Book Review: Eat, Pray, Love

A few weeks ago, my wife and I saw The Bounty Hunter for date night (verdict: blah.  The movie, that is.  Not date night.).  First, however, among the previews was a trailer for this summer’s Julia Roberts vehicle, Eat, Pray, Love, which looked interesting.  I saw that it was based on a book, and put it on my hold list at the library. 

Verdict on this one: enjoyable, but don’t take it too seriously, if only because the author doesn’t.  The book opens as a standard confessional/tear-jerker/aren’t-you-impressed-by-my-suffering memoir, but she at least has the decency to write in a style so tongue-in-cheek, so self-effacing, that we realize this is just setting the stage for something better; author Elizabeth Gilbert knows how cloying these stories have become, and neatly sidesteps the land mine with some winsome humor.  Though her need to crack funny permeates the book, nowhere is it as strong, or as needed, as in this potentially-dark opening.

Once that is out of the way, though, and we know why she felt compelled to go off on a journey, the fun begins.  And it is fun: Gilbert is no tour guide showing the group what’s on our left or gently chiding us to keep back from the velvet ropes; rather, she’s the screwball friend we brought along on the trip for kicks and giggles, and who is untiring in fulfilling her expected task.  Like any good travel memoir, she shows more of people than of history and geography, though it all factors into an equation quite pleasantly balanced. 

Gilbert had decided to spend a year abroad: Continue reading

Political Ecumenism

I’ve seen plenty of ecumenical books where people of different religions write explanations of their beliefs and then respond to each other with courtesy and respect, but never one for people with different political beliefs.  Both political extremes in America demonize and insult each other (and I’ve been guilty of that before, too, and need to change), but I’d love to be part of a series of essays where someone on the left and I explain where we’re coming from and discuss each other’s views.  Who thinks this is a good idea?  Who could work with me on this? 

Would there be a market for such a work, though, in our poisonous political climate, where so much of the media on both sides are heavily invested in hateful hyperbole?

And is there a political synonym for ecumenical?

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The Condensed Book of Mormon, In 15 Verses

Today I read the most amazing blog post, courtesy of our friends at First Thoughts.  A seminarian named Sarah Wilson thought to abbreviate the Bible by selecting just one representative verse from each book, resulting in a breathtaking tour through the highlights of scripture.  Her method was basically to find the verse in each book that best represented the majority of the material.  Please read it here.

What a great exercise!

My own first thought was to adapt her list for an LDS audience, but I quickly saw that that was pointless.  I already agree with virtually all of her choices.  Truly, she has a solid grasp of the text, and has produced a universally valuable list.

I wanted to do the same for the Book of Mormon.

My selections are below, with notes on my reasoning at the bottom:

1 Nephi “And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” 1:20

2 Nephi “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” 25:26

Jacob “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.” 2:35

Enos “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” 1:4

Continue reading

Counseling With Counselors, part II

This morning, I received the following email from a counselor colleague:

_____ is currently getting an “F” in your _____ class ____ period. She feels she will not be able to get her percentage up enough to pass, and therefore has signed up for AIS Eng. 4, second semester. Would you please allow her to use class time to work on her course? She has a full-time job and any time she could use to work on the AIS class would help her a great deal! Please have a discussion with her about it and thanks!

This was my instant response:

_____, _____ “feels” like she isn’t going to pass, so you want her to stay sitting in my class but doing what she wants for the AIS you’ve gone ahead and signed her up for instead?

I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. What kind of message does that send? What precedent does it establish? Continue reading

Counseling With Counselors, part I

On Tuesday, a counselor at my school sent an email out to all of a certain student’s teachers, asking for help with his struggling performance, at the request of the student and his mother.  Though I commended them for this interest and effort, and the counselor for facilitating that, the substance of my comments was as follows:

Thank you for working with _____ and his mom. He’s really a decent kid; I enjoy having him in class and hope he turns around and does well.

That being said, let’s not all go through that dog and pony show where we shrug our shoulders and pretend we don’t know what’s wrong here. In my class, for example, last quarter, _____ had three large homework projects, which were discussed in class, literally, every day, with handouts given and posted online. None of them were turned in. He clearly didn’t study for the last big vocab quiz, either. He has another quiz Thursday and another big project–which we’ve also reviewed every day this quarter–due in two weeks. I can only hope he turns it in.

