Dear Mr. President,
In the time that I have been paying attention to you, I have not heard you ever talk about any books you have read, nor have I heard you discuss any ideas from major thinkers. I have heard you mention that your favorite book is the Bible, but you declined to discuss any particular scripture that held meaning for you. I have not heard you mention any ideas which which underpin your philosophy on how government should work. I have not heard you mention a great teacher who inculcated in you a love of learning or a passion for ideas. I have never heard you mention or exult any of America’s great artists or writers. I have not ever heard you allude to any theological treatises or text beyond the Bible. I have not heard you mention any great historian, philosopher, educator, orator, scientist, musician, psychologist, mathematician, or sociologist whose thought or work has shaped your own.
From my observations and readings about you it appears that you do not have a lot of books in your well-appointed residences or in your Trump Tower office. I have seen photos of your desk with stacks magazines with your picture on them. Your office walls appear to have many framed photos of you with other celebrities. I have read that you often show visitors to your office a pair of Mike Tyson’s boxing gloves or Shaquille O’Neal’s basketball shoes. I have never seen a photo of you reading. In photos of your work space and in anecdotes from those who’ve written about their visits with you, there is never any mention of books.
As an educator, this troubles me. To see you come into the presidency without ever having alluded to any higher intellectual discourse is worrisome, as worrisome as it would to to me to have a student in my school with no evident curiosity or interest in learning.
It seems to me that the President should be well read. He or she should read newspapers, history, and philosophy. He or she should read research, briefings, and reports. He or she should be aware of intellectual, cultural, and sociological currents. He or she should be familiar with the great works that have shaped our nation and our institutions. He or she should be conversant with the art, philosophy, and religious traditions of other nations. By deep reading, by being voracious and hungry to know more, one’s mind may become enriched, deepened, broadened. With broad learning—whether from ancient wisdom, factual reports, or challenging new theory—one is better equipped to think critically and analytically. From reading, you may gain a foundation which will undergird your actions and decisions.
Much of what has been useful to me in life has come from books and poems and other people. These sources—quite beyond and outside of myself—have informed, inspired, and challenged me. They have made my understanding of the world richer and more complex. They have taught me values, the core beliefs I have passed on to my own children. My world is larger because of books and learning, and for that I am grateful.
I have been teaching 7th, 8th, and 9th graders f0r twenty-six years. I have done a lot of reading, and have done a lot of research, and a great deal of writing. I published a book, and I am writing another book. I live in Ripton, Vermont, which was Robert Frost’s summer residence. His books, his great learning, his very aura, is very much a part of the culture and landscape of where we live. As a teacher, I learn new things every day. My students teach me. Other teachers teach me. I listen and I consider. I reread words of poets and great novels. I weigh the insights of others. I believe my own understanding can always be sharpened and deepened. My mind is capable of being changed. This is part of being an inquisitive and and intellectually spirited citizen.
A large part of my job is to encourage and guide young people to have a reverence and passion for books and ideas. It is important for my students to know facts, and to use facts. I want them to know about history, religion, philosophy, art, government, science, numbers, and poetry. I want them to be able to tell truth from a lie. I want to believe in the magnificence of the universe, and I want them to come to that belief with humility and excitement.
One way I lead my students to these beliefs is by reading to and with them as much as possible. We read novels, poems, newspaper articles, obituaries, famous quotes and speeches, and plays. We write stories, plays, and poems. We try to understand ourselves and the world and then write about those two universes with as much love and truth as we can. My students are immersed in words and ideas. They become excited by how much there is to learn.
As an educator, I believe in the notion that knowledge can, and must, be passed on. I know you are busy becoming president, but I want to pass on to you some of what I have learned and some of what I teach. You may say, “I’m real smart, and I don’t have time to read.” However, being busy does not absolve you from the responsibility of becoming ever more sensitive, informed, and circumspect, particularly with the welfare of 330,000,000 persons in your hands.
Since you are busy, I have decided that I will write you a postcard every day. On that card I will write briefly about a books, thoughts, ideas, or stories that are part of my teaching. These are the lessons I pass on to my students.Consider it a handy list you can consult when your mind or soul is in need of a little pick-me-up. Perhaps, if you cultivate the discipline of reading and study, you may gain greater wisdom and knowledge of yourself and the world around you, and thereby become a more effective leader.
My reading list is, of course, confined to my own experience and preferences. Another person from another part of the world and with different set of experiences or education would make a completely different list. No list is absolute, nor absolutely right. I share these ideas, readings, lessons, and anecdotes with my students year in and year out. They are imminently practical and applicable to every day life. They are not overly technical or obscure—after all, I teach twelve, thirteen, and fourteen year olds. It is my hope that my post cards, properly considered, will inspire new thoughts in you. Certainly you can agree that the world today needs innovative thinking and broad-mindedness to address the many challenges facing us.
I hope my daily postcard will give you some guidance in your further education (we educators are required to engage in continuing education and professional development). I hope you are open to being inspired and challenged, to expanding your mind, as you take on the challenges of the presidency.
We, and our country, deserve a leader who believes in education, who believes in the power of learning, in the life of the mind, in the spirit of inquiry. Without these, our country would never have come into existence. So, please, receive my humble offering, in the hope of bettering yourself, and our nation.