Sunday, January 3, 2016

Facts and Stories

A couple of weeks ago I had penned a post that I never published. It was an irritable post, reflecting an irritable frame of mind about stalemated, shortsighted politics in Pennsylvania. Though I don't disagree with the sentiments I expressed in it, I'm glad it remained in draft form. After nearly two weeks away from work and with family, I find myself much less irritable and more thoughtful. I'd rather resume this post in that frame of mind.

My friend delivered a sermon this morning that was quite interesting. In commenting on the story from Matthew about the visit of the Magi, he contrasted the power facts about a person have compared to a story about that person. Though I mulled on the spiritual implications of what Dane had to say (seriously, I did mull on that for quite a bit) I got to thinking historically. A few figures in particular came to mind.

Five things that are true about Abraham Lincoln: he was from Illinois, he only held elected office once time before becoming President, he was a father of four (and outlived two of those sons), he was closer to his stepmother than his father, and he was a Republican. A story Americans often like to tell of him is apocryphal, that he sketched out the Gettysburg Address on the train ride to Gettysburg that November (the speech was actually in creation for several months), which I guess is a statement to our perception that he was so wise. But a story my professor in college told, of how the president compelled the resignations of two sparring members of his cabinet and then slipped them both into his desk for future use (remarking "I have a pumpkin in each sack. Now I can ride.") is the story that I keep in mind about Lincoln. It reminds me of a leader I admire who had such a seemingly impossible task of wrestling with warring factions, in his administration, the government, the nation, and how he so deftly reconciled those conflicts.

I could go on with other figures in history who speak to me: Washington, Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt. Interestingly, I can't think of good stories to go with Franklin Roosevelt, though there are so many facts one could recite about him and his presidency.

On one sad note, Dane's sermon got me to thinking of how I don't get to spin so many stories teaching Economics now. Perhaps the students can spin some stories about me. Wait, they do. And so do those kids that live under my roof.

Dane's intention probably wasn't to inform my professional practice as I return to work tomorrow. However, his message reminds me that in a school and public school environment driven by content standards and testing, we are also the meeting places of hundreds of interesting people, each with interesting stories and who, in our interactions on a daily basis, create more interesting stories each day. I hope I remember to look for ways I can let those stories breathe in the new year.

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