Teaching Tolkien’s “Leaf By Niggle”

Yesterday I tweeted:

Several of you have asked me about how I teach Leaf by Niggle. Here is a piece I published here last year:

Yesterday in Created and Called for Community (CCC) we read and discussed J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle.” Here is a summary of the plot from Wikipedia:

In this story, an artist, named Niggle, lives in a society that does not value art. Working only to please himself, he paints a canvas of a great Tree with a forest in the distance. He invests each and every leaf of his tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every leaf uniquely beautiful. Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single vast embodiment of his vision.

However, there are many mundane chores and duties that prevent Niggle from giving his work the attention it deserves, so it remains incomplete and is not fully realised.

At the back of his head, Niggle knows that he has a great trip looming, and he must pack and prepare his bags.

Also, Niggle’s next door neighbour, a gardener named Parish, frequently drops by asking for various forms of help. Parish is lame and has a sick wife and genuinely needs help. Niggle, having a good heart, takes time out to help—but he is also reluctant because he would rather work on his painting. Niggle has other pressing work duties as well that require his attention. Then Niggle himself catches a chill doing errands for Parish in the rain.

Eventually, Niggle is forced to take his trip, and cannot get out of it. He has not prepared, and as a result ends up in a kind of institution, in which he must perform menial labour each day. Back at the home to which he cannot return, Niggle’s painting is abandoned, used to patch a damaged roof, and all but destroyed (except for the one perfect leaf of the story’s title, which is placed in the local museum).

In time, Niggle is paroled from the institution, and he is sent to a place “for a little gentle treatment”. He discovers that this new place is the country of the Tree and Forest of his great painting. This place is the true realisation of his vision, not the flawed and incomplete version in his painting.

Niggle is reunited with his old neighbour, Parish, who now proves his worth as a gardener, and together they make the Tree and Forest even more beautiful. Finally, Niggle journeys farther and deeper into the Forest, and beyond into the great Mountains that he only faintly glimpsed in his painting.

Long after both Niggle and Parish have taken their journeys, the lovely place that they created together becomes a destination for many travelers to visit before their final voyage into the Mountains, and it earns the name “Niggle’s Parish”.

We read “Leaf by Niggle” as part of our ongoing discussion of creation and its implications for the way we live as Christians.  Tolkien’s short story is about the ongoing work of creation.  As women and men created in the image of God we are called to participate in God’s creative work. In John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens he called Christians to the work of “co-creation.” (Tolkien used the term “sub-creation” to describe something similar).  We can view Niggle’s painting as his imperfect attempt at co-creation.  As inhabitants of a broken world scarred by sin, our efforts to create will always be imperfect.  Our finest art cannot express all the beauty of God’s holiness.  Throughout our discussion of “Leaf by Niggle” I tried to get students to put the story into conversation with Bruce Birch’s essay, “In the Image of God.”

There are several ways to approach “Leaf by Niggle” in a course like CCC. This became abundantly clear when I surveyed the room.  Several students wanted to talk about the tension between competing goods.  Niggle has a gift for painting, but he is constantly distracted by his needy neighbor Parish.  Though Niggle often complains privately about assisting Parish, and sometimes he finds him to be an annoyance, he never ceases to help his neighbor.  How do we balance our call to create–through art, writing, entrepreneurial innovation, scientific discovery, the cultivation of ideas, feats of engineering, sports or dance–with the everyday demands of service to others that might get in the way of our creative efforts?  This question made for some good discussion.

Some students brought up Niggle’s lack of preparation for his “journey.” They pointed out that Niggle was a procrastinator and easily distracted. When death arrived he could have been better prepared. A few students were disappointed in him.  They wished he had finished the painting.  Others were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for his lack of preparation for the journey because he was so busy helping Parish and his wife. Whatever the case, Niggle’s story prior to his journey seemed to elicit much anxiety among my students. This, I suggested, is the anxiety we all feel as inhabitants of a broken world.

But as anyone who has read “Leaf by Niggle” knows, the story does not end there. After his purgatory-type experience, Niggle is brought to a place of great beauty (Niggle’s Parish). Here he encounters his incomplete painting in all its fullness. Here his relationship with Parish is transformed.  The anxiety gives way to peace and happiness.  All of the brokenness is made whole (Shalom).

I cannot teach “Leaf by Niggle” apart from my understanding of Christian eschatology. Lately I have been studying the writings of the Anglican New Testament theologian N.T. Wright.  Wright’s books Surprised by Hope and History and Eschatology enabled me to teach Tolkien’s short story in a way I was unable to do when I last taught “Leaf by Niggle” eleven years ago.

A major theme of Wright’s work is what Revelation 21 calls the “new heaven and the new earth.” Wright challenges longstanding Christian beliefs about heaven. The ancient Jews and the early Christian church never understood heaven as place distinct from earth.  God will not destroy this earth and “rapture” believers to a heavenly realm.  Instead, he will transform this earth.  He will one day make the post-Genesis 3 world whole.  Shalom will be restored.  We will rise from the dead because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning (I Cor. 15). The New Testament teaches that we will enjoy this new heavens and new earth with new resurrected bodies.  Read Romans 8: 18-25:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Wright argues that this new heaven and new earth, or the Kingdom of God, was initiated when Jesus rose from the dead. We still live in a broken world, but we get occasional glimpses of the new creative order when we see acts of compassion, justice, reconciliation, mercy, and love.  Moreover, when we do creative work that is good, beautiful, or based in truth we are, in some small way, building this new kingdom.  What might look unfinished or incomplete in this world will one day be made whole.  This, it seems to me, is what Tolkien is trying to teach us in “Leaf by Niggle.”

I closed my class on Monday with a quote from Wright’s book Surprised by Hope:

But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire.  You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site.  You are–strange though is may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself–accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.  Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world–all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.

Niggle’s leaf, which ended up for a short time in a museum, became part of an entire landscape in the so-called “Niggle’s Parish.” Our creative work will one day contribute to the new creation as well. We don’t know how God will use it–1 Corinthians 13:12 says we see through a glass dimly–but it will be a part of the wholeness God will one day bring.

