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Life in America

Life in America (15)

Friday, 25 January 2019 23:08

Birthday Club!

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In America, birthdays are a big deal, and there are lots of different ways to celebrate. Friends and relatives who are far away might send a birthday card in the mail, and in today's high-tech age, wish you "happy birthday" on social media, or by text, or with a call. In the Dreyer family when our kids were young, we would often take them out to eat for breakfast on their big day, or if that would make a school morning too busy, maybe on the nearest Saturday morning. We would usually have a family dinner that night complete with cake and candles. Grandma and Gramps would usually join us too, plus other relatives if they were close by. Then there would be cards and gifts to open. After we ate the dinner and the cake, we would go around in a circle and each person would say something they appreciate about the birthday person. That is a tradition we keep even till today!


At, we value the Gift of Life and the gift that each person is, so birthdays are big here too! For several years we have sent a hand-writtten note and small gift to each person on their birthday, so they have a hand-addressed card to open from the USA! Many of our students tell us they never get printed mail any more so they never check their mailboxes, so before their birthday I try to remind them: check your mailbox!


In November 2018 I mailed Christmas cards with a small gift to all our students. One student in Baotou, Inner Mongolia got his card around Valentine's Day 2019 -- three months later! This is what the student's dad wrote about getting a card from the US:

就是的,时间长短不要紧,最主要的是我们收到来自大洋彼岸的心意,谢谢您,祝您及家人一切顺意  (Yes, the length of time does not matter, the most important thing is that we received a kind message from the other side of the ocean, thank you, I wish you and your family all the best.)


Starting in January 2019, we are adding a new piece to our celebrations! A Free 1 on 1 class! We couldn't figure out a way to send a birthday cake by zoom, so we are sending a class instead!  In addition to giving the free class to our student, we also hope to chat with at least one parent too during that time. Birthdays are times to look back and look forward, so we would like to know how your English classes are going, how they are helping you, what your goals are, and how we can better help you in the future!


When a student's birthday approaches, watch your email. You should get a link to let you pick a time convenient for you, for your free class and parent chat.


THANK YOU for choosing!


Cici and mother and Scott



Friday, 04 January 2019 20:39

The Role of Religion in the USA

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At, not only do we help students learn English, but also learn about life in the USA. Not long ago Dave, one of my outstanding online students in Beijing, China, asked me: What was the role of Christianity in forming the United States?


That is a GREAT question, and one that has many answers! The SHORT answer is: Religion, particularly Christianity, played a HUGE role in the forming of the USA, and if you want to understand the United States, the Western World, and the English language, you need to understand Judaism, Christianity, and the Bible.


The issue of religion and America's founding is complicated at best. When we look at this issue, there are two extreme errors, both of which are wrong. Consider the question, "Did America have a Christian founding?" One extreme answer, widespread today, is "Of course not! The colonists wanted to escape the crazy religious wars and conflicts of Europe, so they made a "religion-free" government, and we call it "separation of Church and State." The other extreme answer is: "Of course! All the Founding Fathers were deeply devout Christian believers who wanted to set up a theocracy where Christianity would rule." Both these views, though held by many today (especially the first one), are false. You can read more here.


For many years, museums and schools have downplayed this role of religion in America's founding and development. I think there are many reasons for this.


One, many of the people who run the musuems and schools themselves do not understand the imporant role, so they are not able to teach what they themselves do not understand or appreciate.


Two, many people are afraid of "crossing the line" or being seen as forcing religion on people, so they back off. They are afraid of being branded a "religious zealot" or committing that greatest sin in America today -- "offending somebody," so they avoid the topic altogether.


Three, other people have a political or cultural agenda to reduce the influence of religion in the US today, so to do so they deemphasize the role of religion in history. As George Orwell put it in his 1948 bestseller 1984,

"He who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future."

In other words, those who control the present (control schools, the media, museums, the government, etc.) can control the past (by slanting or twisting how history is taught, or mis-taught), and if you can create a false narrative about what the past was like, you can more easily trick or mislead people into going astray from their true cultural roots and into a totally new direction, thus "controlling the future."


I was heartened to see that the famous Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. held a year-long exhibit, on the role of religion in America. To quote: "As a focused subject area, it's been neglected," says Peter Manseau, a scholar and writer installed last year as the first full-time religion curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. He continues: "We can't tell the story of America without telling the story of religion," Manseau says, "and we can't answer questions about the importance of religion today without going back to earlier generations." Read or hear the story here.



Jamestown, Virginia 

The first permanent English colony in the New World was at Jamestown, Virginia. (This is another fine reason to study English with since we are based in the US State of Virginia, you can learn English from the birthplace of English-speaking America!) Even though Jamestown was created mainly for economic reasons (to make lots of money), Christianity was very important in its founding. The first building erected at Jamestown was a Christian church.



Plymouth Rock & Boston


The settlers at Plymouth Rock and Boston were highly-motivated by their Christian faith to leave Europe, cross the Atlantic, and built new lives in the New World where they wanted to be "like a city on a hill" as Jesus said.

(Another Virginia note: The Pilgrims actually wanted to sail to Virginia and settle here, but they were blown off course by storms and so ended much further north, in what is today Massachusetts.)




The Declaration of Independence 


The Declaration of Independence by Virginian and UVA-founder Thomas Jefferson refers to God four or five times: two in the first paragraph, one in the middle, and two at the end.


“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

(In other words, human rights come from God, and the "Right to Life" comes first. Let's face it: without a right to life, no other rights mean anything, if we are dead!)


“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

(Note: Governments do not GIVE or CREATE the rights; government is supposed to SECURE (protect) the rights that come from God.)


“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations… evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.”   (In other words: if any government is not doing its job to protect the God-given rights, then the people have to right to alter (change) or abolish (overthrow) it, and create a new form of government that will do a better job of protecting the people and keeping them safe and happy.)


(The Declaration then lists 27 grievances, or complaints, that the colonists had against King George III of England. Like a lawyer, Jefferson lays out his case why independence is legitimate and necessary. The Declaration then ends with two more references to God.)