Continue reading

Sentence Diagramming: Huston For The Defense

Yesterday, a reader named Vicki posted the following comment under an old post of mine called, “On The Joy Of Sentence Diagramming:”

“I’m still not convinced that sentence diagramming is profitable. If the goal it communication, why does the student have to know that what he is saying is a noun or verb, etc… If a student can properly write a sentence, why does he have to know all of the parts of that sentence?? I just don’t get it. I think Grammar is old school, and is taught because it always has been taught. We need to think outside the box, and open our mind to teaching important things in schools, not just busy work. He says it makes him a better reader and writer? How?? How can knowing sentence structure in that depth do that? I am an engineer and a teacher. I just have never understood it all.”

My reply ran to several paragraphs, so I’m giving it its own space here.  I had more fun writing this than anything in quite a while, and I truly hope Vicki finds it to be useful:

Vicki, thank you so much for the honest, important questions; you bring up four thoughtful and valuable, but very different, issues here, so I’ll try to touch just briefly on each of them.

“why does the student have to know that what he is saying is a noun or verb, etc… If a student can properly write a sentence, why does he have to know all of the parts of that sentence??”   The best answer here has to do with learning things in depth, not just to the shallow “good enough” level that we can get away with it. The drastic simplification of all communication over the last century, even formal writing, should concern us. If we don’t even have the capacity to comprehend the deeper nuts and bolts of language, we’ll be short-changing our children and ourselves by a deprivation of the true power and beauty of one of humanity’s most fundamental and crucial skills. By your logic above, a grunt or belch is good enough if it gets a point across. This complaint is slightly related to the frequent question English teachers get about excessive “detail” in literature, which I recently discussed here.

“I think Grammar is old school, and is taught because it always has been taught.”  Why would you assume that? And why would that be a bad thing? Isn’t transmitting tradition a legitimate function of education? Hasn’t our heritage been good to us? Might it be a mistake to just chuck out anything that we no longer find easy to enjoy?

“We need to think outside the box, and open our mind to teaching important things in schools, not just busy work.” Aren’t these just clichés? Continue reading

Quietus

I just realized why those radio ads for Quietus are so disturbing. They’re selling a cure for ringing ears, but they must not have known that the name had already been used. In Children of Men, a dystopian novel about global infertility, Quietus is what they call mass suicides by drowning. Next time I hear an ad for “final relief from all the pain and noise,” I’ll just laugh…

Me, Jim Rogers, and the New Superintendent

So I got a phone call from mutli-millionaire media mogul Jim Rogers yesterday.  He wanted to talk about the upcoming superintendent vacancy in our school district. 

I’ve been trying to get good ideas out there about the future of education around here, but not with much success.  I spoke at the school board meeting a few weeks ago, as I mentioned here (and video is now available at our school district web site; my segment is only two minutes near the very end of a very long meeting—I’m the fellow in the gray jacket, glasses, and Shakespeare tie). 

I’ve also put comments on a couple of newspaper articles online about the imminent search for a new super, and while those have generated some traffic for my blog, hardly anybody has actually shown public support by joining my Facebook group.  I can only surmise that even fewer have contacted the school board directly or will do so.  Too many of us, it seems, are comfortable enough with rampant failure that supporting a reformer is unattractive. 

After another article about it in the paper this morning, though, someone left a comment promoting me for the job.  That was nice to see—I didn’t leave the comment. 

After I spoke at the school board meeting two weeks ago, another man spoke, offering a petition with over 3000 names asking that Jim Rogers become the next super.  I read in the newspaper that weekend that Rogers, who had recently finished a controversial but productive period as chancellor of the state’s board of higher education, would consider doing it, and for free. 

I don’t know anything about Rogers’s politics or ideas for the superintendent job, but I do know that he speaks his mind and isn’t afraid of being unpopular or offending people.  He would do what he thinks is needed to fix things, not just maintain a broken status quo to further his own interests.  I respect that.

So I sent him a letter saying so, and included my list of ideas for the school district to consider.  I couldn’t find any contact information online, but I knew his biggest claim to fame is that he owns the local NBC affiliate and keeps a regular office there, so that’s where I sent my letter. 

He called my house yesterday morning and asked for me.  My wife answered the phone and said I wasn’t there.  Rogers introduced himself and asked her to thank me for my letter.  He said that he received it and that he “would see what I can do.”  That was it, but the fact that such a powerful person would call me just to acknowledge a letter was still pretty impressive.  To the best of my knowledge, that’s the first time a famous millionaire has ever called me.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens from here.

My Ten Most Influential Books

After reading this great post about the ten books that most influenced an author over at First Thoughts (one of my favorite blogs) a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on my own list.  The list changed drastically over a few drafts, and I’ve been surprised by the final results.

