Award-Winner Prof. David Reynolds on Abraham Lincoln & American Civil War Culture
This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Gerard Robinson and Cara Candal talk with David Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor of English and History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, selected as one of the Top Ten Books of the Year by The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Professor Reynolds shares what teachers and students alike should know about the culture of Civil War America, primary education in that era, and the wide variety of influences on Lincoln’s thinking and leadership. They delve into the most bitterly contentious political topics of Lincoln’s time, including slavery, states’ rights, trade tariffs, and women’s rights, and how the 16th president addressed the nation’s many political divisions. They also explore how Lincoln used his rustic image to shape his public persona and appeal to voters; and how he marshaled his rhetorical talent, invoking biblical language and the ideals of the American founding, to win the war, preserve the Union, and ultimately abolish slavery. Professor Reynolds concludes with a reading from his biography.
Stories of the Week: Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews recognizes the work of Will Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, to encourage students’ interest in historical fiction and reward long-form research and writing. A new project of the Teagle Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities promises to restore the humanities in undergraduate education.
David Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor of English and History at the Ph.D. Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. He’s the author or editor of sixteen books, including Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times (2020), which was a noted book of the year by The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Prof. Reynolds is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Lincoln Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Abraham Lincoln Institute Book Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, John Hope Franklin Prize (Honorable Mention), and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and The Wall Street Journal.
The next episode will air on Wednesday, October 27th with guest, Dr. Bror Saxberg, MD, Vice President of Learning Science at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Tweet of the Week:
50% of Black Americans say they want to homeschool after COVID-19 lockdown.
And, I can't say I blame them. Our Children Our Choice! #FundMyChildNow #BlackHomeschoolers #BlackTeachers #SchoolChoice pic.twitter.com/q9HTpf08GF
— Denisha Merriweather (@DenishaMweather) May 15, 2020
Wash. Post/ Jay Mathews (Will Fitzhugh &TCR): “Stuff your 5,000-word limit! Students dare to write longer history papers”
Reviving the Humanities Through General Education
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Read a Transcript of This Episode:
[00:00:00] Gerard Robinson [GR]: Hello listeners. This is Gerard Robinson from beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. It is definitely the fall. The leaves are changing colors. I am looking out of our window and I see red. I see green. I see yellow and I see blonde. Well, speaking of blonde, it is so good to have Kara on the phone again for our weekly conversation.
[00:00:21] Cara Candal: some version of blonde at this point.
[00:00:26] And Gerard I’m. looking at my window. It’s also a beautiful fall day here. And it’s also just a lot of red Sox fans losing their minds. I, as you know, I don’t really follow baseball. but my son, my eight year old son is a baseball player and he’s gotten really into it. And when I heard him shouting last night, we let him stay at past bedtime.
[00:00:48] Mommy, mommy, it’s another grand slam. I was like, this kid doesn’t know what a grand slam is. Even. I know what a grand slam is, but yes, the Boston red Sox, three grand slams in two games. [00:01:00] Oh yeah. If you haven’t been watching, this might almost turn you into a baseball fan. it’s pretty cool. Sorry, Astros fans.
[00:01:07] I know Jamie gas or producers, huge Astros fan. Very difficult for him, but this is actually, you know, people that. My kids were like, Hey, Googling the red Sox odds of like winning the world series. And, they weren’t good. I tell you, but the past couple of nights, they seem to be defying the odds. So I suggest that you tune in Gerard, if you haven’t been paying attention because miracles have been happening here.
[00:01:33] Well, they’ve been happening in Houston, I guess we’re coming back to Fenway parks, you know? So anyway, , that’s my sports story of the week.
[00:01:40] GR: Well, my story actually is a really good followup to what you just said, because this is also a comeback story. And this one is from inside higher education. The authors are Andrew and Lani position, and both of them work for the teal foundation.
[00:01:57] And this article is titled reviving the [00:02:00] humanities through general education. So you and I went to college and several of our course, our listeners have as well. And we know a lot about general. Education courses. And these are the courses that you take outside of your major? Well, what I didn’t know until I was preparing for the show today is that the whole idea of general education really has its roots in elite college education, following world war II.
[00:02:22] And this is when you had people coming back to school and it was at Columbia university where there were a set of professors who said, listen, we need to make sure the students have a good ground in, in the human. These are the arts, because this war showed us what it’s like to be inhumane. Well, then you go to world war two, you have Harvard university.
