A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Recently I taught one of our Advanced Writing classes--the students attend the prestigious middle school in the Hsinchu, Taiwan Science Park where I taught from 1992-1997. The students have been working on description essays, so as homework, I gave them this prompt: Describe what it is like to attend a writing class with DreyerCoaching.com.
Here are their answers. Wow! I am SO thankful and impressed.
Learning and practicing English with DreyerCoaching has significantly improved my grammar and the ability to produce more lucid, advanced writing. Through the years of taking DreyerCoaching classes, I recognize that my English skills have escalated into a much higher level. Though improving English is the main benefit of taking this class, there is much more. Being able to learn with sophisticated and qualified teachers without the need of leaving your house, being able to connect to the teachers anywhere and anytime, and being able to personally have conversation with the CEO of the online class are boons of DreyerCoaching that most other extracurricular classes do not offer. During the classes, students are free to ask questions at any time, and the classes are relaxing because the teachers are friendly and convivial. Because there is little stress when taking the class, students (for example, me) enjoy it and can learn more effectively. In conclusion, taking DreyerCoaching is the right choice and I encourage everyone who has a chance to take the class to apply for it.
Learning with DreyerCoaching is an experience like none other. Usually, to learn English in Taiwan, one would have to leave their house and drive for at least ten minutes to arrive at the designated teaching location. However, with DreyerCoaching, it is incredibly convenient; turn on your laptop, connect to the meeting, and you are all set! The learning experience is entirely different with DreyerCoaching compared to the average extracurricular class. With the advanced curriculum and knowledgeable teachers, one can learn much more effectively… at home. This is by far the best feature about DreyerCoaching that you can not get anywhere else. If you are struggling with time and scheduling issues, DreyerCoaching can help ease the problem by allowing you to connect right from your desktop, phone, or tablet, and still learn English!
Usually, when people think of English classes in Taiwan, they think of cram schools, tutoring, or other conventional methods of teaching. However, DreyerCoaching has ways of teaching English that are entirely different. Not only does it utilize the technology of the 21st century by teaching over the internet, it provides a further reach of the services it offers, and allows more diversity in students and teachers alike. Along with that, DreyerCoaching also offers interesting and engaging topics to teach the students. For example, students can write their own pourquoi stories, learn about what happens on the ocean floor, and create historical narratives. These topics allow students to engage, therefore making learning more enjoyable. During the classes, students also improve their writing by discussing sentence structure, vocabulary, and grammar. Students can go over their writing in class with individualized attention, making it a wonderful learning environment for students.
During a Chinese New Year 1 on 1 class, our student Nicky in Hunan Province, China had this writing assignment:
If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive), who would they be and what would you ask them?
She was creative and wrote this essay below. I particularly like how she added the idiom "let the cat out of the bag," a saying that her teacher taught her. It means "to tell or reveal a secret." (To learn more English idioms, visit our blog post.)
I think they would be vampire, zombie and skeleton. Because they are not usual things. We all know vampires suck blood. But can they accept all kinds of blood? So this is a question I want to ask him. The second question is : Why are you afraid of the garlic? I think garlic is a nice food. Why vampires have to be afraid of them?
The first question I want to ask Mr. Zombie is: What do you usually eat? I am interesting in it. And I also want to know why zombies can no bend their knees .They just jump and jump and jump. Aren’t they tired?
I’ve always been curious about how skeletons eat and drink. This is a question that I will ask the skeleton. The second question is very interesting. Why don’t skeletons fall apart? I think everybody wants to know the answer.
These are my thoughts. And I know the answers to these questions are secrets. I don’ know I will let the cat out of the bag or not. But I think if I can have dinner with vampire, zombie and skeleton, I will have a good time.
Nicky did a fine job with her first draft, then her DreyerCoaching.com teacher, Mr. Woodson, read it with her, discussed it, and gave her some suggestions to make it even better. For example, he revised the first sentence to be: a vampire, a zombie, and a skeleton.
Here is Nicky's revised essay, with smoother, more polished English:
I think they would be a vampire, a zombie and a skeleton because they are unusual things. We all know vampires suck blood, but can they accept all kinds of blood? So this is a question I want to ask him. The second question is: Why are you afraid of garlic? I think garlic is a nice food, so why do vampires have to be afraid of it?
The first question I want to ask Mr. Zombie is: What do you usually eat? I am interested in that, and I also want to know why zombies cannot bend their knees. They just jump and jump and jump. Aren’t they tired?
I’ve always been curious about how skeletons eat and drink. This is a question that I will ask the skeleton. My second question is also very interesting. Why don’t skeletons fall apart? I think everybody would like to know the answer.