Here is Wright again:

What you do in the present–by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself–will last into God’s future.  These activities are not simply ways of making the present life less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we will leave it behind altogether (as the hymn  so mistakenly puts it, “Until that day when all the blest to endless rest are called away”). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Do you like teaching on Zoom?

The only think I like about teaching on Zoom is that I don’t have to take a shower, wear nice pants, or drive to work. In terms of pedagogy, it is awful. I feel no connection with my students and have no idea if I am reaching them because I can’t see all of their faces. Some of them have no idea what the lower part of my face looks like.

So-called “hybrid” classes are even worse. I still don’t know how to have an effective discussion of a text when there are five students participating in the discussion online. I try to show sympathy and compassion to these students. Most of them do not want to be on Zoom either. I respect their decisions to take the online option to avoid getting COVID-19. But I just can’t teach them effectively.

I have thought many times about quitting, especially on those days when I lose 15-20 minutes of class because I can’t figure out the technology and have to call the IT hotline. But I also realize (I hope) that all this is temporary and I will be able to get through the last decade or so of my career in a face-to-face classroom. I also need a paycheck. The Patreon pledges are not coming-in fast enough. (Have I mentioned we are expanding and need your help!) 🙂

Viet Thanh Nguyen, a professor of English at the University of Southern California, disagrees with me. Here is a taste of his piece at The New York Times:

I am now teaching about a hundred undergraduate students in a class on the American war in Vietnam. If a lecture is only someone talking for an hour, that can indeed be stultifying on video — but that would also be true in a classroom. Back in the live era, I did my best to animate my lectures by roaming the lecture hall, memorizing the students’ names so I could call on them, encouraging questions and using PowerPoint slides replete with photos, historical quotations and clips of movies and documentaries. Teachers who haven’t done multimedia lectures might reasonably experience an extra burden of work preparing them for Zoom.

But multimedia lectures work easily and even better on Zoom. I no longer have to memorize students’ names — their names are listed underneath their faces. And on Zoom, the students get a close-up of the photos and video clips, and with the lectures automatically recorded, they can review them or, if they miss a lecture, listen to them later.

Surprisingly, the discussions in my video classes have been better than those in the live era. I don’t need to look out at a sea of a hundred stone faces or a hundred blank boxes. Instead, I ask a half-dozen students toparticipate in a student panel for each lecture; I call on them and ask them questions throughout the lecture, which means the class doesn’t have to listen to just me all the time. It turns out that the students are much less shy speaking on video than they might be before a live audience. Less human warmth, but less stage fright.

Student chatter in class is now also fun. I wouldn’t want students chatting in a live class, but I like seeing their occasional exclamations in the chat window, as when one amazed student said of Country Joe and the Fish’s 1965 song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” that “this song kind of slaps.”

Good for him. 🙂

Read the entire piece here.

Mintz: “It’s time to be blunt: postgraduation success requires a demanding liberal arts curriculum”

Read to the end of this post to learn about supplementary patrons-only content.

I am teaching Created and Called for Community again this semester. This is a course required by all Messiah University first-year students in their second semester. Our first three readings are:

Stanley Hauerwas’s “Go With God: An Open Letter to Young Christians on Their Way to College” (2010)

Ernest L. Boyer’s “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College” (1984)

John Henry Newman’s “What is a University?” (1852)

All of these readings, in one way or another, challenge college students to think about their education as something more than career preparation. In addition to their majors, students at Messiah University take a robust general education (over 50 credit hours) sequence of courses that includes history, theology, biblical studies, art, social science, literature, foreign language (9 hours), non-western studies, pluralism and society, rhetoric, writing, math, lab science, and science and technology.

I found historian Steven Mintz‘s recent piece at Inside Higher Ed to be particularly relevant to the material I have been teaching the past couple of weeks. Here is a taste of his piece: “A Career-Aligned Major Isn’t Enough“:

1. Students are wrong if they think that they need a career-aligned major.

Just as there’s no royal road to geometry, there are few direct routes to career success apart from nursing. As many millennials have discovered to their dismay, even an engineering or a computer science bachelor’s degree offers no guarantee of a job. Undergraduates need to understand that for many graduates, a bachelor’s degree isn’t the end point; rather, it’s a step along a path.

2. Instead of looking for a program that screams relevance, students need undergraduate programs that are demanding in terms of writing, critical thinking, quantitative skills, presentation skills and experience in working as a team member.

In most cases, a liberal arts education, supplemented with specific transferable skills, represents the best preparation for long-term success.

Sure, it is helpful to acquire foundational and technical knowledge as well as training in areas like Excel and project management and research methods. But it’s precisely because a B.A. or a B.S. isn’t the end of the line, majors matter far less than the skills and range of knowledge that students acquire and are able to demonstrate through projects and activities.

3. The students who do best in the rapidly expanding number of online 12- to 24-month master’s programs or in MOOCs are those with a solid four-year liberal arts background.

Online learning, we now know all too well, isn’t for everyone. Not surprisingly, those students most likely to succeed online are those with strong time management, organizational, planning and metacognitive skills and a well-developed capacity for self-regulation. These are the very skills that a demanding liberal arts education furnishes.

Read the entire piece here. (HT: Chris Gehrz)

Patrons: I have am posting video of my short introductory lecture on Boyer’s “Retaining the Legacy of Messiah College” to the Patreon site. Not a patron? Learn more here.

Out of the Zoo: What will I teach on days like these?

Annie Thorn is senior history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she is writing a weekly column titled “Out of the Zoo.” It focuses on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this dispatch, Annie reflects, as a future teacher, on January 6, 2021—JF

January 6th, 2021. I had just arrived home from a busy day of substitute teaching in a 6th grade English class. My skin was dry and flaky from layers of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, my feet sore from standing all day in my black heeled boots (I have yet to purchase sensible teacher shoes). Breathing a sigh of relief, I sat in the warmth of my parked Chevy Avalanche for a few minutes before braving the Michigan cold that waited for me outside. I pulled out my phone and checked Instagram, scrolling through posts and double tapping the ones I liked. After swiping through a few stories at the top of the screen, a startling image greeted me. It depicted an angry mob, rushing toward the Capitol in Washington D.C. The headline above the photo indicated that the People’s House had been breached.