[00:02:39] Uh, they of course, put out a big push, , for the whole idea. In fact, a report called a general education in a free society and like its predecessor before the big push was to make sure that students had a well-rounded education. Well, by the time it got to the Vietnam war and there were cuts in education, naturally general educations found themselves on the chopping [00:03:00] block and she go off the Vietnam.
[00:03:01] To the present and through him during the wars of the 1980s and baby, the humanities really took a backseat to really general education and general classes. So what happened in 2014, in fact, a former professor at your school. Chicago, to Purdue and he identified that fewer than 10% of the students had taken classes in the humanities, as we knew it.
[00:03:25] And even fewer had taken a course in the history. And so for do decided they were going to do some work That’s a support from the table foundation and the national endowment for the humanities. And they launched something called the cornerstone learning for living. And the whole idea is to restore the humanities in schools, particularly for undergraduate students.
[00:03:44] And so producers say, you know what we’re going to do. We’re going to take our professors from the humanities and our professors from stem. And they’re going to develop a 15 credits or two. Called cornerstone integrated liberal arts. And the goal was to say, they’re going to be, you know, just a [00:04:00] basically agreed to set up texts or we’re going to read.
[00:04:02] Oh two semester gateway sequence and it will range from and Dante to Dubois, Toni Morrison, Mary Shelley, and others, and they’re going to meet and it’s going to be for first year students in particular. And then they’re going to course take classes that they can take at a higher level. But if they go through the path, maybe we’ll actually come out with a certificate.
[00:04:21] Now, naturally people will think, well, this is. Oh, strong stem school. Truly a lot of stem students are going to take this course. Well, what happened is we started off in 2014. They had 60 students in the program. Now it attracts 4,000 students and 32. Of those students, in fact, plan to major in engineering and other people, professional fields.
[00:04:44] Well, that’s just one example. Let’s go to Austin community college. And , our listeners know that I’m a community college grad, so I’m always glad to see our community colleges on the forefront. They decided to create a similar program and there’s this. Great questioning seminar and they start off with the [00:05:00] Odyssey and they move through a number of courses.
[00:05:02] And the whole goal is for them to ask very deep questions about society and social values. Well like Purdue, they started off with a few students. In fact, in 2016, at 30 students. And today they have over 625 students who are the program. So this has done three things. Number one, it’s got humanity.
[00:05:22] Professors and stem professors in a room talking about big ideas, which I think is good. Number two, you’re at least increasing the probability that more students will not only take courses in, we call it the humanities and the arts, but guess what? Some of them in fact may decide they want to major in the subject.
[00:05:38] I was a philosophy major. Some people may decide to actually go and pursue it at the graduate level because there’s definitely been a hit in the number of students in the human. He’s at the doctoral and master’s level over the past two years because of COVID and other factors. The third thing is that all of a sudden you have pre-do and even Austin having to hire more [00:06:00] instructors who in fact have a background in the humanities.
[00:06:02] So I think this is a comeback story for the manatees. , we know that pioneer Institute has been a big supporter of the humanities and the arts. And so I’m glad to see this story interested in hearing your thoughts.
[00:06:13] Cara: I love this storage of art. And I love this story. First of all, I have to share with you that my absolute favorite phase, of course, in high school was my humanities course.
[00:06:25] And the teacher was Susan Walker and actually at my 20 year high school reunion, which was many years ago, I got to see her and the thing that struck me so much as I love this course, I learned so much in this course, things that I took to college with me and remember today, obviously, if I can even remember my teacher’s name, , but this was a course that was for it.
[00:06:45] We talked about this last week that I got to be in a special program, right? a select program, a talented and gifted program. And this was a course that was only offered to kids who were in this program. And as an adult, I think back. Like, why, why, why [00:07:00] on earth? Would this be something, is it, an assumption about what kids can do?
[00:07:04] Is it assumption about what kids need to know? Is it that , there’s a certain bar we hold for some students and not others because I had found that class and everything that came with it to be such an important part of my life. So, this is a really heartening stories. I love that we’re making a humanities come back here.
[00:07:20] And I love that you opened with the idea that, after world war II, it was decided that we actually needed to teach the humanities because we had been through such an inhuman. War. Right. And this is, love that concept. I hope that this is something that we can reiterate and take with us in teach kids.
[00:07:38] as the spreading is the growth in the teaching of the humanities continues. I mean, I think unfortunately for too many things, That’s as much of a fan I am of accountability and as important as I think tests can be, but with a narrowing of curriculum, this is something that we lose and we especially lose the idea of once, we’re not teaching humanities courses, , we lose the idea that this is [00:08:00] really important to the formation of humans, quite frankly, , and also expanding our notion of what the humanities is.
