Kelly Baker on Washington, D.C. and the Power of "The Lorax"

Noodle Expert Kelly Baker discusses how "The Lorax" keeps her away from apathy and the magic of visiting the nation's capital.

Noodle Expert Kelly Baker discusses how "The Lorax" keeps her away from apathy and the magic of visiting the nation's capital.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

It's a toss up between Cheryl Strayed, the author of "Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things," or my daughter's kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Donalson.

Strayed's books make the reader a better person, as she tries to convince us to be kinder to ourselves and others. Strayed tells us that we have to keep reaching to become our better selves. I would want her to teach me how to be capable of such grace and kindness.

Mrs. Donalson is an energetic educator, who wrangles 20 kindergartners Monday through Friday without a cross word. She embraces how these kids approach the world with enthusiasm and let's them guide the learning process. I would love to learn how she does this day after day, and I wish I had even a fraction of her enthusiasm.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

As a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax" and now I read the book to my children, who are six and almost two. I'm always struck by the line: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot. Nothing is going to get better. It's not." "Unless" becomes my daily reminder that I have to care a lot to make things better. We have to care about our world, and "unless" guides me away from apathy toward attention and awareness.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Washington, D.C.! Nothing compares to your first glimpse of the White House, climbing the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or reading the engraved quotes of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. As a kid, I had only seen the White House on television, so standing near it was pretty magical. I felt like I was part of a shared history of America as I wandered through D.C. I'm a history nerd, so I can't recommend that you travel to any place without visiting museums. I recommend the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History (dinosaur fossils!), and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

When I was in seventh grade, I made a D in Pre-Algebra. In previous years, math was an easy subject for me, so I expected to coast in my advanced math class, too. I barely finished each homework assignment. I whined to my parents that the class was too hard and that I couldn't do it. My teacher, Mr. Musgrove, showed me my progress report: I had earned a D. I panicked and started crying. He calmly explained that I needed to speak up in class when I didn't understand the material. Just because this class was hard, he noted, was not a reason to give up. Moreover, he knew I had stopped trying to comprehend what he was teaching me. Sometimes, he gruffly said, you had to do hard work to master a subject. After our talk, I asked questions in class and completed by homework. I made a B in Pre-Algebra for the semester, and I realized that I had to do the necessary work to succeed. Just because a subject was hard didn't mean I could quit.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Religion was the only subject matter that could hold my attention as an undergraduate, and I wanted to become a college professor, which required a Ph.D. Thus, I went to graduate school and earned a Ph.D., so I teach religion. I adored religious studies, and still do, but I wasn't prepared for the reality of the job market in higher education. It is hard to find secure employment in my field, so now, I'm a freelance writer, who covers higher education, labor, and religious studies. This is pretty different than what I imagined my career would look like when I first decided to study religion.

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