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Commentary On History: What Is History And The Art Of Not Teaching It?

October 22, 2018

cropped-12301412301.jpg“Teachers open the door; but you must enter by yourself.” Chinese Proverb.

History is not taught anymore. The epic that is known as history is the most fascinating of all human subjects. History is not boring. The only thing boring about history is done by those who fail to understand it’s full story and or nic-pic what they will teach or take notice of and leave out. There are boring teachers or at least teachers who I really wonder like the subject they are teaching except as soapbox to vent at the history their teaching. That’s the problem with the modern classroom for the history student, it’s not about history anymore and it becomes a room for the bored and those who had no interest in the beginning and will never have an interest in the subjects being taught. History should not nic-picked to make a political point more than actually studying the why’s and who’s of the events studied. What happened to history was that it became taught by those with agenda’s and it wasn’t to teach actual history. I wonder sometimes if the teacher changed because they became bored with the subject and the political cause-effect of today is to turn on history and make it a call for social justice and demand for the destruction of the monuments of history sounds so much more gratifying. Their not teaching history and they have no desire to educate their students. Their bored because there is no public recognition for their efforts to simply educate the kids in their classrooms.

I’ve had a few dull teachers of my favorite subject. Dull might be too strong a word for the teacher in question, but he didn’t inspire much for one to look deeper into the subject at hand. It’s possible to be someone with the historical facts at hand and think you’re being a good teacher. Being a good teacher isn’t about simply reporting facts and figures to those student’s actually paying attention. To teach is to inspire thought and a desire to look further into the subject being talked about. Some teachers inspire nothing except the belief that history is boring; which it isn’t if taught correctly. I think most teachers are pretty average in their abilities and passions for the subject; some are just better at it because they care about history not an agenda of some kind. Teaching is also a two-way journey to understanding of past events. It’s basic teaching 101 that it’s a two-way collaboration facts and thoughts and the interchange of the teacher-student. What is so difficult in conveying the importance of Alexander The Great, (365 BC-232 BC), and his impact and influence on the Hellenization of Judaism  and it’s impact on the history of the Jewish people and their culture; what’s the problem? This is not a very complicated history to relate to people so they would understand that Greek culture probably had a double-edged sword impact on the history of the Jewish people that is still felt today. What is the problem? The Hellenization of the Jewish mind and culture in some ways is what preserved the Jewish people from complete extinction? In some ways it did. It forced them to once and for all declare, define, and defend what they believed and what they thought of God, themselves, and their relationship to history and the future.

History is not a difficult subject to teach if you have a passionate love for it and simply love to teach it. If you passionately love the subject then it should never come across as anything but very interesting and never dull. Teaching is the ability to convey a subject so passionately and so needful for further research into the subject at hand. On has to have a deep rooted interest, passion and even hunger for a subject and have the ability to convey it’s importance to be a good teacher. The subject needs to be told, retold, and told again in such a way that it’s impossible for the student to not want to know and know more than the teacher is relaying. Teaching information is easy because that’s what names, dates, and places are at home in. Names are easy. Anyone with a small amount of historical learning knows who Thomas Jefferson, (1743-1826), is and what he said and did; though in this present climate of education one never knows what facts and fiction is being taught as the same thing. Sadly what is being taught isn’t even basic history anymore, it’s more opinion and rewriting of the history than actual facts of the man and works of Jefferson; mostly what is taught is he owned slaves as if that and that alone was his sole occupation of the 3rd President of the United States of America. Most students are not taught a passion for a subject anymore, they barely get taught history enough to form any sense of a liking for history. It’s lazy dispensing of information that with never spark any kind of fire to influence the student for further reading and study. The teacher who never inspires is not a teacher but simply a talker with not much to say or a propagandist with an ideology to indoctrinate their students with. That is what education has become and that is why students don’t have a real love or understanding let alone desire to understand the subject of history. What is taught as history when it comes to Thomas Jefferson seems to begin with Sally Hemings, (1773-1835),  and end with Sally Hemings and not much else. Slavery is the only thing I believe most students of today will ever be taught as worth knowing about Jefferson. Ask an average student who Jefferson’s best friend was and what their relationship was and when did they both die; July 4th, 1826 they both died. There is a history of men and a friendship worth studying and worth the teacher’s effort to gain a fellow lover of history and it’s quest for more information, but it wont happen. History today is no longer about history, it’s about ideology of revisionist history and of political correctness that is only interested in the sins of history and certainly slavery as their primary teaching and never allowing it to be forgotten. It’s the tragedy of Thomas Jefferson and his friend, John Adams, (1735-1826), that their lives have been reduced to historical soundbites; unless of course slavery can be introduced. The real men have been replaced with political correctness and the historical revisionist pen and what is put in place is one-dimensional men with only one thing on their minds and lives worth discussing and that would be their stance on slavery. The teacher of history is not history if you are simply choosing what you want to teach and ignore the rest of the story as Paul Harvey, (1918-2009),  would have said on his radio broadcast.

