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2005-09-28—Sharing the Wealth 
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2005 blog


Mazal Tov to Gail Feinstein Forman
 for the American Lives series

                                                            San Diego Jewish Times, September 28, 2005

By Donald H. Harrison

If you want to get to know a country, there is no better way than to learn the personal stories of its inhabitants  This is what San Diegan Gail Feinstein Forman provides for immigrants and others newcomers to American history in the American Lives series of books issued by New Readers Press.

In each of the first three volumes intended for adult education classes, Forman has encapsulated the biographies of 15 prominent American men and women. They  represent many of the ethnic backgrounds that through diversity bring strength and adaptability to our country.  I’m pleased that in each of the initial three volumes in the series, one can find the biography of a Jew.  These stories are about anthropologist Franz Boas, poet Emma Lazarus, and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter.

Readers will delight in learning about people from other backgrounds as well.  For example in Volume 1, Feinstein treats in addition to Boas such luminaries as Abigail Adams, George Washington, Paul Revere, Noah Webster, Ulysses S. Grant, Sojourner Truth, Thomas Edison, Jane Addams, Jim Thorpe, Amelia Earhart, Louis Armstrong, John Glenn, Amy Tan, and Jaime Escalante.

Each short biography is followed by comprehension exercises. For example, readers of the piece on Lazarus are asked to check the correct answer.  “In the 1880s, many Russian Jews came to the United States___a) to escape anti-Semitism in Russia, or________b) to become prosperous merchants.”  If the students read the book, they’ll have not a scintilla of doubt that Choice A is the correct answer.

In addition, following each selection, the new reader’s mastery of vocabulary is tested.  For example, in the piece on Boas, students may choose to fill in the blank with either the word “anthropology” or “race”:  “Your success in life should not depend on your _________.

Other skills also are introduced in connection with the reading.  Following the selection about Felix Frankfurter, for example, there is a flow chart showing the process by which a Supreme Court justice is selected—certainly very timely for today!

After studying the flow chart, the reader should be able to answer the question: “If the Senate does not confirm the president’s nominee,” with the answer, “the president chooses another nominee.”

Although the series is intended for “new readers,” all of us could benefit from Forman’s concise statements and examples about America’s civic values.  She deserves congratulations for a job well done!