“We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown…”


“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”


The Congress that met in Philadelphia and approved the Declaration debated and revised the wording from July 1-4, 1776. (In a little-known note, Congress actually voted for and approved independence from England on July 2, but did not approve the final wording of the Declaration until July 4, hence, that is our nation's birthday. Source) During the four days of debate over the wording of the Declaration, there is no evidence that anyone objected to or revised the references to God.  No one said, "Hey, this is a government document, we can't talk about God in this!" 






The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom


The next year, 1777, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which the Virginia government approved in 1779. It reads in part (emphasis mine):

Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time. …   (source)



Many today have never heard of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and it is seldom taught in schools, but notice what words Jefferson ordered be written on his tombstone before he died, ironically, on July 4, 1826, America's 50th birthday:


BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826   (source)


Do you see? Jefferson did NOT want mentioned that he had been a US president (two terms), the first US Secretary of State, a Virginia governor, the architect of Monticello, etc, but he DID mention two documents he had written and the university he had founded!




Geographic Place Names 


It is a normal human trait to name things. The Bible is a thick book, but right near the beginning, Genesis Chapter 2, we see Adam naming the animals. Pet owners give their pets names. Likewise, people name their surroundings. The Native Americans (aka American Indians) named places, and many of those names exist till today across America: many are surprised to know that 26 of the 50 United States--over half-- have Indian names, like Alaska, Connecticut, and Kentucky! My beloved hometown and headquarters of is in Roanoke, Virginia.  As European settlers began pouring into the Americas starting in the 1500s and 1600s, they brought their own languages, cultures, and religions with them, and usually stamped their own sense of identity and ownership on the land by naming it. Just in the US State of Virginia alone, we have tons of English names like the James River, the Elizabeth River, Richmond, Portsmouth, Norfolk, King and Queen County, etc., plus a Moscow, Warsaw,  and Dublin.  


LIkewise, MANY place names come from the Bible, the holy book of Judaism and Christianity. Nearby our headquarters is Salem, which means "peace" in Hebrew and is another name for Jerusalem. Other Bible names include:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (cite of the creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, in Independence Hall, on the back of the US$100 bill--right under "IN GOD WE TRUST.")

Providence, the capital of Rhode Island, the US's smallest state ("Providence" means the protective care of God, but Providence, RI recently ranked as one of the "most Godless cities in the US," because so few residents there read the Bible often. You can read the report here.)

Newark, New Jersey (from New Ark of the Covenant)

Shiloh, Tennessee (site of a bloody Civil War battle in 1862)

Antioch, Tennessee (hometown of financial guru and talk radio host Dave Ramsey)

Nazareth, Pennsylvania

New Lebanon, Ohio & New York

Damascus, Virginia (Saint Paul in the Bible was converted to Christianity on the Road to Damascus, now the capital of Syria.)

Goshen Pass, (Virginia's oldest state-managed natural area)

Zion, Utah, (where my family visited the beautiful national park when we went camping out West when I was a child)

In addition, there are all the places named after saints. (English is a crazy language: the abbreviation "St." can stand for "Saint" or "Street.")   St. Petersburg, FL, St. Paul, MN, St. Louis, MO, St. Augustine, FL (the first European settlement in what is now the USA), St. Cloud, MN, etc. The Book of Matthew tells about a star over Bethlemen, that guided the wise men to the Baby Jesus. There are more than twelve "little towns of Bethlehem" in the US, including one in Indiana, from where a cousin of mine mails me an annual Christmas card with a Star of Bethlehem and Bethlehem, IN postmark. 


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On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed with His disciples on the Mount of Olives. Today, Mount Olive, NC is called the "pickle capital of the world," due to the presence of Mt. Olive pickle company there, at the Corner of Cucumber and Vine Streets!

Now, to make things more interesting, let's switch from English to other languages. The Spanish colonized much of what is the southern and southwestern USA, and chose many Catholic Christian names, in Spanish, for their lands. "San" or "Santa" mean "saint" or "holy" in Spanish, thus we have San Francisco, San Diego, San Bernadino, Santa Barbara, and San Jose, CA; plus San Antonio, TX and Santa Fe, NM. Corpus Christi, TX literally means "the Body of Christ." The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which stretch from Colorado to New Mexico, mean "the Blood of Christ." Sacramento, the capital of California, means "sacrament," a religious rite, such as communion, where believers receive an act of grace from God. Los Angeles, CA, the second-biggest city in the US, means "the angels." Las Cruces, the second-biggest city in New Mexico, means "the crosses."  And to make things more fun, let's turn to the French language. Notre Dame, IN, means "Our Lady." And 49 of the 50 states are divided into counties, an idea from the English, while Louisiana, with a heavy French influence as a former colony of France (and Spain), is divided into parishes with names like St. Mary, St. Martin, and St. Bernard. A parish is a small administrative area having its own church and priest. 



You can see a full list of Bible place names in the US here




The US Constitution 


Unlike the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which mentions God four or five times, the 1787 Constitution does not mention God by name at all.  So, some people claim, "See, since the Constitution does not mention God at all, then the US government had a totally secular (non-religious) founding!"  However, that is wrong thinking. The Constitution is the written plan of government that the USA has used since it was ratified (approved) in 1788. The US Constitution is the OLDEST written plan of government still in use in the whole world today!  The men who wrote the Constitution, with George Washington in charge, generally had a Christian worldview. Their education, culture, and value system were heavily influenced by the Bible. A big part of that biblical belief is that people are flawed by sin, and that includes leaders, so the best way for these imperfect, flawed people to govern (rule) themselves, is to spread out the power. Do not let too much power be in the hands of just one person or group.  (Think about the World War II dictators Hitler of Germany and Stalin of Russia. They tried to create a utopia [perfect society], and used all the power of their governments to do that. But instead of creating a "heaven on earth," they created nightmares that killed MILLIONS of innocent people. The USA is not a perfect place--and of course, no place is perfect--but it has never given the world a Hitler or a Stalin.) Major ideas of the Constitution are "separation of powers" and "checks and balances." So, the US government has three branches of government: legislative (Congress makes the laws); executive (the President enforces the laws); judicial (the courts interpret the laws).  They all have overlapping powers and ways of controlling or "checking" the others, so the goal is to avoid a dictatorship, where one person or group has all the power. Since 1789, the system has worked! Not perfectly, but it has worked!  (To learn more about the Judeo-Christian worldview that the US Constitution is based on, and three other common worldviews, see the "Four Worldviews" part at the bottom of this page.)