These are my thoughts, and I know the answers to these questions are secrets. I don’t know if I will let the cat out of the bag or not, but I think if I can have dinner with a vampire, a zombie, and a skeleton, I will have a good time.
If you read both versions of this essay, you will see how Nicky was able to improve the flow and smoothness of her essay. Do YOU want to improve your English writing? We have classes available! Contact Scott today to find out more, and read this page also. Hope to see YOU online soon!
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 DreyerCoaching.com, 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:
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 DreyerCoaching.com!
It's all about word choice.
Recently a friend in Sunday School told our class, "My wife says I'm tight...but I tell her I'm thrifty." We all laughed. Why?
Because they are saying basically the same thing: my friend is very careful with money. However, "tight" is a negative word while "thrifty" is positive.
Or how about this one I heard from Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll:
Solitude is life-giving, but isolation is deadly.
Huh? Since "solitude" means "being alone" and "isolation also means "being alone," what does this sentence mean? Is this a contradiction? Is it saying "Being alone is good, but being alone is bad"? Furthermore, both words even have the same word stem, "sol," which means "one/alone." (As in: "solo" or "solitary.") (Note: the stem "sol" can also mean "sun" as in "solar energy, so one stem can sometimes have more than one meaning.)
This is another great example of WORD CHOICE. Yes, both mean "being alone," but "solitude" is usually positive: it has the sense of pulling away from the busy hubbub of life and finding a quiet place to think and reflect on the deeper things of life. In contrast, "isolation" is almost always negative. It implies being shunned, cut off, cast out, removed from others. When people have a highly contageous disease they may be put in isolation, or an anti-social person lives in isolation by avoiding contact with others.
- Jim is usually so busy with his work and family, he loves to go hunting in the fall for a few precious days of solitude-- just him in the great outdoors.
- Many men get sick and die within just a couple of years after retiring: it seems the isolation cuts them off from their relationships, sense of meaning, and identity.
I told the students in my Advanced Writing class that story when we worked on this task in the excellent text book we use, Writing With Skill Level 1, by Susan Wise Bauer.
Begin by reading carefully through the following description of the great scientist Isaac Newton, drawn partly from the writings of his admirer John Conduitt. John Conduitt married Isaac Newton’s niece Catherine; Newton lived with the couple towards the end of his life. Read with pencil in hand, and mark each word or phrase that seems to be slanted. The first one is done for you. (1)
He always lived in a very handsome generous manner . . . always hospitable, and upon proper occasions gave splendid entertainments. He was generous and charitable without bounds. . . . He had such a meekness and sweetness of temper, that a melancholy story would often draw tears from him. . . . He was blessed with a very happy and vigorous constitution; he was of a middle stature, and rather plump in his latter years; he had . . . a comely and gracious aspect, and a fine head of hair, as white as silver, without any baldness. To the time of his last illness he had the bloom and colour of a young man. . . He retained all his senses and faculties to the end of his life, strong, vigorous and lively. He continued writing and studying many hours every day till the period of his last illness. (2)
Bauer then asks students to replace the POSITIVE words with NEGATIVE ones. For example, instead of saying Sir Isaac Newton was "generous," say "he wasted money."
This is how a student of mine, a grade 11 young man in Hsinchu, Taiwan rewrote the passage:
He always lived lavishly like a mogul; his wastefulness is breathtaking. Among the worst of things, he has almost no sense of financial management. Oftentimes, he gave away his money with no apparent reason. Such carelessness greatly diminished his character. Also, he is histrionic and overly dramatic-- breaking into tears at the smallest sorrows-- and especially gutless-- undetermined and weak. He is a showoff who is overly obsessed with his looks. He is also a tryhard who lived a life as a recluse.
|Spending habits||handsome, generous manner, hospitable, charitable without bounds||lived lavishly, wastefulness, no sense of financial management|
|Personality||Meekness, sweetness of temper||spineless, wimpy, overly-emotional, he wore his heart on his sleeve, crybaby, histrionic, overly-dramatic|
|Energy level||blessed with a happy and vigorous constitution||too happy, hyperactive, ADHD, fidgety, can't sit still, ants in his pants, driven|
|Body build||rather plump, big-boned, well-nourished||fat, overweight, obese|
|Hair||a fine head of hair, as white as silver, without any baldness||an unkempt mop of hair, as white as a ghost|
|Skin complexion||the bloom and colour of a young man, ruddy, healthy glow, tanned||flushed, red-faced, feverish|
|Mental powers||He retained all his senses and faculties to the end of his life, strong, vigorous and lively. Bright, engaged, informed, intelligent, sharp, insightful, focused||bookworm, know-it-all, smarty-pants|
|Work habits||He continued writing and studying many hours every day, diligent, focused, active, productive, fruitful||workaholic, all work and no play, driven, doesn't know when to stop,|
|???||Can you think of more examples???|
Now that we're all in a good mood, let's take a look at President Trump. Does this description present a POSITIVE or NEGATIVE view? How can you tell?
