Jennifer N. Fenwick lives in Florida with her husband, John, and their black Irish Setter, Bowie (yes, as in David Bowie). Their daughters Nichole and Emma, both grown, live and work close by. Jennifer is a former teacher who works professionally as a program analyst and technical editor. She is an avid reader, as well as a lover of words and all things historical. She has been writing and journaling since she was a young girl. Her first book, Four Weeks is a collection of poetry and journal entries chronicling her battle with and recovery from an eating disorder and addiction. In the Eye of the Storm and its sequel, In the Aftermath of the Storm, tell the story of the devastation Hurricane Michael brought to her home in the Florida Panhandle in October 2018 through the poetry, stories, art, and images of survivors. Proceeds from both books benefit the United Way of Northwest Florida's Hurricane Michael Relief Fund.
It’s been three years since that fateful day in October when Hurricane Michael visited our home in the Florida Panhandle. Three years of progress and setbacks, hope and healing, restoring and rebuilding. Still, the things I remember most from those first few weeks are the simple ones, the ones that made me stop and appreciate the blessed resilience of life and the healing power of love.
It was a week after Hurricane Michael on a Sunday. Our church had been destroyed in the storm, so we gathered in the parking lot with folding chairs, a makeshift stage, and a beaten, but still standing oak tree in the background. Amidst all the wreckage and downed tree limbs we sang and worshipped and praised God for seeing us through the storm.
Our daughters and sons-in-love and our little granddaughter-in-love, Piper, then three, joined us for worship. For most of the hour, Piper sat on my lap, entranced with the music, the blue sky overhead, and the birdsongs that seemed to be accompanying our voices.
Our church had collected donations of clothing, essentials, cleaning supplies, toiletries, diapers, anything offered really, for distribution in the surrounding area after service. We grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, and invited people in the neighborhood to join us and to take what they needed.
I set Piper up in the bed of her dad’s truck with food and drink and for a while she was content to eat and watch all the activity going on around her. I knew that would be short lived. There was just too much going on for a three-year-old to resist!
Sure enough, once her food was gone, she wanted Nona Jen to join her in exploring! We walked around hand-in-hand for a while, Piper pointing out in her childlike wisdom, “The hurricane made that tree fall, Nona Jen.” I told her it had made a lot of trees fall.
She seemed to ponder that for a minute and then she got distracted by a group of kids throwing a ball and wanted to join them.
As I watched them play, I was reminded how resilient kids are. They find joy no matter what the situation. Here they were, in the middle of what amounted to chaos, playing, laughing, being exactly what they were, kids. We could all take a page from their book, I thought.
A few minutes later I noticed Piper break from the group, turning her attention to gathering up the pine cones, leaves, twigs, and moss that littered the parking lot. I followed her, quietly watching as she gathered and then placed little piles of her findings in various locations around the lot. Curious, I asked her what she was doing.
“I’m making new houses for the birds,” she said in her sweet little voice, “Because all their other ones got blowed away.”
I swear my heart melted a little more in that moment. Here was this precious child, having just come through one of the scariest moments of her young life, worried about all the birds and where they were going to live now.
But rather than fretting about it, she simply set about trying to help them, placing her little piles of nests all over that parking lot. It didn’t matter that the birds would likely never use her offerings…or perhaps they would eventually gather those twigs and moss and use them as she’d intended, to make a new home. Who knew? And really, that wasn’t the point.
The thing that mattered was that she had tried. And to me, in the middle of so much uncertainty and heartbreak, that was beautiful, and a simple reminder, that with enough childlike faith and joy, we could all be resilient too.
JN Fenwick | Former U.S. History Teacher and author | May 24, 2021
If you teach them to hate, they will hate. If you teach them to devalue themselves based on the color of their skin, they will judge others based solely on theirs. If you teach them they deserve without the benefit of hard work and sacrifice, they will live their lives with their hands outstretched and their minds closed.
And if you teach them that their country is inherently evil, they will see evil at every turn.
It doesn’t take a genius to know this. It’s truly just common sense. But common sense seems to be in short supply these days. And sadly, we are witnessing firsthand the consequences of just how deeply these destructive ideas have been embedded in our education system, for decades, largely without our awareness, and definitely without our consent.