History is about the obvious and that is humanity. To be a teacher worth listening to let alone worth remembering one must have a quality that makes a student listen with all their attention. For me personally my first real teacher of history was in my Freshman year of High School at Valencia High School in California, Mr. Cyrus; he had a special fondness for Cyrus the Great, (600 B.C-530 B.C), and I wonder why. What I remember was his teaching on Ancient Civilizations; he made it fascinating to me and sparked an interest in those people’s of so long ago. How can one not like the history of those ancient names and civilizations of the Sumerians, Chaldeans, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, and of course my favorite, Jews, and all the others before and after; Greeks, Romans, etc. Mr. Cyrus started the spark with making the subject interesting, putting a passion behind his teaching, and making the subject worth learning more about. It was a spark, it was a beginning toward a passion for history. I’ve had a few other good history teachers, mostly Mr. Bruggerman from Century Collage in Minnesota; though he pushed me more to learn more of Minnesota history than anything, he was a good teacher. I enjoyed his classes on World History, United States History; I took enough of them so he must have been fairly good at his job. The other was Professor Moran who taught a class on Asian History which I found very fascinating.

The point of these three men of teaching history is they had an impact on a student. That is the major point and goal of teaching anything. They inspired a student to simply think outside the text book and classroom. They had a level of passion for the subject that they were able to show that was important in their daily teaching. It’s a shame that too much of what passes as teaching is nothing more than parrot teaching that teaches nothing, inspires nothing, and creates nothing in their students because it’s nothing but names, dates, and places with no filling in the important minute details of the human life and condition. When did teaching become so lazy and without a real point other than a ideological one with a political correctness spin to it? Maybe Rudyard Kipling, (1865-1936), was correct about our modern view of how to teach history, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” But isn’t that what history is at the core? Isn’t that what every life really is? But would Kipling’s philosophy work even today in this era of political correctness and rewriting history because the historian didn’t like the way it went the first time around. We don’t live in the era of looking at all sides of history, no, we are in the era of picking and choosing what one will like and what one will ignore because it doesn’t pushes an agenda.

The history being taught today is not about the past anymore as a real flesh and blood story but of an agenda by those not interested in the human side of history. Today’s historian is more about real or imagined wrongs being dragged through the modern sensibilities of the modern era where one must be offended by something. The idea of tearing down statues or changing the names of lakes is going to change or erase from history the origins of those things is foolishness. You cannot erase history  by destroying that which you convince yourself as offensive to your view of history. History is a fact of the past and rewriting it doesn’t change that one single second. The P. C. crowd or revisionists of history thinks they are doing a great service by this idea that anger and violent actions will solve the wrongs of the past. They’ll destroy history to create their own in a sterile version where no one wants to do anything but keep up the status quo. The history of the P. C. crowd seems one of simply wanting to be angry that the past was what it was and can’t be changed. The facts of history is that slavery existed in Colonial America. It’s a fact. No one argues the facts of the horrors and inhuman treatment of slaves in this country. No one denies the facts of this of the human condition for the African’s forced into slavery. It’s not a sole black history issue, it’s a human issue because both sides were part of the historical ramifications of the slave trade. But to listen to certain historians and P. C. believers one would think that America invented slavery and still has slavery in this country.

