Book Review: A History of US (Vol. 1): The First Americans

“It is always easy to do and thinks as everyone else does. And here we are, at one of the most important reasons for studying history: to learn from the mistakes of others” (98). So writes Joy Hakim in her first installment of an 11-book series called A History of US. In the chapter quoted, Hakim goes on to ask, “[The explorers] meant to do good. Many people told them they were doing good. Does that excuse them? Does it make a difference to the victim? Is it right to force others to believe as you do? Is it possible?” (99).

These are heady questions for any reader, but the fact that they are posed in language that a 9-year old can comprehend makes this an incredibly thoughtful, rigorous, and important US History text.

In A History of US: The First Americans, readers will find unbiased, white-wash-free accounts of the people and places of United States history from prehistory to 1600. Though sure to disappoint teachers in search of textbooks that perfectly align to state standards, broken down into chapters and sections and subsections with an accompanying set of worksheets, this book is an incredible resource for any history classroom dedicated to authentic historical work.

The First Americans is broken into 39 article-style chapters, each of which is rife images of primary sources. In every chapter, Hakim invites curiosity, discussion, and even debate–in other words, this material encourages the flow of the lifeblood of any history classroom.

In the book’s initial chapter, “Why History?”, Hakim reveals her book’s theme:

I believe the United States of America is the most remarkable nation that has ever existed. No other nation, in the history of the world, has ever provided so much freedom, so much justice, and so much opportunity to so many people.

Characteristically, Hakim immediately follows her theme by saying, “That is a big statement. You don’t have to agree with it. Arguing with a book’s theme is okay” (10).

Because of its constant invitation to debates, its honest look at history, its probing questions, its quality prose, and its extensive use of primary documents, I will be heavily drawing from and promoting this book in my ninth grade humanities classroom.


Book Review: Doing Virtuous Business, by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

  • Thomas Nelson
  • March 2011
  • 176 pp.

Recommended. An intellectually stimulating treatment of the centrality of virtue in the workings of business.

If you’re interested in the intersections of faith and work, and if you enjoy a good romp through a business book every now and then, you’ll like Theodore Roosevelt Malloch’s Doing Virtuous Business: The Remarkable Success of Spiritual Enterprise.

First of all, however, you need to know that this isn’t a gospel-centered book. I love books that are explicit about how the gospel changes everything in life, from the way we live at home to the way we conduct ourselves in secular jobs. Yet, Malloch doesn’t spend time explicating the centrality of the gospel to the realms of business and economics. Instead, in the book’s introductory matter Malloch clarifies who he is and who he is writing for:

I write as a committed Christian, but what I say does not reflect a narrow or specifically sectarian Christian theology. Throughout the book I draw examples of virtue and spiritual enterprise from other faiths, and I heartily believe that spiritual enterprise is often conducted from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other perspectives, and that every religion and spiritual tradition offers blueprints for building spiritual capital in its own distinctive way.

While I do appreciate Malloch’s honesty–he abandons ambiguity and seeks to clarify his purpose and approach–the universal flavor of some sections of the book limits its effectiveness for Christians.

However, I still recommend Malloch’s book if one has a capacity for discernment and an eye for the goodness of God. Doing Virtuous Business is an intelligent testament to the biblical truth that God is the center and creator of all reality. Just as God made the physical world with governing principles like gravity, relativity, and atomic structure, there are principles that make up the fabric of moral reality. These principles, when applied to business, naturally create what Malloch calls spiritual capital. Upon developing this concept, Malloch spends the remainder of Doing Virtuous Business exemplifying how virtues like faith, honesty, gratitude, perseverance, compassion, and more create viable capitalistic enterprise.

For Christians who view wealth and capitalism as intrinsically against the gospel, Malloch will give you a healthy, biblical challenge. For those who work in the business world outside of the Christian bubble, you’ll find this book a refreshing and engaging look at why God’s ways work in the workplace. And for any public school teachers out there, there is plenty of useful food for thought in Doing Virtuous Business.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The Intellectual Devotional: American History, by David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim

  • Rodale
  • October 2007
  • 368 pp.

Recommended. An engaging, manageable, and well-organized source of daily readings in American history.

As some of you know, I’ve been given an exciting teaching assignment for next fall: World History and US History since Reconstruction. Though this news made me excited for the opportunity to teach in a new discipline, it also immediately brought to mind a humbling reality: I haven’t taken a history class in years! For this reason and others, I was excited when the folks at Rodale agreed to send a review copy of The Intellectual Devotional: American History: Revive Your Mind, Complete Your Education, and Converse Confidently about Our Nation’s Past.