Unchecked, these dangerous ideologies have spread into almost every area of our country, our government, and our lives. If you don’t believe it, just take a look at the last few years alone. From the pandemic to the riots, to the 2020 election, these narratives have been used to spread disinformation, bolster rioting and violence, perpetuate racism, compromise law enforcement, undermine the Constitution, and destroy the very liberty and freedom that built this country in the first place.
Why? That is the question. The question whose answer we know but are hesitant to articulate out loud. Perhaps because we know that answering out loud will brand us as racist, as evil, as any number of labels used to suppress opposition to the narrative. No one wants to be labeled a racist, after all. Perhaps because as studies have repeatedly shown, Americans are among the least racist people on the planet.
Then why work so determinedly and methodically to ingrain these doctrines in the most impressionable among us? Why start the process at such an early age, targeting children before they’ve even had an opportunity to enjoy their childhoods? Why spend so much time, energy, and countless resources to plant these seeds and then doggedly sew them throughout their entire education, including most especially at the college and university levels?
The answer, in my opinion, is more chilling than not asking the question in the first place.
Is it to remove all roadblocks standing in the way of power? Yes. Is it to maintain power, once gained, in perpetuity? Yes. Is it to expand a voting base? Yes. Is it to increase the wealth of the ones writing and perpetuating the narrative in the first place? Yes. Is it to undermine the history and the foundations of America? Yes. Yes to all of the above, and then some.
Say what you will about the reasons behind the dogma, but the one thing they all have in common is their total disregard for the common good and the demonization of anything and anyone who stands in the way of their agenda.
My first encounter with this unspoken agenda occurred during my undergraduate studies at Florida State University in the early 1990s. In one of my sociology classes, I came face to face with the consequences of not toeing the line.
Thinking that as long as I presented my arguments knowledgeably, backed up with reliable, factual sources, and wrote within the parameters of the APA or MLA style guides, my work would be judged fairly. I was gravely mistaken.
I learned quite quickly that my writing style could be as on point as possible, but that if I were espousing ideas or arguments contradicting my professor’s positions, I would not pass the class. And passing the class was, after all, the endgame.
So, contrary to my better judgment, I swallowed my pride, began regurgitating my professor’s brilliance back at him, and received an “A” along with the three credits I needed towards graduation. No, I didn’t do so mindlessly, I still held on to my principles, but I did bend so that I would not break in the end.
This occurred again and again as I made my way through two more degrees over the course of about a decade, becoming more the “norm” as time went on. In the end, I more than understood that these pieces of paper I had earned were only half the story. The real story was that I had retained my objectivity, my thirst for knowledge, my dedication to critical thinking and reason, and my love of history and my country despite the system’s best attempts to force it out of me.
I count myself lucky. I came from a generation and a family that still held on to those values and beliefs. I was able to withstand the pressure and still retain a clear sense of self.
That’s not been the case for successive generations. No, that innate pull toward self-determination is being rapidly forced out of them, especially the current generation, thanks to social media and the in-your-face consequences of being true to yourself and charting your own path. And as many of the byproducts of the indoctrination are currently running the show, the repercussions are getting worse; dangerously, frighteningly, worse every day.
In his article, American Universities Have Lost Their Prestige, published April 29, 2021, by Real Clear Politics, renowned Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, Victor David Hanson, provides a succinct and compelling look at the post-WWII evolution of America’s university system. And it’s not good.
“Imagine a progressive place that once renounced unconstitutional “loyalty oaths” but now rebrands them as “diversity pledges” and requires reeducation and indoctrination training,” states Hanson. “Imagine a place where “diversity” is the professed institutional ethos, while studies reveal that liberal faculty outnumber their conservative counterparts by over 10 to 1.”
And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. From politicking from the lectern to restrictions on freedom of speech and suspension of constitutionality, Hanson uncovers the disquieting reality of what it truly means to get a liberal education today.
In his book, Is College Worth It?, former U. S. Secretary of Education and author, William Bennet, demonstrates how higher education is failing our students on multiple fronts. “Higher education isn’t solely about financial returns,” explains Bennet, “the first duty of any school is education.” Bennet goes on to expose “the frighteningly paltry amount of learning taking place on some college campuses.”
