Friday, May 27, 2016


Last summer as my wife and I were waiting for a train to arrive in a NYC subway station...a street performer (actually a virtuoso violinist) began to play Meditation from Jules Massenet's French opera Thais (you may have to do a Wikipedia search to research the basic plot/ meaning behind this story). Basically, in this part of the opera Thais (a beautiful prostitute) is pondering her past life and the struggles/ choices between good and evil she faces in her future life.

As I "meditate" on our year together in US History, I often wonder if this learning has made a difference...

Has it just been a bunch of stories while students daydream, text, sleep, etc. and take a few multiple choice tests?

Do they understand what I'm really trying to teach them?  Do they care?

Have I helped them to see the forces behind what drives history?

Can they recognize ISMS in "The Matrix" of past/ current events and fight against them?

Have they strengthened their power of agency and voice?

Are they willing to "use their feet" to be a socially conscious/ active person with deep empathy and passion for equity, justice, etc.?

Close your eyes and listen... 
to (Austrian violinist) Fritz Kreisler's rendition of Meditation.

The juxtaposition of Meditation being played with nearby trains rumbling past/ drowning out pieces of the song deeply moved us both...the beauty of the song at that moment brought us to tears.

I hope the beauty of learning (while hearing the clashing noises of history, current politics/ racism/ injustices, etc.) will cause you to meditate deeply and stir you to know the universe of your dreams! 

Thank you for a great year...

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why Are You Studying?

I know this is a US History blog, but...

The Sundarbans are a remote area of the largest mangrove forests in the world. Solar power arrived in local villages approximately 5 years ago and began to change the way life had been lived for decades...especially the ability to have lighting during the nighttime hours.

A teenager shares through an interpreter:

"Before, I couldn't study at night because we only had kerosene lamps. They were dim, and there wasn't always enough oil to keep them lit."

She was then asked, "what do you want to be when you grow up...why are you studying...what do you hope your life will be?"

"I want to serve human beings."

As (privileged and may I say spoiled) students all around the United States prepare for finals and the end of another school year, I hope that their learning has taught them to:

  • Think more critically
  • Develop Voice and Agency
  • Recognize and call out "isms" and systems of oppression 
  • Build empathy and a strong social consciousness
  • Appreciate the struggles/ fight/ sacrifices for freedom of previous generations 
  • Stand up and fight for what is right
  • Consider living their life "to serve human beings"

Friday, May 13, 2016

Be Proud, Stand Up, Fight!

Dr. Clarence Taylor

During the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity and honor of attending a Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar in New York City taught by Dr. Clarence Taylor.  The purpose of the seminar was to examine the origins of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and Black Power Movement (BPM) and their impact on American society.  Little did I know that this seminar would lead to meeting Civil Rights royalty!

The lectures, day trips, and personal excursions led to many thought-provoking conversations among members of our cohort.  Of course, the best and sometimes heated discussions took place as we enjoyed our time together eating meals, hanging out in Washington Square, riding the subway, and lounging in the dorms at NYU. 

One day as we were discussing the “classic narrative of Rosa Parks,” I exclaimed to my lunch companions, “This afternoon I am going to find and visit Claudette Colvin.” 

They asked, “Who is Claudette Colvin?” 

After a “brief” explanation, I got reactions ranging from, “You are crazy,” and “You are wasting your time” to “Can I go with?” and “I can help you get there.” 
So off we went (5 of us) to find Claudette Colvin.  After a hopeful 45 minute subway ride (where we discussed our “strategy” and rehearsed questions we would ask) and a 15 minute walk to Miss Colvin’s building, we anxiously stood in front of the security camera and buzzed what we believed was her apartment number.

“Is this her?” and “Will she talk to us?” were the nervous questions we asked each other.  Buzzing.  Buzzing.  “Hello, who is it?” asked a surprised and tired sounding voice.  Obviously, she wasn’t elated that 5 strangers had arrived at her building.

 Ashley and Sheila revealed the reason for our unexpected visit.  “Miss Colvin, we are a group of teachers from around the country in New York to study the Civil Rights Movement, and we would really like to talk to you about your experience.”

