Adams Sherman Hill, an Open Letter to Students of English

To Students of English,

I am sure that each of you are confident in your ability to write. Whether you are partial to Latin, mathematics, English, or all of these subjects be that you are still in grammar or high school, most have an assurance in English— in their own ability to communicate by way of written language. Since you were young, one might assume you have been taught with the intent to achieve mastery in the craft. After all, despite the floundering of certain scholars to produce works with even modest grammatical correctness, it can be noted that every subject requires, at some level, great knowledge of proper writing. However, it is clear that these assumptions are flawed.

Two centuries past the difficulty with education prior to University was a lack of teaching English at all. If the subject was given two hours of instruction within one week it was considered as taking up more time than what should have been allotted. It appears at present, though an ample amount of English is being taught, that the issue now lies within the content of the teaching. At stages in your schooling when, perhaps, the teacher should have had a tighter reign as to what you all were writing and how you were writing it he or she instead opted for a rather liberal amount of student freedom. In addition, educators of the English language have chosen to eschew such sound authors as Macaulay, Thackeray, or Dickens for others who seem to be more preoccupied with “risk taking” in their writing as opposed to a strong focus on the very mechanics that make writing what it is. As a result, the large majority of students are seriously lacking both a command of grammar, punctuation, and, in some instances, spelling as well as an under appreciation for fine literature.

I find it necessary to take the time to remind each of you of the weight your mother tongue holds. One concept that is the same now as it was then is of the general perspective that literacy is an easy skill to grasp and maintain. To my disdain, many educators and students alike seem to be under the false impression that once literacy has been acquired, it no longer needs to be honed. This could not be farther from the truth. I want each of you to dispel this skepticism, along with your own personal misconceptions, and recognize that grammar, punctuation, and spelling should not merely be afterthoughts, but rather muscles that remain continually flexed. Without these firm foundations, you yourself will not be grounded in any aspect of your native language.

It was for these reasons that, in 1874, my University, Harvard, integrated a portion of English composition into the previously established entrance exam. I was, in effect, let down in an immense way when I discovered that nearly half of the students who partook in the exam also failed. I later determined that of those that failed, some did so due to an utter ignorance of the content and some did so due to an utter ignorance of English conventions. I want neither of these severe mistakes to be made by you. I am aware that now the conduct of Universities is vastly different in both the way students are admitted and in the curriculum itself. I can accept these changes to an extent, but I will continue to speak on behalf of not only what is taught in the primary, secondary, and post-secondary settings in regards to English, but also the amount. As I once wrote, “More work is done in the schools; greater proficiency.”

It seems fair to conclude that, if the past is any indication, despite the present shortcomings, both English education and her students will strive to make significant improvements in the coming decades. Although learning from the past has a negative connotation when speaking in general, in this particular situation learning from the past will provide you the greatest hope for your future. Retreating to the very basics upon which written language relies will enable you to again reengage with the one study worth the utmost pursuance throughout your education and beyond. Do not, as was evident with those who were not successful with the inaugural English composition Harvard exam, start an English reform purely for yourself. Rather, set upon the ideals I have outlined in your— and all of the students to come— interest.

Adams Sherman Hill, Harvard University

February 2016

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Adams Sherman Hill. Photo by Bryan A. Garner via Twitter.

A Super Niche Post, Just for You!

I’m about 852.6% positive no one who reads through The Joyous Life of Jess lived during the 1800s (if I am wrong, 117+ year old person you are a rock star!) so this post will hopefully provide you with some enlightening information. As aforementioned, I am currently enrolled in a course entitled “The Theory and Principles of Teaching Writing.” Naturally, this is why my past two posts have centered upon concepts of writing and rhetoric. This week is no different. Taking another big bite out of the history, I’ve been conducting research these past few days on what rhetoric and teaching writing looked like in 19th century America (no small task, let me tell you). Without further ado, here is a super niche post, just for you. 🙂

On this blog, I am a fan of fancy words that can be thrown around at parties to impress others. During the course of my research I learned two new words that are not only fun to say, but are critical to understanding rhetoric in 19th century America. According to the web article, Nineteenth Century Rhetoric, “. . . research into the theoretical foundations of nineteenth-century rhetoric points to three overt influences: ‘firm classical foundations,’ belletristic interests in ‘criticism and literary taste,’ and epistemological approaches to rhetoric as a ‘science’ closely related to the study of the mental faculties.”