[00:08:08] And we’ve had guests on that show. Talk about how. offer students, especially at the college level, you have much more of an opportunity to do that. A real breadth of material. and the discipline. That is the humanity. So what a fantastic story. Thank you for bringing it to us.
[00:08:23] I love hearing Purdue mentioned too, that you say, you know, you think of it as a stem school, but look at what they’re doing because too. And this goes, I think, to the point of the story that I want to share with us today, Deeply thinking and reading about making connections between topics and texts and ideas that we study in the humanities.
[00:08:40] it spills over into other facets of one’s life and career that really, it’s analytical thinking. And Gerard, that takes me to my real story of the week, which is really not about baseball at all. , but this is kind of cool. We’re going to get a little bit meta because my story of the week is written by.
[00:08:58] A former learning curve, [00:09:00] guest, Jay Matthews about the work of a former learning curve guest will fits you. And so I think this is really cool because it shows , maybe it means work culture art. I don’t know that we’ve got these two guys on, but it’s also a great title. And the title of this from the Washington post again by Jay Matthews is stuff your 5,000 words.
[00:09:19] Students dare to write longer history papers. I was really drawn to this article, Gerard, because I have to tell you, I spent some time as you know, as a research assistant professor and then an adjunct lecturer at Boston university, which I loved, and I love the school, but there I worked with. Juniors, mostly, but undergraduates , in , education policy studies.
[00:09:42] And, um, I don’t consider myself to be a great writer. I find that every time I write something, I learned w I’m not such a great writer, especially when, somebody at pioneer is editing my work. But, of the things I really noticed about as a high school English teacher, but it was more profound in college.
[00:09:58] Was that, we [00:10:00] teach kids even at, and I was working with kids from some very high-performing, mostly ritzy, suburban high schools. Quite frankly, we teach them to write in such a formulaic way. And, , for so many kids. I mean, some people listen, some people can ramble on for 17 pages and not have an idea in there.
[00:10:18] It could be one long sentence, but other people really, you know, I found a lot of students just had trouble. You would say to them, I need a five page paper, and it would be a collective gasp and fear. And like, how am I going to be able to write something of that length? It’s impossible, professor, it’s impossible.
[00:10:34] And I think I’ve told you before Gerard, that I actually switched the way I taught my classes. And instead of having students produce multiple. I switched to a model where we were producing one long research paper over the course of the semester that was edited over and over and over again, because I found that one of the things I needed to do was help students really learn how to write and write for the real world.
[00:10:54] They weren’t getting it in high school. And this article in many ways goes to [00:11:00] that. So it opens with this. Very few us high schools ask their students to write long research papers. I mean, I would say that very few us high schools are probably asking students to break actual research papers. So it’s a totally different topic then, but, and we don’t know why is it because teachers don’t have the time to read and give feedback.
[00:11:18] it’s just not valued. And in this article, J also raises the question, is it because we think kids can’t do it. And I think that we can argue about whether or not. It’s super valuable to have everybody writing a 20 page paper all the time. Certainly my husband always tells me that every time I write something, he, he dozes off by page two.
[00:11:35] , which is fine. Okay. Maybe not everybody needs to read 20 page papers about education policy, but in this sense, I think Gerard in much like in your story about the humanities in my mind writing is thinking , in learning to write well and learning to wrestle with the written word. And the page is.
[00:11:52] Really, , honing our analytical skills helping us think. So Jake goes on here to profile our friend [00:12:00] Wilf, it’s you? Who is the founder of the Concord review. And one of the things that will, this former history teacher has done is said to kids like go deep in something, pick a research topic and go really deep.
[00:12:13] And so the students that he works with at the Concord review, it says that now the average paper used by the concrete. It’s up to 9,000 words, right? So that this was a big deal for a lot of students and his organization has grown the number of students he serves has grown. It’s mostly history papers.
[00:12:34] It’s a quarterly journal, as you know, and it’s so far published, almost 1500 history papers by high schoolers. And they’re even a few middle schoolers that participate in this program. But since you he’s, you know, he’s really. Glommed onto this concept that kids are capable and they’re capable of doing not only really deep thoughtful work, but they can write, they can write long papers.
