A few readers here and there might recall my old column Not Your Average Read, which a decade ago was a regular feature at the former Washington Times Communities. My historian-angled take on current events and academic debates was marketed chiefly as an unconventional voice in new media, from “a scholar who never set foot in school, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in sixteen years, and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings.”

I recall being surprised that virtually none of my audience – even the friendly observers – found my ironic tagline to be particularly amusing or endearing. It apparently provoked mild concern for a girl whose hook seemed to be “listen to me because I’m a socially averse weirdo!”

Since then, I have indeed set foot in school, both as a graduate student and as a teacher. I’ve admitted that while genuine Southerners say I don’t sound native, now and then some of my words have a bit of a twang that is hard to shake. I got married and have (soon to be 3) young children whom I home educate. Funny enough my husband met me because of my online column, so maybe I wasn’t completely terrifying.

I have become an active member of a local church, and my younger siblings and I are spread hither and yon, no longer living under the same roof. Naturally, I’m fairly unsurprised to look back at some of my work and cringe, whether due to misunderstanding or simply inexperienced writing. More surprising to me – and likely will be to you – are some peculiar ideas I had that have actually been validated and expanded in my recent experiences.

Why did I give up column writing in the first place (aside from contributions to Live Action News)? Honestly, I was disillusioned with the news media. I pursued filmmaking (including productions for Just Facts) and teaching history at the secondary school level for a couple of years, seeing an opportunity to better inform the public through those avenues. I’ve not abandoned film or history education. Writing about history is still my passion, and my latest published work is a book in the children’s biography series Heroes of Liberty.

A lot of my research and writing yet to be released involves critiquing conventional 21st century American ways of thinking, learning, and living. But I know better than to exalt being unconventional for the sheer sake of being unconventional. Like Jerry Seinfeld says, sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. That’s worth keeping in mind when people toss around the term “critical thinking” as a new media buzzword that means little more than bucking at anything mainstream – and as you can tell from my past byline, I’ve done my fair share of bucking. The other extreme is treating critical thinking as if it’s the purview of credentialed experts, and that thinking like they do equals wisdom and intelligence. It has thus been on my heart and mind to produce content that properly reframes and encourages true critical thinking.

The essence of critical thinking is studying knowledge with awareness of human limitations and biases, especially our own. This also forms the essence of our constitutional republic, a habit of self-governance that has to be practiced if – per Ben Franklin’s admonishment – we can keep it. Like Apostle Luke’s approach in his correspondence with Theophilus, it’s worth investigating everything carefully from the beginning when an idea is taking root (see Luke 1:1-4).

My channel Unconventional is about challenging the ideas and systems we have come to accept without examination.

The featured image for this article is a plein-air watercolor from the author’s sketchbook, a view in the parking lot of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.


  • Amanda Read Sheik

    View all posts Unconventional Amanda Read Sheik is a writer, historian, artist, and educator who intends to help people think more carefully about their beliefs and choices.
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