I had the surprise privilege of teaching a short (four week) Summer School gig for a friend recently–and I do mean privilege. He asked if I could take over his Reading classes at a private Korean Academy. After thanking God for the answer to prayer for meeting a financial need, I then got VERY happy about the subject matter–what’s not to love about getting paid to talk about books and words??

The classes I took on included students ranging in age from 5th/6th grade (mornings) to 7th/8th/9th grade (afternoons). 

I spend my days during the school year substituting in Elementary Schools; however, I’ve usually preferred the ‘little’ kids–Kindergarten through 4th grade. I was surprised and ultimately thankful at the joy I felt in teaching these age groups–who knew?–especially the older kids.

The book I read with them was ‘Where the Red Fern Grows‘, Wilson Rawls’ classic story about love, determination, sacrifice and God.  

When we finished WTRFG I had 4 days to fill. ‘Poetry’ had been included in the syllabus with some texts suggested. However, I made an executive decision to bring in my own books.

I love poetry (reading and writing it) and felt grateful for the little window of opportunity to sneak it into our days.

Since the events in Ferguson had been capturing the nations’ attention, I wanted to tie something in about liberty and justice and freedom.

I found this poem and shared it with the class:

“Liberty” Janet S. Wong
“I pledge acceptance
of the views
so different,
that make us America.
To listen, to look,
to think, and to learn
One people 
sharing the earth
for liberty
and justice for all.”

Right away after we read it–me first, then in unison–A.’s hand shot up, “Mrs. Collins, is this the Pledge of Allegiance?” 
Reasonable question–these are Korean students.

“No, A, it’s not the Pledge of Allegiance.” Sure sounds like it, tho’, doesn’t it?

We discuss things like liberty and justice, (I’m supposed to be teaching vocabulary after all), and spend a great deal of time pondering whether violence can ever change anything (the consensus–No) We talk about how critical it is to ‘accept the views so different, that make us America’, reminding them about diversity and people of all colors and nations being right here all around us.

“Hey, do you guys KNOW the Pledge of Allegiance?” I ask.

“Of course!”

“Great, let’s practice. Hands over hearts.  Here we go.”

“I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag….” 

Another hand.  

Mrs. Collins, “What does ‘allegiance’ mean anyway? And what’s a ‘pledge’?”

Perfect, more vocabulary.  Excellent timing.

We stop at the various words we need to define and I spend some time on the phrase, “one nation under God.”

I point out to them the phrase has no commas–it is a continuous line–regardless of the way they may have been reciting it.  (Koreans, Africans and Americans all say it the same (incorrect) way. Trust me, I know this.)

Then this. “Mrs. Collins, don’t you have to be a Christian to say that? I mean, the ‘under God’ part?  How can you say that if you’re not a Christian?”


S. pipes in, “Yeah, like aren’t there rules? I heard there are rules to being a Christian. Like being a Jew.  There’s a bunch of commandments, right?”

These questions I could answer–contrary to popular opinion, a public school teacher may answer questions about God when a student initiates the discussion.

Wise 13 year old A. gets up and closes the door and says, ‘Yeah, we need to talk about this.”

So I sit down in my rolling chair, push myself to the back wall of the room (there are only 10 of us) and posit this, “So, if we’re talking about being a Christian, which book are we talking about that might have the answers?”

“The Bible.”

“Correct. So in the Bible, Jesus said there’s really only two commandments–to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But what about the rules?  Don’t you have to follow these rules?”

“Actually, Jesus said He came to abolish the rules or commandments the Jews had. He said now He just wants people’s hearts and that we can learn to live by grace. It’s a gift.”

(You can see I’m like jumping up and down with excitement while I’m sitting in my roll-y chair, right? Having conversations with myself, “Can you even believe you’re talking about Jesus in the middle of your reading class with the Korean kids? What an amazing God?!”)

I continue, “You guys, you know I don’t want to get in trouble here.”

“Don’t worry Mrs. Collins, we won’t tell.”  Smile.

I finish by saying something about the fact that accepting God’s grace is all you need if you want to be a Christian.I suggest if they want to know more they could find a Bible and read it for themselves.

Or ask their parents at home. You never know where a simple question would lead.

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