The American Civil War, (1861-1865), ended slavery in this country at the cost of over 600,000 America lives in a very bloody and costly war. But to listen to some teachers of American history all that matters is slavery and only slavery and all things slavery must be constantly brought up because slavery is the sin of all Americans whether they owned or didn’t even see a black person their whole lives. It doesn’t matter that history contradicts their teaching of American history as a whole they only see slavery and will only see slavery and never the people who actually fought against the practice and spilled their blood to destroy the practice in this country. If one is going to teach the history of American slavery then teach it all not just pick and choose what you’ll talk about and ignore that which you don’t want to hear or know about. All of the Americans of the Colonial to the opening of the Civil War did not support slavery. But if you are a student of the modern education system one would get the idea that the moment an American was born they were given a slave to rule over. There were many who rose up early in the cause of anti-slavery in America and loudly and sometimes violently opposed the practice of slavery; ask the Quakers. But is this taught? No, what’s taught is that all Americans owned a slave and that all Americans are guilty of the slave trade because they are Americans. That is not teaching history because real history is far more complicated when it comes to human behavior.

Benjamin Franklin, (1706-1790), was a slave owner; 1735-1781 to be exact. His early views on the subject of the African was that they were unable to be educated. His own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, also was known to advertise the sale of slaves and was known to post notices of escaped slaves as well. But oddly enough  he also published anti-slavery pamphlets against slavery by the Quakers. After 1758 he was gradually changing his views on the subject of slavery when his friend Samuel Johnson, (1709-1784), introduced him to one of Dr. Bray’s schools for black children. Dr. Bray’s Associates was a philantropic association affiliated with the Church of England. In 1759, Franklin joined the association. In 1759 he met Anthony Benezet, (1713-1784), Quaker, teacher, writer, and abolitionist and founder of a school in Philadelphia and later co-founded the Abolitionist Society. In 1765, Franklin wrote that African shortcomings and ignorance were not inherently natural but come from lack of education, slavery, and of course the negative impact of slavery upon them as a people. He also wrote that he saw no real differences in learning  of Africans and European children let alone Americans. In 1787, Franklin became the President of the Philadelphia Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage-The Abolitionist Society. (The Society was formed by a group of abolitionist Quakers and Anthony Benezet in 1774). The Abolitionist Society was the first in America as inspiration for the formation of abolitionist societies in other colonies. The group was also focused on education, moral instruction, and employment.

In an open letter on November 9th 1789, Franklin wrote wholeheartedly against the institution of slavery. He finally came to the conclusion by his associating with the Abolitionist Society that slaves have long been treated as brute animals beneath the standard of the human species. Franklin advocated that blacks be educated, given moral instructions, and employment. On February 3rd 1790, a few months before his death, Franklin petitioned congress to provide the means to bring slavery to its end in the colonies once and for all. When his petition was introduced to the House and Senate it was of course defeated by pro-slavery states of the south. A committee was finally selected to study and see if anything could be done to pass the petition. On March 5th, 1790, the committee claimed that the United States Constitution restrained Congress from doing anything about the issue of slavery in the United States of America at that time. Congress would would do nothing on the issue of slavery or the slave trade. Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at 84. On January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Emancipation Proclamation freeing about three million slaves; Franklin’s petition was finally ratified and signed into a reality in the United States of America at the cost of a long and bloody civil War.