There has never been another president like Donald J. Trump. With his overweight, orange body and shock of yellow hair, he looks like the clown he is. He struts with a swagger, showing all his tremendous conceit and narcissism. He obviously has problems with sleep and physical energy, because he always seems crabby and sends out tweets at all hours of the day and night.
His speech and behavior are vile and offensive. His talk is bombastic, divisive, hateful, and self-centered. His words and behavior all send the message: "It's all about me." From his ludicrous denial of Climate Change to all his other outrageous comments, he is obviously a moron. How can someone with such a low IQ be our president? Trump's personal and family life are a shambles: he has been divorced twice and has been caught on tape boasting about taking advantage of women.
His political views are as distasteful as his personal life. His hateful "America First" jabber is jingoistic, nativistic, and reeks of White Supremacy. His reckless trade wars threaten to not only destroy the US economy but have the potential to send the entire world economy into a fireball. However, his hatred of foreign trade makes sense when you realize how he hates all foreigners period. His childish insistence on getting "his wall" at all costs exposes him as a xenophobe and hater of the rich, diverse cultures that we value in America. But his theatrics are not directed at other nations only. In Washington he has been an absolute wrecking ball. With no sense of decorum, tradition, history or honor, Trump is the proverbial "bull in the china shop," wrecking order and sowing discord and divisiveness with all he says and does. It is questionable if life in Washington will ever return to normal again, after this disaster that is the Trump regime.
And all this brings us to perhaps the worse part of all: Trump's supporters. With such a sterling candidate as Hillary Clinton, how did America place the boorish, backward Trump in the White House instead? The obvious answer must be, his voters are boorish and backward too, so uneducated and unsophisticated to be unable to appreciate Clinton's outstanding virtues but easy prey for Trump's lies and propaganda. Look at the election map: the wealthier, more sophisticated coastal and urban areas voted for Clinton, while the poorer, more rural, less sophisticated regions pulled for Trump. If there is a silver lining, it is that Trump won the ridiculous, outdated Electoral College but lost the popular vote handily. At least there are some smart people left in the USA.
Do you see? This is clearly a negative portrayal of the 45th president.
The essay is organized by these themes:
- physical appearance & bearing
- Speech, behavior, intelligence & personal life
- Political beliefs, views of foreigners, & how he relates to Washington DC
- His supporters
Now read this passage. How is like Essay 1? How is it different?
There has never been another president like Donald J. Trump. With his imposing build, tanned complexion, and full head of blond hair, he looks like the leader he is. He has a bold, confident walk that tells all who see him: I am in charge. Even for a man in his 70's, he obviously is full of energy and vitality, as he is always ready to scrap with those who attack him and he sends out tweets at all hours of the day and night.
His speech and behavior, though clearly unorthodox, are what attract so many to him. Unlike the other "politically-correct" mealy-mouthed politicians of both parties, Trump says what he means and he means what he says. You always know where he stands. His words and behavior all send the message: "I will fight for the forgotten man." Some call him a clown and a moron, but if that is so, why is he so fabulously wealthy and sitting in the White House now? Some point fun at his intellect, but he is clearly a genius. Trump obviously believes in family: even his own children work on his team. Others criticize his personal life, but as the Democrats and media taught us in the Clinton 90's: "personal life is irrelevant; all that matters is getting the job done," and Trump is getting the job done.
His political views speak to the millions who feel disgusted with "business as usual" America. Instead of always sending out money and jobs to other countries, Trump promotes "America First." That is, with all policies and decisions, what will best help the hardworking American families? Take for example his trade policies. For years other countries have taken the US to the cleaners with unfair trade deals. Finally President Trump is putting an end to all that foolishness, and we see the US economy and manufacturing bouncing back. Some say he hates foreigners, but if that is so, why have two of his wives been foreign women? What many call "his wall" is in fact a common-sense addition to enhance border security and reduce drug and human trafficking. In addition, his new style are creating positive reforms here at home too. Since so many hardworking Americans are sick and tired of a dysfunctional Washington DC, they loved his promise to "drain the swamp," and he has gone at that job with all the energy and gusto of a wrecking ball. Of course Trump is the proverbial "bull in the china shop." That is why he was hired! The American people hired him to upset the status quo and make American Great Again. It is questionable if life in Washington will ever return to normal again, after all the positive reforms of the Trump administration.