One reason I enjoy TID:AH so much is that it’s simply been an enjoyable way to relearn US History. Organized like a daily devotional, TID:AH covers a different person, place, event, or term each day. The first paragraph of each entry effectively summarizes the importance of the day’s topic (for example, “World War I” or “American Imperialism” or “Langston Hughes”), and the remaining paragraphs, using a slightly smaller font, treat the subject in greater detail. And, for the true historical trivia buffs, there’s also a trio of interesting facts at the bottom of each day’s entry–more often than not, I find myself underlining at least one of these.

However, the format wouldn’t help much if Kidder and Oppenheim were shoddy historians; thankfully, they are far from it. It’s amazing how well the authors treat a person like “Theodore Roosevelt” or a topic like “The Military Industrial Complex” in such small space. TID:AH contains efficient, engaging prose that keeps a reader flipping the pages.

I enjoy reading this book as a Christian because it allows me to see American History through a fairly balanced lens. Of the Christians I came across in the book–for example, there is an entry on Williams Jennings Bryan–I found a refreshing lack of bias either for or against the man. Additionally, for those characters who are decidedly non-Christian–Victoria Woodhull, for example–the authors take an equally non-slanted approach. This even-keeled approach to history allows the reader to prayerfully consider each day’s topic, learning from both its praiseworthy and shameful aspects. In an age when pundits reign over the airwaves and preach their own versions of American history, the Christian thinker will benefit from the approach taken by TID:AH.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

What Do You Do When You Hear of Spectacular Student Sins?

Whether you teach on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or within the city limits of Baltimore or along a cornfield in Smallville, USA, you are bound to hear occasional reports of the self-destructive doings of your secondary students. I hate it when it happens, but, if you’re paying attention to your kids and seeking to know them better, you’re bound to come across reports of  students you love hacking away at their souls with pre-marital sex, substance abuse, or other foolish deeds. Yet, when we do, what should we do with this information?

One option is to ignore it. “I’m not a counselor,” we might rightly say, and then we move on with our instructional duties. This is true; we aren’t counselors. But, as Christians, we have the Wonderful Counselor residing within us; we have a constant communication link to the counselor who makes the most highly-paid counselors of our era seem like doddering fools. I don’t think that, as Christians, with access to the infinitely wise Creator of our students, we can simply ignore reports like these, though it surely may be a way to protect ourselves from emotionally draining information.

Another option is to laugh to ourselves or with a colleague. “These kids,” we might say. Using humor to cover up the intense hurt that our students are doing to themselves is just another form of self-protection.

A common option in these situations is to gossip about it. Gossip is the telling of unpleasant truths. Any time we share information about a student’s self-destructive exploits with someone besides the student or someone who can help the child, we gossip. Alarmingly, I find myself participating in this far too often. Just like the previous options, this is a form of self-protection. By telling someone, I get it off my chest.

Ultimately, this is a moral decision that cannot be joyfully made apart from the Gospel. Christ makes moral decisions both incredibly easy and infinitely challenging. He tells us that the first law is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We go to God with these disturbing tales; we seek and receive true comfort from our talks with Him, not the counterfeit comfort that comes with the thrill of sharing a dirty secret with a colleague. And the second command, Christ says, is similar: we are to love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

But our students are not our neighbors… right? Asking “Who is my neighbor?” in response to Christ’s second command is as old as the command itself—and Christ responds with the parable of the good Samaritan, which effectively says, “The person right in front of you is your neighbor, whether they are of the same class, job, status, gender, or whathaveyou.” Our students are our neighbors, and we are to love them as we would want to be loved if we were them.

So, when we hear these secrets and are tempted to either ignore them or divulge them to colleagues, we can simply “put ourselves in their shoes.” If we were the student, making similarly terrible decisions, yet knowing deep down that these decisions were destroying us, what would we want done? First of all, I wouldn’t want someone to ignore or laugh about it; at least, deep down I wouldn’t. And second, I certainly wouldn’t want it spread around fruitlessly. What good would all of my teachers knowing my sin do for me? Nothing except do what I find teacher gossip most often does: create a tiny voice in the teacher’s head that says, “That student is unreachable. Move on to someone else.”

No, I wouldn’t want that. Instead, knowing what I know now, I’d want two things: first, for the teacher to pray for me; second, for the teacher to prayerfully pull me aside and ask me how things were going, perhaps even confronting me in a humble-bold manner.

The next time we hear of a stomach-churning, debaucherous deed done by one of our students, let’s put off the temptation to ignore it or laugh about it or gossip, instead turning to God with joy that we are able to be part of the redemptive work that Christ’s infinitely powerful blood and resurrection have made possible.

What do you do in these situations? What do you do when a colleague comes to you and begins gossiping about a student’s sin?

Three Passions all Teachers Must Possess

To teach well, three passions must exist in the heart of an educator:

  1. A passion for the content, be it English or Math or History or Science or Physical Education.
  2. A passion for students–one must enjoy and care about the people one aims to teach.
  3. A passion for the art of teaching–a perpetual researcher, a perpetual seeker of better and more effective ways to teach.

