About a month ago, I saw a number of people in my news feed sharing an article called “Horizontal History” from the website Wait But Why. I wasn’t familiar with the site before, but it seemed interesting, so I saved it in my Instapaper queue. I finally got around to reading it this week, and it’s worth a read. Fair warning: the language is a bit coarse at times, but the ideas are nevertheless worth considering. I was particularly struck by the following passage.

The reason history is so hard is that it’s so soft. To truly, fully understand a time period, an event, a movement, or an important historical figure, you’d have to be there, and many times over. You’d have to be in the homes of the public living at the time to hear what they’re saying; you’d have to be a fly on the wall in dozens of secret, closed-door meetings and conversations; you’d need to be inside the minds of the key players to know their innermost thoughts and motivations. Even then, you’d be lacking context. To really have the complete truth, you’d need background—the cultural nuances and national psyches of the time, the way each of the key players was raised during childhood and the subtle social dynamics between those players, the impact of what was going on in other parts of the world, and an equally-thorough understanding of the many past centuries that all of these things grew out of.

That’s a pretty good explanation of why we must teach students to think historically. It also explains why history, as it should be taught, is far more complex than names and dates. Like Whitman, real history is large. It contains multitudes.


My approach to blogging, that is.

I’ve had a number of different blogs over the past ten years or so, and every time, my enthusiasm for the project eventually runs out. I’ve come to realize that this is because what starts as an exciting commitment to writing or sharing my thoughts inevitably starts to feel like work.

Inevitably, I start out strong, but in the interest of gaining readers (or keeping the few I actually have), I reach a point where I feel pressure to post regularly. As a result, my interest in the things I’m writing about wanes. When I don’t post, I feel guilty, and then I eventually give up altogether. “If I’m not posting at least a couple of times per week and build a strong readership,” I think, “it’s not worth maintaining the blog at all.”

Now, I basically didn’t post at all for the last several months of the school year, and I’ll blame this almost entirely on baseball. Teaching is work enough, but add in two-plus hours of practice/games every day, and the opportunity for blogging is essentially nil. So I didn’t. This is the proverbial moment of truth. Do I let this blog fade into oblivion like the others, or do I make a change?

I’d like to do better, but from here on out, I’m going to give myself a pass. In keeping with my desire to use this blog as “a forum where I can ‘wonder aloud,’ so to speak, about the things that arouse my curiosity,” I’m going to write when I feel like it and try not to care who might be reading. It would be great, of course, to get feedback from others, but as I think about what I want out of blogging, I realize that I see it more as an introspective tool than a connective one.

On that note, right now, my curiosity is particularly aroused by the coup that has taken place at my alma mater, the University of Virginia. To call it a coup is to be deliberately provocative, but I also think it’s apt because of the way that the Board of Visitors has essentially forsaken its public stewardship role and its fiduciary responsibility to a number of constituencies (students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, and taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Virginia). Despite the fact that U.Va. is a public university, the Board is acting as if the University is a private corporation–which, I’m afraid, may be their ultimate vision for the institution.

Objectivity is admittedly somewhat difficult for me given my connection to the school, but I believe that how this episode plays out will have all sorts of ramifications for education and society, not only in Virginia, but across the nation as well. Perhaps I’ll write more later. If I feel like it.

I dreamed up this blog back in the final days of summer, before school started. I had been spending a lot of time reflecting on how my experiences this summer (some of which I’ll probably get into in subsequent posts) had changed me as a teacher, and I thought it would be nice to explore some of my ideas in writing and hopefully get some feedback from fellow professionals.

And then school started. For the last two and a half weeks, I’ve be readjusting to the blinding pace, and much of that dreamy end-of-summer thinking has been pushed to the recesses of my brain. This worries me, because after all of my “personal and professional growth” this summer, the last thing I want is to be forced back into some of my old habits by the workaday concerns of another school year. And so, over the last few days I’ve found my mind drifting back to the idea of a blog.

Unlike a lot of people these days (especially some of those on the 24-hour cable news networks), I’m putting myself into the “public sphere” not because I presume to have all of the answers, but because I don’t. Although I wouldn’t humble myself as much as Socrates in saying that “I know nothing,” I do agree with his oft-quoted assertion that “Wisdom begins in wonder.”

I hope that this blog will be a forum where I can “wonder aloud,” so to speak, about the things that arouse my curiosity, most notably teaching and learning, history, and ideas in general. It will also be a venue for self-reflection. From time to time, I may also veer into other arenas—right now, for instance, I’m quite interested in the politics of architecture and of food—but even then, the educational focus will (I hope) remain clear.