Happy Birthday, Abraham Lincoln


Many years ago, I enjoyed watching a program called I’ll Fly Away. The show depicted black southerners struggling for civil rights. In one episode the characters were debating Abraham Lincoln’s position on slavery. One commented that Lincoln didn’t do enough to end slavery, and it is true he made the statement,” If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” Another person countered that it was his abolitionist position, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which later got him assassinated.

Lincoln’s quote on freeing slaves was made in a letter to Horace Greeley dated August 1862.  In fact, just a month later, he would announce his intent to issue a proclamation banning slavery- now this did not apply to the non seceding slaveholding states, indicating Lincoln was always aware of the political implications of his actions. But if you study his life, you will find that he was a man willing to change his views. He had had little personal experience with slavery, having spent much of his life in Indiana and Illinois, but he definitely became more sympathetic towards African Americans as his presidency evolved.

In fact, I think his views are best summarized in his second inaugural address which he gave just over a month prior to his assassination. When teaching history, I always read this speech to my students. One course ended with the Civil War so the 1864 election was covered. The other course began with reconstruction, but I spent the first day of class giving the background information to the reconstruction era, so I got to read Lincoln’s address to them also. In fact three years ago, I was substituting in a second grade classroom. I had my copy of the speech but was hesitant to share it with such young students. However, I told them what I was going to read, that they wouldn’t understand everything, but to listen as best they could. They listened intently, and even better were able to hold a discussion afterwards. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “with malice towards none,” but if you’ve never read the speech in its entirety, or it’s been a long time, then please go here:

There’s a wealth of scholarship on Lincoln; if you’re interested in learning about the influences on Lincoln as he prepared for his second inauguration, I recommend Donald C. White Jr.’s Lincoln’s Greatest Speech. A great biography of his life is David Donald’s Lincoln, and an excellent account of his presidency and political savvy is Doris Kearn’s Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.



Building Confidence in Your Child

samTwo year old Sam proudly displays his name with tiles he has put together.

When a child first comes to me for tutoring, often he is struggling to keep up in class. To him, his grades indicate everyone else understands the academic material, and he doesn’t. It doesn’t help for parents to tell their children that they too were no good at math or (insert other subject).  This can lead the child to believe he is fated to do poorly.

So how can you help your child succeed academically? Do you constantly tell him he’s smart, but he still puts himself down. Why doesn’t your child believe what you say? When working with one young student, I paid her a compliment on her singing (yes, sometimes there’s singing during our sessions). When she responded in a surprised tone, I asked, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that before?” She said, “Yes, my parents, but they’re supposed to say that.”  Please don’t think your compliments are meaningless. You love your son or daughter unconditionally, and they need to hear words of confirmation. However, if you’re constantly saying he is special or smart,  it may lose its intended effect. This is a tricky one, because one child might need your reassurance more than his sibling. Notice the reaction you get, and if the your child shrugs it off, then you need to say less. However, it is better to err on the side of praising your children too often than not enough. As their parent, your words will always have a great impact.

Secondly, speak with sincerity. Look for those things they do well which they can also recognize. A child who is struggling with math may have very good handwriting. I point out to math students how important it is to be able to read the numbers and have them aligned correctly as they work. Any math teacher can tell you that there are points lost on tests due the teacher or the student not being able to read his script. If a child is struggling with reading, notice when they use context clues or recognize sounds within a word even if they fail to decode the entire word. Reassure them that they are making progress, and this will lead to their becoming fluent readers. If your child, who is listening to instruction and giving their best effort, brings home a bad grade, direct them to the fact that they got some answers correct. Sometimes it can be the toughest ones. Congratulate them on not giving up and reassure them that they will improve. You are not simply saying they are smart, but you’re acknowledging their intelligence which will encourage them to keep trying.

Thirdly, allow your child to struggle and to fail some. If you intervene too early or too often, the child will think you have no confidence in him. Believe me, this is a tough one because a little frustration is part of the process but too much frustration can be overwhelming. As a tutor, I’m always concerned with giving the right amount of help. When they ultimately succeed, point out how their perseverance paid off. There is always a greater sense of accomplishment when we solve a challenging problem rather than an easier one. When they fail, review the process, how well did they prepare? Can they manage their time better? Do they need more practice? Let the failure be a stimulus to try a different approach to the problem.

So believe in your children; be their biggest cheerleader. Continue to praise them for jobs well done. The good news is that with a few successes, they will begin to blossom, and today’s struggles will become a distant memory.