the muddy Mississippi as these great rivers merged. Come on! The class is supposed to teach business, not literature. But a bit of culture will not hurt, because 2018 is the Illinois bicentennial. The early population came down the Ohio with a southern twang, and up the Wabash, Mississippi, Illinois and the Sangamon (for Abe Lincoln). John Deere gave us the steel plow to turn over the soil but there is no big business if we cannot get that corn and soybeans to market. Those awesome rivers and rail do the job. All knowledge is interconnected. Discovering the connections moves us ahead.

Years have passed, but the O.J. saga remains useful. A jury of 12 ordinary people found reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Europeans trust experts; we Americans do not. That said, another jury later found him liable for wrongful death of those two individuals. The strong images teach about the jury system, criminal versus civil.

President Trump’s proposed border wall is an unprecedented teaching opportunity. I have looked across another wall in Berlin and saw family on the wrong side. Of the 1,500 miles of Rio Grande border, 90 percent of the riverfront is in private hands. 

Our legal heritage begins in 1066, when William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England. He leased land out to his followers. Property rights developed over the centuries but the crown or state remained the ultimate owner. 

Our Bill of Rights, among other things, says “nor shall private property be taken for public purpose without just compensation.” Who decides what is just? Back to sixth-grade civics and separation of powers: the executive can make an offer but a Texas jury would decide what the riverfront is worth.

Why not build it in the river, which the government already owns? Nope; a treaty with Mexico says the river and its flood plain are off-limits to building.

We can give President Trump a chance to be a good guy. Take a page from Richard Nixon: in the 1950s, we saw Communist China as a vile enemy that should be ostracized and isolated. Nixon was foremost in pushing this view. Then in 1972, Nixon opened the door to a country that annually buys $10 billion of Midwest soybeans. Their journey to China begins on those above-mentioned rivers. It is still said, “Only Nixon could go to China.” 

Today the issue is immigration. I feel — for all the noise — the majority of Americans are close to agreeing we really do not want to see massive roundups. But we want to control our borders, which means airports more than river and desert. For legal immigration, probably most of us lean more toward talent over collateral relatives. Did you know the average foreign tourist spends 16 days here and spends over $4,000? Show them the Empire State Building, Route 66 and the Grand Canyon. Some will overstay, but think of the easy money for us. Only Trump could lead us to reason on this issue.

Homework is part of school, so here is yours: Read Isaiah 40:4 in the bible and then listen to it set to music by Handel in his “Messiah.” Next, answer this question: Why would ancient people have felt Central Illinois was pretty much like heaven?

The bell is about to ring, so class is dismissed. Remember to keep looking for those connections.

Carson Varner is a professor of finance, insurance and law at Illinois State University.


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