So if learning isn’t taking place, what exactly is?
As a former United States History teacher, I can only answer that question from my own experience. I think it’s safe to say that all teachers, no matter the level at which we teach, come to the lectern with our own experiences, values, and beliefs, political or otherwise. However, our own ideologies are not what we’re hired to teach. In a sense, we have a captive audience before us, made up of young impressionable minds. To tamper with these minds for our own gain or to advance our own agendas is a sacrilege and a dark mark on this otherwise noble profession.
I understood this from the outset, mainly because, as a student, I had experienced that very attack on my own mind, and I vowed not to perpetuate it moving forward. My job was to teach my students history, not just within the confines of the books in which it was written, but also how to think critically, to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to form their own opinions, and to seek knowledge, not as an endgame, but as a life-long endeavor.
Punishing students, whether overtly or covertly for not toeing the line, for questioning what they are being told, for asserting their own individuality, and yes, their own character, is not only wrong, it’s extremely dangerous.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is just one example of exactly how dangerous it’s becoming. First introduced in the 1970s, as an idea originating at Harvard Law School, CRT has become part of mainstream academia and media.
“Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline, based in Marxism, that teaches racism pervades every corner of American society, and therefore, that American institutions must be torn down and remade so that all of society’s benefits can be equitably redistributed.”
What CRT does is boil everything down to race. What it does not do is take into consideration a person’s character. What it does is reject the very foundations of liberty, freedom, and the Judeo-Christian values upon which America was built. What it does not do is leave any room for logical, scientific, or critical thinking. What it does is find racism everywhere, even if it has to interpret peoples’ motives to do so. What it does not do is take into consideration the whole of a person, including their behaviors, values, and individuality — YOU ARE THE COLOR OF YOUR SKIN, PERIOD.
In other words, if you happen to be a member of one racial group, you are a victim; of another, you’re an oppressor, whether you mean to be or not.
CRT asserts that any progress made in this and other countries towards equality is but a mirage because racism never died, it simply hid better. The fact that we have worked hard as a country to move forward from the sins of the past, to create a system of government that continues to reach toward the ideals embedded within its foundations, and to uphold those ideals for ALL Americans, is nothing more than a smokescreen behind which to hide the truth.
And what is the truth? To CRT proponents the truth is this, “White Americans can never judge blacks by the content of their character. They can only judge them, always unfavorably – consciously or unconsciously, by the color of their skin,” James Lindsay, April 2021.
The danger inherent in this way of thinking is far-reaching. It not only boils human beings down to race, a characteristic that was never in anyone’s control, to begin with, but it goes a step further by assigning specific and divisive labels to that distinction, those of victim or oppressor. That IS racism. Call CRT what you will, but don’t try to sell it as anything other than racism.
So what happens after you’ve allowed these misguided principles to seep into every aspect of government, justice, education, and business? Exactly what proponents want to see – a complete dismantling of America from the ground up. A “reimagining,” if you will. Into what? I haven’t discovered any credible answers to that question, but I can surmise, based on CRT itself, that it is not something I’d ever wish for, and certainly not something I’d wish to leave my children, grandchildren, or future generations.
But the fact remains, CRT, diversity training, systemic racism, the 1619 Project, all have one thing in common — they are designed to divide rather than unite. They are designed to destroy rather than build up. They leave no room for compromise. If you are white you are inherently racist, it’s in your DNA, in your “whiteness,” whether you acknowledge it or not. If you are not white, but another race, most notably black, then you are a victim, it’s in your DNA, so no matter what you do, you will always be oppressed.
America is NOT a racist country.
Though advocates for such destructive thinking argue that America is racist, there is actually no real science or evidence to back up their assertions. As Liam Smith, writer for The Falcon explained in his February 11, 2021 article, “Since the earliest days of American history, the governing philosophy of the United States is rooted in the protection of individual rights.”
Smith goes on to back up his premise with facts, including statistical evidence. Fact number one, The Constitution of the United States explicitly protects every citizen from unequal protection under the law. Fact number two: the top median income groups in the US by distinct race are non-white. Fact number three: success is achievable in America because hard work, innovation, and ingenuity are its backbone. Fact number four: and perhaps the most important rebuttal to the argument of systemic racism, is that the political system of the United States itself protects minority rights. As Smith explains, “The Bill of Rights was explicitly written to protect the minority from the majority.”