Let’s break this down. First (before the two fancy words), the reference of firm classical foundations in this case refers specifically to the rhetorical theories of Cicero. This fellow WordPress blog does an excellent job outlining Cicero’s five canons of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. The 19th century went back to its roots for the foundation, but as the previously stated article writes, “Even the most persistent critics of the ‘dispersed’ state of nineteenth-century rhetoric conclude that nineteenth-century rhetoric extended traditional praxis beyond oratory and public speaking to include the arts of prose composition and critical analysis.” Although 19th century rhetoric was defined by its staunch support of past rhetoric ideals, it was a distinct time of growth in the sense that the focus of rhetoric was no longer just public speaking, but also the written word as well.

Okay, now we can get down and nerdy. The word “belletristic” according to Dictionary.com refers to literature that is regarded as fine art, especially having a purely aesthetic function. What this means in the context of the 19th century is that rhetoric no longer had to be used purely for the purpose of persuading on a large scale, but rather it could be used to make sense of that which is pleasurable. The 19th century set the stage for rhetoric and literature as it has become popularized today, used for both scholarly endeavors as well as (my personal preference) entertaining ones.

Finally, the definition of “epistemological” is relating to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion. Whereas rhetoric of the past had been more of an activity, something that could be bettered with practice, the 19th century saw rhetoric as something that instead was determined by intelligence. They reached this conclusion by taking Cicero’s canons and combining it with the psychology determined by epistemological study. It was a movement that eventually gave rise to great thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who ultimately challenged everything the 19th century (and past centuries, for that matter) defined as rhetoric.

Once I gathered the information that defined 19th century rhetoric, it only felt natural to look into what teaching writing consisted of during that time as well. The two go hand in hand. What I found is that what defined rhetoric also defined the concepts of teaching writing. One major player behind the foundation of schooling in 19th century America is “The Scottish Commonsense Philosophy.” This philosophy in layman’s terms was all about thinking of the mind as an “anatomy” that consisted of multiple faculties that cataloged the ways in which individuals experienced the world. As is stated by the article “Psychology and the Teaching of Writing” by William F. Woods, at the time this psychology gained widespread acceptance by educators and the public alike.

The Scottish Commonsense Philosophy led to schooling being taught as a discipline. With English in particular, spelling and grammar students were expected to take up rote memorization of rules and practices. This directly affected the way writing was taught, as well. Instead of giving students the freedom to write in their own voices, “written exercises asked them to imitate sentences which contained the principles of grammar.” This led to importance being placed upon correct conventions, as opposed to the ideas behind the writing.

This would prove to be somewhat detrimental, as was demonstrated in a man named Adams Sherman Hill. In 1879, Adams Sherman Hill was named the assistant professor of rhetoric at Harvard, as is stated in my professor’s history of writing. During his time at Harvard, Hill worked hard to keep writing focused upon correct conventions. Although he truly cared about the subject of English and fought to have English composition taught more at every level in University, when it came to the writing of potential students the importance was placed upon the likes of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. After seeing that half of the incoming freshman class failed the newly instated writing portion of the entrance exam due to “utter ignorance of punctuation and spelling” he wrote an essay directed towards to primary, grammar, and high school educators and administrators. He titled it, “An Answer to the Cry for More English” and within he urged for English to be taught more properly in schools before the public took to criticizing the colleges for not teaching English enough. While one can certainly admire his goals, it unfortunately led to a more shallow view of English. Hill’s focus was on the surface, not always on the ideas that the writing conveyed. Years later, rhetoric scholar Sharon Crowley took aim at Hill’s view on rhetoric by saying his stance and the Harvard written exam served no purpose other than alienating English speakers from their written language by creating an exam that is extremely difficult to pass with the only goal being to create more classes that could then attempt to pick up the pieces of the destruction of rhetoric left in its wake. While I do not necessarily completely agree with Crowley or with Hill, in the 21st century, educators and students alike are still feeling the aftermath of these past ways of thinking.

