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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.

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“Unless the Lord builds the house”

My wife gave me a “verse of the day” this morning — this isn’t habitual, and she had a slight grin on her face when she read it for me. But as she was reading Psalm 127:1-2, and as I was reflecting on it afterwards, this small act on her part was a beautiful picture of how God makes the husband-wife relationship one of necessary interdependence.

First, the passage: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.”

The revolutionary nature of this verse on where my heart has been cannot be overstated. It is good for us to labor–clearly, this verse supports that. However, it is fleeting, pointless, without lasting value, IF I do it apart from the simple belief that God, not me, will make the labor beneficial.

For example, when I sit down to grade a pile of essays, I am daunted. This is largely because I feel that my grading is the only factor that will impact my students’ writing. And, while I need to be ever pursuing a form of writing feedback that most benefits my students, I am not grading in a Christ-exalting way if I believe that my feedback effectiveness is the only factor that will impact my students. This is obvious in any school: some of the most technically sound writing feedback practices yield relatively small results, and some of the most technically unsound practices yield inordinately large results. There are factors at play in any classroom that are intangible; in my classroom, I must remind myself that that factor is and always has been God.

For the skeptic, this faith need not cause squirminess: what is the problem with a teacher who is dedicated to excellence, but who also does not suffer burn-out because he/she is not placing impossible pressure on him/herself? Such faith encourages the flourishing of both student and teacher.

Fire Up Speaker Notes

Hello amazing, inspiring future teachers of America,

Here is a link to my speaker notes — no promises that they are pretty or that I touched on all or anything contained within them!

 

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.

Tim Keller Article Notes — “Lloyd-Jones on the Problem of Preaching”

In a March blog post at Redeemer City to City titled, “Lloyd-Jones on the Problem of Preaching,” Tim Keller has begun a discussion on D. M. Lloyd Jones’ book of lectures Preaching and Preachers. If you are someone who admires Keller, you’ll be interested to note that he attributes this book as an influence and a help in shaping the preacher he is today. Several things stood out to me from Keller’s introductory comments on the book:

  • Lecturing in 1969, Lloyd-Jones addressed trends in Britain that have been visible in America over the past decade; in general, folks were concerned about the value of preaching. Could preaching God’s Word really reach modern people who had televisions and a general distrust for orators?
    • The internet has us asking and experimenting with the same question today.
    • As a public school teacher, I hear a question along the same vein being asking amongst my colleagues: how do we reach students in the internet age?
  • Lloyd-Jones then went on to discuss the various ways that churches were proposing to address this alleged fall in the primacy of the pulpit:
    • Modifying preaching by making it more showy (more appeal to the emotions, more story-telling) or adding new media to it (in Lloyd-Jones’ time, that was TV and radio; now it’s a slew of digital media).
    • Making artistic expression the centerpiece of worship, rather than preaching.
    • Greater emphasis on social justice.
    • Disbanding from centralized congregations and becoming smaller, multi-voice pockets of Christians.

Isn’t it amazing how these observations, made in 1969, could easily be made today? I’ve only been a Christian for half a decade, but I’ve seen or heard of examples of all of the above proposed changes L-J saw in the contemporary church in Europe.

There’s nothing new under the sun, right?

A Call to the Weak, not the Perfect

I spent all last summer writing and re-writing these cover letters to go on top of my resume. The thing is, when you write one of these, you don’t exactly highlight the mediocre moments of your career. You emphasize awards, accomplishments, publications, abilities, obstacles.

You don’t mention that almost every day either you got yelled at by a student, or you yelled at one. You don’t mention that getting a Rookie of the Year award testifies more to how generous your friends are than to how good your teaching is. You don’t highlight how each day you began on your knees begging God to do something–anything–to rescue you and your students and your school, because you had no clue what else to do.

Nope, you’ve gotta simplify your story for a cover letter. You’ve gotta turn the Thanksgiving dinner of reality into a five-piece chicken nugget. And you better make it tasty.

Lemme tell ya, when you write enough of those cover letters, your memories start to transform into those chicken nuggets. You forget the hours spent on the phone with parents, many of whom were unhappy, some of whom yelled; the restaurant nights with groups of students, when they often would misbehave or show ingratitude; the miles from dropping that one kid off every day who just happened to live the furthest he possibly could from the school, and your inability to reach him despite the time investment. And you forget just how many times it was only God, answering those desperate prayers, who turned your bumbling lessons from the acorns they were to the oak trees they became.

You lose grip on how weak you are, and how perfectly that weakness works for God. You forget what God meant when he said, “My grace is sufficient. My power is made perfect in weakness,” and you forget how Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

No, you forget the reality of how weak you are. You begin looking at weakness like it’s a sin. You become this self-righteous Pharisee. And then, all of sudden, your weakness becomes a boogey man that you have to run from.

And that’s how I entered this past school year–trying to cover up the many weaknesses that I bring to teaching. I was trying to live out that surreal “cover letter” Dave Stuart, that package for the purchasing. I attempted to catch up to my new peers, who seemed all to have read ten times the teaching research I had. I tried their strategies, failed, tried again, usually failed again.

Yet, slowly, I grew. Because of the stellar nature of my colleagues and the relatively agreeable make-up of the students I now teach, my professional growth over the past year has been unprecedented. I’ve read more than one teaching book. Barely.

But God only lets you run away from your weakness for so long. Eventually, he takes your hand, and he walks you over to it, and he reminds you, Son, it’s important for you to work hard, but if you keep acting like you’re so strong, you’re gonna lose touch with reality. Your heart will be so brittle that, when you inevitably do mess up, you’ll either avoid the truth of it, or you’ll snap.

That’s kinda what he did to me yesterday. I’ve been teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to Sophomores, and lately, our discussions and close readings have grown stale. So, I read about this strategy in my one teaching book that prescribed giving students a packet of articles on a topic in the novel you’re reading. I stayed after school and dug up articles that in any way could be related to Harper Lee’s book–remember the Jena 6? the Duke Lacrosse scandal? the Katrina controversy? how about the Matthew Shepard murder?–hoping that, instead of seeing prejudice as a merely black-white, that-was-then-this-is-now issue, that students would grapple with the complexity of cases that had happened within their lifetimes.

By the time the lesson was over, I had seen some promising things. Student groups had been mature enough to handle their articles with appropriate sobriety, and some students had even vocalized profound questions like, “Where did prejudice come from?” Yet, most had not asked such questions. Most of the presentations needed me to step in and clarify major misunderstandings.

And as I was reflecting on this lesson, about to lament how poorly I had planned yet again, a friend sent me an email, in which he mentioned, “Whatever we discuss about education, the bottom line is that we answered God’s calling to teach and He directed… [and] used… us to accomplish His work in the lives of others….  It still amazes me that He can do that–use this imperfect person to glorify Him in the public school system.”

That was what I was missing: an acknowledgment that the greatness of my teaching career will come not from how good my lessons are but from how able God is to fill in the cracks I leave. Don’t misread me: this doesn’t mean I get to stop trying my hardest to become an excellent teacher. It just means that I no longer have to work to prove myself; it means that I can actually boast in my weakness, like Paul did, because when I try my hardest and still fall short, my identity isn’t threatened, because it doesn’t come from my success in the classroom; it comes from a God who died for me.

So, I’m gonna continue to work hard at my calling, even when the heartaches and headaches come. But, thanks to God, now I can stop running from being weak; now I can stop living in a chicken nugget dreamworld. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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I pray that this piece will help you to use the gospel to look at your weaknesses at work without being threatened.