In short, though you may decry that America is racist at the top of your lungs, if there’s no evidence to back it up, the argument is weak and always will be.
Further, if you boil everything, including every political issue, down to racist vs. antiracist, and every individual down to victim or oppressor, then you remove from public discourse the opportunity for open dialogue and any chance for unity.
Imagine if our Founding Fathers had been so closed-minded? Considering the task they undertook, and the sacrifices they had to make to arrive at that moment in history, had they been unwilling to consider the greater good along with the potential our fledgling country had to become something better than anything the world had ever known, I, for one am ever grateful their minds remained open.
Which leads me right back to the question, Why?
Why embark on this road in the first place? And why continue down it regardless of the consequences? What possible motive could there be for perpetuating these fallacies, for encouraging these unsubstantiated narratives, especially in our classrooms?
Power. Greed. Control. Entitlement. This is not a positive list. It never has been. With goals such as these, logic, reason, laws, justice, even our Constitution, get in the way. With goals such as these, in order to progress, you must first destroy. And as history has repeatedly shown us, progress through destruction is not progress at all. It’s simply destruction; with few benefitting at the expense of the many.
That’s not America. It never has been. And it’s certainly not what we should be teaching our children America is.
We are now reaching critical mass, and regardless of the consequences speaking out may engender, the fact remains, this premeditated and blatant indoctrination of our children has got to stop. If America is to survive as a free country, as the republic it was established to be; if our God-given rights are to be protected, if liberty is to prevail, then it has got to stop. Now.
“Many Republican lawmakers and parent advocates describe CRT as racially divisive, teaching children to judge differences in skin color above the content of character. They say adding curriculum rooted in CRT also teaches children to search for racism in all aspects of life over teaching civics and history education.”
At the grassroots level, at local school board meetings, at the state level, and at the national level, we have to fight back. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s not a them or us issue. And it’s certainly not a black or white issue.
This is a fight for the very fabric of our Nation. For what we will and will not tolerate.
In the past few years, we have been forced to tolerate many things we would not have chosen; things no morally responsible, ethical, humane person would have chosen. But tolerance has got to take a back seat when it comes to the rights of our children and our responsibility as their parents, teachers, and society as a whole to protect them from harm.
“Not only is government-sponsored CRT poisonous, pernicious, and demeaning to all Americans, it is also illegal in many ways. The United States Constitution guarantees the equal protection of the laws. This foundational principle protects all individuals against discrimination or harassment based on race by the government. And so, it is no surprise that a theory that rejects “colorblindness” and “neutral principles of constitutional law” would also run afoul of the foundational principle of equality under the law. Public school teachers who treat students differently because of their race undoubtedly violate the guarantee of equal protection.
Moreover, the Constitution protects a “freedom of conscience,” meaning that government schools cannot force students to adopt a certain point of view, such as those core propositions of CRT about white supremacy, white privilege, or systemic racism. Relatedly, the Constitution prohibits “compelled speech,” meaning that teachers cannot force a student to speak a certain message, such as a confession that “I am a racist.”
Some states, including, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Arizona are beginning to push back against CRT through legislation banning its inclusion in public school curriculum.
Likewise, parent advocates are also beginning to push back. FightForSChools.com is one such grass-roots effort. A non-partisan political action committee whose focus centers on “electing common-sense candidates that commit to policies that support equal opportunity, tolerance, meritocracy, and achievement.” Through petitions, school board recall efforts, and proposed legislation, FightForSchools is doing just that, fighting to take back America’s schools.
If American values are to prevail, it is vital that we stand up for those values. Our government institutions and elected officials work for us, not the other way around. And just because something is repeated again and again via social and mainstream media, by politicians, Hollywood, and big business does not mean it’s true.
It’s time to call out these divisive ideologies for what they really are and to stand against them, regardless of the personal attacks, ostracism, public branding that will undoubtedly occur. Those may be the weapons of choice of the proponents of these ideologies and their supporters, but that doesn’t mean we have to fear them. Not when the future of our country, the rights of every American, and the protection of our children and their future are at stake.