On this fine Friday, I hope that you learned all that you never knew you wanted to learn about rhetoric and the teaching of writing in 19th century America. It was a time defined by firm characteristics of the past, as well as unsound philosophies of its present. The result was a cookie-cutter way of writing that this country is still in the process of breaking the mold from. That being said, it is important to understand history so that we can learn from it. Without having known about rhetoric and teaching writing in the 19th century, I would not have had a definite guide of what I do and don’t want my students’ rhetoric and my teaching of writing to look like a few years from now. So in that case, thank you to all those 117+ year olds who defined writing as they knew it so that we could eventually keep making it better. I have now shared all that I know to be true in this super niche post, just for you. 😉

Recent Tendrils and Mighty Roots

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Here is an aesthetically pleasing picture of writing to accompany my post on writing. Photo CC by OuadiO via Flickr.

For the vast majority of literate people, learning of the written word began small. It probably started with sounds, using rounded mouths to form gurgling syllables. Then it moved onto speech, being able to say specific letters and words. After that came the writing itself, but it was tackled in baby steps. Scribbles, then letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then essays. After that, a transference occurs. Once a person has “learned” how to build a proper paper, their learning is considered complete. It is then up to the person what they choose to use writing for, and many choose to utilize writing when it is a necessity. This could manifest to complete duties in the workplace, accomplish organization at home, or (unfortunately, not as often) as an outlet. These recent tendrils of the uses of writing are not far removed from the mighty roots of the origins of writing.

Once writing was acquired by people in the Ancient Near East, their uses of it stayed mostly consistent. As mentioned in my post Let’s Make Writing Accessible during the early centuries of writing, the scribes were the only ones who were trained in its art. As a result, they had a monopoly, so to speak, on the written word. This meant that they had the most say as to what writing was used for.

According to an in-progress work on this history of writing by one of my professor’s, the uses of writing could be generally categorized in two ways. The first is propaganda. Perhaps as early as 4000 BC, images and symbols were used to perpetuate a sense of order and lift up the rulers and gods. Today, this is most definitely still relevant. While the term propaganda has become somewhat taboo in modern society, written and spoken media still has great sway on public opinion of people in leadership positions. Although (as was demonstrated in this past presidential election) the media is an incredible force, the power still ultimately resides in the people, and people can come together to defy great odds.

The second use of writing is administrative, which makes sense. Where there are people there are needs, and if those needs are going to be met it is necessary to have organization. In the Ancient East, the kingdom was responsible for fulfilling the needs of its people. The scribes were charged with the task of keeping this bureaucracy in order, outlining what the kingdom brought in and what it dispensed and what it was left with. This website, History World agrees with the idea that writing was used to keep tallies. It states that in early millenniums, writing was used for such things as tracking animals, conducting trade, accounting, and creating early documents that signified ownership. It goes without saying that writing is of the utmost importance in all economies today. However, it is too bad that writing had to help develop taxes along the way. 🙂

I don’t remember my first sounds, my first words, or even my first writings but that is fine because I am aware of what writing means to me today and I am appreciative of its paramount origins. Propaganda might seem eerie and bookkeeping might seem dull, but without them both who knows where the written word would be in 2017. I use writing to express my ideas, but if it is used to complete tasks that is completely okay. No matter what anyone uses it for the fact that it is being used is wonderful. Each time a person takes it upon themselves to take advantage of the written word, a new shoot is created, a new tendril burrows its way out from the mighty roots of writing’s illustrious history. To me, that is beautiful.

Let’s Make Writing Accessible

The friends and family God has given me in life are a bunch that (for the most part) dislike reading, and definitely dislike writing. My father was a business education major, my mother was an accounting major, my younger brother doesn’t care much for school in general but REALLY does not enjoy English class (boo hiss), and my best friend would much rather work on cars and drive big machines than write. It’s funny, both to them and myself, that I ended up choosing the career path that I did as an English educator.

I always thought that our differences were due largely in part to the way our minds were wired, and I still do. I’m not completely removed from their logical ideologies, but I consider myself more of an abstract thinker. Whereas my loved ones are more grounded in concrete concepts I often find myself taking a step back and looking at the big picture. However, after being exposed to a brief history of writing this past week, I’ve begun to rethink exactly why those close to me have such a distaste for writing like they do.

I know it might seem like a stretch. What on Earth does the history of writing have to do with personal preference? As it turns out, quite a lot. My Theory and Principles of Teaching Writing professor provided those in his class with a compelling history beginning well before Christ’s time taking part in the hypostatic union, expanding my mind on a subject that as far as I was concerned never really had a solid beginning. Reading it has led me to this conclusion; writing has never been truly accessible for everyone.