When the Founding Fathers met at Philadelphia in 1787 to write a Constitution and create a stronger form of government, they were in danger of splitting up because of disagreements between the larger and smaller states and the North and the South over the issues of power. Actually, it looked like the meeting would end in failure, and maybe the new USA would collapse, but 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin asked for prayer, to ask God for wisdom and success. Read more here. This is what he said, when he suggested prayer for their meeting:


I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?   --Benjamin Franklin



The Bill of Rights


This may come as a surprise to you, but as the Founding Fathers were working to create the new Constitution in 1787, many American patriots OPPOSED the idea! Why? They thought: "We fought a war with England to be free from a dictatorship, but if we create a new, STRONG USA government, it might become a dictatorship some day too and we will be unfree again!" Those patriots were afraid that a strong NATIONAL government would gradually take away power from the STATES. When the patriot and Christian Patrick Henry of Virginia heard about the new Constitution, he replied: "I smell a rat!" (And when you look at US history, you can see those patriots had a good point! That was basically a major cause of the US Civil War, and since WW II, Washington DC has grown in power as the states have lost power. But that is a different story for another day.)  So, in order to persuade some of those fearful patriots and reluctant states that they should ratify (approve) the new US Constitution, the Founding Fathers decided to guarantee some powers and rights to the people and the states. Those rights were added as the first ten amendments (additions) to the Constitution. Those special freedoms, now called the Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution in 1791. The first part of the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment. It was put first, because it is most important: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (source)


Notice a few points:


  • religion came first
  • Congress cannot establish a "state religion." In other words, England had a "Church of England," but the USA was to have no "Church of America" with forced membership, tithes paid, etc. 
  • It says Congress (the national government) cannot establish a religion, but it does not mention states or local governments
  • It does not say "Freedom FROM religion," even though we hear that language much today
  • Congress cannot make a law to prohibit (block) how people practice their religions
  • Freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and seeking to change the government come later. 


(Sadly, a 2017 survey shows that 37% of Americans could not name ANY of the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment!)   (source


Separation of Church and State 


As seen above, the Bill of Rights mentions Religion first. Its purpose was to avoid creating a "Church of America" but also to guarantee freedom of religion. However, that language made some people nervous. They thought: "if the government is talking about religion, what do they plan to do? Will they control our religion or take away our religious liberty?" On October 7, 1801, a group of Baptist pastors in Danbury, Connecticut wrote a letter to newly-elected President Thomas Jefferson. They wrote to congratulate him on his 1800 election, but also to ask him his views about religion and government. They wrote to Jefferson: "But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific." 

That letter, and Jefferson's letter back, are important. We do not know why, but even though the Baptists dated their letter October 7, Jefferson did not receive it until December 30. But somehow, it seemed very important to Jefferson, because even though the letter was almost three months old by the time he got it, he quickly wrote a response that same day, December 30, and asked two New England political leaders for their thoughts on it. You can read the Baptists' letter and Jefferson's response here.  On January 1, 1802, Jefferson opened the new year by finishing his letter.  It is a mystery. Even though Jefferson was busy on New Years Day 1802 with many guests and well-wishers, and New Years Day is a holiday, Jefferson thought this issue was important. On that day, Jefferson sent his draft letter to his secretary explaining why he had written it, got his secretary's feedback, edited the letter, signed it, and released it, all on January 1.  Some claim Jefferson's letter was just a "short note of courtesy"-- a Thank you Note to the Baptists-- but actually it was much more than that. The Library of Congress holds Jefferson's handwritten letter, and almost 30% of his letter-- seven of 25 lines--Jefferson deleted before he sent it. The Library of Congress actually asked the FBI to use their technology to read the parts that Jefferson had marked out. You can learn more about this fascinating but little-known mystery here.  


The most famous part of Jefferson's letter is this:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. (emphasis mine)  Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.


There is a HUGE storm around the words "separation of Church & State." (In this case, "State" means government.) MANY Americans believe this phrase is in the Constitution, or Declaration of Independence, or both, but it is not!  This phrase is in private letter only-- a letter to Baptist preachers! Many believe that Jefferson, if he were alive today, would be shocked to find out that this little phrase he wrote has become one of his most well-know and often-quoted phrases.


But what does it mean?


If we read the context, Jefferson is quoting the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: Congress cannot make a state "Church of America," and it cannot prohibit the freedom of religion either. Frankly, Jefferson seems to say the "wall" is to keep the government out of the church's business, since freedom of religion is guaranteed. However, since about the 1950s, this phrase has been used countless times to push these ideas:

  • the church is to play no role in the US, state, or local governments or law-making
  • religion should be a largely private matter, to be kept inside the four walls of churches or homes
  • religion has no role in the "public square" or public life
  • public schools cannot have the 10 Commandments, public prayers, religious songs at Christmas concerts, even Christmas or Easter holidays (instead "winter" and "spring" breaks, etc.)


But Jefferson's views on the First Amendment and the interaction of religion and government are not so clear. Two days after he sent his letter, he attended a Christian church service held in the US House of Representatives! (source)  Even till today, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have a full-time chaplain who is paid a government salary from the US Treasury! 


There is MUCH more to say, but here is one last resource. In May 2009, the US House of Representatives approved House Resolution 397, naming the first week of May as "America's Spiritual Heritage Week." I am happy to say that a congressman from Virginia and whom I once met, Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA-4),  introduced this resolution. It gives a fuller list of the role of religion in the founding of the US than I could blog about. You can read its full text here




Four Worldviews


Judeo-Christian Humanism


What are people?   Precious  beings created in the image of God.

 Why are there problems in the world?     People are fallen (sinful).

How do you govern these people? With Checks & Balances.  ALL people are fallen, including leaders, so don’t give all the power to 1 person or group.

