U.S. History, the Arc of the Universe and a Trump Presidency

One of my favorite parts of this school year has been teaching social studies to my third grade ESL kids. I have this class first thing every morning. This instructional delivery method of English is what is called sheltered content instruction, meaning that I teach the grade-level content that all third grade students learn, while providing language support and extra vocabulary instruction to make the content comprehensible. (This is a little teacher-y but hang with me for a moment.) I love history, and I’ve never gotten the chance to teach it before. It’s a great way to start the day.

The third grade curriculum focuses most units of study on a historical figure. Students learn about each person in depth while learning about the surrounding historical context. It goes in chronological order, so we’ve done Paul Revere, ancient Greece and the foundations of U.S. democracy, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and next Mary McCleod Bethune. By the end of the year we will also learn about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Caesar Chavez, among others.

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image via Pixabay.com

It’s so interesting to trace the story of our country for children. One thing that I’ve been reminded of this year is how much of the story is about people’s triumph over systems of oppression. My spiel at the beginning of each new unit of study goes something like this, to tie everything we’ve learned together:

“So we started the year talking about Paul Revere. Remember that Paul Revere and the American colonists wanted to be free from England because they wanted a democracy, where people could choose their leaders and everyone would be treated equally. But we’ve learned that America wasn’t free and fair for everyone. Who wasn’t treated equally? (Black people, women, etc.) The next person we’re going to learn about helped to make America a more fair country for everyone, and that person’s name is ________.”

(I’m not injecting my personal opinion here, by the way. This is literally what the standard says to teach: “Students will discuss the lives of Americans who expanded people’s rights and freedoms in a democracy.”)

Children are so clear-eyed about what’s right and what’s wrong. These kids don’t have  much background knowledge about U.S. history, so they’re hearing everything basically for the first time. When I taught them about the institution of slavery in the United States they were a) horrified and b) surprised that it had been allowed to happen. The same for women not being allowed to vote.

History is speaking to me a lot right now as we are going into the Trump presidency. In many ways it feels like we are taking a big step backward. Unprompted by me, my students have made this connection as well. “Mrs. Love, Donald Trump doesn’t think that black people and people who speak Spanish are as good as white people like him. It’s just like it was a long time ago.”

A Trump presidency hurts partly because it disrupts the narrative that so many of us have always believed; that our current president up until now has seemed to believe. “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” U.S. history seemed, until now, to show this. Gradually, painfully, slowly, our country really has become a more free and fair place for everyone. Not perfect, certainly, but better. Does that “bending toward justice” stop now? And what should our response be? As citizens? As thinking people? For me, as a teacher? A white person?

I think the big, unsettling question right now is about whether DJT is a four-year aberration or a signal of fundamental change in the arc of the universe. I don’t think anyone can know the answer yet.

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2017: Engage

Well friends, here we are – almost. 2017.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to enjoy this time of year, where people are thinking and planning and dreaming of a new year and what it will bring. Last year, I wrote about how rough 2015 was for my family and about seven reasons why 2016 would be better. And 2016 did turn out to be great for us, though not for the country as a whole. I’m curious about what’s next.

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image via pixabay.com

At the end of 2015, I chose a single word that embodied all of the goals and aspirations I had for the upcoming year, how I hoped to be in the new year. I stole this idea from someone else, and I think it’s a great way to focus one’s new year’s goal-setting. My word for 2016 was joy.

My 2017 word of the year is…engage. As I think about my goals (I hate the word resolutions) for the new year, all of them have to do with being present, involved, engaged in my life and the broader world. I feel like many of these are introvert’s goals, the tension between being engaged in external activities and staying in our comfort zone always being a bit real for us. I often feel a tension in my life between action and inaction, in ways big and small: between reading on the couch versus taking the dogs for a walk, between planning to go to a women’s event at church and then backing out at the last minute, etc. This year, I hope to choose action more often than not.

So engage it is. Here are my goals for the new year:

  1. I will make time for writing, even when life is busy.
  2. I will get involved with our new church (will write more about this soon) and make some friends.
  3. I will live a healthier lifestyle. (Obligatory weight loss #newyearnewme goal. But for real, though!)
  4. I will donate more money than I did in 2016, to church and to causes benefiting human rights, children, animals and the environment.
  5. I will take the initiative to make plans with new friends. This is hard.
  6. I will stay informed about what is happening in this country, and I will make sure others are, too. This relates to the upcoming Trump presidency. In 2016, my writing enabled me to make a few people aware of how Trump’s victory was being experienced by those most vulnerable to his upcoming presidency. I will make sure that these people, and others, keep paying attention.

 

What are your goals for 2017? And what’s your word of the year?

