AUDIO: Margaret Atwood Reading from "Year of the Flood."

In her reflection on the beatitudes, "What about the Meek?" (Sojourners, January 2015), award-winning author Margaret Atwood reflects on how the humble might inherit the earth. "How meek is meek, and do you always have to let bullies kick sand in your face at the beach?" she asks. What does meekness look like in action? Atwood refers to her characters from the MaddAddam trilogy for the answers. The God's Gardeners, an ultra-Green religious group, care for every living thing, from the trees that supply paper to the bacteria in our intestines. "Every small item must be considered." 

Listen below to Margaret Atwood's reading from a sermon in The Year of the Flood, titled "April Fish Day." 
"Help us to accept in all humility our kinship with the fishes, who appear to us as mute and foolish, for in your sight we are all mute and foolish." 

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AUDIO: Sabbath Poetry Reading

The author of more than 50 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, Wendell Berry is not only a prolific writer but also a farmer and an environmental activist who holds a deep reverence for all of life and creation. In “The Harvest of Fidelity” (Sojourners, April 2014), Rose Marie Berger reviews Berry’s latest work, This Day—a collection of Sabbath poems that speak “in defense of precious things.”

Listen to Berger—Sojourners’ poetry editor—recite one of Berry’s Sabbath poems.


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Helping Boys Become Readers

Elena Blokhina / Shutterstock

Photo: Boy Reads a Book, Elena Blokhina / Shutterstock

Many boys at my school struggle with reading. Most are more interested in video games and outdoor activities than books. Our school is not an anomaly.

Across the country adults have grappled with the lag in boys’ reading interest and skills. According to the 2010 Kids & Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic, fewer than 40 percent of boys said that reading outside the classroom is important.

So when my school’s coordinator asked me to start a lunchtime reading group to get boys interested in reading, I was excited. The first fourth-grade literary lunch would be called BEREAders (Berea Readers).

I am excited about reading.

Nurturing An Inner Voice

Photo: Young girl reading, AISPIX by Image Source /

Photo: Young girl reading, AISPIX by Image Source /

During my first year as a second-grade teacher, I struggled with classroom management. I am a soft-spoken person by nature and habit. I didn't have the experience to help me set up great rules and procedures for my students. My classroom was noisy and chaotic. I think you could hear us all around the school.

A well-meaning colleague stopped me one day after school and offered, "Trevor, you need to find your teacher voice. Most of the children at our school won't listen to you unless you yell at them. You need to show them who's boss."

After five years of teaching, I agree that it is important to find your teacher voice. I disagree, however, that your teacher voice needs to be mean and bossy. I found my voice. It’s nurturing and supportive and one that students can internalize for positive growth and change. 

I thought about this teacher voice when I met 7-year-old Maria. On her first day in reading intervention classroom, she made a mistake on a skill sheet. She asked for an eraser but I said, "Don't worry if you make a mistake. You don't have to erase it. Just cross it out and fix it. I'll never be angry with you if you make a mistake. I just want you to try to fix it."

James and the Giant Book

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev  /

Boy reading a book, Valeriy Lebedev /

In Roald Dahl's classic children's book James and the Giant Peach, 7-year-old orphan James Henry Trotter escapes his two rotten, abusive aunts by crawling into a giant peach. The peach rolls, floats, and flies him to a new life of wonder and love.

I'm reading this book aloud for the first time, and my listeners are spellbound by the story, especially the part where the very small old man opens the bag filled with magical crocodile tongues that will help a barren, broken peach tree grow fruit as big as a house.

"There's more power and magic in those things in there than in all the rest of the world put together," says the man. 

There is.

The Pages in the Book Go 'Flip, Flip, Flip'

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly /

Photo: Child sitting on stack of books, olly /

Editor's Note: Over the next two weeks, Sojourners is celebrating our teachers, parents, and mentors as children across the country head back to school. We'll offer a series of reflections on different aspects of education in our country.

My elementary school is a Title I school. About 97 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch and Medicaid. Research shows us that many children raised in poverty struggle to learn to read. 

Common sense tells us that children who don't learn to read can't read to learn. They often reach a frustration level with school by the time they're in the third grade. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 70 percent of low-income fourth-grade students can't read at a basic level. I often wonder, "What can I do in my day-to-day work as a teacher to help?"

Is Congress Getting Dumber?

Graphic by

Graphic by

According to the Sunlight Foundation:

Congress now speaks at almost a full grade level lower than it did just seven years ago, with the most conservative members of Congress speaking on average at the lowest grade level, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of the Congressional Record using Capitol Words.

Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications. And lawmakers of both parties still speak over the heads of the average American, who reads at between at 8th and 9th grade level.