[00:12:56] And so you can think about what that means, not just for preparing students to write in [00:13:00] college, but really preparing students to be thinkers. and I just think that this raises some really interesting questions. What we value in writing and the kind of high bar we hold kids to. And indeed, are we preparing students to be good thinkers?
[00:13:16] Are we preparing them for graduate study? If we’re afraid to ask folks to go deep and sometimes to go long. So. This is a really great article, I think, in the post, I think J for it and thinking about, , the concrete review, I think that all of our listeners , should become more aware of it , and take a look at it.
[00:13:36] , I’ll end by saying that even AP and IB, so advanced placement and the international baccalaureate program. Have said that they want to encourage the kind of writing that students are doing in the Concord review. And as we know, , these kinds of exams known to be very rigorous , and those who work for AP and IB, have a really good handle on the kind of writing that constitutes quality.
[00:13:59] [00:14:00] In, from high school students and, and that kind of writing, that’s going to help them be successful in college because we know that kids who do well in AP and IB programs often place out of, early college classes. So, um, a really interesting article by to learning. Alum Gerard. And I’m wondering you yourself are a great writer and prolific writer.
[00:14:19] So you’d like sending me a new thing every day and I’m thinking, how does this guy do it? So I don’t know, maybe, maybe this resonates with you a little bit. I don’t know how many 20 page papers you’re writing lately, but what do you.
[00:14:31] GR: Well, I’m a big fan of writing now as an adult in ways I, of course, was not as a struggling high school student, my wife and I worked pretty diligently to make sure that our girls write both by hand and type, because there, of course, some aspects of brain, hand coordination work.
[00:14:50] And how you think that come up with. When you actually write versus when you type. And in fact, we had a, one of our guests who has a book [00:15:00] on teaching children, how to read, also talk about the importance of writing. So I’m with you to whole way. We know that in this season of NAPE interpretation, and there are a lot of tweets going around on the internet for some of our friends.
[00:15:11] we rarely talk about the 2017 scores for writing on NAPE and, , they were. Challenging to say the least, but there are two things I think we have in place right now. Number one. Writing is tough for a lot of students in part, because they’re so used of using their cell phone or some handheld device to type X number of characters, and for them that’s writing.
[00:15:34] And then number two, you have teachers who have a number of demands on his or her plate. And now we’re asking. Oh, by the way, have them write a really long paper to do so. There are college professors who are friends of mine who say students today, not only write less than they did when they were in school, but write less well.
[00:15:54] But I think every generation would say the one coming behind it is not as academically prepared as the other, but [00:16:00] there’s something to this. And I’m glad that Jay is, , weighing in on this, , , in a very , interesting way. I would say for me that. One of the ways that I became a better writer was by reading.
[00:16:11] Well, Written books. And one of my favorite authors who not only builds my vocabulary because there’s words in there, like every third page I’ve never heard of. But what often helped me with flow is, Dr. David levering Lewis. He is the two time winner of appealed to prize for his biography on web Dubois.
[00:16:31] He’s also written other books, but he’s a really good writer. But I also get a great writing tips and ideas from poetry. So I think it’s a good article and glad we talked about it.
[00:16:42] Cara: Yeah. Just say that , you make me feel really old talking about how kids write on their phones, because anybody who knows me and you know this quite well.
[00:16:49] I can’t text to save my life. I can’t write on a phone to save my life. So that must make me pretty old-school because it’s just, I don’t think it’s something I will ever become capable of. Like yet [00:17:00] that’s so autocorrect anyway, but coming up after this Gerard, we are going to be speaking to somebody who knows a lot about writing, we’re going to be speaking with David Reynolds and he is the distinguished professor of English and history at the graduate center of the city, university of New York.
[00:17:15] He’s going to talk to us about among other things. , , his new book eight, well, his 2020 book, I should say, but everything is new and 2021, I don’t know. time moves so faster. He is the author of Abe, , Abraham Lincoln in his times. So we’ll be back in just a sec.[00:18:00]
[00:18:18] And we are back with David Reynolds, a distinguished professor of English and history at the PhD program at the city university of New York graduate center. He’s the author or editor of 16 books, including Abe, Abraham Lincoln in his times, which was a noted book of the year by the wall street journal.
[00:18:35] And the Washington post professor Reynolds is the winner of the Bancroft prize. The Lincoln prize, the Christian Gauss award, the Abraham Lincoln Institute book award, the ambassador. The Gustaf Myers outstanding book award, John hope, Franklin prize and finalist for the national book critics circle award.