This might seem obvious at first. Many people are aware of how priests in the Middle Ages abused their power of being literate by specifically not letting anyone else learn how to read, write, or speak Latin. What many people don’t know is how often similar scenarios have occurred throughout history, well before and well after the Middle Ages. One of the most fascinating truths I learned from this history on writing in regards to this is how one of the first authors ever was actually a woman named Enheduanna. I’d be willing to bet a generous sum of money ($20, in college student speak) that not many outside of those firmly entrenched in writing academia had ever heard her name before this post, which is sad. Enheduanna is the first of a long line of people that have been excluded from learning something that should be a right, literacy.

That is precisely how she relates back to my own friends and family. Although personality and interests certainly play a role, one of the major reasons most people don’t enjoy writing is because it has never been made accessible to them. From the scribes allegedly keeping the first alphabet under wraps in order to preserve their high status in society, to slave owners forbidding slaves to learn how to read and write in an attempt to keep them powerless, to teachers who only teach how to write properly instead of exploring the craft, writing has been kept from the public both intentionally and unintentionally for ages.

As a result, my biggest take away from learning more about the history of writing is that I want to do everything in my power to make sure that I do not keep writing from any of my future students. For my parents, my brother, my best friend, and all those in history who did not have the privilege to explore such a wonderful medium in a way that was meaningful to them, I will do my best to make writing accessible in my classroom by making it a personal experience for each student. I desire nothing more than for all to believe in their own written word, and use it to share their unique ideas with a world that might otherwise try to silence them.

I Would Never Hurt an Elephant (but I Would Gently Lead It Away from My Classroom)

I love animals. I love them all, including elephants. Unfortunately, the title of this blog post does not actually have to do with real elephants, but rather the metaphorical phrase of “an elephant” being in the room. Particularly, in the classroom. I might only be 19, but as someone who has known they wanted to become an educator for quite some time I have been able to recognize the fact that the American education system is imperfect (to say the least). With this understanding, I have also been able to observe how educators react to this fact. What I have noticed is that most don’t react at all. They would rather leave the elephants in the room than help them. This phenomena is addressed in the article, 9 Elephants in the (Class)Room that Should “Unsettle” Us by Will Richardson.

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This elephant looks like it is smiling. 😀 Probably because it is free to roam around outside instead of being cooped up in a classroom… or maybe it just found some good mud to bathe in. Photo CC by John Hilliard via Flickr.

I think it is important to quote how Richardson begins his article. He writes, “At a recent morning workshop for school leaders at a fairly small New England public school district, about an hour into a conversation focused on what they believed about how kids learn best, an assistant superintendent somewhat surprisingly said aloud what many in the room were no doubt feeling. “When I really try to square what I believe about how kids learn and what we practice in our classrooms, it unsettles me,” she said. “And it frustrates me.” As it should.” There is a disconnect in education. Many teachers know what learning looks like, and it is not what they see in the classroom. Richardson addresses nine of the issues that attribute to the disconnect in this article.

The first point of his that resonated with me was number five, “[Educators] know that grades, not learning, are the outcomes that students and parents are most interested in.” I can attest to this problem, because it is something I struggle with greatly. I have never not had a 4.0 GPA, I was co-valedictorian of my high school class, and I have been on the president’s list every semester of college thus far. These are all well and good accomplishments, but what is the point? I might earn A’s, but often I find it is at the risk of truly understanding material. This is because there isn’t enough time to both earn a good grade and fully take in, digest, and learn the subject at hand. It is so much more important for students to actually learn than to “learn” what will be measured on a test. This article by a sophomore in high school named Emily Mitchum also discusses the harm grading has done to education, and it echoes many of my sentiments. My belief is that the only way to fix this is to eradicate grades. You might initially think I’m crazy for saying that, but it is possible and has been done already. Alternative schools like Northstar are a testament to developing high-functioning learners without the use of grades or tests. It is my hope to one day see public education adopt a similar approach.

The second point that caught my eye was number four, “[Educators] know that [they’re] not assessing the things that really matter for future success.” Students learn how to solve for x, what a preposition is, and when World War I ended… but why don’t we teach them dispositions? Why don’t we prepare them to be patient, to be kind, to become a healthy citizen in this world? Why can’t we explicitly help them to hone their creative skills, to be curious, to thrive amongst diversity? To me, and many others, it makes no sense. I know there are excellent teachers in this world that are attempting to overcome the oppression of rigid structuring to help their students explore these questions, but until all teachers do it will not be enough. The only way to remedy this difficult elephant will be to overhaul the education system as we know it. Call me crazy again, but I hope I live to see this day.