“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  -- Thomas Jefferson

The U.S. government is set up on the model, with 3 branches; federalism; a written constitution, etc.

Truth is absolute.  Whether you agree with it or not, there is a universal truth.

This was the overall worldview of most Americans till the 1950s and 1960s.

Secular Humanism


What are people?  Precious beings able to think  & reason.

Why are there problems in the world?  People are born good (Locke’s tabula rasa), but society can make them bad. (Rousseau)

How do you govern these people?  Make a government strong enough to make a better society. 

This worldview also emphasizes written laws & constitutions.  It emphasizes individual/personal rights, hence, the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Truth can be found through science & reason.

This was believed by many American leaders since the Enlightenment (1700s), but went “mainstream” in the 1960s.



20th Century Utopianism


What are people?  Products of evolution.

Why are there problems in the world?  Humankind is basically good,  but society is unfair.  If we can just change society, the economy, education, etc., we can make the world a better place.  We can create a utopia!

How do you make this utopia?  Give the state enough powers to make it happen!  Make “heaven on earth!”


Very Conservative (Right-wing)

Strictly enforce the laws. OR



Very liberal (Left-wing)

Overthrow the kings, the rich, the factory owners... Make everyone equal! “Share the wealth.” After awhile, the gov’t. will “wither away.”  What if people don’t want to be helped?  Make them; it’s for their own good.   “We are seldom so cruel as when we seek to be kind.”  -- George Orwell

Truth is what the Party says. 

Modern Liberalism


What are people?  Products of evolution.

Why are there problems in the world? Humankind is basically good, but society is bad and unfair.

How do you make this utopia?  Give the government (state)  enough power to make it happen. (Hence the American explosion of the number of laws.)

This worldview often emphasizes GROUP over individual rights. Key words are diversity, tolerance, & inclusiveness.

Truth is whatever you want it to be.  There is no absolute truth. “You have your truth; I have mine.”

From the 1990s, it seemed this was increasingly where American society was headed.  Is it still?

Many of the social, economic and political conflicts in post-modern America are actually a clash of worldviews, a clash of orthodoxies, “culture wars,” a “civil war of values.”




Thank you for reading this far! This tiny list is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope to keep adding to this post, but the subject is vast and inexhaustible, so in a sense, this post can never be declared "finished."


Would you like to know more about English or life in the USA? Contact me today to find out how we can help you!


Tuesday, 24 April 2018 00:29

Only in Virginia

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The USA has 50 states, and is headquartered in the state of Virginia, on the East Coast. Virginia is the state just below the USA capital, Washington, D.C.


Virginia is also the site of Jamestown, founded in 1607, the first permanent English colony in the New World. So, you can see that Virginia is the birthplace of English-speaking America! The fact that you are reading this post in English shows that you have a connection with the English language that has spread around the world!


Many thanks to team teacher Mr. Woodson who found this link. It gives an A to Z list of cool things to see and visit in Virginia.  Note that "A" is "Appomattox," the small town where the US Civil War ended in 1865. This town is only a 90-minute drive east of our home office, and is also the subject of a blog post that I wrote.


Check out this cool link for yourself here!

Title photo source:

Wednesday, 23 September 2015 22:46

Our view from the mountainside: First Day of Autumn

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At the very end of last year, right between Christmas and New Year's, our family was blessed to buy and move into a new house (well, new for us). For many years, my wife Deborah had hoped and prayed for an English-style Tudor house, because she finds them charming. (And since provides English tutoring, that fits.) Meanwhile, I was hoping and praying for a house way up high, with a commanding view of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia. But you know, you have to actually start looking at houses to realize how difficult it is to find a Tudor house on a mountainside. There just aren't that many. But I digress.

 Upon moving in, we began to explore and enjoy our new area. Our home is on the side of a small mountain, with a view extending some 25 miles (40 km) all the way to Smith Mountain, home of the dam that created beautiful Smith Mountain Lake. From our front yard (at least in the winter when the leaves are off), we can see areas of Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Bedford County, Franklin County, and Pittsylvania County, Virginia.The neighborhood provides many quiet streets and trails suitable for walking, running, or biking. Especially fun is walking on a nearby greenway that intersects a small farm with a Civil War-era (1864) house.

An avid walker, I began enjoying the walks right away, and as a dog owner, I usually took Daisy on my daily saunters. Last February was rugged, because it was one of the coldest Februaries on record--many places here in Virginia broke all-time low records, but I still got out when I could. (I also called the local office of US Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asking why, if the world is getting hotter and hotter, was that the coldest February on record for many places? For some odd reason, I never got an answer, but again I digress.)  Being winter, the trees (except for the evergreens) were bare, and snow lay on the ground for weeks at a time.

As the year wore on, winter grudgingly gave way to spring, and spring almost imperceptibly became summer. Somewhere along the line, while enjoying the farm animals, wildflowers, and general beauty of the region, I thought, "maybe semi-occasional blog posts about life on the mountain, and the changing seasons, might interest people, especially folks in other countries who want to learn about life in America."

So, this being the official first day of autumn ("fall" as most Americans say), I'd like to commence.

Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015

One of the greatest compliments I was ever given was, "Scott, you have a real appreciation for irony." So, it's ironic and also fitting that, as I began this blog post about the arrival, I saw just feet away a fine specimen of summer: a female ruby-throated hummingbird at our hummingbird feeder. A gift from Deborah for my birthday, the feeder has attracted "hummers" all summer, and I know I will miss them when they leave, which will be soon. In fact, I was thinking of taking down the feeder so as not to tempt them to stay too long here "up North," but my concern was unnecessary--I can leave the feeder up, they will know when to leave, regardless of what I do. Still, it is fitting, that on the first day of autumn, that little hummingbird reminded me of summer--that seasons generally change more gradually and imperceptibly, unlike most of us humans, who often like the drastic change. "Throw the switch" and be done with it.

There are still many signs of summer around. A number of flowers are still blooming; just now I saw an Easter Tiger Swallowtail butterfly grabbing a snack from a flower in our yard. The mountain behind our home, other than a few tree forerunners tending to reddish, is still overwhelmingly green. Plus, it's still quite warm- 77° F, (25° C), yet it was cool this morning, 60° F (16° C). That is normal this time of year: hot days, cold nights. The two Chinese boys living with us go to school wearing hooded sweatshirts to keep warm in the morning, but have shed them by afternoon.