[00:18:54] He is a regular contributor to the New York times book review the New York review of books and the wall street [00:19:00] journal professor Reynolds. Thanks so much for joining us today on the.
[00:19:03] David: Thanks. Great to be here. Yeah, we’re
[00:19:07] Cara: really, really happy to have you. So, , , Abraham Lincoln, , is a much written about figure.
[00:19:12] So, over 15,000 books in fact have been written about Abraham Lincoln, but you, in this new book, you’ve earned a lot of praise. Placing him sort of firmly in the wider cultural landscape of his age. Could you talk a little bit about, why that approach as well as what students and teachers, we focus a lot on learning here, learning meaning 12 education, what students and teachers should know about the culture of civil war
[00:19:41] David: America.
[00:19:42] I’m a strong believer that the culture. profoundly shapes every individual or family cultural background or local culture, school, culture, church, and how these, local phenomenon intersect with certain strands in the larger [00:20:00] culture. And, , there have been some 16,000 books on Lincoln, but none, none of them really branch out too much into, his culture and what I do in my book.
[00:20:10] Is I trace, uh, his frontier culture. He was raised on the frontier in Kentucky and Indiana, and how he interacted with that and responded to it then onto Illinois, where he lived for the rest of his life and, where he was kind of a rising professional there as a lawyer. Uh, but also the entire culture of law in Illinois.
[00:20:34] Because he was engaged in law for , more than two decades and was involved with, more than five, 5,000 cases as a lawyer. And then the whole culture of Washington politics when he goes to Washington in 1860. , and then is reelected in 1964 and directs the civil war. I think what I reveal all the way along is.
[00:20:56] Ability to control the wild. [00:21:00] The frontier with that he grew up on was extremely wild. He grew to be a very good wrestler and fighter. He never fought dirty, but, uh, and that kind of earned him his early political rise, because he really impressed the Backwoods gangs of young people in Illinois when he defeated the local champion.
[00:21:19] And, for the rest of his life, he was faced with these. Wild situations, a culture that he called the mob ocracy, because it was filled with , mob action. And he really believed in the law. He believed in constitution. He didn’t believe in independent anti-slavery action. Like John Brown, who used violence against slavery.
[00:21:43] And it didn’t believe in people like Garrison who burned the constitution because they thought it was pro slavery. He wanted to use the electoral process in laws to advance antislavery. And that was his form of kind of corralling the energies [00:22:00] of his culture and sticking to the founding fathers.
[00:22:04] but at the same time, taking his own unique way of controlling culture, partly through language, his favorite, Genre was poetry. And what poetry does, is it organizes feeling and emotion and meaning and beautiful language. He loved Shakespeare. He loved burns. He memorized, he had less than one year of schooling, but he took it upon himself to memorize so many poems and he wrote poetry himself and his greatest, , , speeches that got his Berg address.
[00:22:31] Only 272. And, the second inaugural dress around 700 words or like prose poems, they condense so much meaning and feeling, into , this concise language. So language then becomes one of his ways of corralling and channeling culture. Ultimately toward redefining American democracy. He wanted to expand American democracy.
[00:22:57] And get rid of a social [00:23:00] injustice. So that, was the whole thrust of his, , interaction with.
[00:23:04] Cara: That’s fascinating fact, before you came on Gerard and I were just having a conversation about how the importance of reading and writing and teaching us to, to become thinkers and how giving students the opportunity to engage in decreasing.
[00:23:19] In fact deep writing can, really cultivate their ability to think analytically. And, you’ve certainly talked about Lincoln in those terms. So now you mentioned, and I think many people know that Lincoln’s formal education , was not, he didn’t have much of it. Um, it was pretty limited, but you also noted that he was an avid reader.
[00:23:38] some of the great books that he’s known for reading are ASAPS fables, of course, the, Bible and, Classic poetry and Shakespeare. Can you talk a little bit about the specific impact that some of these books had on his thinking? And I’m also curious to know about, , primary education in the United States at that time [00:24:00] in mid 19th century America was, was it common for folks not to have that formal education that Lincoln was leaving?
[00:24:07] David: Well, it was spotty. new mainland had very good schools. He was raised on the Kentucky frontier and the Indiana frontier. And when you lived on the frontier, you were expected above the age of five to work for the family. So, the schooling was by season , before the farming season and the planting season after the harvest season.