The elephants are there, and everyone knows it, so why don’t we do something about it? Let’s grab some big leashes and get those gentle guys out of here. We can take them to a savanna, bring them some water to drink, some vegetation to eat, and let them trumpet their trunks in glee. The only thing we can’t do is let them stay in the classroom. It will be difficult, it will be arduous, but a change is possible. All of my fellow (future) educators, I challenge you to not let those elephants stay unacknowledged. We can be the ones to make a difference for future students, producing generations who love to learn instead of those who hate school. Together we can make it happen.

Imperfectly Inching Towards Imaginative Innovation

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Photo CC by Boegh via Flickr.

I’ve always considered myself to be determined, dedicated, and passionate about my learning endeavors. As a student, when I’ve set my mind to do something I generally succeed. I have a drive for wanting to grow in my knowledge, and I am thankful for it. However, one thing I wouldn’t describe myself as is innovative. The paths I travel towards achievement have usually been well wandered before me. I tend to do what I’m told, because why fix what isn’t broken? This has worked for me as a student, but after reading two eye-opening articles this week, I realize it won’t work for me as a teacher. Our education system is failing in many ways, and in order to make any sort of change I will need to think outside of the box.

To start, I took a deeper look at myself as a student over the last semester. I was doubtful at first. Had I actually done anything that was innovative? After reading the first article, The Mindset of an Innovator by George Couros, I realized that I had. In this post, Couros writes a poetic personal statement about how he desires to function as an innovator.  In order to become this, he lists certain keys to innovation. These include such things as constantly seeking to improve one’s abilities, being a role model, and being empathetic.

The line that really stuck out to me in his list was when he wrote, “I listen and learn from different perspectives, because I know we are much better together than we could ever be alone. I can learn from anyone and any situation.” Immediately, I thought of the personal-learning network I cultivated in digital literacy class a few weeks ago. As per the assignment, I was required to follow one hundred Twitter accounts and ten blogs that posted content relevant to what I wanted my personal-learning network to be about, which for me was both English education and general education. Although because it was required it wasn’t my own original idea, since I have done it I feel as though I have learned a ton by being connected to a myriad of people. Now that I have surrounded myself with other knowledgeable educators, I can continue to gather important ideas and then implement them in a few years when I myself am in the classroom. I’d consider that innovative.

The second article I read, despite being short, was packed with profound ideas. The chief of those ideas was that of “unlearning”.  In, The Steep Unlearning Curve: 10 Things We Need to Unlearn Will Richardson defines unlearning as simply learning to see things in a new light with an open mind. This one was a little trickier to relate back to me because it is focused specifically on educators, but my big take-away came from number three on the list, “We need to unlearn the idea that learning itself is an event. In this day and age, it is a continual process.” This semester I was elected president of my college’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, which is an international English honor society. It’s a been a few weeks, and I’m slowly getting the hang of things. To get to this point, though, I’ve had to constantly learn from the people around me. The two club supervisors and former club president have taught me many things about not only how the organization runs, but how to be a leader. It is school affiliated, but Sigma Tau Delta isn’t school. Yet, I am learning. Constantly, continuously, every single day I learn from the world around me. Being able to recognize that and apply it to school and life is an innovation.

So now I suppose I can consider myself a person who is determined, dedicated, passionate, and (imperfectly inching towards being an imaginative) innovator.  It’s a process, that much I’ve learned from the readings, but so is the how I have been learning, just in a different way. It will be well worth it in the long run, though. Becoming an innovator means not only improving the way that I look at education, but the way my future students will look at education as well. I am up for the challenge.

The Struggle Bus (Take Two)

My very first blog post ever on The Joyous Life of Jess was entitled The Struggle Bus, and it detailed the five moments that have most defined my learning journey. Although the body of the post contained such stories like me having a competition to lose my first tooth in pre-school, the idea of The Struggle Bus came into play in the introduction and conclusion where I used it as imagery to help explain what learning looked like to me. Thirteen weeks later I have come full circle in the semester by again getting to revisit this concept of mine.