And all this brings us to perhaps the best part of all: Trump's supporters. With such a deeply flawed candidate as "Crooked Hillary," we can now see how so many voters chose Trump's fresh, "outside the Beltway" message. Long dismissed as "Flyover Country" by the condescending "coastal elites," the forgotten men and women of America rose up, from Florida to Alaska, to Make America Great Again. People across our great land don't need talking heads in New York or LA to tell them what to think or believe. They can think for themselves. Thank goodness we have that gift from the wise Founding Fathers, the Electoral College. Hillary ran up huge margins in left-wing California and New York, but our current system guarantees a political voice for smaller states and rural areas. At least there are some smart people left in the USA.
Do you see the difference? How does WORD CHOICE matter?
Now let's take it one step further, into the "real world" of daily new reporting.
Here is a February 28, 2019 article from CNN about Pres. Trump's ex-lawyer giving testimony to Congress: This is CNN.
Here is an article from the same date, on the same topic, but with a very different slant. This is Fox.
How are the two articles different? How is the word choice different? How are even the titles different?
1. Susan Wise Bauer, Writing with Skill Level 1 (Peace Hill Press, 2012), p. 229-230
2. George Godfrey Cunningham, Lives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen: From Alfred the Great, Vol. 4 (A. Fullarton & Co., 1833), p. 402.
"Pourquoi" means "why?" in French. Therefore, a Pourquoi Story is a short fictional story that tries to explain why something is the way it is, especially something in nature. These legends, also called "Origin Stories" or "Creation Myths," are common in folklore.
Mrs. Armistead, an excellent teacher of a DreyerCoaching.com Writing Class, has been teaching this to her students, and then asked her students to write their own! They did such a fine job, here they are for you to enjoy. These are middle school students in Hsinchu, Taiwan,
A long time ago, when human civilization began, crows were covered in feathers of snowy whiteness. Their feathers glimmered in daytime and illuminated in nighttime, but they were all greedy for food. Whenever they saw food, they tried to devour it. People got annoyed by the greedy crows that always attempted to steal their food. One day, a group of hunters gathered up and discussed about the issue. “We can bait the crows by cooking food, then burn them with fire,” one man spoke in eagerness. During the night, the group of men placed a pig on the crackling glow of red and waited for the presence of the crows. The captivating aroma of the roasted pork caught the crows and dragged them to the hunters. Just like before, the sly crows sneaked around the hunters and snatched for the food, but instead, the sound of sizzling accompanied with screams reverberated through the vast plain as their feather were charred to complete pitch-black. They flopped their burnt wings and flew away. Ever since, crows are coated with dark feathers.
-- Ian Lin
The Sun was constantly bored. As others have said, “it’s hard to entertain him and he pushes things away.” So, the Sun decided to prove others wrong. The Sun gathered his strength. POW! There was Neptune. Neptune had the blue colors of the ocean and entertained the Sun for a very long time. However, the Sun realized that they weren’t meant to be together, they were of different colors. The Sun kept Neptune very close, to prevent judgment from others.
The Sun decided to find another form of entertainment, maybe a different color this time. The Sun gathered his strength. POW! There was Uranus. Uranus was colored light blue, slightly different from Neptune. The Sun grew ferocious, thinking that the gods have cursed him and can only get blue kids. The Sun aligned his blue kids together and decided to try one last time of finding a non-blue kid.
The Sun, infuriated with the lack of cooperation from the spirits of the universe, decided to try one last time to find another form of entertainment. The Sun gathered his strength. POW! There was Saturn. This time, what came to the Sun impressed him dearly. Not only was it larger than both Neptune and Uranus combined, but it’s no longer blue! Additionally, the planet also has rings around it, making it distinct from the other ones. Finally, the Sun was bored and decided to hopefully, get something special again.
The Sun called out to the universe, hoping to receive something out of the ordinary. The Sun gathered his strength. POW! There was Jupiter. The Sun was disgusted by the huge mud and sandy ball the appeared before him. This was a deviation, sent from the gods in humiliation. The Sun grew extremely angry.
The Sun grew extremely furious, more than all of the anger combined. Then he forged his anger with his hopes. BOW! Something with fire and red came before him. It was Mars. It appeared fire red, which probably came from his anger. The Sun felt that the anger was unneeded and decided to be positive as he was the father of the planets.
The Sun, again, gathered his inner strength and concentrated into making something extremely special. BOOM! There came Earth. Earth was made up of two major colors, blue and green. Something special indeed. Despite its differences, the Sun eventually lost his interest in the new planet. He left it aside to play with in the future.
