Abraham Lincoln, A Man of Faith and Courage

My dad is a history teacher.  Like all history teachers, he has his one era of history that is his specialty.  For him it was the Civil War.  Growing up, there were a lot of books on the Civil War, movies, shows, you name it.  It’s no surprise then that my dad has always named Abraham Lincoln as one of his favorite presidents.
Moving to the “Land of Lincoln” my dad couldn’t resist giving me a book Lincolnon Lincoln.  So out of filial duty, I read it as one of my books to close out Cannonball Read 7.  It wasn’t a tough read, it just didn’t catch my interest.  Until it got to the part about the Civil War years.  Hearing the political machinations and the behind the scenes of the war did interest me and I found myself reading with increase vigor.
The piece that seemed forced was that the author was trying to highlight Lincoln’s faith and show how this faith influenced his decisions.  I think understanding a figure’s faith can shed light on how this figure is.  But as an author and historian, I think it’s a careful line to reveal the figure’s faith and avoid pushing the idea that this faith influenced historical events.  Sometimes it feels legitimate, other times its like throwing water on the horse and saying the horse drank the water.
The one piece I did like was showing how Lincoln himself revealed how the death’s of his sons and the dreams he had of his assassination lead him to consider God.  Sometimes its the tragedies that cause us to seek out solace.  If you’d like to see a more personal side to a figure that is much written about, then I’d recommend this tome to scratch that itch.

The Leader in Me

Confession: I’ve never read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.  It seems like everyone read it either in high school or college and I seemed to have missed that trend.  Not because I didn’t want to read it, it just never came across my radar.  I can’t escape much longer.

After launching a reading program in my classes, several students have Leaderread the young adult version of Seven Habits.  They rave about it and recommend it to me.  I don’t think I can keep avoiding it.  Then our principal wanted to launch a book to be read in our faculty groups.  It was how to incorporate the seven habits into a school’s curriculum and program.

Having never read the Seven Habits, it was hard for me to understand the basis for some of the ideas in the book.  While I do feel that it’s important to read the text upon which Leader in Me is based, I do feel that they should have explained more of the 7 habits.  The most I got was a list.  After two chapters I checked out along with several of my coworkers who also hadn’t read Seven Habits.  It’s like listening to one of your friends reminisce about something you have no relationship to.  You end up just listening and smiling out of politeness, but hope to change the conversation as soon as possible.

The idea behind incorporating and personifying the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is noble. However, in the Leader in Me, I feel like the idea is to sell people in the seminars and professional training. The book is full of stories of teachers and students who’ve found success, yet there’s not a lot of specifics. It’s not a how to book, it’s a why this is important. Not good for professional development but a good introduction for those that will be implementing this mindset into their school in the future.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

I tend to hang on to things that soon become obsolete or that I forget why I have them. It’s gotten to the point that I have tubs of memorabilia that I’m sure would mean nothing to me if I were to go through them.  My wife and I also have an office that tends to be our catch-all for the random detritus of life.  It always reminds us of Monica’s closet on Friends.

We’ve been wanting to declutter our home, and lives, because we don’t likeTidying just having random things sitting around.  I also tend to be pretty spartan in how I decorate so I can’t stand clutter.  as some of you know, the hardest part of getting decluttered is taking the first steps.  Where do you start?  Serendipitous, my wife came across this book at Barnes & Noble.  It starts with where to start decluttering, and then how to organize what remains.

What helped is that instead of going room by room, Marie Kondo suggests going item by item.  Clothes (wherever they are kept in the house), then books, then papers, then memorabilia.  That way, once you declutter that category, it’s done. You don’t have other rooms to work on.

This book is one of the first to really explain how to organize your home, but most importantly, how to discard things. As soon as I read it, I knew that I wanted to being immediately sorting through my belongings to get rid of things I know deep down I don’t use. Ms. Kondo outlines how to do this in a straightforward manner that makes it easy to follow and understand. I recommend this book especially if you are wanting to get your place organized.

Love and Logic

Love and logic is a management philosophy used by teachers and parents.  Its base premise is that kids should be taught (and modeled) how to take ownership of their choices by dealing with the consequences of their choices.  It also encourages teachers and parents to model how to set boundaries without trying to control situations that, at the end of the day, they can’t control.  The win-win is that kids learn to think through their choices, and to understand the pros and cons of those choices.  For adults, it helps to avoid power struggles with kids as well as to not spend more energy than they do.