Still, signs of autumn sneaking in abound. Many neighbors have pumpkins and fall flowers (chrysanthemums) in their yards for decorations. The brutal heat of summer is past. And some trees, especially the Virginia state tree, the dogwood, have begun to change colors. And some day soon, the hummingbirds will least for this year.

Thank you for joining me for this reflection: the first day of autumn on the side of the mountain.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015 22:37

Two young people making a difference

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Yesterday's Roanoke Times had an uplifting article about two siblings, Kinley (age 12) and Camden, 10, who have set up a "Little Free Library" in their front yard in Northeast Roanoke (Virginia USA). The Little Free Library movement seeks to foster literacy by encouraging people to create their own, well, "little free libraries" in their front yard or such.

The children gathered a collection of books, which people can then borrow at will (no due date!). Likewise, patrons and neighbors can also donate books to beef up the selection. What a clever idea!


The article says the parents always take care to be sure a Bible is among the "holdings." This brought to my mind a point that is vast but I only have time to scratch the surface of, but it is the link between the Bible and literacy. It is a key part of both Judaism and Christianity that they are based on scripture, on the written word, and the belief that the written word is God's main way to communicate with people. When the first settlers came to North America, one of their chief goals was to establish schools so that the pastors could train new pastors, who in turn could teach the Bible (and thus literacy) to their congregations. Many are surprised to learn that this was the reason Harvard University was founded:

The founders of Harvard recorded their reasons for establishing this center of learning:

After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God's worship, and settled the civil government: One of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.

What wonderful young leaders. And to quote financial guru Dave Ramsey, "leaders are readers."

Tuesday, 21 July 2015 12:34

Life in the USA: Summer Camping

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Call of the wild: Kids get hooked on camping in classes for families



Tessa, 8, and Isaac, 6, didn't want to leave Missouri's Weston Bend State Park. The Minters were barely out of the park when the kids began begging for a return trip. They'd spent the day catching bugs and on scavenger hunts as part of Missouri State Parks Learn2 Camp program. It wasn't enough, though, for nature's newest fans. They wanted another night to roast marshmallows and sing "I've Been Workin' On The Railroad" around a campfire - and soon. That's exactly what Missouri State Parks wants to hear. Camping permit sales in Missouri's parks dropped 13 percent between 2000 and 2013, the most recent year for which camping numbers were available. National parks have been dealing with a decline in overnight stays since the 1980s. Nowadays, visitors seem to prefer the comfort of nearby motels.

Missouri in US
US State of Missouri


Weston Bend State Park official website

missouri campfire


Tents, Campfires and Animal Tracks

The Learn2 Camp program works to ease families who haven't camped before into the outdoors. The program brings them out to a park for a weekend and provides equipment and organized activities, said Stephanie Deidrick. She is a spokeswoman for Missouri State Parks. They were shown things like how to pitch a tent or how to cook over a campfire. Deidrick said she hopes it will make it so that "families will be more likely to camp on their own in the future." Deidrick said that getting kids into camping early can increase the chances they'll camp as adults. The program was exactly what Kelly Minter had hoped for when she applied. She and her husband Ron already had agreed to their kids' longtime pleas for a camping trip. They had set one up to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park for the end of June. Kelly Minter had camped with her family as a child. However, she said she preferred taking her own kids to Oceans of Fun, a theme park in Kansas City. It was less work than preparing a campsite. After the camping trip was planned, she was worried. What if her ideas and her husband's various "theories" about how to start a fire or set up a tent wouldn't match real life? This year's Learn2 Camp at Weston Bend was the perfect test run. With the help of park employees, Ron Minter figured out how to put up a large six-person tent. Isaac and Tessa learned how to identify various trees, insects and animal tracks. Ron Minter got instructions on using sticks to start a campfire. No more lighter fluid and starter logs for him, his wife hopes. "I think we might be camping more," Kelly Minter said.

Johnsons Shut ins 20090815 1

Johnson's Shut Ins State Park, Missouri

Drop In Overnight Camping Trips

According to the Outdoor Foundation's most recent "American Camper Report," 40.1 million Americans went camping in 2013 - a drop of about 424,000 from 2012 and a decline of 6.1 million from 2009. National parks hosted nearly 11.9 million overnight visits in 1981, according to the National Park Service. That number had shrunk to 8.8 million by 2000, a 26 percent difference. National Park Service spokesman, Jeffrey Olson, said the way Americans experience parks changed in the last 30 years. Attendance numbers reached an all-time high last year, but people are not spending the night as often. Visitors now have more overnight options, including staying in nearby towns. "They have a lot more in the way of services for visitors, like motel rooms and seats in restaurants. Some people love to spend the night near national parks and then get up and go after breakfast in the morning," Olson said. Famous parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite are still full every weekend and require making reservations well in advance, Olson said. Camping numbers, however, may never get back to the highs of the 1980s. The decline in camping may be more tied to Americans spending less time away from work than any lack of equipment and training. In the 2014 "American Camper" survey, 71 percent of people gave "more free time or vacation time" as a reason that they would continue camping.

roasting marshmellows

Roasting marshmallows

Creating "A Legacy" of Camping

But the Learn2 Camp program does try to take advantage of one promising fact. Among campers asked in the 2013 survey, 85 percent took their first trip before they turned 16. After that key age, any chance of a person going camping decreases quite a bit. Missouri State Parks knows this well. Exposing families with children to camping when they're younger can start an outdoor tradition for them that may continue for generations, Deidrick said. Chi Kim, who came to Weston Bend with her husband and three children, agreed. She grew up camping in Colorado. "I think you are passing on a legacy by coming out here and getting them into camping and the outdoors. Just like anything else, you've got to expose them to it and teach them about it," she said.