The Sun forbade himself from his failures, he just couldn’t accept it. He needed something to entertain him, fast, before he released his anger against the universe. Something just the right size, not too big, not too small. POW! There came Venus, the orange-red planet. “Boo hoo hoo,” The Sun muttered, “This was not what I wanted. Just once more, just one good planet, and I’d be done”
The Sun grew calm, called his inner soul to help him with his final mission. Please. Just. Help. Me. For. This. Once. KAPOW! There came Mercury- the one-colored bland planet. “This was exactly what I wanted. Great!” The Sun exclaimed in happiness. Just stop. It’ll be another millennium before I get this lucky again. Just stop.
-- Alex Chen
Why are fake tears called crocodile tears?
A long time ago, the crocodile was known as the meanest creatures you would ever see. He made baby antelopes cry, and he teased crows for their raspy voices. Along with that, he also liked to eat baby animals, and he was the most hated creature in town. He also liked to prank others, and therefore making everyone avoid him.
When he came crawling out of the swamp, birds flew away, rabbits stayed shivering in their burrows, and snakes slithered away into the tall grass. He was always on the lookout for new victims.
One day, the council of elder animals decided that they were going to trap the crocodile in a makeshift jail at the edge of the swamp, so he would not bother the new family of otters moving in the next morning.
They placed a piece of tasty food in the trap they created and waited for the crocodile to crawl in and take the bait.
The crocodile crawled in as planned, and the elders shut the door on him. The crocodile was furious, thrashing and wailing inside the trap.
“Let me out!” he cried, throwing himself at the sides of the trap.
“I’ll never eat another baby animal-I'll do everyone’s chores for them….”
The council of elders decided to leave him in there until sundown and left for their midday meal.
The otters moved in as planned, and just before sundown the little otters decided to go exploring in their new home.
“Be back before sundown!” yelled the momma otter.
The two little otters found the crocodile, trapped in the cage wailing.
He was crying. “Please let me out,” he cried. “I haven’t done anything wrong and they shut me in here. Help me!
The two little otters decided to take pity on them and they let him out, and once he was out, SNAP!
He gulped down the two little otters at once, and the tears disappeared.
They were fake tears, and the two little otters were gone. The tears were fake, but it was too late for the little otters. Now whenever someone cries fake tears, it’s known as crocodile tears. Another lesson was learned- to never trust crocodiles.
A testimonial is a kind of writing where you explain something you have bought, done, believed, or somehow experienced. Businesses use them all the time; they love to quote "happy customers" who explain how the product or service is so wonderful. Check our website at DreyerCoaching.com and you will see some testimonials, in both English and Chinese, from satisfied parents and students. A sub-category of a testimonial is a "religious witness," where a believer explains what God has done in his or her life.
Some testimonials only explain the positive sides of an experience, but some go one step further and try to persuade, or convince, the reader to do, buy, or believe something. That is called persuasion, or advice-giving.
A student in my advanced writing class, who attends the International Bilingual School in the Hsinchu Science Park (IBSH) wrote this testimonial/persuasion piece aimed at a grade 7-10 audience:
While the bombardment of homework in school may seem endless, the truth is that it is just the beginning — the worst is yet to come. As a current junior at IBSH, I can testify that school does NOT get easier; teachers become more ruthless with homework, students become more competitive with grades, and parents become more annoyed with sub-par performances. In short, pressures mount like snow in a blizzard, you get inundated.
In response to these future struggles that you are sure to experience to a certain extent, here are a few suggestions.
Firstly, find the passion that motivates you to succeed. Sure, it may be a prestigious university that is your ultimate goal, but finding your niche in school is where one can truly blossom in cutthroat environments. For me, I followed my intuition and eventually found my second home within the realm of debating; it has taken me places I could have never imagined. Secondly, as cliche as it sounds, you NEED to recognize the importance of your school performance and strive to improve. Too many times I’ve met people who turned a blind eye to their deteriorating grades and peers who’ve already given up on their biggest and wildest dreams as a result. Grades matter as colleges and universities alike will take them into consideration when making their admission decisions, which will impact your future.
Enough of these rather disheartening pieces of advice. If you have found your passion and currently have decent marks in school, look towards other forms of entertainment, and learn to have fun! You’ll lose lots of it in the future.
--Aaron in Hsinchu, Taiwan
“Start early, don’t wait until the last minute.”
Literally every teacher tells you this and as I got older, I valued this reminder more.
Now, I think I am credible enough to give this piece of advice to my underclassmen at school.
As the cliche goes, life only gets harder. Sadly, this is true. I remember back in the day, when I was just a freshman, testing the waters of high school. With no APs to worry about or any standardized tests, I worked hard to get everything done ahead of time since my coursework was not that rigorous.