[00:24:28] And so he went for three months, like in fifth grade and, or what. And maybe three months, a three years later and three that the total school he had had in these one room school houses was less than one year, less than one year. And yeah, he could quote Shakespeare by the page. Robert Burns by the page.
[00:24:50] Aesop’s fables by the page. and he’s a good lesson. To all of us that now today, we really should get as much schooling [00:25:00] as we possibly can today. However, in his time, as I said, schooling was spotty and people had to really teach themselves and we can learn from these people who as much as it’s important for us to go to school.
[00:25:14] And I would say, get as many degrees as you can. Always remember to try to teach yourself as well outside of the classroom, not just as an assignment, find a topic that interests you. Walt Whitman, our greatest poet who was contemporary of Lincoln. Didn’t go beyond age 11 in school. and yet he uses more different words in his poetry than any other poet in English except shakes.
[00:25:40] Herman Melville. Well, Melville made it through high school and yet he wrote Moby Dick, and these great novels without ever having gone to college. Uh, Frederick Douglas didn’t. He was an enslaved person who escaped from slavery and he didn’t have any formal schooling whatsoever. And yet he taught himself [00:26:00] and all these people, including later, , our examples to us, to you, to me that yes, we should get whatever schooling is available to us, to be sure all the way along, but never forget that some of the most , important schooling comes from ourselves and our own curiosity.
[00:26:18] And in each of those cases, I just mentioned it was. there deep curiosity just for feeding their minds. and that really provided a wonderful lesson, think for all.
[00:26:29] Cara: Well, I think you’ve just given me the lesson that I’m going to teach my kids at the dinner table tonight. I’ll tell them that a very important historian and writer told them that they need to learn outside of school.
[00:26:40] if I don’t just push on one more thing here, because Lincoln was not only known for, quoting Shakespeare, but when he was running against, Stephen Douglas for us Senate, he talked about. in geometric axioms in the debates and the famous Lincoln Douglas debates, why would a 19th century, Illinois [00:27:00] politician, um,, reference in ancient Greek mathematician and ended debate for public office?
[00:27:05] Can you help us understand that one?
[00:27:07] David: What was really interesting about him is that his mind, , span the whole range of topics. from the scientific to the humanistic and even from the high to the low, he even like buddy humor and sentimental songs, but he went to the opera and he went to Shakespeare and everything.
[00:27:26] And he’s the only president who has a patent for an invention. He invented a kind of a certain thing for boats, for boats that he observed, but, and he had to figure it out all mathematically. So there was a mathematical and scientific side of it. And when he was traveling on the last circuit for like almost six months a year at Nike would sometimes read Shakespeare, but sometimes read Euclid and he met Euclid was a GM nutrition, and he would memorize all the propositions of Euclidean [00:28:00] geometry.
[00:28:00] And in his case, it really supported his idea of , equality, because Euclid. Has his whole theories about, you know, things equal to the same thing or equal to each other and, uh, equal angles and equal sides and so forth and dissimilar, , and so forth. And he applied this really to politics because, he made a kind of syllogism that, , all people are men, blacks are people.
[00:28:28] You know, whites are people. And so what whites and blacks are both humans. And so therefore blacks are humans because African-Americans were not viewed totally as human, uh, on the same level as white people back then. But so at Gettysburg, when he says, a nation dedicated to the proposition that own them are created equal.
[00:28:50] He memorized all 150 or so propositions of Euclid viewpoint, you see, and for him, the whole racial [00:29:00] issue was almost a, a Euclidean, matter of equality. So it really feeds into his politics as well,
[00:29:07] GR: professor, to take this step further, you’ve talked about. His mind, his thoughts and his ideas. And he had to use this doing a very contentious point in American history. He was coming of age politically when slavery states’ rights, trade tariffs, and women’s rights were on the forefront. What lessons can our teachers and students today learn from limp and can about, uh, how he addressed many of those divisions that were tearing apart his country at that time.
[00:29:34] David: I think we can learn is is this whole transition as a politician because in the 1830s, he was using what was called slasher GAF language, which was really kind of, fiercely criticizing and attacking his opponents. And he got into a duel. He almost, he could have been killed, but fortunately the duel was, was called off and he realized that he should turn to [00:30:00] persuasion and logic and reason.
[00:30:02] When dealing with these political issues. And so when he re-emerges in the 1850s, he has a new kind of rhetoric and he has learned to channel his passion through persuasive rhetoric. And I think, that gets back to the idea of language, marshaling your ideas through persuasive language and, so forth.