Our assignment was to create a digital story that used a metaphor to describe what learning or teaching felt like to us. I racked my brain for a week trying to come up with something. I first thought I might use sculpting to represent what learning has been like for me. I started as an unshaped blob, but every day since God has been working me into His creation by using the people around me. I liked it, but I wasn’t entirely sold. I then thought about using gardening to describe what my teaching would look like. Each year I would be given charge of a bunch of beautiful, unique flowers and it would be my job to water and feed their minds so that they grow in knowledge. Nah, I thought that one was too cliché. Finally, the day before the video was due, it hit me— I had already created a metaphor! The Struggle Bus.

Once I realized this, I excitedly set to work on creating my very own digital story. I did not have access to a microphone, so I decided to find a website that would allow me to create a presentation-like piece complete with text, pictures, and music. After a bit of Googling and sifting through lists aptly named “Top 10 Websites” I settled on WeVideo. I was super impressed with the ease of use. I had never before created or edited my own video, but I caught on quickly thanks to the friendly setup. While I finished my project in fairly short order, I did have a moment of panic towards the end. With the free account (the one every broke college student would gravitate towards) each user gets up to five minutes of video available to upload each month. My creation just so happened to be 4 minutes and 48 seconds long… so I was sweating it out while I waited to see if it would go through or not. God is good, and it indeed came through! As one can tell from the courtesy link to my video here. All in all, I would definitely use this service again.

If you would like to hop onto The Struggle Bus with me (perhaps for the second time) set aside the next five minutes and check out my video. While the name might sound negative at first, I promise there is a happy ending. As with anything in life, one cannot experience success in learning without going through trials and tribulations. The Struggle Bus captures the dawdling, the work, and the sweet reward… all in one. So all aboard; there is always room for one more. 🙂

The End Draws Near…

I’ve been going to my hometown church for four years now, and I’ve loved every minute of being a part of such a wonderful family. However, there has always been one burning question in the back of my mind: why does it take my pastor so long to get through one book in the Bible? I’ve been blessed to be engaged in sermons that go verse by verse through a book, but each of those books seems to take multiple months to finish in our church. This isn’t a bad thing; just an observation. With my independent-learning project in Romans, I finally understand why. In the last semester (fourteen weeks to be exact) I’ve posted nine times (including two bonus blogs) in regards to my independent learning project. Out of those I covered two and one-third chapters in Romans, a couple verses in Ecclesiastes, and some background on hermeneutics. For the record, the majority of these posts were 1,000+ words. I now realize how huge of an undertaking studying God’s word is, especially to those who are teaching others. The painstaking care to go word by word through each passage in order to ensure accuracy is crucial, and I appreciate the responsibility. God allowed me to learn and then entrusted me to teach this small chunk of His word to you all in this class, and I am very grateful. This opportunity given to me to glorify Him has taught me three major things.

1.) I am a Sinner

One last time, let’s be reminded of the hermeneutics of the book of Romans. The author is Paul, the audience is the Jews and Greeks of the Roman church, and the purpose is Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” The book of Romans was written to the Jews and Greeks of the Roman church but it was written for all Christians to come. Therefore, I know that I am as much a dirty, rotten, filthy, stinking, stupid sinner as anyone that walked before me. I didn’t get the opportunity to write about this section, but Romans 3:10-18 explicitly states this. I am not righteous, I do not understand, I do not seek for God, I have turned aside and become worthless, I do not do good, my throat is an open grave and I deceive, my mouth is bitter, my feet shed blood, in my path I leave ruin and misery, I have not known the peace of God, and I do not fear Him.

2.) God is Sovereign

But (that glorious, glorious word) as I learned through the Romans Road, despite all this blackness, I am saved through the gospel. The gospel, which can also be found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, is “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. Before the foundation of the world, God chose me, set me apart, sanctified me that I would be saved through the sacrifice of His son. What a savior. There are no words to express my thankfulness. Through the spreading of His gospel, the only gospel, my sincerest hope is that you, too, might know this joy.

3.) Independent-Learning Projects are Cool Beans

Finally, I loved being able to take part in an independent-learning project. I had never heard of this learning approach before, but can honestly say I am so glad I’ve become acquainted with it through this class. My favorite part about my independent-learning project is how it let me learn in a way that felt completely my own. Being able to pick my focus, decide how I would go about studying it, and choose what I would write about was a freeing experience (particularly in college where “playing the game” is a requirement). Because I felt so empowered (and the fact that my learning was all about God’s word), I found that I never once dreaded to complete a blog post when it came to my independent-learning project. That is not something I can say about much (if not all) of the rest of my homework in my college career. Due to my fantastic experience, I most definitely plan to incorporate ILPs into my future English classroom. If my students enjoy having learner-autonomy half as much as I did, my classroom will be on the right track.

