For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18 (NIV)
Not all of our time in Philadelphia will be used sightseeing. Part of each day we spend in the classroom learning from scholars who specialize in history education and colonial American history. One of our lecturers is Jamie McGrath Morris. At one time, he was a history teacher and also trained history teachers. Now, he is a writer having published a book called, “The Rose Man of Sing Sing,” about Charles Chapin, a copy editor who worked for Joseph Pulitzer. After murdering his wife in her sleep, Chapin was sent to Sing Sing Prison where he turned the prison yard into a beautiful garden. Morris is currently working on a biography about Joseph Pulitzer which will be released next year. He talked to us about using biography to teach history both warning of its pitfalls and the advantages. Some people do not believe that biography is in fact, history. They contend that biography is the study of one person and major historical events occurring during that person’s lifetime only appear if they directly affect the person’s life. Biography is the story of an individual not the whole, and history should be about groups of people. Yet, Morris showed us how biography, particularly when read aloud to students, uses the narrative thread to humanize a story and increase the desire to learn more. While biography’s disadvantage comes in elevating the importance of the individual, by “providing meaning to what may seem to the student as dry and unconnected facts,” biography draws students into the past. I loved hearing him talk about his craft for it is exactly the type of history I love and promote in my own local history work. Don’t give me a list of the men who framed our Constitution. Instead, tell me about Roger Sherman whose skills at negotiation and compromise allowed the Constitutional Convention to over come the “logjam of slavery.” Tell me about Alexander Hamilton, a small energetic man nicknamed the “Little Lion” who lectured the Constitutional Convention for six straight hours. We also talked about how an individual’s success depends as much on the choices of others as it does one’s skills and wisdom and the importance of dramatizing the life of the workingman as well as that of the factory owner. One particular point Morris made struck home with me. He told how skilled biographers utilize many of the aspects of fiction to tell their story and how they pick and choose which facts to base the framework of that tale. It reminded me of how some people pick and choose what they want to about Jesus. Some emphasize His holiness and focus on judgment, while others only His grace and love. To really know who Jesus is, you need to know the whole story. Don’t depend on others to tell you. See for yourself just Who He is by getting to know Him on a personal level. Learn the truth and see how they can change your life.