Confusion clouded my brain and I wondered if the article was real. Would someone really try to break into the U.S. Capitol? No, it can’t be true, I thought. I turned my phone off and made the trek inside, greeted by my family’s energetic puppy who was excited to be liberated from her crate. As I played tug-of-war with her in the living room, I almost forgot about what I saw on Instagram. For a moment, the photo’s scary scene was nothing more than a fading memory, an unpleasant dream. 

My mom arrived home a few minutes later and we turned on the news. “Did you see what’s happening in D.C.?” she asked. Sure enough, it was all real. What I saw on Instagram wasn’t a hypothetical scenario or a figment of my imagination. An angry mob of protestors had broken into the Senate Chamber, attempting to “stop the steal.” As reporters interviewed legislators, showed photos and read concerned messages from foreign leaders, I felt like I was watching a dystopian novel unfold in real life. I sat in front of the T.V. all night, trying to comprehend what was happening. Tumultuous thoughts hummed ever-louder in my brain like an angered beehive. 

While I love being at home with my family, that night I found myself wishing I was back at school. I wanted my professors and mentors to explain how and why something like this could happen. The professors at Messiah have a way of making their students feel safe and loved, even when the world around us is full of chaos. I wanted to see my history major friends so we could make sense of it all together. My friends–especially my friends who love history–help me make sense of hard questions, even the ones that don’t necessarily have answers.

Three weeks have passed since the insurrection at the Capitol. I’ve moved back to Messiah University for my final semester of classes before I complete my student teaching. I am taking a lot of education classes this spring. It’s crazy to think that less than a year from now I won’t be the student anymore. I’ll be the teacher. When another day like January 6 arrives, my students will come to me with questions–questions I may not be able to answer. 

Every generation, it seems, is defined by a series of events. By the days that we remember clearly–even weeks, months, or years after the fact. Some days we are proud to be Americans, and other days we hang our heads in shame. There will always be days filled with death, tragedy, and scandal. There will be mornings when my students will come to class with questions. What will I teach on days like these? Whatever I teach, I know I will not do it perfectly. There will be lots of trial and error. I know I won’t have all the answers, and the ones I do give I will have to craft carefully. But on days like these I will do my best to teach mourning. I will teach respect. I will teach love. And I will teach action.

Ed Ayers on what COVID-19 has revealed about the state of digital history

According to the University of Richmond historian Ed Ayers, “the sudden transition to online schooling has shone a light on the state of digital history.” He adds: “What we’ve seen hasn’t been very encouraging. Can we do better?”

Here is a taste of his piece at Medium:

We are awash in sources, networks, processing power, devices, and tools that enable projects that were beyond imagining in the days of modems, AOL, and CD-ROMs. The commercialization of digital resources for genealogy has produced millions of census records and newspapers, many behind paywalls, that we have barely begun to explore. But that very convenience, ironically, has removed some of the tension between tradition and innovation that generates creativity. Students today can simply cut and paste ubiquitous images and texts into free presentation software; they can copy video and audio into their own slick productions. These methods use digital means to replicate traditional forms of history, bound by the same periods and people, framed by the same labels and questions.

The digital has been thoroughly domesticated and commercialized, its disruptive potential removed. It’s enough to drive some young people to older analog forms they find more intriguing and satisfying. As they seek out vinyl, write in journals, and explore chemical photography, they seem to understand, as scholar Stuart Dunn has explained, that “the digital is a prism through which we see and experience the human record past and present, not a window.”

Read the entire piece here.

GOP Convention: Night 3

pence and trump at ft mchenry

Yesterday was my first day of face-to-face teaching since March. I am not yet in “classroom shape,” so I was exhausted by the end of the day. Mentally, I was still reeling from multiple technology failures (mostly due to my ignorance) and the panic (and sweat) that ensues when half of the class is watching you desperately trying to get the other half of the class connected via ZOOM.

This morning my youngest daughter headed-off to Michigan for her sophomore year of college, so we spent most of last night packing the car and spending a few hours together before the empty nest syndrome returns later today.

Needless to say, I did not get much time to watch the third night of the 2020 GOP Convention, but I did manage to see a few speeches and catch-up with the rest via news and videos.

Let’s start with American history:

  • In her speech, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law (Eric Trump’s spouse), tried to quote Abraham Lincoln: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom,” she said, “it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” These are strong words. Lincoln never said them.
  • In his speech, Madison Cawthorn, a GOP congressional candidate from North Carolina’s 11th district, said that James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence. Here is the exact line: “James Madison was 25 years-old when he signed the Declaration of Independence.” Madison was indeed 25 in July of 1776, but he did not sign the Declaration of Independence. (He did serve in the Second Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779).
  • Clarence Henderson, who was part of the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworths, deserves the appreciation of every American. (Just to be clear, Henderson was not one of the famed “Greensboro Four“). He is free to vote for anyone he wants in November. But it is sad to see this civil rights activist buy into the idea that African-Americans should vote for Trump (or the GOP in general) because Lincoln freed the slaves and the Democrats (in the South) were the party of segregation. While this is true, it fails to acknowledge an important principle of historical thinking: change over time.
  • Finally,  Burgess Owens, a GOP congressional candidate from Utah (and former NFL player), talked about his father and World War II. He said, “mobs torch our cities, while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism that my father fought against in World War II.” Owens is confused. The socialists (communists) were actually on the side of the United States during World War II. The Nazi’s were opponents of Soviet-style socialism. This can get a little tricky because “Nazi” is short for “National Socialist.” Sort it all out here.

OK, let’s move on.

Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany repeated the popular mantra about liberals “removing God” from public schools and “erasing God from history.” A few quick thoughts on this:

  • From the perspective of Christian theology, I don’t think it is possible to remove God from public schools or anywhere else.
  • Ironically, McEnany’s statement about erasing God comes at a moment when American religious history is one of the hottest fields in the historical profession. We know more about Christianity’s role in America’s past today than at any other point in the history of the nation.

I want to spend the rest of this post on Mike Pence’s speech last night. Watch it:

I did not recognize much of the America that Pence described in this speech. He began with an attack on Joe Biden: “Democrats spent four days attacking America. Joe Biden said we were living through a ‘season of darkness.'”

In January 2017, Donald Trump used the word “carnage” to describe the United States. Is America any better four years later? 180, 000 are dead from COVID-19. Colleges and schools are closed. There is racial unrest in the streets. We are a laughing stock in the global community. Millions are out work. Less than half of Americans have any confidence in the president. And Pence has the audacity to say “we made America great again.”

Pence continues to peddle the narrative that the coronavirus derailed the accomplishments of Trump’s first term. This is partly true. But when historians write about this presidency, the administration’s handling of COVID-19 will be at the center of the story.  COVID-19 is not just an unfortunate parenthesis in an otherwise successful presidency. COVID-19, and Trump’s failure to act swiftly, will be this president’s defining legacy.

Like Kayleigh McEnany earlier in the night, Pence also made reference to the current conversation about monuments and their relationship to our understanding of the American past. “If you want a president who falls silent when our heritage is demeaned or insulted,” Pence said, “then he’s [Trump’s] not your man.”

It is important to remember that “heritage” is not history. Those who sing the praises of “heritage” today are really talking more about the present the past. The purpose of heritage, writes the late historian David Lowenthal, is to “domesticate the past” so that it can be enlisted “for present causes.” History explores and explains the past in all its fullness, while heritage calls attention to the past to make a political point. Since the purpose of heritage is to cultivate a sense of collective national identity, it is rarely concerned with nuance, paradox, or complexity. As Lowenthal writes, devotion to heritage is a “spiritual calling”–it answers needs for ritual devotion.

When Trump and Pence talk about defending an American “heritage,” they are selectively invoking the past to serve their purposes. Such an approach, in this case, ignores the dark moments of our shared American experience. This administration is not interested in history.  They reject theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”

Pence’s speech was filled with misleading statements, half-truths, and blatant lies. He claimed that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. He said that Biden “opposed the operation” that killed Osama bin Laden.” He said that Donald Trump has “achieved energy independence for the United States.” He said Joe Biden wants to “end school choice.” He said Joe Biden wants to scrap tariffs on Chinese goods. He said that “no one who required a ventilator was ever denied a ventilator in the United States.” He said that Trump suspended “all travel from China” before the coronavirus spread. He said that Biden did not condemn the violence in American cities. He said that Biden supports open borders. All of these statements are either false or misleading.

Trump is a liar. So is Pence. But Pence is an evangelical Christian. How can anyone reconcile the peddling of such deception with Christian faith? It doesn’t matter if the Bible-believing vice president lies about his political opponent, as long as his lies are effective in scaring Americans to vote for Trump. Pence claimed that “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” Of course this kind of fear-mongering has a long history in American politics. But when people claim the mantle of Christian faith and engage in such political rhetoric, we must always call it out.

Finally, Pence has proven to be a master at fusing the Bible with American ideals. Again, this is not new. The patriotic ministers of the American Revolution did this all the time. It was heretical then. It is heretical now. Such a rhetorical strategy manipulates the Bible for political gain.

For example, Pence said, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and that means freedom always wins.” Pence is referencing 2 Corinthians 3:17: “now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This passage has NOTHING to do with the political or “American” freedom Pence was touting in his speech. St. Paul spoke these words to encourage the Corinthian church to live Spirit-filled lives that would free them from the bondage sin, death, and guilt. Pence has taken a deeply spiritual message and bastardized it to serve partisan politics and this corrupt president.

In the same paragraph, Pence says, “So let’s run the race marked out for us. Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents, fix our eyes on this land of heroes and let their courage inspire. Let’s fix our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith and freedom.”
Here Pence is referencing Hebrews 12: 1-2. That passage says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Again, see what Pence is doing here. Instead of fixing our eyes on Jesus, we should fix our eyes on “Old Glory,” a symbol of American nationalism. The “heroes” he speaks of are not the men and women of faith discussed in the previous chapter of Hebrews (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets), they are the “heroes” (as he interprets them) of American history. Jesus is the “author and perfecter” of our faith and [American] freedom.”

The use of the Bible in this way is a form of idolatry. My friend and history teacher Matt Lakemacher gets it right:

On to day 4!

GOP Convention: Night 2

NBC News

NBC News graphic

I didn’t get to listen very carefully to many of the speeches on night 2 of the GOP convention. I was preparing for my return to the classroom today.  At least my nightmares were different last night. Instead of dreaming about what Trump is doing to the nation and the church, I dreamed of microphones, ZOOM, Canvas, student rotation, the Cloud, and sweating through my mask as I tried to lecture to 170 students in a 500-person recital hall with people staring down at me from the third floor balconies. (Yes, this will happen today).

So this post will just focus on the things that caught my attention enough to pull me away from creating Canvas modules.

Last night Cissie Graham, the daughter of court evangelical Franklin Graham and the granddaughter of Billy Graham, spoke at the Republican National Convention. Watch:

A few quick thoughts:

  1. I will take Cissie Graham and the rest of the court evangelicals more seriously when they start talking about religious liberty for all Americans.
  2.  As a fellow evangelical, I would hardly call prohibitions against indoor worship during a pandemic “religious persecution.”

Not all of Billy Graham’s grandchildren are in the Trump camp. Yesterday Jerushah Duford, who describes herself as “the proud granddaughter” of Billy Graham, published an op-ed in USA Today claiming that evangelical support for Donald Trump “spits” on the “legacy” of her grandfather. Read it here.