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Amazon basically runs my life, y’all. Jonathan and I order from them, on average, twice a week, sometimes more. Amazon Prime two-day shipping has saved the day for us many times. I’ve decided to become an Amazon Affiliate to monetize this blog a bit. I may occasionally write about certain Amazon products, but I promise to never reference something that I haven’t bought for myself or someone else, and that I personally vouch for.

All of the products I’m going to write about in this post are eligible for Amazon Prime two-day shipping (we pretty much don’t buy something unless it is a Prime item). So while your present may or may not make it in time for Christmas, at least it will be very close!

These are things I’ve gotten for either myself or a family member for Christmas this year.

For Her


  1. The North Face Women’s Apex Bionic Jacket,Kokomo Green
  2. Ted and Jack – Luxe Classic Paisley Reversible Pashmina (Cobalt Blue)
  3. KEEN Women’s Sienna MJ Canvas Mary Jane, Red Dahlia
  4. Life is good Womens Marled Terry Crew Hello Sunshine Sweater, Slate Gray
  5. Life is Good Women’s Crusher Half Full Wine Glass T-Shirt, Simply Ivory
  6. Bed Head Tigi Self Absorbed Shampoo and Conditioner (25.36 Oz Each)

For Him




1. Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition
2. Anker Astro E1 5200m Candy bar-Sized Ultra Compact Portable Charger
3. Bose SoundSport in-ear headphones – Apple devices, Power Red
4. VIKINGS BLADE The Chieftain Safety Razor + 5 Swedish Platinum Super Blades + Gift Box
5. Polo Ralph Lauren Men Custom Fit Mesh Polo Shirt (Royal Purple)
6. Mighty Fine Guardians of the Galaxy In Concert T-Shirt

For Little Boys


1. Goodnight Darth Vader
2. Star Wars Figure Playset
3. Learning Carpets City Life Play Carpet
4. Melissa & Doug Pull-Back Construction Vehicles
5. The Snowy Day
6. Corduroy (40th Anniversary Edition)

10 Things I Don’t Care About

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and/or know me in real life, you can attest to the fact that I care, a lot, about a lot of things. I talk about these things in most of my posts. Today, however, I’m thinking about things that I don’t care about in the least. Behold:

  1. I don’t care if you tell me “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
  2. I don’t care about plain red Starbucks cups.
  3. I don’t care about who does or doesn’t stand up for the National Anthem.
  4. I don’t care about transgender people using their preferred bathroom.
  5. I don’t care if college and university faculties are liberal.
  6. I don’t care that the media reports the facts, and that some journalism outlets also feature commentary that I may or may not agree with.
  7. I don’t care that many young people think they are special.
  8. I don’t care if someone receiving government assistance has a smartphone or a nice purse.
  9. I don’t care about anyone’s immigration status unless they are a violent criminal.
  10. I don’t care that English is not America’s official language.

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What do you not care about?

How I’m Hitting My Stride As A Teacher

What determines a person’s workplace happiness, or lack thereof?

Is it your supervisor’s personality? Their management style? Your coworkers? The task you’re there to do? The amount of freedom you’re given? Or some combination of all of these?

I ask because I am happier at work than I’ve ever been. I’ve been reflecting on the reasons why.

I am teaching at such a sweet little school this year. Our school is small; only 320 students. I know just about everyone there, at least by sight, and by now they know me, too. Kids who aren’t even my students say hi and wave to me in the hallway. A kindergartner who I don’t know kissed my hand this morning.

 

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image via Pexels.com

Even though my school is 100% free/reduced lunch, we don’t have a lot of behavior problems, which are two things that unfortunately tend to go together. This leads to most teachers feeling pretty happy to be at work, which makes for a cheerful environment to go to every day. Any experienced teacher can tell you that a school’s environment makes a huge difference in what it is like to work there. You can feel it and see it in subtle ways as soon as you walk in a building.

I’m also happy because I’m being given a lot of freedom to teach what I want to teach, how I want to teach it. If I decide to pull a group, I can pull a group; if I decide to push in, I can push in.

I don’t have someone breathing down my neck telling me I have to do guided reading at a table in the homeroom class all day. I think once my administrators saw that I knew what I was doing they pretty much left me alone to do it. Which I appreciate! Because by now I do know what I’m doing most of the time.

So I’m getting to teach ESL through really fun, rich content that’s the same things students are learning in their homeroom classes: 3rd grade social studies and 4th grade english/language arts concepts and 5th grade reading remediation (which doesn’t sound fun but is, in this case).

I love my students, and they love me back. Most are eager and want to learn. They are also needy. I am buying clothes and books and making social work referrals. But don’t count them out! I have a feeling our progress this year is going to be something to see.