Problems arise when one of these is missing or out of order:

  1. When content is your sole passion, you tend to blame the students for not loving it. You become less and less able to comprehend why students aren’t excited the second they see Shakespeare or quadratic formulas or owl pellets. Sometimes, you may believe that you simply aren’t passionate enough about the particular unit you are teaching, so you may make changes to the unit that undermine the overall school’s goal of having a shared curriculum.
  2. When students are your sole passion, you become frustrated when they, who you care so much about, do not seem to care about the content you teach. They are happy to call you friend, but they merely bear with your insistence on teaching them. Slowly, you can begin to think that what is most important for the students is your relationship with them, not the content or thinking skills you have to teach them.
  3. When the art of teaching is your sole passion, you can become addicted to change. A hurricane of factors come together to tempt teachers and districts to worship innovation for innovation’s sake: the slew of research being done each year, the loads of money that publishers and educational consultants make each year by selling a new silver bullet, and the few teachers who yearly pull out the same worksheets and lesson plans with no desire whatsoever to  adapt to research-based strategies.

Obviously, I don’t hold this trinity of passions as the highest necessary loves of a teacher: above them all must be the Gospel. When Christ’s death on our behalf is the teacher’s central unifying principle, he is able to make his passion for his content subservient to the needs of his school; she is able to love students even when they are difficult to love; he is able to change his teaching when sound research supports such change.

Parent-Teacher Conferences and the Goodness of God

When I woke up this morning, I grumbled in my heart: it was conference day, and I knew that meant I wouldn’t be leaving work until 7pm. Do you ever have meetings at work that require you to stay late?

Well, during mine tonight, God gave me some grace to see a lot of blessings, despite having to be at work and away from my family for longer than I would have chosen. Mostly, these blessings centered around the opportunity conferences give me to get to know people better.

Meeting my students’ parents is always a privilege. It is fun to see the physical resemblances, and it is a joy to complement parents on the positive attributes I notice in their children. Also, it’s nice to get to talk to fellow staff members during the down time.

Anyways, I guess what I’m trying to say is, God is good! Even in those mandatory meetings that require us to work later hours sometimes, He is sovereign, and, as a Father who is constantly parenting us, there are opportunities for thanksgiving and growth in every situation.

May we grow in joy at our jobs, and may that joy make us better at what we do.

What Does Jesus Do with our Biggest, Nastiest Work-Related Problems?

In Mark 5, a synagogue leader (Jairus) comes to Jesus desperate for the healing of his ailing daughter. The young girl is on the brink of death, and Jairus knows that Jesus is the last hope. Yet, on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus apparently fails to see the urgency of Jairus’ daughter’s condition, because he stops and has a conversation with a healed woman. When they finally arrive at the house, Jesus claims that the girl is asleep (although everyone there knows that she is literally, physically dead). He goes into her and says what translates as, “Honey, get up.”

Tim Keller, while writing about the incident with Jairus’ daughter, says,

“Jesus is facing death, the most implacable, inexorable enemy of the human race and such is his power that he holds this child by the hand and gently lifts her right up through it. ‘Honey, get up.’ Jesus is saying by his actions, ‘If I have you by the hand, death itself is nothing but sleep.’

–Tim Keller, King’s Cross, p. 68

In this incident, we see several lessons to take with us to work:

1. If Jesus’ power so overwhelms death, it is our greatest resource on the job. As Christians, we are to strive toward excellence with every atom God has given us. Yet, problems will relentlessly arise in our tasks, our relationships, and our circumstances. We will have great idols to overthrow both within and outside of ourselves. No amount of human excellence will ever conquer death, and no amount of your excellence will ever conquer all of the problems you encounter in your job. In matters big and small, we must seek the master of death. Where we see death, he sees a mere nap. Where we see a mountain, he sees a pebble to be tossed into the sea. As Christians, we have access to the only infinite power in the universe.

2. God’s timetable isn’t our own. Jairus (and any of us who don’t know the end result of this event) could only have been mortified by Jesus’ lack of hurry. However, ultimately Jairus got much more than even he asked for–he got his daughter AND a deeper glimpse at the magnitude of Christ’s power. Jesus wasn’t just a healer–he was the killer of death.

3. The gospel is that Jesus makes death a mere nap for us by experiencing the fullness of its desolation and destruction in our place. This good news, if we repeat it to ourselves throughout our workday, if we pray that God will make it the beat of our heart, will utterly destroy the moralistic, legalistic, self-righteous, love-earning mentalities that Christians too often become infamous for in the secular workplace. Jesus Christ suffered every iota of death’s poisonous sting so that we don’t have to. Not a lick of our performance at work made his death any less bitter, any less toxic, any less complete. He died. He went to hell. For us. For our failures. For our weaknesses.

Now we can go to work alive. Successful through the redemption of our failures. Strong through the awareness and acknowledgement of our weakness.