Again, I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to take part in such a refreshing study. I may not have covered as much ground blogging as I wanted to, but Romans has reminded me that God is sovereign and He has put me exactly where I need to be in this moment. Thank you to all who have read my Romans posts throughout the semester; I pray that through the words He has given me, God’s light has shined bright to each of you. I’m also glad that my question has been answered. I now have gotten a tiny taste of the time, effort, and study my pastor puts into his sermons each week. Isn’t it delightful how when God teaches, He provides answers to even the smallest of questions? God is in control, God is in control, God is in control. 🙂

Atalanta, Beowulf, and Comic Strips… Oh My!

When I was in high school, I distinctly remember one project I had to complete my sophomore year of English. Summer vacation was close at hand, and we were finishing up our last unit which happened to be on Greek Mythology. For the record, I’m not a fan of Greek Mythology. I was an early Christian at that point in time, so the utterly false teaching of it all turned me off (and there is far too much drama for my taste). Looking back now, however, I can see the artistic value of it. Anyway, we were each assigned a character of Greek Mythology (mine was Atalanta) and we were to present a brief overview of the life of our characters to our classmates. One could say I was less than thrilled at the time. Instead of a dry oral account, though, my teacher had us create accounts on a website called StoryboardThat. Essentially, this website allows users to create simple comic strips of whatever their heart desires, complete with characters, backgrounds, and dialogue. Needless to say I loved every minute of it, and this project has stayed in the back of my mind ever since

Last semester in college, the opportunity for me to revisit the StoryboardThat website arose. I was enrolled in a British Literature course, and every two weeks or so my professor had us complete assignments that she called “study guides”. For each one, it was required of us to complete at least one essay question and up to two creative questions. One of my favorite creative questions she offered was to make a lesson plan for one of the readings from class. For Beowulf, I constructed a lesson plan that involved students making a 3×3 StoryboardThat panel that displayed a scene from Beowulf, but with a twist. The instructions had students adding modern language to the dialogue of the scene, making it more relevant to their world. My example that I made for the assignment is posted below. This piece of the study guide did two things for me: it reaffirmed my decision to enter into a profession of education, and it helped to see the fun role that comic strips could play in the classroom.

This week in module thirteen for my digital literacy class, I was again transported back into the world of comic strips. This time I branched out. Instead of going back to StoryboardThat (which I am very much still fond of) I decided to explore a new website, at the prompting of this article. While it listed five potential places to visit to create comic strips, I decided on Pixton. I was pleased with my decision. I not only found the interface easy to use, but I was delighted by the rich detail I was able to implement with my comic strips. My overall favorite aspect was the level of customization users have with the characters. I got to make a little comic mini me. 🙂 For fun, I created a comic strip based off of this class. Unfortunately, this is where the one drawback to Pixton makes itself known. For whatever reason, I can embed my Pixton creation into my post, but it only shows up as a link once I publish. Ah well, nothing is perfect. Follow this link to see my creation.

All of this exploration into comic strips started me thinking about the many ways to utilize it in the classroom. Comic strips are great for students because they allow for creativity, they promote critical thinking, and they integrate the use of technology into the classroom in a meaningful way. As aforementioned, two such implementations could be presentations (like with Atalanta) or literature assignments (like with Beowulf). Both of these examples have students in control of the comic strips, but what about teachers? The more I thought about it, the more I realized how awesome it would be for teachers to include comic strips into daily classroom teaching. For example, comic strips could be used to work with students for disabilities. If a teacher has a student with a reading disability, they could use comic strips for instructions on worksheets and projects. That way the student can have visuals to connect with the words on the page. This made me excited, and also reminded me how incredible technology is. I’m so looking forward to utilizing comic strips in the classroom, both for my students and myself… although maybe with literature other than Greek Mythology. 😉

Romans Chapter Two (Part Two)

I don’t have much to say in way of introduction to this post, only how good it feels to spend time in God’s word. Yesterday I got to meet with my discipleship mentor (for the second time in two weeks, whoo!) and we are in the midst of going verse by verse through Hosea. So not only did I get to sift through this second part of Romans chapter two, but I was able to study Hosea chapter six as well. I am very thankful for these opportunities. With 17 days (but who’s counting?) of school left in the most difficult semester I’ve encountered yet, God’s word is like a breath of fresh air into my soul.