Franklin would have been pleased with the progress the nation he help create was going in. How much of the above history of the Colonial era of America let alone one of its founding fathers is even mentioned except in passing and only to say Franklin was a slave holder! Where is the real and honest history in stating one single moment in a great man’s long life of 84 years? Quoting from, ‘Vindicating The Founders’ by Thomas West’s book, ‘Contrary to what one would expect from these quotations, all the leading Founders affirmed on many occasions that blacks are created equal to whites and that slavery is wrong. Here are a few examples; George Washington: “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.” John Adams: “Every measure of prudence, therefore, ought to be assumed for the eventual total extirpation of slavery from the United States…I have through my whole life, held the practice of slavery  in…abhorrence.”..(Pg 4-5). Other places in West’s book, “We have shown that the leading founders said that blacks were human beings and that they said that enslavement was unjust because it denied blacks their natural human rights to liberty. But did they know what they were saying?” (Pg. 5). Did they understand their own high-sounding ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Did they really believe that all men are created equal? More from West’s book, “John Jay was an early governor of New York and the first Chief justice of the Supreme Court. He summarizes the change of opinion in America during the founding era: Prior to the great Revolution….our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves, that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. Some liberal and conscientious men had indeed, by their conduct and writings, drawn the lawfulness of slavery into question…Their doctrines prevailed by almost insensible degrees, and was like the little lump of leaven which put into three measures of meal.” (Pg 6). West continue’s, “The whole Revolution was an antislavery movement-for the colonists. The political logic of the Revolution pointed inexorably to the eventual abolition of slavery for the blacks as well.” (Pg. 6). Other points on the issue of slavery in the era of the Founders, West’s book, “…In a 1764 publication endorsed by the Massachusetts legislature, James Otis said, “The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black.” John Jay stated the problem vividly, “That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent as well as unjust and perhaps impious part.” In 1776 the house of representatives of New York, a slave state, formally resolved that slavery is “utterly inconsistent with the avowed principles in which this and that other states have carried on their struggle for liberty.” (Pg. 7). This very short list of examples should destroy the idea that slavery was agreed upon as good and just and should always be part of America and never fought against and that in the early days of the founding of the United States of America there were voices rising up and declaring the inhuman, barbaric, and unjust practice slavery was for a country declaring by words and deeds that all men are created equal. But is this aspect of the American character and people even taught anymore or even acknowledged by the modern teacher of American history? American history isn’t taught anymore unless it’s to condemn the past with slavery and never once bring up the fact that while there were those who supported slavery there were those against the practice in the land so proclaiming liberty and freedom and all men are created equal.

“In a 1774 petition to the government of Massachusetts, one group of slaves said, (W)e have in common with all men a natural right to our freedoms without being deprived of them by our fellow men, as we are a freeborn people and have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever…But we were unjustly dragged by the cruel hand of power from our dearest friends, and some of us stolen from the bosoms of our tender parents….We therefore beg…that we may obtain our natural right, our freedom, and our children be set at liberty at the year of twenty-one.” (Pg. 7).

What else is being left out of the history books and not told students about the Founders of this country? What other events and people are not being mentioned who’s lives were dedicated or lost to the cause of ending slavery in the young Republic’s early years? What is being left out of the education of the student sitting there in that classroom? From West’s book, “The growth of slavery was quickly limited by reducing or abolishing the slave trade. Delegates to the first Continental Congress in 1774 pledged to stop the importation of slaves into America. By 1798 every state had outlawed slave importation. South Carolina renewed the slave trade in 1803, but Congress abolished the trade altogether in 1808. During the founding era, eight states proceeded to abolish slavery, either gradually or immediately. (Like almost all public policy, slavery was then regulated by the state governments). Abolition came quickly only in states where few slaves were held. The first to forbid slavery in its constitution was Vermont in 1777. Court cases and the actions of town governments ended slavery in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the 1780’s. In the other Northern states, abolition came harder. Pennsylvania passed the first law for gradual emancipation in 1780. Rhode Island and Connecticut followed in 1783 and 1784. After long struggles, New York and New Jersey finally did the same in 1799 and 1804..” (Pg. 10-11). Is any of this taught in school? Is any of this brought up and discussed by the teacher? No, of course not because it doesn’t follow the PC agenda that slavery must always be talked about as having never really ended and taught as if everyone wanted a slave and every state did nothing about the problem. There is only one word for such teaching and that is called laziness. What other facts of history are not told because it does not teach an agenda on the past of America’s dealing with slavery. Other moments not taught, West again, “At the federal level, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, forbidding slavery in the territory where the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin would be formed. This law proved to be of critical importance to the end of slavery in America….Proposals for abolition were presented to the Virginia legislature in 1778 (Jefferson authored it) and again in 1796 and to the Kentucky constitutional convention of 1792. Societies for abolition were established in Delaware and Maryland, whose legislation debated abolition in 1785 and 1786.” (Pg. 12). The point of all this is that when a teacher stands up and says nothing was done about slavery or even attempted it proves them either lazy in research or simply lying for some agenda that only works if all the facts of history are ignored which contradict what the teacher wants the past to be.