Personal note: After my family moved from the US state of Indiana to Virginia, our parents wanted to get out into the "great outdoors" and explore their beautiful new home, Virginia, and with a large family, they decided camping would be an affordable way to see the area. So, our family took our first camping trip when I was a baby, and I grew up with that tradition. My mom tells the story about one night, when we were at camp and had had a campfire, I told her, "Don't you feel sorry for all those people who have to stay in motels?" Camping is truly wonderful for young people, and it teaches  invaluable lessons. --Scott Dreyer

Questions: please answer these questions about the article in complete sentences.
1. Why had the Minter family spent the day outdoors in Weston Bend State Park?
2. According to the article, why are fewer people camping in Missouri State Parks now?
3. What is the purpose of the Learn2 Camp program?

4. What lessons does Learn2 Camp teach families?

5. Why is getting involved in camping early a good idea?

6. According to the American Camper survey, how many Americans went camping in 2013? How many went camping in 2009? 

7. Why does Missouri State Parks want to introduce children to camping when they are younger? 


We have recently used this material in several online English classes taught with Our classes not only help you learn more English, but also more about life in the USA. Join a class today!


Sources: compiled by Mr. Dennis Woodson, with content from newsela,com, Grade level 5 article and Grade level 7 article. Note how the same story is told differently, at two different grade levels.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017 00:51

"Fat man rides bike across America"

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Lots of news is about the "big items": war, the economy, politics, etc. But some news stories are called "human interest." They might be the kids who were selling lemonade but had to stop, because they did not have a business license, or the kid who grew the biggest pumpkin for the county fair. This story is one of those "human interest" stories.

Language note: The word "fat" is considered rude, and is not favorably used to describe people. More commonly-accepted words are "heavy-set, overweight, large, obese." But in this case, the man in the article uses the word "fat" to describe himself.

Eric Hites from the US State of Indiana weighed 565 pounds (about 257 kg).


Indiana Map

US State of Indiana

His wife had been a widow, and did not want the mental anguish of having another husband die. So, they were separated. In his desire to save his marriage, Hites took the drastic step to change himself by riding his bike across the US to lose weight!

Notice what Hites did NOT do:

- blame his wife
- blame or sue McDonald's or other fast food restaurants for "making him fat." (Don't laugh: some people have done this!)
- blame his parents for how they raised him
- ask the government to create some new program to help him


He took personal responsibility to solve the problem!


Hites said his weight caused him job and emotional problems, and his life had been going downhill. However, not long after he started his ride, he did accomplish one goal: his wife took him back! She saw he was willing to pay the price to improve himself and their marriage relationship.


He kicked off his bike trip in the wealthy resort of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and he plans to ride all the way across the US to the Pacific Ocean.


While riding in Connecticut, he had to stop because he broke a wheel rim, but a bike shop gave him a newer, stronger rim, for free, to help him on his way.

Source: "Fat Guy" cycling across US

His blog:

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Monday, 17 August 2015 00:36

The Meteor Shower

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Every year in early August, we are treated to a special "nature show," called a "meteor shower." No, this has nothing to do with using water or staying clean. It has to do with science, so we will need to know some terms first.

A comet is basically a big ball of ice and rock that travels around the sun on an orbit. These comets circle around the earth with a set orbit, so we know in advance when they will pass near the earth. When comets pass by earth, they drop off smaller rock-like pieces and fragments. The Swift-Tuttle Comet is the "parent" of the chunks of rock that create the August meteor shower.

A meteor is a large "stone-like" object that falls off the comet and then enters the earth's atmosphere.

As these fragments enter the earth's atmosphere, they burn up. This burning action lets of light, which appears as streaks of light. This happens day and night, but we cannot see it during the day, because the sun is out. Just one of these streaks of light is called a shooting star. Normally these are rare to see. When we see lots of them in a short time, it is called a meteor shower. Two of the biggest meteor showers of the year occur every January and August. The meteor shower in August is caused by the Swift-Tuttle Comet, which drops off lots of chunks of "junk" as is passes by Earth.

Most of the "flying rocks" burn up before they hit earth. However, sometimes the meteor actually hits the earth, like the big one that hit Russia on Feb. 15, 2013. A meteor that hits the earth (which is rare), is called a meteorite. Watch this video to find out more. Meteor hits Russia.

The August meteor shower is called the Perseid meteor shower. This is a popular one to watch in the USA, because summer nights feel cool, and it is comfortable to set a blanket or chair outside to watch them. Plus, most kids are on vacation from school, so they can stay out late at night looking for shooting stars without worrying about waking up early for school the next day. In contrast, the January meteor shower is not popular to watch; in most of the US, it is too cold to lie outside in January, especially in the middle of the night! The peak viewing time for the August 2015 shower was Aug. 12-13, about 3:00-4:00 am. One aspect that made the 2015 meteor shower special was the fact that there was a new moon at the time of the shower. In other words, a full moon creates much light in the night sky, so it is hard to see the shooting stars. But a new moon means the moon is not visible, so the night sky is very dark, making it easier to see the stars.

To watch the meteor shower, spread out a blanket on the ground to look up at the night sky. You might want to bring a jacket, because it can get cool at night. Maybe you can bring popcorn or another snack. Be away from lights as much as possible, so look for a place out in the country away from city lights. One of my relatives, who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, said watching the August meteor shower was always a favorite activity from her childhood. August 12, 2015 was the day when our two Chinese students, Deron and Matthew, arrived in Virginia in order to attend a US high school. Their first day was busy: flying into Roanoke, VA, setting up a bank account, moving into their new room, going to church youth group to meet new friends, etc. But despite their busy first day and jet lag, they were game and willing to go out at 10:45 that night to see the meteor shower at its peak. With our dog, Daisy, in the car, I drove them on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and we stopped at an overlook away from city lights. The absence of any moonlight or clouds made the night sky easy to see. We spread a blanket on the ground so we could get comfortable and look up at the sky. After a few minutes, our eyes adjusted to the darkness. We were there from about 11:00-11:45, and saw about ten shooting stars. Some had a short path and were brief, while a few had a long trail across the sky and lasted for a couple of seconds.

Deron and Matthew enjoying meteor shower

Deron and Matthew, watching the meteor shower.


