Thursday, June 7, 2007

Teaching At Its Best

This is a shout-out to Ms. Lucero, my eighth-grader’s social studies teacher. All year they have been studying U.S. history, with some frequent digressions on The World As Ms. Lucero Sees It. She is notorious on the 3rd floor for pacing the halls in her red, white, and blue lace-up boots, wearing a confiscated baseball cap and blowing her whistle at people who are socializing too much during passing period. My son says she’s his best teacher this year, even though she made them all memorize and perform Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, with feeling. Mostly, they studied the Constitution in depth, relating it to current events through weekly news reports. In her class, the students actually had to write essays, and she actually wrote written comments on those essays. This is not something to take for granted in a class with more than 35 students.

Now they have made it through the grueling three-day Constitution test and the eighth-grade history STAR test. Many of the other teachers are taking a well-earned break, abandoning any attempt to give homework for the last few weeks of school. Not Ms. Lucero. Two weeks ago, each student had to turn in a thorough personal scrapbook project complete with photos, copies of primary documents, a family tree, several personal essays, and a migration map tracing where their family members came from. Then, finally, over Memorial Day weekend, the students had to memorize Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address is not an easy thing to memorize. Mr. Lincoln uses few words, but many of those words he uses more than once, so it’s easy to lose your place. The word “here” appears 7 times, “nation” 5 times, “dedicated” 4 times, and so on. But it is a moving speech that expresses in the simplest terms some of the noblest ideals of our country. As a nation, we may not have lived up to all of those ideals, but at least some of the time, we have strived to do so. Especially now, when our country is at war for the most confused and ill-considered reasons, I feel compelled to consider what kinds of ideals are worth fighting for.

All day on Memorial Day, my son was walking around the house, trying to burn the speech into his brain. It’s now burned into my brain. And I still get a chill on my neck when I hear my son repeating:

“…The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Thank you, Ms. Lucero.

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