[00:30:22] And also, he compared himself to blonde and blonde and. The most famous tightrope Walker who went back and forth on a tightrope above Niagara falls without a net. And sometimes he was carrying a man on his back, sometimes pushing the wheelbarrow sometimes on stilts, so forth. And Lincoln said, you know, I’m like London, I try to keep to the center because in a very divided America, even more divided than today, he found that the best way was to try to stick as close to the center as possible.
[00:30:54] And to avoid being inflammatory or too radical, [00:31:00] because if he was, he could fall off the tightrope, particularly as president and the nation could be lost. And he was approached by people as president who said, can’t you make this a more anti-slavery war from the start? And he said, I hate slavery. I detested.
[00:31:19] They say the wrong thing. We could lose Kentucky or Tennessee or one of the border states, and then we’re going to lose the war. So he had to really , be blonde. And I think it’s an example of in a divided time politically. Yes. Follow your passions by, , objecting to , things you see wrong. And he was very, very firm about, his moral objections to slavery, but at the same time, Avoiding inflammatory language.
[00:31:46] That’s going to cause further division.
[00:31:49] GR: So as I hear you talk, I think about his gift and the whole idea of linguistic dexterity and rhetoric, and in ways that was unheard of at his [00:32:00] time. And in ways many of our national politicians could not emulate today. Talk a little bit more about how his deep knowledge of the Bible, our founding documents, , and his rhetorical skills helped him preserve the union and abolish slavery.
[00:32:15] Because as I hear you talk, it could have gone either way, given the political tight rope he was walking on.
[00:32:22] David: Yeah, well he has really three or four major speeches. , some of them. draw directly off the Bible. The phrase a house divided against itself cannot stand. He was talking about the divided nation, but that praises from the Bible.
[00:32:37] So, uh, he’s almost going back to the Bible at that point and using a very powerful phrase to describe, Americans say we cannot stand together, if we remain so sharply divided as a house divided and then in his Cooper union address. He went down, back to the founding documents. , , in that speech, he is [00:33:00] trying to show and prove that the founding fathers, even though , some of them held people in bondage, such as Jefferson and Washington and so forth.
[00:33:09] But fundamentally the founding fathers were basically anti-slavery. And eventually, uh, foresaw the extinction and abolition of slavery. And he does such a, any to write that speech. He really, really studied the constitutional convention, the constitution and the declaration of independence, all the founding documents.
[00:33:32] He went through very, very carefully. And then his third, most important speech Gettysburg in the very first sentence, he dedicates the nation. To, , the proposition that all men are created equal. And in that phrase, he’s going back to the declaration of independence, which says that, , in pronounced declares, all medic re we say, all humans are created equal and, [00:34:00] uh, they are, uh, granted the, , right to life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
[00:34:06] By putting that phrase right in the very first sentence of the Gettysburg address, he really, really brings, , the vision of the declaration, right. To the very heart of America and as some wonderful. And then, uh, his final, , important speech. The second inaugural address has many references to God in the Bible in support of.
[00:34:31] The defeat of slavery, he says until, , every lash inflicted upon the back of the enslaved person is repaid by a thrust of the sword. Well, , that’s the kind of thing God, , would say was a righteous act in the old Testament. He says it a little more eloquently than that, but he, he often, it’s almost like a sermon.
[00:34:53] , the second inaugural and a lot of African-Americans were in the audience. And Frederick Douglas after [00:35:00] was, uh, said Mr. Lincoln, that was a sacred effort. That speech was such a sacred effort. So yeah, the Bible and the founding documents, give incredible resonance and meaning to his speech.
[00:35:13] GR: And I think about his speeches, Dan, and what it meant to preserving the union and avoiding, slavery for another generation.
[00:35:22] I also think about that December 5th, 1955 speech that then a young art Luther king Jr. Delivered at the Holt street Baptist church, where of course Rosa parks had decided, no, I’m not going to get up. And in that speech, he talked about the constitutes. And the Bible and our founders and how important that speech was to shaping the foundation, not only of his nonviolence and movement, but also the whole idea that civil rights and human rights and the push for black liberation of the United States was in fact, linked to our founding ideals.
[00:35:56] Even if we found sometimes those ideals were used for [00:36:00] different reasons. Well, speaking of ideals, , I’d like to turn it over to you right now to. She was a passage of your choice, to read to us.
[00:36:08] David: Sure. okay. This is sort of the conclusion of my book. Langston Hughes memorably capture the spirit of the statue.