If you have a chance, try to watch the August meteor shower. It's also something we offer our Summer Campers who come to the USA for the Summer Camps. It's fun!

Friday, 04 March 2016 21:56

Snow Day!

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These words usually put joy into the hearts of children...but often anguish or fear into the hearts of adults!




For kids, it's a day...or from school.


Here are some questions people have asked me about Snow Days in the USA.


How much warning do you get that snow is coming?


Sometimes the forecasts start about one week in advance. However, that early, the forecasts cannot be too sure. As time goes on, though, an accurate forecast is more and more likely. Usually, we are pretty sure about one or two days in advance that snow is coming.


How do you know when school is closed?


There are several ways. The "traditional" way is to see them scrolled across the TV screens. However, nowadays they also post on school and news websites, as well as send texts to phones. Public (government) schools usually close as a system, as in "Roanoke County--Closed." This is because public school systems are big, covering an entire city or county, so one decision applies to each school in that district. However, private (independent) schools announce individually, as in "Parkway Christian Academy--Closed."


(This is one of the many advantages of learning English with Even when the local schools within walking distance of our office are closed due to snow, our online classes to students across the globe are still open and on schedule!)


What if there is a little snow, but it's not too bad?


If the weather is "iffy," that is, it may be a little slick or cold in the morning, and a few hours of sun are needed to melt snow on the roads, then some schools have a "Two-hour delay." In those cases, though, the schools still close at the regular time at the end of the day. This is why kids (and teachers) usually love snow days.


Do you have to make up Snow Days?


The answer is: it depends. Most school systems have a number of "Snow Days" built into their calendar, maybe five or six, so as long as the school is not closed more than that, the days do not need to be made up. However, some years there are many heavy snowfalls, and the kids have to make up the missed days. Usually those are taken from Teacher Workdays or even Spring (Easter) Break. As a kid I even remember some SATURDAY make-up school days. My parents made me go, but I remember attendance was low, and we watched movies in most of the classes. I guess the teachers were as excited to be there as we were.



English is a crazy language #1: "Make up" can mean

1. the cosmetics women put on their face (We got mom some make-up for Christmas),

2. to work extra time for time missed (We need to make up three snow days.),

3. to become friends again (They decided to make up after arguing for a week.),

4. to comprise something (We will study the make-up of plants.),

5. to invent a story or excuse (We have to make up a story for English class.)


English is a crazy language #2: "Missed" can mean

1. to fail to hit or attend something (We missed three days for snow. She missed her flight.), or

2. to feel the absence of something (He missed his family after he went away to college.)



What do kids do on snow days?


There are lots of things to do.


- One of the most popular is, sleep in. With no school, there is usually no need to wake up early.

- Watch TV or go online. One friend of mine posted on Facebook that, on a recent snow day, his children stayed inside and watched a movie...Frozen. He thought it was ironic.

- Go outside and play. Sledding is lots of fun for kids (and adults too). You just have to find a hill that is steep enough to sled on. This is one of the beauties of living in Roanoke, Virginia. We are in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, so there are hills everywhere. If a person lives near the coast or in much of the central part of the USA, much of the land is flat and so it is hard to find hills. Other popular things to do are have snowball fights, make snow angels, or, if there is heavy snow, build an igloo. (See the video at the bottom of the page.) (Language note: English borrows LOTS of words from other languages, and "igloo" comes from the Inuit word "iglu," which means "house," regardless of what it is made of.)

- Stay inside and drink hot chocolate (cocoa) and generally relax. It's also fun to sit by the fire, if your family has a fireplace or wood stove.

- When the snow is pretty deep and roads are still dangerous, schools announce their closings or delays the night before, so parents can make arrangements for childcare. In those cases, the kids can stay up late at night too.



car in snow


Common sight after snow days


snow in front yard


snow scene in our front yard--notice the small colored lights and gold garland: Christmas decorations still up!


Why do many adults not like snow days?


- Fear of running out of food. It is almost a joke that, when snow is in the forecast, the grocery stores are very crowded, especially with older people who seem to scare easily and want to "stock up" on groceries. Sometimes, by the day before a major snow event, staples like bread, milk and eggs are sold out.


- Since a lot of little kids especially "go nuts" when there is snow and no school, some parents find that very frustrating. However, it's a good chance for the parents to show patience and understanding toward their excitable children.


- Even though schools are closed, most businesses are still open, so it can be difficult or downright dangerous to drive to work in snow or ice. This is one of the many advantages of being a teacher: when schools are closed for snow, you get a day off too. I know some people who, if they cannot drive to work, lose a day of pay or vacation.


- The work. Most people want to shovel their driveway and sidewalk, and that can be very difficult. Many folks hire a local teenager to do it, but that can get expensive. Sadly, every year some older men die from heart attacks on snow days: they are out shoveling snow, do not realize how out of shape they are, and their heart just stops. On another note, when the snow melts, the roads get slushy, and cars get filthy. You either need to wash your car yourself or go to a car wash. But, after big snows, the lines at car washes are often crazy long.


- For heavy snows, one's mail or newspaper service may be interrupted.


- Many people, especially older folks, are afraid of falling on the snow or ice and breaking a bone.


- For most adults, their view is: "Snow is beautiful if you can just sit at home and look at it, as long as you don't have to go out in it."



taking a nap

Good idea on a snow day: take a nap


How long does the snow stay around?


This depends. Here in Virginia, which is in the South, the snows often melt after just a day or two. In the North, however, snow can easily stay on the ground for weeks. Plus, that depends on how much snow fell and how how cold it stays for the next days and weeks. February 2015 was unusually cold and snowy in much of the US, and we had snow on the ground here in Virginia for weeks.


 parking lot snow

Snow piled up in parking lot to clear--Piles of snow take up lots of room


When do you usually get snow?


This too depends on where in the US you live. In Alaska, it can start snowing in October, but here in Virginia, the first snows usually come in December, and are most likely in January and February. However, we sometimes have snows in March, and occasionally, even in early April.


Watch this man make an igloo. Notice how many days he works on it!


Practice your listening! Listen to this two-minute podcast, "I always loved a snow day," from Gretchen Rubin


Wednesday, 01 June 2016 21:39

Reading Passage: Have you had your 2016 Moment?