As has often been quoted and more often seen throughout history, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” (Edmund Burk, 1729-1797)
Let’s not be that generation. The one that cedes control, the one that allows evil to prevail, by doing nothing.
Why do I have to learn history? What’s it got to do with me?
As an American History teacher, I was often asked these questions by my students. They got bored digging around in the past and more often than not, failed to make the vital connections between history and the present.
I knew I had to change that or lose them.
Teaching history in the millennial generation was a challenge to say the least. These kids were used to technology and fast-paced entertainment. They were used to answers at their fingertips.
They lived on social media and unless they had a family member or members serving in the military, their only experience with war and conflict were those presented on their iPad screens or engaged in on their X-Boxes and PlayStations.
Teaching them to value American History was a challenge.
This country is the greatest political story ever told. We are uniquely blessed and we have taken unique advantage of those blessings. And although it’s the greatest political story ever told, our children have not been told that story.
– Dr. William Bennett
Undeterred, rather than beating them over the head with history, I decided to use the tools and technology they understood to my advantage, and to theirs. After all, it wasn’t the memorization of names and dates they needed, it was understanding. And what better way to help them understand history than by living it?
From American colonization to the modern age, I set about doing just that. And along the way, I realized there were other important skills, like critical thinking, reading comprehension, debate, and writing they would learn along the way.
As a teacher, my first responsibility was to my students and to their parents who had entrusted them to me. My podium was not a pulpit from which to preach my ideals, force my interpretations down their throats, or advance any predetermined narrative or agenda. It was a platform from which to engage in research and debate, in learning to distinguish fact from opinion, in presenting all sides of an argument, and most importantly, in allowing my students to form their own opinions.
I knew the only way they would come to understand history was by taking ownership of their learning of it. And the only way they would do that, was by making the past relevant to them in the present.
My students became archeologists, explorers, settlers, revolutionaries, founding fathers, framers, activists, and more.
By assuming the role of delegates, they debated at the Constitutional Convention, put forth their arguments for or against ratification, and engaged in compromise for the greater good.
Through diaries and first-person narratives, they traveled the agonizing journey from Africa on a slave ship to a foreign land where they were considered property and nothing more.
Through diaries, letters, and historical documents, they assumed the role of drummers, infantrymen, soldiers, and nurses marching alongside the Union and Confederate armies. Along the way, they encountered both victory and defeat. They witnessed President Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address, how the Emancipation Proclamation turned the tide, and the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Through documentaries, on-line archives, virtual tours, first-hand accounts, and classroom re-enactments, they became part of some of the most significant events shaping our country. Some of the events we studied, listed below, are often merely footnotes in our history books, while others take center stage. To me, it was all significant and worth exploring.
October 19, 1781, when General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown marking the end of the Revolutionary War and the birth of a new nation. “I bore much for the sake of peace and the public good. My conscience tells me I acted rightly in these transactions, and should they ever come to the knowledge of the world I trust I shall stand acquitted by it.” – General George Washington,Letter to General Nathaniel Greene, October, 1781
December 2, 1823, when President James Monroe issued the Monroe Doctrine, forever closing the North American continent to European colonization. “The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are not to be considered subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”– President James Monroe, December 1823
January 24, 1848, when gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill marking the beginning of the Gold Rush, American westward expansion, and the significance of these events to America. “Many, very many, that come here meet with bad success and thousands will leave their bones here. Others will lose their health, contract diseases that they will carry to their graves with them. Some will have to beg their way home, and probably one half that come here will never make enough to carry them back. But this does not alter the fact about the gold being plenty here, but shows what a poor frail being man is, how liable to disappointments, disease and death.” – S. Shufelt, in a letter to his cousin in 1850, from California.
September 2, 1862, when the deadliest one-day battle in American history was fought at Sharpsburg, Maryland, and how the outcome of the Battle of Antietam turned the tide of the Civil War. “In the time that I am writing every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield.”– Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, USA, Commander, I Corps, Army of the Potomac, September, 1862
March 30, 1867, when one of the largest land purchases was finalized and the United States, acquired Alaska from Russia for approximately two-cents an acre (roughly 32-cents today). “Tomorrow, if you like, I will come to the department, and we can enter upon the treaty.” [Senator Charles] Seward replied, “Why wait until tomorrow, Mr. ]Edouard de] Stoeckl? Let us make the treaty tonight.”– Assistant Secretary of State, Frederick Seward, the Senator’s son, later recalling the conversation of March 29, 1867.
