The Gettysburg Tweet?

Newly inaugurated U.S. presidents are often judged by the work completed in their first 100 days of office.

We can judge President Trump by the first 100 tweets of his presidency.

George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post reported that “more than half his tweets end with an exclamation point and more than one-quarter [have] at least one word in all capital letters.”

Take a look.

“Enjoy the Super Bowl and then we continue: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

“Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.  Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

“I will send in the Feds!”

“FAKE NEWS”

Words matter.   They can threaten or they can heal.

February 12 is the 208th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth whose words still endure today.

Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns made “The Address” in 2014 about the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, a small boarding school for boys with learning disabilities who each year recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a rite of passage that demonstrates their confidence to overcome their challenges.

In 272 words, it may be the best written speech by any president under two minutes.

He uses the rule of three twice, done to perfection: “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground” and the famous coda “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln was not the featured speaker when the battlefield was dedicated as a cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863.  Edward Everett, noted orator of the time, spoke for two hours first, then came Lincoln.

The photographer assumed Lincoln would speak longer allowing him more time to focus his camera on the president.  By the time he took the photograph, Lincoln had just sat down.

Little did Americans know at the time that the Civil War would continue for almost two more years.

And it wasn’t until years later that Lincoln’s words would burn an indelible mark in the American story.  In fact, before he was assassinated, many in the country disliked Lincoln.   After his murder, however, his reputation rose.

This year I had my English students learn about Lincoln and recite the speech.

After they finished, I asked them their thoughts.

“I loved presenting this speech and learning about it and the person behind it,” one student wrote.

“It inspires people and reminds us how great Lincoln was” that “he was able to bring the country together,” remarked another.

The speech showed “how much he cared about his country,” how “he cared about the American people deeply.”

He “was very intelligent and eloquent” who “showed compassion” and “loved his country;” “a good, true, honorable man.”

And one student said “funny how in the speech Lincoln says ‘the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here’ but people still remember the speech today.”

If only our Chief Executive could word his thoughts as well as a 15-year-old high school student.

Indeed, in the turbulent times we live in where there is a pervasive dark mood, it is comforting to read the words of someone who truly led a divided nation.

When he was assassinated on April 15, 1865, he had recently turned 56 years old.   Even with an additional 14 years of life, Trump has a lot of catching up to do before his memorial ever breaks ground on the National Mall.

Over 150 years from now, will a Trump Tweet be recited by school children, examined as one of the finest collection of words coming from a president?

Take a break from all the bad news and read over the Gettysburg Address to honor Abraham Lincoln and to remind yourself that we are all Americans.

 

 

What Happens When You Have Too Much Time on Your Hands

Writing a blog post right between the end of one year and the start of another is tricky.   Typically writers come up with “the list of the [fill in the blank] of 2014.”   I thought about selecting the top education stories of the year but got a bit depressed.

So before we continue examining challenges of public education for 2015, allow me to share how I spent part of my winter break.

While I am not a fan of starting school in early August, I do like finishing the semester before Christmas.   Students take final exams in middle and high schools so when they return on January 7 they don’t have to turn in projects since a new semester will commence (though a few of my students did mention work assigned by some teachers over vacation).

There really are only two times when my mind is not “on” when it comes to my job: winter break and summer break.   Since spring break occurs in the middle of the semester, it feels more like a pause in learning, rather than a true mental vacation.

Over the years I have noticed that it takes a few days for my body and mind to work at a slower more natural pace.   When I am in work mode, it is difficult even on weekends for me not to think about lessons or students.

So when I am at rest, one of the pleasures I indulge in is to allow my mind to wander, sparked with curiosity, on a number of topics.

In the past week, I read Billy Crystal’s memoir Still Foolin’ ’Em and Jane Leavy’s biography on Mickey Mantle, The Last Boy. How are the two connected?

It started with Crystal discussing his friendship with Mantle in the remaining years of the ballplayer’s life.   In fact, Crystal attended Mantle’s funeral in 1995.   I double-checked this by watching the video of the ceremony on YouTube and there is Bob Costas pointing him out in the audience.

Coincidentally in 2001, Crystal ended up directing the film 61* about Mantle’s and fellow New York Yankee Roger Maris’s pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record (at the time) of 60 homeruns in a season.   This sparked an interest to watch again the Ken Burns’ 1994 PBS documentary series Baseball, a first viewing for my baseball-loving teenaged son.

I then read Leavy’s book on Mantle.   I found myself interrupting my reading in order to view aspects of Mantle’s life online such as a local television video of his retirement ceremony at Yankee Stadium on June 8, 1969.

This exploration of Mantle led me to the ESPN 2007 miniseries “The Bronx is Burning” exploring the tumultuous year of 1977 for New Yorkers through the dual stories of the Yankees’ World Series season with the Son of Sam serial killings. One of Mantle’s closest friends and fellow drinking buddy was Billy Martin who managed the team that year.

And as I watched the TV show, I found out that the lead New York City police detective on the Son of Sam case, Timothy Dowd, who is prominently portrayed in the program, died last week at age 99.

Whether the connections mean anything or not, they do mean that life can be quite fascinating once your mind isn’t preoccupied with regular daily duties. Or maybe I need to return to work before I began exploring other New York crime waves.