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April 21, 2016 7:37 p.m. ET

Peggy Noonan is an American author of several books on culture, politics, and religion. She was a key speechwriter for US President Reagan and now writes weekly for the Wall Street Journal, where this opinion piece appeared.

Have you had your 2016 Moment? I think you probably have, or will.


The Moment is that sliver of time in which you fully realize something epochal is happening in politics, that there has never been a presidential year like 2016, and suddenly you are aware of it in a new, true and personal way. It tends to involve a poignant sense of dislocation, a knowledge that our politics have changed and won't be going back.

We've had a lot to absorb ”the breaking of a party, the rise of an outlandish outsider; a lurch to the left in the other party, the popular rise of a socialist. Alongside that, the enduring power of a candidate even her most ardent supporters accept as corrupt. Add the lowering of standards, the feeling of no options, the coarsening, and all the new estrangements.

The Moment is when it got to you, or when it fully came through.

My friend Lloyd, a Manhattan lawyer and GOP campaign veteran, had two Moments. The first came when he took his 12-year-old on a father-son trip to New Hampshire to see the primary. They saw Ted Cruz speak at a restaurant, and Bernie Sanders in a boisterous rally. "It was great and wonderful," Lloyd said.

Then it happened. "The Monday night before the voting we were at a Donald Trump rally. A woman in the audience screamed out the P-word to refer to a rival candidate. Trump repeated it from the podium, and my kid heard it and looked at me. "Lloyd was mortified. Welcome to the splendor of democracy, son." I thought, "So we have come to this."

It didn't end there. Lloyd's second Moment came a month later, the morning after the raucous GOP debate that featured references to hand size. Lloyd was in the car with his son, listening to the original Broadway cast recording of "Hamilton." I blurted out, "How exactly has America managed to travel from that to this?" American history is fiercely imperfect and made by humans. "Yet in the rearview mirror it appears ennobling and grand. And now it feels jagged, and the fabric is worn."

A friend I'll call Bill, a political veteran from the 1980s and '90s, also had his Moment with his child, a 14-year-old daughter who is a budding history buff. He had never taken her to the Reagan Library, so last month they went. As she stood watching a video of Reagan speaking, he thought of Reagan and FDR, of JFK and Martin Luther King. His daughter, he realized, would probably never see political leaders of such stature and grace, though she deserved to. Her first, indelible political memories were of lower, grubbier folk. Leaders with Reaganesque potential no longer go into politics and why would they, with all the posturing and plasticity that it requires?

He added: "I felt a wave of sadness."

Another political veteran, my friend John, also had his Moment during the New Hampshire primary. "Out door-knocking for Jeb Bush, I was struck as I walked along a neighborhood using the app that described the voters in each house. So many multigenerational families of odd collections of ages in houses with missing roof shingles or shutters askew or paint peeling. Cars needing repair."

What was the story inside those houses? Unemployment, he thought, elder care, divorce, custody battles. "It was easy to see a collective loss of hope in a once-thriving town." He sensed years of neglect and sadness. Something is brewing.

My Moment came a month ago. I'd recently told a friend my emotions felt too close to the surface ”for months history had been going through me and I felt like a vibrating fork. I had not been laughing at the splintering of a great political party but mourning it. Something of me had gone into it. Party elites seemed to have no idea why it was shattering, which meant they wouldn't be able to repair it, whatever happens with Mr. Trump.

I was offended that those curiously quick to write essays about who broke the party were usually those who'd backed the policies that broke it. Lately conservative thinkers and journalists had taken to making clear their disdain for the white working class. I had actually not known they looked down on them. I deeply resented it and it pained me. If you're a writer lucky enough to have thoughts and be paid to express them and there are Americans on the ground struggling, suffering ”some of them making mistakes, some unlucky”you don't owe them your airy, well-put contempt, you owe them your loyalty. They too have given a portion of their love to this great project, and they are in trouble.

A few nights earlier, I'd moderated a panel in New York, on, yes, the ironic soundtrack of election year 2016, "Hamilton." At one point I quoted a line. It is when Eliza sings, just as war has come and things are bleak: "How lucky we are to be alive right now." As I quoted it my voice caught. I asked a friend later if he'd noticed. "Yes," he said, quizzically, comfortingly, we did.

The following day I spoke at a school in Florida, awoke the next morning spent, got coffee, fired up the iPad, put on cable news. I read an email thread from a group of conservative women very bright, all ages, all decorous and dignified. But tempers were high, and they were courteously tearing each other apart over Mr. Trump and the GOP.

Then to my own email, full of notes from people pro- and anti- Trump, but all seemed marked by some kind of grieving. I looked up and saw Hillary Clinton yelling on TV and switched channels. Breaking news, said the crawl. A caravan of Trump supporters driving to an outdoor rally in Fountain Hills, Ariz., had been blocked by demonstrators. The helicopter shot showed a highway backed up for miles. No one seemed to be in charge, as is often the case in America. It was like an unmovable force against an unmovable object.

I watched dumbly, tiredly. Then for no reason this is true, it just doesn't sound it. I thought of an old Paul Simon song that had been crossing my mind, "The Boy in the Bubble." I muted the TV, found the song on YouTube, and listened as I stared at the soundless mile of cars and the soundless demonstrators. As the lyrics came "The way we look to a distant constellation / That's dying in a corner of the sky / . . . Don't cry baby / Don't cry." my eyes filled with tears. And a sob welled up and I literally put my hands to my face and sobbed, silently, for I suppose a minute.

Because my country is in trouble.

Because I felt anguish at all the estrangements.

Because some things that shouldn't have changed have changed.

Because too much is being lost. Because the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal.

And yes, I know this is all personal, and not column-ish.

But that was my Moment.

You'll feel better the next day, I promise, but you won't be able to tell yourself that this is history as usual anymore. This is big, what we're living through.



The newly-revised SAT is all reading passage-based in its language and reading sections, and many of the reading passages deal with issues of history and culture. At, not only do we teach English, but we teach about life in the USA, including current events and politics. Join a class today! 

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