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What I’m Reading

I’ve read many books this summer. As goes with my mind, the books are deeply entrenched in me when I read them and poof! gone the moment I finish them. They inform and inspire me as I read them and then I move on. The reading of them is another experience in my life. I don’t remember every meal I’ve eaten and conversation I’ve had, so, too, with my reading material—it’s been absorbed into my system some stays, enriching the rest, and some goes. 

But right now I am in the midst of two books that point to the two ways my mind seems to be wandering of late. They are What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It by Trish Wood, and home safe by Elizabeth Berg.

One, as you can tell by the title, is a very tough-to-read book about what some soldiers have experienced in Iraq. The other is not; it is about a woman coming into herself after her husband dies. One I need to read because it is too horrible to think that “we” are fighting two wars, one since 2001 and the other since 2003, and yet my life is untouched and even my reading, except for some articles and the biographies that the Washington Post publishes when there have been enough deaths for a two-page spread.

I am determined to pass this reading onto my students. No, not just reading, I am determined to have them think outside of their boxes for a while. No, I am determined that they rise to their capability to think about the world they live in.

These wars have become the white noise behind the childhood of these kids (and our own “adult” lives); the seventeen-year olds I will be teaching would have been nine when the War in Afghanistan began and eleven when the Iraq War began. My assumption is that except for the kids who have a parent serving in Iraq or Afghanistan or the military (lots of military kids here, right down the road from the Pentagon and a number of bases) they are not very aware. Not only that, with all of the wars and sundry other things that the history teachers must cover in a year (my take on our history textbooks), they barely talk about Vietnam. So rather than read a novel that enables them to escape, which they surely know how to handle, I feel that we need to reach into the world we live in and consider it.

I’m not sure if I can blame them for their complacency when it’s us, the mature grown-ups, who have become complacent. Or have our experiences and observations made us not believe what Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

While there had been a time when I entertained visions of creating an NGO that changed people’s lives I have come to find that I am not so much of a doer. I feel bad about that, and no, no amount of wanting it is going to change my personality and I don’t care what all the self-help books say. But in my little classroom I am determined to do my part. It’s not possible that I have become an English teacher only to help kids master the comma and the thesis statement. There must always be a purpose behind a purpose. So, the woman with a master’s in conflict studies, is going to read and talk about war. And I’m excited about it.

Because the way to peace is to understand war.



I am excited hearing a teacher wanting to tackle the tough issues! What conversations this may spawn and some of your students might even wake up! "The way to peace is to understand war" I like that. Good luck with this most noble endeavor.


Are we complacent or just desensitised? I can hardly remember what it’s like to turn on the news or glance at a newspaper and not see something about this forever-long boondoggle that idiot Bush got us into. (Sorry to any Bush fans out there, but you know as well as I do that he lied and put us into a war that had nothing whatever to do with 9/11). It’s ubiquitous. Just like news of the spiralling economy, job losses, business closings and foreclosures – all things with which I have an intimate and painful familiarity.

And as time goes on we further abrogate our societal obligations and disenfranchise and detach ourselves and become a disconnected, dysfunctional country of people who close themselves off from virtually all human contact with cell phones, texting, Blackberries, iPods and all manner of electronic teats to suckle and forget what it means to be civil or how to function as a group of committed citizens who can change the world.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

rockync, thanks for the boost of purpose and confidence.

Geo, you are on a roll! Before they can be committed citizens to change the world they need to care about the world. That's what I'll try to do.


I wish you success! I about drove off the road the other day listening to All Things Considered (because I am an NPR junkie) talking about the state of our educational system and the mental midgets being unleashed on the unsuspecting mainstream public. I am appalled at the government's increasing lack of interest and devotion to our schools and universities and even more appalled at how little so many people seem to care...

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Geo, I just spent five weeks in a classroom with 25 teachers and I can tell you that there are some amazing teachers who are absolutely dedicated to their students. There's only so much we can do in class when the kids go home to parents who don't rise to any occasion. And there's only so much you can do when people lose their enthusiasm because they get too many "latest thing in education" and bubble tests to deal with. I don't see a change with this administration. They might have changed No Child Left Behind to Rising Up (or whatever they call it) but it's still too much testing. SO WHAT if they can jump through hoops, can they think about why hoops are bad?

I'm an NPRer too.


Laura, I totally agree with you - both in your post and in your comment to Geo about Obama's education plan, which disappoints me greatly thus far. As a parent, I'm curious about your comment about the parents who don't rise to the occasion. I'd love to see a post about that!


Hope you didn't think I was referring to the teachers as lethargic - it's the total hosing educators are taking that burns me. And the kids getting pushed on through the system who haven't really managed to learn anything is an embarrassment. And you're right, parents need to be an active participant in the learning process, not just disinterested bystanders who feel that it's someone else's task to raise and inform their children.


Laura, I'm glad you'll be talking to your kids about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They shouldn't grow up thinking that war is a normal thing. Have you heard about Vincent Bugliosi's new book? I just read about it today. He believes that George Bush should be prosecuted for getting us into an illegal war and it is very controversial.

This is the kind of thing that will leave an impression on your students. As far as the state of education, No Child Left Behind and all the testing, it's very depressing. It seems that the children are guinea pigs and the testing tends to produce very narrow results.


Laura, I love your thoughts on this and couldn't agree more. I think it is so wonderful that you are this kind of teacher. What a blessing you are to your students...even if they don't recognize it at the time. Thank you for all that you do to teach the students of this world! Lori

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

April, I'm in my warm fuzzy place because I haven't had parents to deal with since June. So that parent post will have to wait. I must admit, out of about 125 students a year there are only about five parents who "rise" to the occasion. So perspective should be taken. And not delving too much, it's often about grades and what the teachers are doing wrong, not their children.

Geo, sometimes it's easier to teach the kids whose parents don't care than the kids whose parents are in your face. For the kids of non-involved parents you are doing it for them, as a teacher and a person. For the kids with the annoying parents, sometimes you want to sit back and let push because you will just get shoved.

JC, I need to be careful about going into the politics behind the war, so my focus will be more on what war does to people and WHY the hell do we need war?

The one grade I refuse to teach is 11th grade because that's the year in high school when kids get their standardized test in English.

Lori, thank you for your thanks. I am so excited about getting this year started. This prep work though, reading accounts of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, is just so tough, but tough needs to be discussed, not ignored with a waving flag and a closed mind.

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