December 17, 1902, when Orville and Wilber Wright successfully took their first flight at Kitty Hawke, North Carolina. “After running the engine and propellers a few minutes to get them in working order, I got on the machine at 10:35 for the first trial. The wind, according to our anemometers at this time, was blowing a little over 20 miles (corrected) 27 miles according to the Government anemometer at Kitty Hawk. On slipping the rope the machine started off increasing in speed to probably 7 or 8 miles. The machine lifted from the truck just as it was entering on the fourth rail. Mr. Daniels took a picture just as it left the tracks.”– from the diary of Orville Wright, December 17, 1902
July 16, 1945, when The Trinity Test successfully detonated the first atomic bomb, establishing the United States as the most powerful nation on earth and ushering in the atomic age. A month later, two bombs were dropped on Japan ending World War II, but revealing the true horrors of nuclear war to the world. “In that brief instant in the remote New Mexico desert the tremendous effort of the brains and brawn of all these people came suddenly and startlingly to the fullest fruition. Dr. Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarce breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and then when the announcer shouted ‘Now!’ and there came this tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter by the deep growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief. Several of the observers standing back of the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast.” – General Leslie R. Groves, Head of the Manhattan Project, July, 1945
They became part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, marching alongside the thousands upon thousands of activists seeking to break through the barriers and extend civil, voting, and human rights to all. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Morehouse College Speech, 1948
They were there when the Berlin Wall went up and when it came down. “Everything was out of control. Police on horses watched. There was nothing they could do. The crowd had swollen. People were blowing long alpine horns which made a huge noise. There were fireworks, kites, flags and flags and flags, dogs, children. The wall was finally breaking. The cranes lifted slabs aside. East and West German police had traded caps. To get a better view, hundreds of people were climbing onto a shop on the West German side. We scampered up a nine foot wall. People helped each other; some lifted, others pulled. All along the building, people poured up the wall. At the Berlin Wall itself, which is 3 meters high, people had climbed up and were sitting astride. The final slab was moved away. A stream of East Germans began to pour through. People applauded and slapped their backs. A woman handed me a giant bottle of wine, which I opened and she and I began to pour cups of wine and hand them to the East Germans.” – Andreas Ramos, from his written personal account of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin, November, 1989
Their seats weren’t at the end of a history book or in front of the screen of some long-forgotten projection. No, thanks to technology and the primary resources it offered, they had no seats at all. Instead, they were moving, seeking, learning, and growing right in the middle of it all.
And still I went further. Reaching out to other educators, individuals within my community with historical ties to some of these events, and even to my own husband who researched and collected Florida pre-historic artifacts, I invited them to my classroom. And with them they brought tangible pieces of history my students could feel and touch and learn from.
Like the pieces of a Spanish moss-woven Confederate soldier’s blanket, Civil War-era ammunition, and a soldier’s pipe. The hand-written diaries and letters of a local businessman’s ancestor who fought in the Civil War. The first-person videotaped interviews of World War II veterans living in our area. And my husband brought them pieces of his collection of ancient pottery, projectiles, tools, and fossils. I think every classes favorite was the mammoth molar (tooth) as big as some of their heads. That sure put the size of the beast in perspective for them!
And perspective was, after all the point.
For me, teaching history was never about names and dates. It was always colorful and alive, relevant and real. That’s how I‘d been lucky enough to learn and receive it, and that’s how I wanted my students to experience it.
I viewed being a teacher as my vocation and I was passionate about fulfilling my responsibility as a mentor and a guide. My goal was to give my students tools they could use throughout their lives, to encourage them on their journey, but to ultimately step back and allow them to take the helm.
And Civics was no exception. Even though it is no longer taught as a subject in our schools, I believe it to be one of the most vital pieces of education, and for me, an essential part of teaching American History.