The Founders were normal men with an idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, not supermen without sins of their own to deal with. Who ever said Thomas Jefferson was without sin on the question of slavery? Yet to listen to some teach on Jefferson the only thing the man is known for and will ever be known for is slavery and Sally Hemings. Not much else is taught about the 3rd President of the United States except slavery as if the only thing he did was be involved in slavery. Jefferson was a flawed man with high ideals he himself knew he failed at living up to. To listen to the modern teacher of American History one would get the impression that Jefferson and the other Founding Father’s had only one reason to found the country and that was to keep slavery alive and well in the American colonies. Well, this is far from true let alone accurate for the American colonies or it’s Founders. History is not taught when it’s a one-sided review of the American experience and history of a people founding a new nation founded on the idea and ideals of that all men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Founders, and certainly not all of them, knew full well that the idea and practice of slavery was going to be absolutely at war with their high-sounding principles and writings about and of liberty that all men were created equal. They weren’t stupid men, but they were men of their time and place and knew at some point there would be a confrontation and one would have to give way to the other; the American Civil War being that terrible moment. As a delegate from the slave state of Maryland stated, “Slavery is inconsistent with the genius of republicanism, and has a tendency to destroy those principles on which it is supported, as it lessens the sense of the equal rights of mankind and habituates us to tyranny and oppression.”

Thomas Jefferson wrote in his famous, Notes On Virginia, “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other…The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances.” Is any of this taught in our present history rooms about Thomas Jefferson? Probably not because it doesn’t promote a political agenda for some who only teach the history they wish to acknowledge as being the real and whole story and the rest of no importance. If you can’t teach history from all directions then stop teaching and just admit you have a political agenda and nothing else to talk about but a one-sided view of American History in particular.

Teaching history is to teach even those parts you don’t agree with let alone like. That’s the point of teaching history and that’s to see all sides as a story of passions and ideals and hatreds colliding into the landscape of the human experience. It’s show the best of the human experience and the worse that a human can inflict on another or even themselves. Teaching history is to teach the fact that human nature despite all it’s highs and lows is still about the fact that we as humanity have been born, lived, and died not in a vacuum but as a member of the human race. Teach all aspects of the problems of America or any nation is only the correct way to teach anything but to only talk about one aspect of American or any nations history is laziness and destructive to the students need for a well-rounded education. But today’s classroom isn’t about a well-rounded education anymore. It’s about teaching that the only thing that matters is the wrongs of any or all societies must be constantly on trial and found guilty in the court of the Politically Correct court of modern sensibilities and everyone in the past is guilty whether they owned a slave or not. Students are not taught history anymore. They are taught to be angry at a past they cannot change and are never taught why the past was the way it was.  It’s one thing to teach the faults, wrongs, and sins of a nation it’s quit another to pretend that was all the nation had to offer world history. Teach the faults, teach the wrongs, teach the sins, but don’t leave out those who lived, struggled, and died to right those wrongs as if they didn’t exist. That’s lazy gutless teaching to promote a political ideology and to rewrite history to fit some narrative that fits one’s wishful thinking. Teach history is to teach that the Founding Father’s where all too human in their pursuit of their ideas and ideals of that all men are created equal in their beliefs in the new nation they were founding from the ground up. History is about facts not want we wish history had been because we don’t like how it turned out. Maybe Kipling was correct that if history was taught as fiction it would be remembered better and more often taught better? It might help but then again we do live in the age of the short attention span. It would be nice to believe that it would help Mr. Kipling’s idea for teaching history but I have my doubts. Teaching history requires a love of the subject not a need to accuse or condemn the subject because it offends one’s modern sensibilities. The Founders were men and woman of their age and time and beliefs whether we as the modern world like it or not. Teach history as they lived it not as we wished they had lived it is the only honest and just way to tell the story worth telling. Tell the story of the saints and sinners of history as they were not as we wish they had been. Jefferson nor any of the other Founders can change their story so tell their story as they lived it is the job and duty of the historian not rewriting it. History is about people not your personal view or opinion of it.