No, who am I kidding.
Admittedly, I slacked and the results were not pretty. Over the next few years, I luckily managed to pick myself up a bit but there was only so much I could do to save my atrocious freshman grades. The importance in frontloading is well… important. In elections, candidates try to put themselves out there as early as possible and political parties hold primaries earlier so their selected candidate could have more time to establish him or herself before facing off on the national stage. I know this is true because I paid attention and worked hard in my AP Government class.
Jokes aside, whether it is a project, essay, or even an application, it is important to start things early. In freshman year, one should work to bring up their grades and confidence (very important!) in order to arm themselves for the rest of high school. Sophomores are just getting there. The adjustment from 9th to 10th grade is hard since AP tests and standardized test preparation classes come into play, lessening time for extracurriculars and study. Junior year gets tougher as one needs to not only improve or at least maintain their grades, there are SATs or ACTs to be taken and more APs to study for. Oh yeah, start looking for colleges.
The summer before senior year is crucial. Try to write as many college application supplements as possible as time to do this only decreases when the school year starts. I saw many of my peers struggling to finish their applications and schoolwork while balancing plenty of AP or honors classes. I managed to finish 9 schools for Early Action and started to get acceptances (and rejections) in December, taking off the pressure of getting into college. Since I was done applying for colleges by the end of November, I was able to work on my grades and improve my stock for my Regular Decision schools.
Whether it is an assignment or your college resume, remember to frontload as that will take a lot of weight off your shoulders in the future. There is no worse feeling than consecutive all-nighters, only getting 4 hours of sleep before school. It’s hell and please don’t do it.
-- Justin in Hsinchu, Taiwan
Around Christmas 2018, my son David posted this testimonial/persuasion piece. It is lengthy, and he had mulled and revised it in his mind for more than a month. Despite its length, it has been read much, as seen by the large number of likes and comments it scored on both facebook and instagram.
I have called myself a Christian all my life yet I was often arrogant, selfish, carnal, materialistic, impatient, and dissatisfied. I have cared too much about my image and what others think of me and not enough about what God thinks of me. I’ve never been content with what I’ve had. Despite these inner conflicts and issues that generated deep turbulence within me, I hid it well on the outside, only showing people the side of me I wanted them to see. Over the past few years, I’ve allowed myself to place entirely too much trust in my accomplishments and my relationships with others for my happiness. They always brought me some sense of satisfaction, but the effects were always temporary. (No I’m not bashing human relationships; on the contrary, I believe the right ones are absolutely essential to have in life!!)
However, in my own life, some of them produced the ugly characteristics I mentioned above. Lately, God has shown me what happens when I put all my trust in the wrong things. This semester, through what I would describe as a series of unfortunate events, He has thrown my world upside down and shaken everything I was confident in, showing me how utterly fragile and miserable life can be when you put the entire value of your existence on things that have no permanence. This was my first semester at UVA and I felt completely out of place. Everyone around me seemed so perfect at everything and I thought perhaps the Office of Admissions had made a mistake on me. I got off to an extremely shaky start in school; I actually failed my first 2 tests! That butchered my confidence. I kept on hoping things would improve and they did but then last month, something else unrelated to school happened and it hurt me deep. Then I made the mistake of trying to mend that broken situation, which, as many of you know, usually makes things worse. Mentally incapacitated, I wanted nothing more than to drop out of school (oops)...but that wouldn’t have produced anything beneficial in my life and instead, would have only sufficed as mere instant gratification. So I stayed and tried to focus on my studies although my mind was on other things, and what seemed to be my greatest nightmare has actually turned into the greatest life lesson I’ve ever been taught.