Years ago I once said that I loved teaching ESL so much that I would do it for free. Over the last few years I lost that. I got bogged down with school politics and who was talking about whom and whose parents didn’t care and which teachers weren’t any good. In some ways I lost sight of why I became a teacher. I still knew why, intellectually, but I couldn’t feel it in my heart anymore. I needed a year away doing something else to come back to it refreshed.

But now when I am teaching about Frederick Douglass or the three branches of government, elements of poetry or phonetic vs. non-phonetic words, I am thinking: This is what I was born to do.

I know no one asked me, but if I have any advice to give new and/or pre-service teachers, it would be the following:

  1. Pay very close attention to the vibe you get from administrators. That will set the tone of the school. Ask them about their management and evaluation style.
  2. A school with a negative environment will kill your soul, and it’s almost impossible for one person to change it despite their good intentions. Visit the school before agreeing to work there, during a school day if you can. What do you see when you walk through the halls? How are adults talking to children? Do kids and adults look happy? This is important.
  3. No matter what the school environment is like, make a work friend! You need someone to talk to about all of the craziness that happens on a daily basis.

I’m feeling grateful and blessed.

What do you think is the main thing that leads to happiness at work, and why? And if any young teachers would like advice from me about work, I’d be happy to give it!

It’s Hard To Go To Church In Trump’s America.

This post was also featured on Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

It’s hard for me to go to church these days.

It’s hard for me to give up my precious, fleeting family time to transport my toddler across town, stand in a room with people I don’t know and listen to a sermon that’s just a little too long. It’s hard to go by myself with my son when my husband is working, and it’s hard to go as a whole family on my husband’s Sundays off, when we would really rather be doing something else together. It’s hard to make the effort. Especially now.

The truth of the matter is that it’s hard for me to go to an evangelical church in the wake of Trump’s election. I don’t think I belong there anymore.

I don’t belong with a group of people that by and large believes Trump is worthy of being president.

I feel uprooted, disoriented. Homeless. The evangelical church is the body into which I was born and raised, where I was educated and how I came to faith. I’m not sure where to go next.

Knowing that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, I was interested to see how the leaders at our new church here in Atlanta would handle the election aftermath. Would they be silent about it? Call for unity? Reference it obliquely? Or speak out against Trump’s nativism, racism, mysogyny, etc.?

On the second Sunday after election day, the pastor at church preached a sermon on living out the gospel in everyday life. I was cautiously hopeful that he would reference the obvious elephant in the room, but he didn’t get any more explicit than saying something like “our current cultural context.”

He made the point that the first human occupation was gardener, not soldier, that we can’t force other people to believe the same things we do, but that we can live out our beliefs in our daily lives. All pretty basic stuff, but the phrase “gardeners, not soldiers” stuck out to me. At the time I interpreted that to mean that it is not Christians’ job to be culture warriors. And I found it vaguely reassuring.

But as I got to thinking about it later, I realized that this phrase also seems to be discouraging of Christians’ efforts to take a stand against the worst parts of this upcoming administration. Obviously, I strongly disagree.

If there was ever a time to fight like hell for things that are true and right and fair, it’s now.

Before November 8th, I already knew that I was more forward-thinking than most evangelicals, that I cared more about equity and racial justice and public education than most. But I have been absolutely shocked to discover just how far removed I am from the evangelical tribe. And even more, I am embarrassed.

I am so embarrassed that calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” wasn’t enough to get evangelicals not to vote for him. That mocking a disabled reporter wasn’t enough. Or saying that he would deport millions of people, including citizen children. Or wanting to create a Muslin registry. Or admitting to, and then being accused of, sexually assaulting women. And those are just for starters.

Because these things did not directly affect most white evangelical Christians, they were able to disregard them. And that attitude makes me feel ill. The privilege is breathtaking.

I know that evangelical ministers have a difficult task in front of them in this moment. Regardless of their personal beliefs, many are figuring out how to pastor ideologically divided congregations, what they can and cannot say to avoid offending different groups of people in their churches. But this timidity is keeping me from seeing much of Jesus at church right now.

Jesus is with the poor. Jesus is with the oppressed. He is with the marginalized. Jesus is with the groups of people that Donald Trump’s supporters mock, shame and attack, whose schools and places of worship they deface.

Instead, I am finding Jesus during restful moments at home with my family. I see him in my classroom, where children are making breakthroughs, learning to do things they never thought they could, and becoming moral people who care about others. I see him in organizations that work on behalf of the downtrodden, and those that work to protect the environment.

I’m not sure where all of this is leading me, and leading my family. For the first time in my life, I am pondering concepts like “spiritual but not religious.” I know that’s not the answer, though.

I want to belong to a body of believers, a place to study and worship and learn more about God. I just think the evangelicals have lost me, and I’m not sure what comes next.