You all know the drill, before we begin it is imperative that we start with hermeneutics. The author of Romans is Paul, the audience is the Jews and Greeks of the Roman Church (which will be extra important in today’s post), and the purpose is Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.” Excellent! In order to rightly handle the word of God, one must study within context. Without further ado…

“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law” (Rom 2:12). To understand what the law (which is the ten commandments) meant to Paul and the Jews and the Greeks, let us take a field trip to the book of Hebrews. “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Hebrews 7:12). Alright, let’s break it down. The definition of a high priest is a man who represented the people to God. The high priest was the person in charge of sacrifices in the Old Testament in order to continually cleanse the sins of the people. Since everyone in the Old Testament lived underneath the law they were in constant need of sacrifices on their behalf because they were all sinners which made it impossible for them to perfectly keep the law. This extended to the high priests; if they made one mistake, it cost them their lives. When Jesus came to earth, he was both 100% God and 100% man (the ol’ hypostatic union) which made him simultaneously a high priest who represented the people to God, and an apostle who represented God to the people. Because of this, when Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross, as a high priest he made the final sacrifice that ever needed to be made. This change in the high priest and the repercussions of his sacrifice signaled a change in the law. No longer was (or is) the law necessary. Now because of God’s mercy shown through Jesus, all those who believe in him and his sacrifice have eternal life no matter how many times they sin according to the law, because these people are no longer underneath it. “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:18-19). The law was a broken system because no one could achieve it. In Jesus, all who believe can again have a relationship with God by being saved in his name. Back in Romans, the Jews believed in the Old Testament whereas the Greeks believed in Jesus Christ. This is Paul explaining that those who choose to live under the law will never have salvation, because they have all broken the law by sinning.

“For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:13-16). When the law was given to God’s people, there was only the Jews. As it says in Romans 11, the Gentiles were later grafted in like a wild olive shoot. They didn’t become a part of the olive tree until after Jesus made his sacrifice. Therefore, they never lived underneath the law, knowing nothing but the grace of Jesus. However, Paul makes a point to say that the law is written on their hearts. What this means is that even though the Gentiles (and all true Christians) do not have to live up to the law’s standards, they should use it as a guide. The goal of all saved people should be to strive to be Christ-like. The ten commandments reflect the perfection of Jesus. No one outside of Jesus will ever be able to keep them in their entirety, but they are there as a reminder to show how Jesus was, is, and will forever be. Paul then goes onto say it is by belief in Jesus that all who are not under the law will be judged. I really like the use of the word “secrets” here. It implies an intimacy that God has with men. Only He knows our hearts.

“But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2:17-24). Paul rips into the Jews of the Roman church here because of how they treated the Gentiles. The Jews considered themselves superior because they had the law, so Paul is here to remind them three things: 1.) the law is no longer necessary because of Jesus, 2.) they cannot judge because they are sinners just as much as the Gentiles (or anyone else for that matter), and 3.) living under the law means that in order to achieve salvation they must keep it perfectly which, again, is impossible. In fact, Paul explicitly states that because the law is no longer God’s will, they are committing blasphemy by spreading the false teaching amongst the Gentiles that they are more significant in their salvation because of the law. In all reality everyone is a sinner, and in the end only through Jesus can those sins be wiped clean.

“For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Rom 2:25-29). To best explain this passage, I’m going to jump to Galatians 5:2-6. “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Naturally, Paul explains himself best. Circumcision is more than just a symbol, it marks a man in the eye of God that they are to keep the law. With circumcision, no man can be saved through Jesus Christ because they are designated as still living under the law. Therefore, it is not right to say that a Jew who is circumcised is better than a Gentile, because if they feel the need to boast about their physical appearance it shows that they have not been truly changed by the Holy Spirit on the inside. Under Jesus, like Paul has been hammering home this entire section, all men, regardless of nationality, can be saved.

This was a super-duper long post, but I hope that it helped to rejuvenate you as much as it did me. I don’t know about you all, but because I’m such a dirty, rotten, filthy, stupid, stinking sinner I am so, so, SO thankful for Jesus Christ and the fact that I will not be judged by the law whenever God calls me home. Praise the Lord! This concludes chapter two of Romans. Next week I will be back for the start of chapter three. I hope to have you all come along for the next part of this joyous journey. 😀