Saturday, June 25, 2016

An Old Teacher Learns a New Way of Reading

I don’t always read professional development books. In fact, right now I am having one of the most interesting reading experiences of my life.

Every afternoon as I cook dinner I’m listening to the soundtrack from Hamilton the musical, and every evening before bed I read a chapter or so from Ron Chernow’s biography Alexander Hamilton that inspired the musical. And when I’m listening to the music, I suddenly think, “Oh! That’s what I just read about in the book!” And when I’m reading, I suddenly think, “Oh! That’s what that song was about!” 

And while listening to the music, if I ever think, “I’m sure the Founding Fathers would never have expressed themselves like that!” Then the next thing I know, I’m reading the book and realizing, “They did express themselves like that!”

And while reading the news I think, “The Founding Fathers would turn over in their graves if they ever thought we’d come to this.” Then the next thing I know, I’m reading a quote like this from Thomas Jefferson: “Congress met and adjourned from day to day without doing anything, the parties being too much out of temper to do business together” (326).

The tome—all 800 pages of it—is not something I’d pick up on vacation at an airport (as Lin-Manuel Miranda apparently did, inspiring his writing of the musical). The writing is engaging and elegant but dense. Here’s a random sample from my chapter last night: 
The few unflattering portraits of Hamilton’s personality tend to stem, not surprisingly, from political enemies. Hamilton was a man of daunting intellect and emphatic opinions, and John Quincy Adams contended that it was hard to get along with him if you disagreed with him. Hamilton knew he had a dogmatic streak and once joked, writing about himself in the third person, ‘Whatever may be the good or ill qualities of that officer, much flexibility of character is not of the number.’ (334)

Like I said, I get through about a chapter a night. Last weekend I took a break and read The Drowned Cities in a day. Can’t lose touch with my YA reading, ya’ know.

It’s still possible for a 51-year-old English teacher to have a new kind of reading experience. What kind of new experience are you having in your field this summer?

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