I first heard about this philosophy from one of my coworkers.  She used love and logic in her classroom and I liked what I saw.  She gave me some articles that introduced the philosophy and gave some examples of how to implement this in the classroom.  The first thing that I’ve did was to change the language on my syllabus.  I went from telling the kids what to do, to telling them what I was going to do.  Obviously there’s a few things that have to be set down firmly to maintain order.  Though instead of telling them to turn their homework in on time I simply told them that I would grade assignments for full credit when they are turned in on time.  This puts it on the student to figure when to get the work in for full credit.

I got this book a year ago and finally made myself read it.  I’ve used bits and pieces of this classroom management philosophy, but the book does a good job of building from philosophy to practice. Sometimes their dialogues are a little forces, but it’s clear what they are treating to convey. The big takeaway from this philosophy is that it’s so easy to implement because it starts with you. You decide what your limits and boundaries are and what you’re going to do about it. You give some control to gain control. Once you understand the philosophy it can also work outside the classroom.  It’s a good communication tool to use when working with difficult people or during conflict management.  Frankly, if more people were to use it I think there’d be less shouting in the world.  But that’s just me generalizing.

North & South

I can imagine Ms. Gaskell cackling to herself as she concluded this book. Much like many of my students do as they turn in amateurish writing that they think is brilliant. Sadly, they and Ms. Gaskell, will be shocked that passion doesn’t all compensate for talent. The writing was not good.

NorthCharacters were undeveloped or used as props in her plot. The majority of the women in this book are hysterical and vapid.  I’m still on the fence whether she was buying into or satirizing the infantilization of women.  Some of the grown women, who had children of their own, seemed to be as whiny and needy as teenagers.

The second half of novel felt predictable and maudlin. Mr. Hale can’t handle the truth in any form.  His daughter Margaret and their maid Dixon, have to concoct ways in which to tell him the status of the family and finances so as not to upset him.  Seriously?!?

In a way, she preceeded G.R.R. Martin in her way of dispatching characters. Towards the end it becomes humorous because as soon as someone mentions they don’t feel well, you can be on the look out for the next paragraph to mention how he or she “passed away in the night”.  It really could be made into an interesting drinking game if you wanted to. 

The good in the novel was the subject matter that Ms. Gaskell tackled. I did not expect the theme of social justice, class warfare, and women’s autonomy to be tackled in a mid-Victorian novel. The fact that Ms. Gaskell attempted to bring these topics to her contemporary culture gives her credit in my esteem. While I did not care for the writing, the subject matter has given me a lot to think about and to discuss with others who’ve read the book. I cautiously recommend this one. Read it only if you won’t be distracted by her poor writing skills.

The Secret Lives of Teachers

This was an intriguing read from cover to cover. There’s a lot of books written about education and teachers, but few are actually by a teacher who is currently teaching.  One of the problems, and items which the author addresses, is that current teachers have no extra time in which to spend writing.  Good teachers are all in.  They commit to their students and their field 100%.  Even during summers, good teachers are prepping, planning, and recuperating for the next year.

The author was listed as Anonymous because, as all teachers know, we are part of few professions where just talking about what we do on a daily basis can get us into hot water with our a plethora of people: principles, superintendents, parents, students, colleagues, you name it.  So to avThe Secret Lives of Teachersoid this, he went anonymous and changed the name of his school.  Regardless of the anonymity, his analysis and description of what it means to be a teacher was relatable and affirming. 

Education has become something of a hot button topic lately and sadly, the only people we don’t hear from are the people in the field itself.  Anonymous addresses this by saying that teachers, as a group, are dedicated to their students and tend to want to avoid the battles that rage around them regarding educational policy.  They just want people to leave them alone so they can teach their students.

As a teacher myself I’m glad one of my own is sharing with the world the highs and lows of being an educator. The brutal honesty was refreshing. There’s no hiding the complex relationships and situations teachers have to navigate from day to day.  If you are a teacher or know a teacher well, I’d recommend you give this book a read.  It’s the smorgasbord of food for thought.