To that end, my school participated in mock elections, hosted local and state leaders in our classrooms, participated in letter-writing campaigns to our Congressmen and women, and perhaps more importantly participated in community service activities like food drives and raising money for victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters across the globe.
One of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.
Through the years I learned that just as history cannot afford to be viewed as a static entity, neither can the teaching of it.
That’s why to me, this current trend of using history as a means to a political end-game; of actively seeking its destruction through tendentious and divisive narratives determined to rewrite it, are lethal to all that unites us and makes us American.
The evidence of that is being seen now more than ever. Just turn on the television —from dangerous and destructive riots that encourage division and hatred, to anti-American rhetoric spray-painted across our cities, toppled monuments and burning flags, — and most destructively of all, this sweeping narrative that demands we view everything through the lens of racism; this lack of patriotism is destroying more than our culture, it’s threatening our way of life and our very existence.
The only weapon we really have against this tide is knowledge and our willingness to continually defend our right to seek it, especially in this age of intentional misinformation, misdirection, and rhetoric presented as fact.
When it comes to the history of our country this is most vital. As Dr. Bennett so eloquently stated, “If they [students] do not know what they came from, what their legacy is, what their inheritance is, how will they support or defend it?”
Emma’s story isn’t a unique one, in that sadly, in 2020 alone, the number of new cancer cases in the United States was estimated at 1.8 million, with approximately 606,000 of those ending in death, cancer.org.
However, her story is unique, in that, when it happens to a family member, a friend, yourself, the statistics cease to matter. In that moment the reality of it becomes real in a way it never could before. It’s no longer separate, but very personal, very intimate, and very frightening.
Like many families, cancer has impacted ours many times over. Cancer took my husband’s father in 1999, my father in 2010. We lost our niece to breast cancer at the age of 33, in 2013. A few years later, in 2015, we lost my husband’s sister to brain cancer. She was only 56.
Yet, even the pain and devastation of those losses could not prepare us for the blow that four little words would deliver: Your daughter has cancer.
This is Emma’s story.
Five years ago, at the age of 17, after almost a year of tests and continued deteriorating health, Emma was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma. The diagnosis was both a blessing, we finally knew what was wrong, and a curse, how could this be happening to her?
Fear and faith overwhelmed us. But in the end, it was Emma, herself who would fight this battle in mind, in body, in spirit. We could comfort, support, care for, and pray, but it would be Emma doing the fighting. And with faith and hope, did she ever fight.
She spent her senior year of high school at Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville where she underwent intensive chemotherapy to battle this deadly disease. Her warrior spirit and faith were something to behold.
As parents, my husband and I were humbled by her strength during such devastating circumstances. Instead of complaining or feeling sorry for herself she rose up. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she turned her love and talent in music and art to gifts she shared with other patients and their families on the children’s wing.
She finished high school virtually, and played her guitar and sang as often as she could. She became known as the “Rockstar” of the pediatric floor.
June 2021 marks five years cancer free for Em. Five years cancer free in the medical community is often referred to as ‘cured’ since the likelihood of reoccurrence is very small. We’ll take that.
We know how lucky we are. We know that Emma’s story doesn’t always end for others the way it did for her. And we are so very grateful for this miracle. We praise God every day for this precious gift he has given our family.
During her illness, Emma wrote a beautiful song called, Breathe. In 2019, we traveled to LA as a family, where she worked with producers and recorded it as her first single at Paramount Recording Studios. It was a family celebration of a lifetime.
She asked her dad, also a musician, to play on the track. She asked her big sister and I to sing backup vocals. It was a beautiful and inspirational moment when it all came together. One that we will cherish for a lifetime.
Emma is almost 23 now. She’s healthy and strong. She continues her journey grateful every day for the opportunities and the life before her. She still sings. Still plays her guitar. Still writes music. She doesn’t define herself by her cancer story. Rather, she acknowledges that her story is one among millions and is deeply humbled that unlike so many others, she was given another chance to live, to love, to be.
I’ve learned to be grateful for the hard times, because without them the good times wouldn’t be as good. I’ve learned more about myself and who I am. I’ve learned that even in the toughest times, you can make great memories. And I’ve learned that the way you think can change not only your experience, but also those around you. If you’re positive, it affects others in a positive way. Mostly I’ve learned that worrying is pointless, because you’re not in control. I’ve learned to trust God in all things, no matter the outcome.