[00:36:16] I’m talking about the Lincoln Memorial and the statue of Lincoln in his 1926. Poem Lincoln monument washing. Let’s go see old day sitting in the marble and the Moonlight sitting lonely in the marble and the Moonlight quiet for 10,000 centuries old day quiet, 4 million, million years quiet, and yet a voice forever against the timeless walls of time.
[00:36:48] All day. And then I go on Martin Luther King’s. I have a dream speech delivered before a quarter of a million people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, [00:37:00] 1963, guided all Deb’s voice toward the future. Five score years ago, king said a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today.
[00:37:10] Signed the emancipation proclamation. Lincoln’s decree came as a joyous daybreak for millions of enslaved. But, king argued America had since then betrayed Lincoln’s ideals, injustice, justice, still prevailed king envisioned a time when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics will be able to join hands and see.
[00:37:35] In the words of the old Negro spiritual free at last free at last, thank God almighty. We are free at last affirming national unity king declared. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. These inspiring words, bring us back to the.
[00:37:58] At America’s most divided [00:38:00] time, Lincoln pushed hard toward justice while keeping the whole nation foremost in his mind, he progressed cautiously shrewdly inexorably with honesty, with humility, with winning humor. And in the end with his thoughts on all Americans, regardless of party, religion, or race, his principal division, and his disarming modestly.
[00:38:24] Remain an inspiration to every day, Americans and political leaders, alike, freedom, equality, justice for everyone, even for the most marginalized or oppressed contained within one nation. This was a, in his democratic fullness. Thank you.
[00:38:43] GR: Well, Professor Reynolds, Cara, and I thank you for joining. I personally want to thank you for using scholarship as a platform for a generational conversation about culture and what it means to us today, what it meant then, but more importantly to encourage [00:39:00] adults and children alike, those who were in the classroom and those who are outside to really look at a, as you call him, as a figure in world history who wrote.
[00:39:10] I changed American society, but also the way we think, and at a point in American history, when people are questioning the meaning of school, what does learning really look like to take someone from his humble background who was not afforded even a third of the amenities that we have today to pursue our quest, for knowledge, you show that he was able to do.
[00:39:32] as someone saying from a biblical perspective, folding in, on both broken pieces, but thank you for your work and look forward to future conversations.
[00:39:39] David: Thank you very, very much for having me. And, , I encourage all of you to read my book as I know some of you have, but thank you for having me. It’s always wonderful to talk about.
[00:39:51] GR: [00:40:00] [00:41:00] We comes from Denisha Merriweather, who is the founder of black minds matter. And she also worked in the U S department of education and has a great personal story herself of Nella becoming the first in her family to graduate college. But she now earned a master’s in social work. She’s doing really good work.
[00:41:53] Her tweet is from October 17th, black families now homeschool at a higher rate than any other [00:42:00] demographic in America. Black minds matter shows a black homeschool rate growing from 3.3% in March of 2020 to 16.1 by October of 2020. So we’ve talked about this in passing before, but it says something families interested in, in different ways of learning.
[00:42:25] So I want to give a shout out to.
[00:42:27] Cara: I’m a huge fan of Denisha. I consider a friend she’s a brilliant young person and man, those numbers Gerard really astonishing. it’s interesting to see homeschool numbers go up overall. We made a lot of assumptions about whether they would go back down when things were back to normal.
[00:42:43] Things are really back to normal and have been, , at least a new normal in a lot of places. And I don’t think those homeschooling numbers are going to budge too much. I think a lot of parents, especially those who weren’t satisfied have really found their group, so to speak with homeschooling and kids too.
[00:42:57] So, great tweet of the week [00:43:00] to regard our time has come to an end, but we will be together again. So don’t you fret because next week. Actually, this is pretty cool. I’m excited about this. We are going to be talking to Dr. Bror Saxberg MD and he is the vice president of learning science at the Chan Zuckerberg initiative.
[00:43:17] Looking forward to that Gerard until next week, take care. Do watch the baseball games. They’re fascinating. We’ll see if this Red Sox streak continues and I hear you’re supposed to eat. They call them rally cups. I didn’t know. People probably think like what a dork. She knows nothing about baseball, rally cops, um, I guess those are Reese’s peanut butter cups.
[00:43:35] And I will say I’ve been letting my kids have a Reese’s peanut butter cup at night. And so that makes my son happy that the socks will win. So I hope you’re watching Gerard until next week. Take care of yourself.
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