During the convention Trump pardoned Jon Ponder, an African-American man convicted of robbing a Nevada bank. Ponder now runs Hope for Prisoners, a Christian ministry the helps prisoners re-enter society after their period of incarceration. Ponder’s story brings positive attention to criminal justice reform. It is a story of God changing a man’s heart. I am glad Trump pardoned him.

What bothered me about the segment featuring Ponder was the way the Christian faith was manipulated for political purposes. At times during this segment I wondered if Ponder was there to talk about criminal justice reform or help Trump make his appeal to the evangelicals. Ponder’s faith plays an essential part in his story. This should be celebrated. But faith should never be politicized.

Watch the segment and let me know if any of this belongs at a political convention:

Later in the evening, Abby Johnson spoke about Planned Parenthood and abortion:

I was nodding my head as Johnson spoke until she used the words “Trump” and “two Supreme Court justices” in the same sentence. We can reduce abortions in America without getting into bed with this president, but it will require breaking from the 40-year-old Christian Right playbook.

Then came Georgetown Law School graduate Tiffany Trump. I wasn’t really listening to Tiffany until she said “God has blessed us with an unstoppable spirit, His spirit, the American spirit.” The worst part about this is that most evangelicals didn’t blink an eye when Trump’s daughter conflated the Holy Spirit and the American Dream.

I perked-up again when Tiffany started lamenting–yes lamenting–the fact that the promotion of “division and controversy breeds profit.”

There was a small kernel of truth in some of Tiffany Trump’s words last night. She called for open discourse and the free exchange of ideas in the public sphere. I am on board with this, but I think the real issue at stake here is where one draws the boundary line between open discourse and anti-intellectualism. I am thinking here about both the Left and the Right. The far Right is prone to making public arguments that are not based on truth, science, or evidence. The far Left does better with truth, science, and evidence, but its defenders draw the boundaries of acceptable discourse so narrowly that they often sound like intolerant fundamentalists. And both sides need to stop the ad hominem attacks.

I am not going to say much about the speeches by Eric Trump, Mike Pompeo, or Melania Trump. Pompeo, of course, spoke from Jerusalem to keep the evangelical base happy. Melania’s speech is getting good reviews. I guess it was OK, but I tuned-out when she described her husband as an honest man.

As noted above, there was a lot of faith talk last night. The Democrats were portrayed as godless threats to true religion. This suggests that the millions of American Christians, and especially African-American Christians, who vote Democrat are not real Christians.

This tweet sums-up how I felt last night:

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton opposes “cancel culture.” Unless, of course, it is the 1619 Project

1619

I just learned today that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is trying to pass legislation to prohibit schools from using federal funds to teach the New York Times‘s 1619 Project. (If you are unfamiliar with the 1619 Project, read our coverage here. We’ve collected most of the pertinent articles).

This week I am doing Q&A sessions with about 100 hundred high school teachers enrolled in my Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History course on British North America. They are watching a series of lectures I recorded with Gilder-Lehrman back in 2015 and I am meeting with them live via ZOOM to answer their questions.

Yesterday, we talked about the colonial Chesapeake and, as might be expected, most of the conversation revolved around race, slavery, and the 1619 Project. My comments about the Project focused on several points:

  1. The 1619 Project has some serious historical problems, especially in its claim that the American Revolution was primarily about preserving slavery.
  2. We cannot ignore the relationship between slavery, race, and the American founding. (Several teachers, for example, had read Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery–American Freedom).
  3. We should not hesitate to use the 1619 Project in our classrooms if we think it might help students understand issues of systemic racism.
  4. Very few essays in the 1619 Project are written by historians.
  5. The claim that the 1619 Project should be the final word in the classroom concerning the subject of slavery, race, and the historical roots of American identity is a claim that is insulting to history teachers. Which leads me to my final, and most important point:
  6. Much of the debate over the 1619 Project in the classroom fails to grasp the nature of good history teaching. While citizenship and equitable coverage is certainly important, the primary goal of the history classroom is to get students to think and read historically. This requires a sensitivity to bias, context, authorial intent (sourcing), close reading, and complexity. As Sam Wineburg says in Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, students should not only learn what a document is saying, but also what a document is doing. If this is our goal, then why should we be afraid of the 1619 Project? Use it in class, interrogate it, and teach your kids to read it like any good historian would read a document.

Read Cotton’s “Saving American History Act.  Here is an opinion piece at Forbes.

How the Pietist Schoolman is preparing for his history classes this fall

Parmer

I will be teaching my U.S. survey in this room 

Like Chris Gehrz, I am starting to stress about the Fall semester.

I am teaching the U.S. Survey course to 180 students in a 790 seat recital hall. (We will have ten smaller weekly seminars in other socially distanced classrooms). I am also teaching my Pennsylvania History course to 25 students. I have not started thinking about anything yet, although I do have a meeting to “attend” next week to learn more about the university guidelines.

So how is the Pietist Schoolman doing it? He offers five basic principles that are guiding his preparation:

  1. “Start with Face-to-Face, then think about how to make it available online.
  2. “Lean into my skill as a lecturer”
  3. “Move most ‘active’ learning online”
  4. “Emphasize research”
  5. “Overcommunicate”

See how Chris unpacks these points here.

Coronavirus Diary: May 16, 2020

Fea with MaskWhen I published my last diary entry on April 23, 2020, my Pennsylvania county had 229 cases and 7 deaths. Twenty-two days later, we have 515 cases and 48 deaths.

I went to my Messiah College office yesterday for the first time since March 13, 2020. I didn’t really need anything, but when the administration gave faculty the opportunity to get on campus for a two-hour slot this week, I signed-up. I needed to get out of the house and reconnect with the my workplace. I brought a box and filled-it with some books I want to read, a few pieces of mail, and some notes for a Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History seminar I will be teaching in July.  I am not sure when I will be back.