Emma Rose Fenwick
Thank you for letting me share Emma’s story.
Breathe by Emma Rose is available on all platforms if you’d like to listen. ♥️
JN Fenwick, author, In the Eye of the Storm | In the Aftermath of the Storm
A room without books is like a body without a soul.
Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, has always been one of my favorite places to visit; especially, his library. Standing in the dim room, surrounded by Jefferson’s many books, their spines lined neatly on the shelves, the smell of old parchment and the musty scent of tomes that, at one time, rested in the hands of the man himself, is inspiring to a history lover like myself.
I can almost imagine Jefferson standing there amid the shadows, searching for a particular title, running his hands over the volumes until his fingers touched upon the one he sought; smiling as he pulled it down, certain that within its pages he’d find the passage he needed to complete a letter, or a thesis, or perhaps even a document that would one day guide and inspire a country through a war for independence.
Books are indeed timeless treasures. They inspire, convey, impart, teach, and perhaps most enjoyable of all, transport us to different times, different worlds, allowing us to become something other, for a while, then who we are.
A quote I came across the other day, “I am part of everything I have read,” brought to mind just how much reading has transformed and informed my life. Honestly, though, I think, much more than me becoming a part of the books I have read, that they have become a part of me. A part that I carry with me like a treasured friend. A friend I revisit from time to time, to discover an ever-evolving world; a world changing as I have changed; growing as I have grown; and through the years moving and becoming along with me.
Since I was a young girl, books have been an integral part of my life. Growing up in a big family, I often escaped from the chaos of so many siblings and the constant blur of motion, into a book; sometimes for hours at a time. Or at least until I’d hear my mom’s call for me to come help with something or other.
I even had my favorite hiding spots, places my siblings wouldn’t think to look for me; like the big oak tree in our back yard. I was notorious for getting stuck in high places once I’d climbed up. I’d inevitably look down and then freeze, almost every time. “Get the ladder,” my brothers would call, “Jen’s stuck in the tree again!” So, climbing up as far as I’d dare to settle comfortably on the wide branches of the sturdy oak, was a clever hiding spot! I’d grab an apple or a peanut butter sandwich and settle in for the day. I loved the classics, and Judy Bloom, and To Kill a Mockingbird was a title I must have read a hundred times. I even wanted to name my first daughter, Scout!
As a grew, my horizons expanded, as did my library. My ever-increasing love of history took shape in a myriad of biographies, historical non-fiction, and then gradually historical novels. In my early twenties, I was introduced to Anne McCaffery and her dragon-filled world of Pern. I not only quickly devoured every single book in the series, I hunted eBay and old book stores until I had an early edition hard copy of each book. They were all second-hand, but I felt that added to their beauty and charm.
Eventually the magical world of Harry Potter was introduced to the world, and like so many others, I stood in line at Books-a-Million to get my hands on the next volume as soon as it was released. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series was no less compelling and deserving of the same attention and dedication! When eReaders hit the scene, I initially balked at the notion. I wanted a book in my hand; and a hardcover one at that. I loathed paperbacks! It wasn’t until my husband brought to my attention the exorbitant amount of money and the increasingly growing amount of space my book habit required, that I consented to a Kindle. I’d still rather hold an actual book, but I’m nothing if not adaptable!
As I stand in front of my own bookcases and delve into the many containers full of books stored in my spare room, I can trace the evolution of my life, from childhood to young woman; through college and graduate school; through my years as a history teacher and through my progressing physical and spiritual journeys.
My daughters’ favorite books reside there along with the many intrigue and mystery books my husband also enjoys reading. They are nestled there, along with my own hand-written journals.
Taking it all in, I can’t help but think that perhaps one day, when my grandchildren and great-grandchildren read one of these books I love so much, that maybe the part of me that resides within their pages will speak to them; and that for a moment, despite the distance and time that may separate us, we will exist alongside each other, sharing a secret, speaking the same silent language. And perhaps in that moment, they will know with certainty that I lived, that I breathed; and that I once held the very same book and read the very same words. That is the magic of books, and therein lies the treasure.