I could go on and on about everything I’ve learned, but I won’t bore you with all that and will keep this post as concise as possible. But I digress... So life was looking pretty bleak from my point of view. I was completely stunned at how quickly life tanked for me as soon as I came up to Charlottesville, and I came to the end of myself for the first time ever. I realized that if I was going to make it to the end of the semester, I needed God, because I could no longer handle things myself. He took me in at my very worst form. I was empty inside, sad, and broken, but I think that’s the point. God doesn’t need us to achieve anything in order to come to Him; we don’t need to have it all together. For people like me, I think it requires a catastrophe that completely breaks the spirit, because prideful people don’t think they need anyone else until things are beyond their control. Up until these last few months, life had been easy and I was comfortable, so I had no reason to change. God had to break me in order to make me; wound me in order to heal me, and He did just that. By shattering my world and this fallible paradox I had created, God opened my eyes and allowed me to see who I truly was for the first time. This was not pretty at all; I realized that I was a misguided, stubborn, insincere, foolish, and worst of all self absorbed young man who had been living for himself his whole life. Arrogance created in me this entitlement mentality, where the whole world owed me something and I deserved only the good that life or people had to offer. Arrogance is the reason I was so blindsided by life’s sudden ferocity. I now realize that arrogance is the worst possible character trait you can have, because it either blinds you to your own flaws or develops a complacency in you to not desire to fix them. I had the latter mindset; I was aware that I had issues, but I fixated myself on my “good traits” and ignored the bad ones, deceiving myself into thinking I was a good person. I was a brownie with a little bit of poop in it, which actually made me a disgusting brownie that nobody wants to have on their little glass dessert plate and accompany their vanilla bean ice cream after a delicious meal. Upon this realization came an understanding that there was absolutely no way that I could fix myself through my own willpower. I’ve tried before and failed, of course. So this time, all I did was press into God, pray, ask many people for prayers (thank you all), read His Word (a lot!!!), get advice from wise people, and possess a true heart of repentance. God has done all the rest in my life. He has and still is clearing out the junk; all I had to do was admit that I was insufficient, stop living for myself, and go to Him for all my answers. Still, that’s not to say this was an easy process; the result is beginning to, and will be great, but the process hurt. God forcibly removed some poisonous people out of my life whose toxicity I was blind to and who I allowed to stay in my life longer than they deserved because I was comfortable and stupid. This hurt the worst, as I was really attached to them, but I see now that it was a huge blessing for me.
In addition, I had to give up some things I enjoyed, break certain thought patterns I had developed over the years (so in essence, a complete reframing of the mind), and admit my faults and shortcomings to God. Going through what I’ve gone through last month is something I have no desire to experience ever again; it was painful and mentally taxing. Also life stops for no one, and as I was working through these personal problems I was still being bombarded with academic responsibilities, which somehow didn’t help take my mind off anything, but instead, exacerbated everything. By a miracle, God has gotten me through the worst of it. It was an absolute grind though, and I often doubted I could even make it to the end of the semester. God has carried me through the toughest days and nights. He has revealed new truths to me. He has and still is bringing immense healing to my heart and mind. His unconditional love for me is clearer than it has ever been. He brought the right people into my life when I needed them the most, and I want to thank those of you who have been there for me and lifted me up in my times of hurt; I am incredibly grateful for each one of you. Also, I want to say I am thankful that these tribulations occurred now while I am still young versus me going through the rest of life blind and naive; never learning the valuable lessons I’ve learned of late. Looking back, I can already see that every “bad thing” that transpired over this past semester, whether related to school or not, was absolutely necessary and crucial to my development as an individual, and I am thankful for all of it. I wouldn’t say I’m totally fine now, but things are finally beginning to fall into the right place. I haven’t felt like myself in a long time, but is that really a bad thing considering who I was? I am not living a lie anymore. However, I know God has not yet completed this process of refinement. I’ll never be perfect and I still have a lot to learn. But every journey must start somewhere, and I’m just excited to have finally found the right path. For the first time, I’ve surrendered every single thing in my life to Him; my heart, my thoughts, my future, my career, my all. It’s easily the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and some may call it weak, yet I know this was the best and most necessary decision I have ever made. I’ve been trying my whole life to control my future and that is an exhausting and futile task. We think we have an idea of how the future will go but this thing called life occasionally has other plans; however, we cannot let the unexpected derail us. The truth is that my happiness has always been circumstantial, and God has recently shown me how perilous that is, as circumstances often change. Putting my happiness and worth in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is the only way to be okay regardless of what happens around me.