At home, our little quarantine community is breaking up. My oldest daughter Ally is heading back to Grand Rapids in a few days. She is finishing-up her final papers and will start work at a new job later this month. We will miss her. I think I speak for Joy when I say that having her home was an unexpected gift. After she left for college and stopped coming home for the summer, we were unsure we would ever spend so much extended time with her again. Caroline, who just finished her first-year of college, will be with us all summer. She half-jokes that her life just reverted back to her last three years of high school–stuck at home with Mom and Dad. We are glad she will be around.

For the next couple days I will be immersed in final grading, but next week I hope to transition to summer research. I need to make some substantial headway on my American Revolution in New Jersey book. On the podcast front, we just recorded our first episode since March and have several more episodes lined-up for the summer. Stay tuned. If you want to support our work–either the podcast or the blog–feel free to make a contribution at our Patreon page. Every little bit helps.

Everything is still up-in-the-air for the Fall. Will I be back on campus? Will I be teaching on-line? I will not be delivering the presidential address at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, but I do have speaking engagements that are still scheduled. I am trying to take things one day at a time. I think that’s the best all of us can do right now.

The pandemic has partially lifted the veil on some of our deepest convictions about faith, politics, the meaning of liberty and community, self-sacrifice, citizenship, and how much time in quarantine we are willing to tolerate. It has been fascinating to watch via social media. I have been surprised, disappointed, and inspired.

Writing as “Serving the Work”

Writing

I am a first-generation writer. My mother and grandmothers kept diaries, but none of them wrote anything with the express purpose of having it read by someone outside the family. I had a few good teachers who encouraged my writing, and I had a few teachers and professors over the years who told me that I needed to become a better writer. In the end, I learned how to write, and continue to learn how to write, by writing.

I have been grading the papers of college students for more than two decades, but this was the first semester in which I actually taught a first-year college writing course. (See my posts on this semester’s Created and Called for Community course). I have done a lot of writing over the years, but going into this semester I was nervous about teaching students how to write. Thankfully, Messiah College offered some training and resources to help me in this endeavor.

This semester I spent time working with my students on their thesis statements, footnotes, bibliographies, and rough drafts. We devoted entire class periods to writing.  I encouraged peer review. I wrote endless marginal comments. I think I did everything I was supposed to do.

But in the end, some students still struggle with writing clear and concise prose. They still get basic punctuation wrong. They write in passive voice. Run-on sentences abound. Some of these students have improved over the semester. Others have not.

I just finished reading the rough drafts of their final paper. Many of them are in great shape. These are a joy to read. But other papers have left me frustrated. Somewhere along the way, my students have come to think that in order to get a good grade on a paper they need to merely respond to every marginal comment I write or awkward sentence I identify. But I can’t line-edit every paper. I can’t offer sentence-by-sentence revisions. So when they do not get the grade they wanted, they send me an e-mail complaining: “I don’t understand why I got such a low grade (usually a “B” or “B+”). I did everything you told me to do in the rough draft.” In other words, “I jumped through the hoops you set out for me. Now why didn’t I get an A?”

But writing is not that simple. Granted, it comes easy for some people. But for others, like me, it takes work. It requires rewriting, editing, rewriting, editing, and rewriting and editing again and again until a sentence or a paragraph shines. It is like polishing a stone or sanding a piece of wood–elbow grease is necessary. We can give students all kinds of writing wheels, manuals, lectures, videos, exercises, and extra help, but how do we teach students to embrace the grind?

Earlier this semester, we read a wonderful essay by Dorothy Sayers titled “Why Work? Here is Sayers:

…the worker’s first duty is to serve the work. The popular catchphrase of today is that it is everybody’s duty to serve the community. It is a well-sounding phrase, but there is a catch in it.  It is the old catch about the two great commandments. “Love God and your neighbor; on those who commandments hand all the Law and the Prophets…

There is, in fact, a paradox about working to serve the community, and it is this: that to aim directly at serving the community is to falsify the work; the only way to serve the community is to forget the community and serve the work. There are three good reasons for this:

The first is that you cannot do good work if you take your mind off the work to see how the community is taking it–any more than you can make a good drive from the tee if you take your eye off the ball…If your heart is not wholly in the work, the work will not be good–and work that is not good, serves neither God nor the community; it only serves mammon. 

The second reasons is that the moment you think of serving other people, you begin to have a notion that other people owe you something for your pains; you begin to think that you have a claim on the community…But if your mind is set upon serving the work, then you know you have nothing to look for; the only reward the work can give you is the satisfaction of beholding its perfection. The work takes all and give nothing but itself; and to serve the work is a labor of pure love.

And thirdly, if you set out to serve the community, you will probably end by merely fulfilling a public demand–and you may not even do that. A public demand is a changeable thing. Nine-tenths of the bad plays put on in theaters owe their badness to the fact that the playwright has aimed at pleasing the audience, instead of at producing a good and satisfactory play. Instead of doing the work as its own integrity demands that is should be done, he has falsified the play by putting in this or that which he thinks will appeal to the groundlings…and the play fails by its insincerity. The work has been falsified to please the public, and in the end even the public is not pleased. As it is with works of art, so it is with all work.

What might it mean for young writers to “serve the work?” I tell my students that their work at becoming better writers will one day benefit the communities they hope to serve. Do they believe me?  Some do. But others grow impatient. They just want to be told how to get a good grade and move on to the more “important” classes in their majors.

But there has been a lesson here for me as well. Over the course of the semester I have tried to have more patience with my students. I have taken more time than usual with their papers. I am learning to serve the work.

Ed Ayers on Teaching History

Ed+Ayers+color+compressed

This entire piece is worth reading. Here is American historian Ed Ayers:

History is hard to teach. It is not a bounded field of knowledge that can be conveyed in stages and steps. It does not operate by rules or predictable patterns. It cannot be segmented into separate elements without making it die. The keys to understanding the past are context, contingency, cause, change, and consequence — living in motion — but standardized textbooks and testing kill history to dissect it. That there are so many history teachers who find ways to inspire their students despite such obstacles testifies to the idealism, intelligence, and commitment of the people drawn to this work.