“Historical fiction is not only a respectable literary form, it is a standing reminder of the fact that history is about human beings.” Helen Cam.

REFERENCES/RECOMMENDATIONS.

The Federalist: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay.

The Anti-Federalist.

Vindicating The Founders: Race, Sex, Class, And Justice In The Origins Of America. By. Thomas G. West.

John Marshall: The Man Who Made The Supreme Court. By. Richard Bookhiser.

Liberty And Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. By. Mark R. Levin.

Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story Of The Constitutional Convention May To September 1787. By. Catherine Drinker Bowen.

Lion Of Liberty: Patrick Henry And The Call To A New Nation. By. Harlow G. Unger.

The Last Founding Father: James Monroe And A Nations Call To Greatness. By. Harlow G. Unger.

John Hancock: Merchant King And American Patriot. BY. Harlow G. Unger.

Washington: A Life. By. Ron Chernow.

Hamilton: A Life. By. Ron Chernow.

Fallen Founder: Aaron Burr. By. Nancy Isenberg.

Henry Clay: The Essential American. By. David S. Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler.

Henry Clay. By. Robert Remini.

John Quincy Adams. By. Robert Remini.

Daniel Webster. By. Robert Remini.

Andrew Jackson. By. Robert Remini.

John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life. By. Paul C. Nagel.

The Histories. By. Herodotus.

History Of The Peloponnesian War. By. Thucydides.

History Of The Jews. By. Paul Johnson.

A History Of The American People. By. Paul Johnson.

The Complete Works Of Livy.

The Complete Works Of Christopher Hibbert.

The Complete Works Of Michael Grant.

A Study Of History. By. Arnold J. Toynbee.

Meaning In History. By. Karl Lowith.

What Is History. By. Edward Carr.

Jefferson: A Great American’s Life And Ideas. By. Saul K. Padover.

Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Portrait. By. Fawn Brodie.

Thomas Jefferson: A Life. By. Willard Sterne Randell.

Washington. By. Willard Sterne Randell.

Thomas Jefferson And the Tripoli Pirates. By. Brian Kilmeade, Don Yaeger.

Friends Divided: John Adams And Thomas Jefferson. By. Gordon S. Wood.

John Adams. By. David McCullough.

John Adams. HBO Mini-Series.

James Madison: The Founding Father. By. Robert A. Rutland.

Founding Rivals: Madison vs Monroe And The Election That Saved A Nation. By. Chris DeRose.

John Jay: Founding Father. By. Walter Stahr.

His Excellency, George Washington. By. Joseph J. Ellis.

Founding Brothers. By. Joseph J. Ellis.

The Quartet: Orchestrating The Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. By. Joseph J. Ellis.

The American Primer. Edited By. Daniel J. Boorstin.

The First American: The Life And Times Of Benjamin Franklin. By. H. W. Brands.

Andrew Jackson. By. H. W. Brands.

John Quincy Adams. By. John T. Morse, jr. (American Statesmen Biography Series).

John Marshall. By. Albert Beveridge. (American Statesmen Biography Series).

Samuel Adams: Father Of The American Revolution. By. Mark Puls.

 

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