If you are still reading, you’re incredible and I would like to wrap this up by saying that there is hope for everyone. That’s the whole point of this post. The point is not to brag on who I am now, because none of what has occurred in me was by my strength or will. In addition, these events that have shaped me were not by my choice, and had they been by my choice, they most likely would not have happened. The point is that I hope this can be an encouragement to anyone out there struggling. Also, learn from me as how not to do life. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t be blind. Don’t be stubborn. Don’t learn things the hard way, like I did, but if you end up doing so, fear not. If God can use the worst circumstances for my good, He can do the same for you. If God can soften the heart and work in someone as obstinate as me, He can work in anybody! God heals. Time heals. It might hurt now, but healing is inevitable if you allow it to happen. What makes you confident? Let it be that you are a unique and precious creation of God. I had my confidence and identity in the wrong things, and as a result, this semester I really struggled with insecurity and who I was. Don’t make that mistake. It’s so easy as humans to compare; we want to compare everything, but doing that will only make you either too proud or too insecure; both bring problems. Drake said: a wise man once said nothing at all. He’s right. My father is also a wise man and he said, “Comfort and growth are on opposite ends of the spectrum.” If you’re uncomfortable now, embrace it because you are growing. Be thankful for the tough times; they are trying to teach you something so pay attention and learn as much as you possibly can from them. Tough times suck but they are incredibly valuable. You learn more about yourself and about other people in hard times than you ever will when life is peachy. Thankfulness in general is a key to getting out of rough patches and is a necessary mentality to have in life always; good times or bad. Realizing that there’s always someone out there who is going through more than you can help put things into perspective. Truth is, you always have something to be thankful for so focus on those things instead of what you don’t have. Don’t collapse when life seems out to get you. True strength is measured when everything is against you. When life is easy, nobody is a quitter. Don’t be bitter; if someone wrongs you, do not allow their actions to hurt you more than they already have. Bitterness will just make you and only you hurt deeper and longer, and even if you have every reason to be upset, it is useless to hang on to what happened. Be honest always; the truth always comes out eventually and the lies you tell now will come back and smack you later. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you and push you to become a better person. That doesn’t necessarily mean the people who compliment you all the time and make you feel all marvelous inside; you’ll come across plenty of those people in life. (Not saying all of those people are bad either, just want to clarify. Some are just beautiful streams of positivity and that’s wonderful.) Instead, it’s the honest ones who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth (because it really do be like that sometimes), whether you want to hear it or not, who should be treasured above anyone else. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Make sure the people around you are sharpening you; not holding you back. Whether you like it or not, you become like those you hang out with. If that thought doesn’t sit well with you, then find better people. Push yourself! Don’t settle. Don’t heavily depend on other people for your success. People won’t always be there to cheer you on and that’s okay; sometimes you have to do things on your own. Use your past mistakes to help you grow; don’t let them hold you back. Your mistakes don’t define you so don’t let them. However, don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again either, cuz then you’re just stupid, like me. Also, reach out if you’re struggling! People don’t know you are until you say something, and it’s a wonderful thing to seek guidance. After all that has happened I feel much more sensitive to the fact that people deal with their own problems every day and may just be experts at hiding them. You all who are out there living your best life should reach out and be an encouragement and a light to someone, because you might just make their day! Be there for others; the greatest gift you can give someone who is hurting is a listening ear, prayer, and your support. Finally, I leave you all with this, and it is so cliché, but so very true. It’s also easier to say, but harder to do: Just trust God. He knows what He’s doing and He has you in His hands. He had to empty me to fill me, but His plans are far greater than anything my short-sighted little mind can imagine. His timing is perfect, and He can do in anyone’s life the wonderful things He is doing in mine.
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At DreyerCoaching.com, 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.
The first permanent English colony in the New World was at Jamestown, Virginia. (This is another fine reason to study English with DreyerCoaching.com-- 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
“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:
HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE
OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
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 DreyerCoaching.com 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Learning a new language takes a lot of time and practice, and students are busy. We understand. Over the years, many students ask for extra English help over the winter or summer holiday, when schools are closed and students have more time.
This Chinese New Year (2019), we welcome the Year of the Pig with special 1 on 1 classes just for you!
1 on 1 Classes
Dates & Times: (flexible) Between January 28 - February 8, 2019, at 8:00-8:50 pm or 9:00-9:50 pm
Goals: To help the student improve in whatever areas he or she desires to grow: writing, reading, conversation, listening, pronunciation, test preparation, etc.
Teacher: a DreyerCoaching.com Team Teacher
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AND, from December 14-21, 2018, we are offering a special bonus. For EACH student you encourage to register with DreyerCoaching.com, before December 21, you get ONE FREE 1 on 1 class AND we will enter your name in a drawing to win the GRAND PRIZE: 50% off the tuition for one 2019-2020 small group class (September 2019 - June 2020)!
When people register now, they get classes from January - June, 2019. AND, if they register soon, they can get the BONUS CLASSES during the week of December 17-20!
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Here is the current tuition for classes, January - June, 2019:
Small-Group Classes (2x/week--only 6 students maximum per class) (except for Writing Classes):
原价 RMB 8,950 / NT$39,550 RMB 5,500 / NT$ 24,500 (good until 1/31/2019)
Small-Group Writing or Conversation Classes (1x/week--only 3 students maximum per writing class):
原价 RMB 5,395 / NT$23,875 RMB 3,200 / NT$ 14,300 (good until 1/31/2019)
1 on 1 Class (with a DreyerCoaching.com USA Team Teacher)
原价 RMB 15,320 / NT$68,135 RMB 5,800 / NT$ 47,700 (good until 1/31/2019)
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