History is hard to teach, too, not because it is irrelevant but because it hits so close to things young people care and worry deeply about: their ethnic, gender, and national identities, the role of America in the world, inequality and injustice in the past and present, the sources of promise and despair in our society. History is dangerous to teach and so we have tried to tame it through narratives of progress and blandly balanced portrayals of our unbalanced past. Doing so, we drain history of the human drama that makes it worth studying in the first place.

History has its revenge. Dulled and anesthetized in school, history proliferates everywhere else. History asserts itself in popular film and streaming series, in video games and television parodies in which celebrities become drunk to reenact slurred versions of textbook history, in the most acclaimed Broadway show of recent decades and in the most heavily visited museum in Washington. Young people love history, just not history as it is forced upon them.

Read the entire piece at Medium.

How One Middle-School History Teacher is Staying Connected With His Students

Matt Lakemacher is a longtime reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home and a “graduate” of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute Princeton Seminar. He teaches history at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, IL. Some of you may recall his dispatches from the 2019 meeting of the American Historical Association.  Read them here.

I have enjoyed watching Matt’s efforts to stay connected with his 7th-grade students during the quarantine.  Here is his latest video:

Check out Matt’s YouTube page.

Coronavirus Diary: April 23, 2020

Fam Pic

When I published my last diary entry on April 8, 2020, my Pennsylvania county had 88 coronavirus cases and two deaths. Fifteen days later, we have 229 cases and 7 deaths.

The quarantine continues. Both daughters are still home. They are working on papers as I type this. Ally has had a few job interviews and is starting to think about when she will return to Grand Rapids. Caroline is applying for work delivering groceries.

Part of the Messiah College Career and Professional Development Center is now operating out of my kitchen. After overhearing multiple webinars about job searching, and listening to bits and pieces of Joy’s career advice to students, I think I might be able to land a job if this history teaching thing doesn’t work out.  🙂

It’s been chilly here in central Pennsylvania, but I still have had a few opportunities to sit on the garage couch. I got up early the other morning, made a cup of coffee in our new Kuerig, bundled-up, and went outside. After five minutes of staring off into the sky, a high school girl in the neighborhood, who was out walking her dog, saw me sitting in the garage and struck-up a conversation. We talked about what her family was watching on Netflix and she shared some stuff about her classes at the local high school. This girl has lived three doors away from us her entire life, but this was the longest conversation I ever had with her. When I told Joy about the conversation she informed me that the girl is headed to Messiah College in the Fall.  I wish I would have known this during our morning chat!

In local political news, pro-Trumpers converged on Harrisburg the other day and demanded that Governor Tom Wolf “open” the economy.  I wrote about it here.  And yes, I did see people I know at the rally.  This pandemic is revealing things about people that were previously hidden behind the veil of neighborliness and civility.

We in the Fea household are all getting on each other nerves. But I think I speak for the whole family when I say we are enjoying our time together. I am not sure when we will all be under the same roof for such an extended period of time again. I have noticed that everyone lingers a bit longer at the dinner table these days. My oldest daughter, Allyson, is helping me write a young reader’s edition of The Way of Improvement Leads Home. (We are still looking for an editor, publisher or literary agent–e-mail me!). Last night we sat around the table and thought about which actors might play Philip and Betsy in the movie version of the book. (We decided on Timothee Chalamet for Philip and Emma Watson for Betsy).

I continue teaching Created and Called for Community online. We are in the “vocation” unit right now.  Texts like the parable of the good Samaritan, 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21 (on reconciliation), Jerry Sittser’s The Will of God as a Way of Life, and Dorothy Sayers’s “Why Work?” have taken on new meaning in this pandemic.

The future still seems uncertain. Will I be teaching face-to-face in the Fall? What will Messiah College look like after this pandemic is over? I am thankful to the college leadership who seem to be making wise decisions, but some of the changes have been painful for many colleagues. I have already heard about faculty at smaller, tuition-driven colleges who are wondering if their institutions will survive if residential campus life does not return in late August.

Today I was talking to Joy about residential college students–our own daughters and the students we work with at Messiah. What will happen to them if they can’t return to campus in 2020-2021? How do we deal with the depression, anxiety, uncertainty, loss of face-to-face friendships, and confusion about the future that will come if school is cancelled in the Fall?  If a gap year is necessary, what type of programs or opportunities do we need to create in order to keep them engaged in public life during a time of social distancing? How do we encourage them to use this time to grow–intellectually, morally, spiritually? These are huge challenges. I am sure that college students who do not live on campus have some of their own concerns on this front.

In the end, I hope that my role as a teacher and writer is doing something small to serve the common good during this pandemic. But I still feel like I am dealing with something akin to survivors guilt because I still have a job, my family is healthy, and I don’t work in a “front line” profession. Writing these journal entries certainly help. Thanks for reading.

 

The Hamilton Education Program (EduHam) is Now Free Online

Hamilton logo

Teachers:

EduHam at Home was created in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak that forced school closures throughout the country. It is an extension of the Hamilton Education Program (EduHam), which has served more than 200,000 students across the country since 2016. Through EduHam, students study primary source documents from the Founding Era, learn how Lin-Manuel Miranda used such documents to create the musical Hamilton, and finally create their own original performance pieces based on the same material.

EduHam at Home provides a family version of EduHam that can be accomplished outside of a school setting. It will continue to be available through August 2020.

What should you expect from this free program?

  • A personal welcome video from Lin-Manuel Miranda greeting participants, as well as tips and guidance from EduHam teachers to help students create their own work
  • Video highlights from past student performances for examples of what to try at home
  • A wealth of free materials for participants and their families to explore and enjoy, including
    • Videos clips from Hamilton and interviews with Lin-Manuel Miranda, selected cast members, and Ron Chernow, whose biography of Alexander Hamilton inspired the musical
    • A wide selection of primary sources centered on a diverse group of 45 People, 14 Events, and 24 Key Documents

EduHam at Home participants will be invited to submit their own Hamilton-inspired pieces (songs, raps, spoken-word poems, or scenes), and selected student performances will be shared on social media and this website.

