19 September 2017

Constitution Week

It's Constitution Week.  It's one of those observances that is made for nerdy history teachers such as myself.  When I was teaching full time, state mandated testing schedules and other practicalities of public education prevented me from spending the entire week on the constitution,* but I always tried to do something apropos.  I could usually find a few minutes at the end of class to give some bonus points to students for being able to list the three founding documents of the US (hint: The Pledge of Allegiance is not one of them) or have a contest to see who could name the most people present at the constitutional convention. (hint: Sam Houston wasn't there)

Usually Constitution Week passes mostly unnoticed.  This year it seems that many more people are observing it.  This makes my little nerdy heart happy.  However, I find that, in observing constitution week, many are not celebrating the constitution.  I see post after post using Constitution Week to celebrate a specific political party.  (hint:political parties are not in the constitution)  I assume that most people who affiliate with a specific party do so because they agree with a majority of that party's tenants, or at the very least, find their party of choice to align more closely with their priorities than the opposing party.  I would expect someone who belongs to a party to passionately defend the ideas put forth by said party.  I don't find anything problematic about that dynamic.  I find the idea that one political party is the sole defender of the constitution while the opposing party is the Enemy of America to be shallow, intellectually dishonest, and in direct conflict with the ideas upon which this country was founded.  I do not find promoting a single party as the sole owner of patriotism an appropriate way to observe Constitution Week.

In many a political discussion, the intentions of the founding fathers are invoked.  Certainly discussing the men who created the country makes sense.  What does not make sense is talking about "the founding fathers" as a monlith.  The reason one political party cannot claim to be the sole defenders of the constitution is because the constitution was not created by a single political ideology.
The collective memory of the founding of America often looks like this:
Image result for constitutional convention 1787

Sometimes it's nice to imagine that the delegates arrived in Philadelphia and almost instantly began politely dictating the constitution.  Someone said, "I think we ought to have three coequal branches of government." To which someone else said, "A fine idea, good sir.  I'd like to also divide the legislative branch into two chambers." Whereupon founding father the third chimed in, "Quite so, my good man.  In addition, let us add a provision that all tax legislation must originate in the lower chamber." All the while, Jacob Shallus sat quietly in the corner carefully transcribing the conversation in calligraphy.  The balance of the summer was then spent proofreading the first draft.  While that would be a lovely story, that's not how it happened.  The founding fathers certainly approached the task with admiration and respect for the strengths of their colleagues, but they did not all agree on what America should be.

It is instructive to remember that the early days of the republic also looked like this:
A Political Cartoon Depicting The Federalists Vs Republicans In Congress

The constitutional convention included heated disagreements, juvenile insults, intense divisions, and near failure.  The founders were all talented and well studied. They were each patriotic and wanted to see the new country succeed.  They were passionate about their goals.  And they did not agree on the best course of action.  They were willing to include things they disagreed with while also ardently insisting on the things that were most important to them. The result of their actions was not the canonization of The One True America.  Rather it is a wonderfully resilient collection of ideological inconsistencies and contradictions that could evolve to become one of the most powerful nations on earth.

At the end of the convention, the constitution included something for everyone to be upset about.  But they also seemed to be incredibly proud and protective of their accomplishment.  The founding of the United States was not just an experiment in representative government, but also an exercise in pluralism.

*please don't leave comments about how this is an example of a failed public education system.  Students receive adequate education in all levels of government from municipal to national.  The instructional calendar just doesn't allow for the allotted time on the constitution to coincide with the anniversary of its creation.

14 September 2017


I have a three year old. He's pretty cute. He doesn't pronounce things very well, but he consistently speaks in complete sentences. He likes to sort things into piles. He loves trains and Lightning McQueen. He is full of energy and runs almost everywhere he goes. He rarely takes naps. He's a very cheerful kid. Recently I introduced him to Road Runner and Wile E Coyote cartoons. He calls them "beep beep movies." In the mornings, when the older kids are packing their lunches and backpacks, he gets his backpack and puts a snack in it. Then he sits by the front door and says he's ready to go to school.

Today I found him sitting on my bathroom counter. He had plugged the sink with a roll of toilet paper, filed it to the top, and left the tap running so that water was flowing onto the floor. He had all the drawers open and was tossing anything he could reach into the sink with one hand while brandishing Dave's razor in the other.

Me: Do these things belong to you?

3yo: Nope. They don't.

Me: Should you be touching them?

3yo: Nope

Me: Where are your toys?

3yo: My toys are in the playroom.

Me: Where is the playroom?

3yo: The playroom is upstairs.

Me: Where do you think I'd like you to play right now?

3yo: Right here.

I am not impressed with his deductive reasoning skills.

20 July 2017

From the (Previously Unpublished) Archives

My brother once told me that he believes it is impossible for parents to win a battle of wits with their children. His reasoning: adults have a myriad of responsibilities competing for time and attention.  Meanwhile kids have nothing to do all day but sit and figure out how to game the system.  Since he currently has no children of his own, I'm not sure how he happened upon this pearl of wisdom, but I do think he's onto something.  The children in the redhead household have an amazing ability to do precisely what I have asked and yet somehow exactly what I do not want.  My mother is chuckling right now.  She is thinking that this quality is genetic, and I am currently getting what I deserve.  To which I reply that if it's genetic, it didn't start with me.

I thought that my years of teaching inner city high school kids had honed my abilities to give  directions that left very little room for interpretation.  But high school students are not nearly as creative as toddlers.  I guess the responsibilities that come with negotiating drug deals in the bathrooms don't leave as much time for system gaming as I had originally thought.  To a three year old, "Go wash your hands and face" sounds like "Please climb into the washing machine and try to turn it on. It would be extra helpful if you could take your little sister with you."  I have learned that the proper way to give that instruction is "Go into the bathroom. Stand on the stool and use soap to wash your hands in the sink." I don't usually have to specify when to turn the water on and off.  I've also learned that when I ask the kids to keep the sand inside the sandbox it's important to specify that I mean the sandbox in our backyard.  The instructions to get ready for bed include close to a dozen steps.

It makes me giggle a little bit when my kids talk to me the same way I talk to them.  On our most recent trip to the grocery store my little girl told me, "Mama, first you have to find my brother's shoes.  Then you pick him up.  Then you put socks on him.  Then you put his shoes on.  Then you take him outside and open the van door.  Then you put him in his seat.  Then you buckle his top buckles.  Then his bottom buckles.  Then you do your buckles. Then we can go shopping."

I'm still pretty new to the parenting game.  So while I do find the antics somewhat aggravating, there is still a part of me that  is curious to see what they will come up with next.  A few days ago while I was washing my hands in the sink with soap (but not standing on the stool), I heard the unmistakable clatter of something large falling down the stairs. My initial panic that the day might include a trip to the emergency room subsided when the noise was followed by hysterical laughter.  The kids came running in to tell me that the diaper boxes were sleds and the stairs were snow.  I thought this sounded awesome, and my heart broke a little bit when I had to tell them to stop.  Especially since we live in Texas and that's as close to sledding as it gets around here. But my desire to avoid a medical emergency won the day, and we put the boxes away. 

Sometimes I give intentionally vague instructions to see what happens.  When it's time to read stories I tell them, "In two minutes I'm going to come upstairs and read the stories that are on the rocking chair, so if you want stories go pick them now."  So far they have not yet figured out that I have not limited them to one story each.  I'm waiting for the day when they decide to unload their entire bookshelf onto the rocking chair.  And if they ever do, I will sit there for as long as it takes and read every story.