Friday, February 25, 2011

When did I fall in love with history?

The last couple weeks at the Chicago Metro History Education Center (CMHEC) I have been helping prepare for this weekend's suburban high school history fair. Last Thursday's task involved rolling about three hundred history fair posters. A monotonous task, indeed, but not without it's benefits. One is able to do some marvelous thinking/reminiscing while rolling posters.

Somehow or another I got to thinking about History Fair and the fact that I never participated as a kid. Wisconsin is big on history--with one of the best historical societies, located right there in downtown Madison--but for whatever reason, the local schools decided not to join in the National History Day festivities. A very unfortunate thing, in my opinion. I feel rather cheated. But all that's in the past (pun intended), so I got to thinking, what did I do instead, that got me so interested in history? What happened in those ten years of social studies classes (3rd-12th grade) that made me love history?

Well 3rd and 4th grade are a little fuzzy when it comes to social studies. I feel like we focused more on Language Arts, Science and Math. I can remember playing with meal worms, reading The Island of the Blue Dolphins, learning how to do fractions. It was not until 5th grade that I was really introduced to the Social Studies. Up until that point, my favorite subject was Art--hands down. But then we started learning about the Explorers, the colonial United States, Westward expansion, and a whole world opened up for me. That year we also did RFI (Reading for Information) projects. This was a brilliant idea on my teacher's part: throughout the school year, each student would research and present four projects on a subject of their choosing.  I did Flowers, Colorado, Louisa May Alcott and Beavers. I'm sure the paper was pretty minimalistic and the report way too wordy; I probably was so nervous that I didn't look up from my note cards, but it was my first experience with research and presentation.

In 6th grade we traveled through World History, concluding the school year with a pompous Medieval Week, full of simulation games, potluck feasts, team competitions and colorful flags. Seventh grade was the year we finally learned about the Holocaust. As early as 4th grade I had seen/heard glimpses of this event, and the idea of World War, but no one had ever taught it to me. I remember feeling (again) rather cheated. 7th and 8th grade were the years we got to write stories for our joint Language Arts and Social Studies assignments. I loved those projects. I would write way past the page limit, always stating at the bottom of the last page "to be continued . . ." I still have some of those stories. Maybe I should pick them up again and see what happens.

The closest thing to History Fair occurred at the end of 8th grade: Colonial Fair. Each student had to create a project within the theme of colonial times and write a little paper about how it was relevant. I made a homemade paper journal, feather pen, walnut black ink and a beeswax candle. Pretty fun.

In 9th grade we still wrote stories. I remember really enjoying one about a family who bought the new Ford Model-T "Tin Lizzie." After that, history classes had more to do with tests and quizzes than projects and paper writing-- that was for the English class. Oh how I wish History Fair had been apart of the curriculum. While memorizing the names and dates is important, I am positive that kids learn more from hands-on projects than constant test-taking.

So here's to you, History Fair!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lessons from Wallowing and Prayer

I keep thinking that I need to have some epic thought before it's worth posting. It would surely make the reading more enjoyable. But if any of us were to wait for such brilliant inspiration, nothing much would get written down. I'm sure there has not been a lack on inspiration coming my way. But for whatever reason, the hints have not been caught.

For these last couple months I believe I have been wallowing-- rolling around in the mud, attempting to avoid irritants and responsibilities, dwelling on my frailties and disappointments. Ok, fine. I'm a wallower. But I'm also a pray-er. And the Lord has taught me some interesting things through wallowing and prayer. The book of James parallels these conclusions very truthfully. This is what I have learned/am still learning as I shake off the mud.

1. Perseverance is important. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4.

2. Anxiety is dangerous.  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:13-17.

3. Asking for wisdom is wise. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5

4. Be patient.  Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:10-11.

5. Give into God. He knows what He's doing. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:7-10.

6. God is good and faithful. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:17-18.

7. Go back to #1 and start all over again. This time, start by abiding in Jesus and look out for the fruit. Luke 13:6-9 and John 15:1-17.

It has been a long time coming--and I'm sure I am just at the beginning of this journey--but the Lord has blessed me with an open door. On Wedesday I begin a part time job with the group I interned with from October-January. It's a little door, but He knows the tiny steps this muddy self can take.
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