“Not today, maybe another day,” a reluctant voice responded.
I then explained, “Miss Colvin, this is our only opportunity.” I quickly repeated much of the history of Claudette Colvin, my travels and experiences in Montgomery, my wife’s family connection from nearby  Evergreen, and “what a dream this was just to be speaking with her.”  I don’t think she believed we were teachers legitimately hoping to talk with her. 
Then, shockingly she stated, “O.K. you can come up but only for 5 minutes.” 

The 11 story elevator ride was filled with exhilaration, trepidation, and the wonderful smells of ethnic cooking permeating throughout the elevator shaft.  We anxiously arrived at Miss Colvin’s door and knocked. She opened the locked door just a crack and quietly said, “Not today, today’s not a good day, I’ve been resting and my place is a mess.”  At this point we all began pleading, trying to convince her just to answer a few questions “for our students.” 

She was apprehensive and asked for a few minutes to brush her hair.  She reluctantly returned and invited us into her home.  The 5 minutes turned into an hour! We were entertained with Claudette’s wide ranging stories, memories, and photographs of growing up in Montgomery, the love she had for her father (family), her school days, her love of football, her tremendous anger and bewilderment about the Jim Crow south, racism within the African-American community, her move to New York City, her work in a Jewish Nursing Home, her friendships with all types of people, some of her favorite Hollywood movies,  and her grandson (a Washington University Medical School graduate working as a doctor in Chicago).  Miss Colvin even gave autographed copies of her book to several members of our group.  Toward the end of our visit, we asked her what advice she would like to share with our students from her experiences.  

She advised us to urge our students to be proud of who they are, stand up for what they believe, work hard in school, and take advantage of the opportunities provided today that she didn’t have.  She ended with guarded optimism that America would get better if we, “Continue to fight for Civil Rights.”


Sunday, May 8, 2016

"Anti"-Mother's Day

Anna Jarvis

In 1905, the year her mother (Ann Jarvis) died, Anna Jarvis started a campaign to make Mother's Day a nationally recognized holiday. Ann Jarvis had been a Civil War peace activist who cared for injured soldiers and later created a Mother's Day Work Club devoted to addressing public health issues and Civil War reconciliation.

Anna's original idea was that Mother's Day (to honor her mother's vision for Mother's Day community service) should be a day of simple family gatherings to rest, appreciate and honor their mothers through warm expressions of gratitude/ affection and deliver handwritten letters. Her hard-fought campaign was eventually successful and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson set aside the second Sunday in May as our national Mother's Day. 

Unfortunately, the holiday quickly became commercialized by greeting card companies, flower shops, and candy makers.  Anna felt that her idea of a "Simple" Mother's Day had turned into a day of commercialized profit and easily purchased, inconsequential gifts.

Estimated Top 5 $$$ Holiday Spending

1. Thanksgiving/ Winter Holidays: $675B
2.  Back to School "Holiday": $80B
3.  Mother's Day: $25B
4. Valentine's Day: $20B
5. Easter: $17B

"Mom, Happy Mother's Day 2016!"

Jarvis became resentful and spent the rest of her life boycotting Mother's Day and was even arrested (disturbing the peace) in 1925 for protesting against the wanton commercialization of the day...

I wonder how she would react to 2016? 


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Discarded Babies: Korean War and Today

Mixed-race children at a Seoul Orphanage in 1965

Nearly 3 million people died as a result of the Korean War and nearly half of them were civilians. But, they were not the only casualty of war...

The American (and other foreign servicemen) left behind countless mixed-race babies. These children were abandoned by their fathers (who had left Korea at the end of the war), their mothers (who faced cultural ostracism and social stigma), the Korean government which supported a policy of racial purity and sought to remove these children from their consciousness (through orphanages, deportation,or adoption), and the American government who claimed little responsibility for it's own citizens.

What are these children saying to you?

"I am lonely and afraid...why did you leave me?"

"I am beautiful...will you love me?"

"I am still happy..."

"Do you care?"

What of our responsibility for the orphans we create with our "surgical and precision drone strikes"...are we to name them collateral damage, future terrorists, casualties of war?

Or better yet, to not claim them at all (much like Korean War orphans)?

Our government continues to repeatedly claim "no civilian drone attack deaths"...mainly attributable to our technologically advanced and "humane" killing machines.

Is this because no one is there to count them...or because of who is doing the counting/ "thinking" for us?

American Drone Orphans in Pakistan (2010)