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Interview With Author Jeremy S. Adams: Lessons in Liberty

Author Jeremy S. Adams is a schoolteacher in Bakersfield, California, and his students are his greatest inspiration. He has witnessed how students in his classroom often become discouraged by what they see as the nation becomes increasingly divided between the liberal and conservative split. He hopes his new book Lessons in Liberty inspires his students and the broader general public to move forward with integrity. The story highlights how 10 of the greatest Americans of our time navigated life to improve their communities and the country as a whole. A conversation with Jeremy reveals his patriotism - he hopes his book will be aspirational for readers to carve a path for a brighter future.


Tell us a bit about your background. It sounds like you have lived in Bakersfield for most of your life. How’s the area significant to you?

Yes, except for my college years in Virginia, I have spent my entire life in Bakersfield, California. It’s true Bakersfield is not lush; yes, it’s dusty and has terrible air. People like Johnny Carson used to make fun of us all the time. But the truth is it is a community that passionately supports its own. The citizens of Bakersfield assist one another, believe in one another, and celebrate our successes together. We can laugh at all the bad publicity we get. Without Bakersfield, I never would have found the writing success I have been able to find. My colleagues at the high school where I teach, my amazing former students, local bookstores, the Bakersfield media, and the local university have all been instrumental in helping me find a national audience for my writing.

Tell us about your career path from schoolteacher to published author. 

About 10-15 years into a teaching career, most teachers decide they want a new professional chapter—maybe they want to leap into administration, create a new club on campus, or participate in professional development. I decided to take a path fraught with endless rejection and failure, the path of professional writing.

I am an unapologetic romantic of language. Books and authors from the past have magically transformed my life in ways that are difficult to describe. And when a person feels this way about words and ideas, when you feel your inner soul touched and transformed by writers from long ago, you begin to dream about the power of your own words and ideas. I realized there is a potent and powerful yearning for insight in our culture and country about what is happening in American classrooms and in the lives of American students. As a teacher, I stand at a privileged intersection of parenting and politics while also dealing with the complications of technology and vast cultural changes. My fellow teachers and I see things earlier than anybody else. Much of my writing is about spotlighting what non-educators need to see and understand. I never imagined an ordinary schoolteacher would be published in places like Newsweek, LA Times, and the New York Post, much less given a contract to publish the book of my dreams with a big-five publisher. I still have to pinch myself.

What inspired you to write Lessons in Liberty: Thirty Rules for Living from Ten Extraordinary Americans?

When a person has taught as long as I have, you notice when there are sudden or dramatic changes in the students. In the last few years, our students have profoundly changed—in the way they look at their nation, in the way they look at their own lives, and in the crisis of mental health as endless anxiety and loneliness stalks the lives of our children. Forty percent of Gen Z’ers believe the Founders were “villains.” Half of 18 to 24-year-olds have considered suicide. A third of the nation is broadly unhappy with their own lives.

I wrote this book because it is painfully apparent that we all need help living better lives. We need more inspiration. We have enough entertainment, digital scrolling, and frivolity. We need inspiring stories from men and women who know how to use their freedom meaningfully. We don’t need to give in to cynicism, especially when we can be uplifted and entertained by the ten Americans I write about in the book.


What are the key takeaways from the book? 

There are two key points I hope readers will take away. First, there is never a wrong time in life to become a better version of yourself—no matter how successful or old or worn out or confident we may feel. Life can always be better and bigger and more enchanting. Secondly, and most importantly, while we all have a right to freedom, we must be taught how to use our liberty meaningfully. As a teacher, my most cherished conviction is that we learn by example and by the voices in our lives. What better way to improve our lives than by listening to the greatest Americans who have ever lived? Their successes can become our inspiration.     

How can people apply the lessons to their everyday life?

Emulation is the most expedient path toward improvement. By reading about these ten Americans, we can authentically be like them—their ideas can become our ideas, wisdom our wisdom, and their inspiration can spur our achievements. The Founders were endlessly fascinated by a Greek historian named Plutarch, who wrote about the lives of famous Greeks and Romans. This is why George Washington was so influenced by Marcus Cato; John Adams loved Marcus Cicero, and Alexander Hamilton admired Julius Caesar. They absorbed the virtues of these men and women from thousands of years earlier and made them their own. This is the same hope I have for Lessons in Liberty, which I describe as an Americanized version of Plutarch. I genuinely believe that by learning the stories of people like George Washington, Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and all the others, we can learn to become better versions of ourselves, just as the founders did with the Ancient Greeks and Romans.   

Is there a particular audience you hope to reach?

This book is absolutely for everyone. Young and old. Rich and poor. Liberal and conservative. Each American I write about offers three practical lessons for living a better life. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s advice to embrace the spirit of the Renaissance by being as well-rounded as possible applies to everyone. President Abraham Lincoln’s advice that ideals are more important than ambitions help all of us to assume a healthy posture of humility. Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lesson about always having friends with different political opinions is especially relevant today. Some lessons are broad, while others are very specific, but all of them can be applied to our lives, no matter who we are.     

Of the ten extraordinary Americans you highlighted, which one did you enjoy writing about the most?

Having taught political science for a quarter of a century, I knew much about men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. However, I genuinely enjoyed the research and writing on more modern American figures like Daniel Inouye and Arthur Ashe the most. Both men were towering in their power and personal character. And yet, they were flawed. They had their foibles, tragedies, and mistakes, which doesn’t make them less worthy of admiration but more worthy of emulation. When people read their chapters, the first thing they say is, “Why didn’t I learn more about them in school? Everyone should know these stories.” I agree!   

Tell us about the previous books you have written. Are you planning on writing additional books in the near future?

I wrote a few books on professional development for teachers. But my break was my last book, published in 2021, Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation. So many of the things we have been talking about the last year or so in our country—the addiction to cell phones and the monomania of social media usage, the inability to read and write and have conversations, the disinterest in dating and marriage and even sexual relationships, the political cynicism—were realities I was warning about three years ago. The book was a warning. Lessons in Liberty is my attempt to explain what we can do about it. Our personal and political problems might feel unique, but they aren’t. We’ve been here before so let’s listen to the people who know the way out.

If this book can find a broad audience, I would love to write a follow-up book. Narrowing it down to just ten Americans was so difficult—by far the hardest editorial choice. I would love to write about more extraordinary Americans and more of their lessons in liberty.

Jeremy S. Adams believes the best way to become better is by emulation. He hopes readers will take away modern and practical ways to live better lives by looking at some of the simple life choices the greatest Americans made, revealing their heroism and humanity. Lessons in Liberty is author Jeremy S. Adams fifth book. He has also been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and New York Post.


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