If you have any questions, please email eduhamhome@gildlerlehrman.org.

 

Coronavirus Diary: March 29, 2020

Ally at CFH

This kid just got home

The other day Joy (my wife) and Caroline (my youngest daughter) joked that my life has not changed a whole lot since all this social distancing and quarantining started. They are partly right. While I no longer go to campus to teach any more, I still spend a lot of time in my basement reading, writing, and studying.

I just finished my first week of teaching online. As some of you know, I am teaching a reading and discussion course for first-year Messiah College students called Created and Called for Community. I am trying to make the best of it, but it is not ideal. My students are doing their best to adjust. They are much more adaptable than I am. Since I am using a discussion board to facilitate class dialogue, I am actually “hearing” the voices of students who were relatively quiet during our face-to-face classes.  This is good.

As some of you may have noticed, I have been reading and sharing a lot more theology lately. I think the questions raised in Created and Called for Community have led me to think more deeply about transcendent things. I am sure the pandemic has also pushed me in this direction as well. Last Friday, I taught Exodus 19-20 and the Sermon on the Mount. Tomorrow I am teaching Acts 1-4 and the Nicene Creed. I have been wrestling, alongside my students, about what it means to be created in the image of God and how  such a belief translates into what we are called to do and how we are to live in this world.

Our empty nest has become full again. It is good to have the girls home. Caroline has been home for two weeks. Ally got home last night. They both loved being at college, so we are trying to walk alongside them in their disappointment and anxiety. This is especially the case with Ally, a senior. Last night everyone tolerated my reading of part of Pope Francis’s coronavirus blessing. I’d encourage you to read it as well.

And yes, we often get on each other’s nerves. Our house is small. We bump into each other a lot. Sometimes we just need to retreat to our spaces and shut the door or go for a walk. I think we’ll all survive. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

Some Online Teaching Advice from the Pietist Schoolman

I am working on my online courses today.  I am rewriting my course schedule after consolidating some readings and dropping others.  I am creating videos and trying to get up to speed with the discussion board feature on Messiah College’s course delivery system (Canvas). I am trying to figure out how to teach writing online.

My personality and face-to-face engagement has always driven my pedagogical style. This will be different.

Last night, in a moment exasperation, I posted this pic to Instagram and Facebook under the caption, “What are these things called online courses?”:

WIN_20200322_20_20_19_Pro

My friend Amy Bass, a professor of Sport Studies at Manhattanville College, provided some inspiration:

Another friend, Chris Gerhz, aka The Pietist Schoolman, offers some good advice. Here is a taste of his recent post:

1. Don’t try to do too much.
I think this goes without saying. We’re all improvising here, and not just as teachers.

2. Recalibrate expectations for students
They’re improvising, too, as they adjust to their different professors figuring out different solutions to these problems. They’ve lost most of the routine and structure that makes academic work doable day to day, week to week. Many of them have lost the jobs that help them pay for college, and some are working parents facing the same challenges I do. I still expect my students to do the best they can, but I’m not sure that “rigor” is anything we ought to expect under these circumstances.

3. Avoid synchronous activities
This is not the time to prove to anyone that you can do lecture, discussion, etc. live online. Internet access is too unreliable, ed tech companies are being stretched to their limits, and students’ schedules are thrown out of whack. I generally plan to allot at least a day or more, for students to complete even small activities. I’m trying to think more in terms of weekly than daily objectives, a sequence more than a schedule. And I’m glad that, in two courses, I’d already had students doing a lot of project-based learning, since we’ll lean into that approach even more while online.

4. Let necessity be the mother of invention
I don’t expect too much of this half-semester. But by the same token, I do want to leave myself open to the possibility that I’ll figure out new ways of teaching. That was one of our lessons from teaching online in the summer: we treated it as a kind of pedagogical laboratory or playground, one that has indeed generated a few ideas that we’ve since integrated into other modes of teaching.

5. Talk about COVID
It’s what we’re all thinking about anyway; let’s teach to it. I’m not a specialist in epidemiology, public health, public policy, or economics, but as a historian, there are things I can do to help students think about topics connected to the crisis, if not the disease itself.

Read the entire post here.

A “Teaching Pandemics” Syllabus

1918FluVictimsStLouis

Catherine Halley of JSTOR Daily has put together a very impressive collection of articles. Here is a taste of her “Teaching Pandemics Syllabus“:

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. In an effort to slow the spread of the disease, schools and universities across the world have transitioned to online instruction. Educators find themselves wondering how to engage their students amidst the developing crisis. We all find ourselves scrambling for information and, let’s face it, ways to make sense of our fear and anxiety.

While JSTOR Daily can’t provide new research on the novel coronavirus that’s causing COVID-19, we can offer important historical, scientific, and cultural context for this unprecedented situation. The essays and articles below—published over the last five years—look at the history of quarantine, contagious disease, viruses, infections, and epidemics. We’ll be updating this as we publish new content. As always, free access to the underlying scholarship cited in the stories is available to everyone.

Read the rest here.

2010 National History Teacher of the Year on the Closing of Schools: “But most of all I like working with and learning with students”

Nate

Here is Nate McAlister, a history teacher and my former partner-in-crime in the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History “Princeton Seminar,” upon learning that Kansas public schools are closed:

Confession: I am a huge history nerd. I know, I know this is not a shock to many who know me. Another confession: I like school and I like learning. I like the thrill of finding new nuggets of history and I am fascinated by the human story of history and what makes us, us.

But most of all I like working with and learning with students. I like the hellos from some and even the grumbles by others, you know who you are. I like working with students and love it when they “get it” and get frustrated when they try to give up. I like the fist bumps in the hall, the smiles on faces, and hearing their concerns and cheering their accomplishments. And I will miss it all as we experience this new normal.

Stay safe!

Did I mention Nate was the 2010 National Teacher of the Year?