These are not necessarily my favorite books (though many of them are), nor are they what I’d consider the best books I’ve read (though, again, some of them are).  These are the books that have most contributed to who I am today.  For better or for worse, these are the ones that stuck with me, changed me, that left some deep imprint impossible to explain me now without. 

The only caveat here is that I decided not to include any scripture on this list.  For it to be accurate, they should be on here, but I ran into too many problems.  Should I count them all as one monolithic book called “Scripture,” separate them into Standard Works, or separate them even further into individual texts by author?  The more I broke them down, the more I had to wrangle with how to rank them.  It got too thorny, and I just decided to ignore that altogether for this list.

The original list at First Thoughts, along with many of the comments afterwards, cheated by doubling up on books and squeezing more than ten onto these “top ten” lists.  This draft has significantly fewer than my first couple, but I’ve still elected to cheat, also.  My top ten list has twelve titles.  If you really want to be a purist, cut off the last two. 

I’ve listed them here roughly in order of just how much they’ve shaped me, and I’ve included the general period in my life when I read them. 

1.  Hugh Nibley, Nibley On the Timely and the Timeless (college).  This isn’t my favorite Nibley book (his Book of Mormon works or Approaching Zion would probably get that nod), but this “greatest hits” collection deeply impressed me at the time with its range of classical literacy to social criticism to studious, spiritual discipleship.  It was the first Nibley book I read cover to cover, and started me on the path to the rest of his oeuvre.  The way that I read scripture, study history, and understand the practical relations between things ancient, esoteric, and pragmatically modern are all heavily influenced by his life and work (though, since reading his biography–which I took with me to read on my honeymoon because it had just come out and I couldn’t wait to start it–I have attenuated this idolizing a bit and tried to expand my circle of influence).  Undeniably, his books have had more of a profound effect on me than any other.  I bought an old copy from E-bay several years ago…right before it was reprinted in a new edition.

2.  Hopkins and Sugerman, No One Here Gets Out Alive (high school).  I owe this one to my older brother.  Like all boys, I worshipped my older brother, so when I was old enough to emulate his adoration of classic rock, I followed suit.  I came across this biography of Doors frontman Jim Morrison and devoured it.  For a moody, pretentious adolescent, it provided a role model worthy of my own egomaniacal imagination.  This book’s influence reached far beyond my devoted memorizing of every note on the legendary Best of the Doors two CD set.  Even back then, I would read biographies with an eye especially keen for what great people had done at my age.  Morrison had been, above all, a voracious, even a ferocious, reader, and a nascent poet. 

My own forays into poetry reading and writing were not terribly productive (though I still like The Lords and the New Creatures), the titles and authors cited by Hopkins and Sugerman as formative on Morrison–James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, the Romantics and French Symbolists–became my bread and butter for years, and sprouted branches of further influence that still dominate what I read today.  Though I certainly no longer emulate Morrison or his lifestyle, I can’t deny that this book has had a huge impact on me over the years.  Just last week I was flipping through radio stations and heard “L.A. Woman,” and I fondly paused to listen to some of it.  This book may be dormant, but it is in my DNA.  Continue reading

My Speech To The School Board

This what I said to the Clark County School Board at last night’s public meeting:

My name is Jamie Huston and I am here to ask you to let me serve as the next superintendent of our school district.  I was raised here myself and have two children in school now, with a third starting next year.  Like all of you, I have a great interest in the success of  our school district. 

But to solve our problems in student achievement and budgeting, we need to return to common sense.

As superintendent, I will vastly scale back the elephant in the room of this budget crisis, the rampant bureaucracy in our school district.  I will champion teachers and administrators in more effectively handling discipline.  I will end all the insidious ways that low expectations have crept into out policies and have hurt student achievement.

Some have told me that it’s tilting at windmills for a teacher to campaign for superintendent, but this is a chance to show our children that we have the courage and integrity to do what’s best.  We can select a new leader based on merit, not any other criteria.  If the American political ideal is a citizen legislator, then the educational ideal is a teacher-superintendent.

I have here for each of you a folder that better introduces me, including some of my ideas for fixing the budget and improving academic achievement [the folder included my resumé and my list of 21 ideas], and to show how serious I am about fixing the budget and serving our community, I’ll state publicly that I will perform my duties as superintendent for the same salary that I make as a teacher.  Thank you. 

 

It’s hard to say exactly how the speech was received.  Continue reading

Focus and Philosophy of Teaching

For an award I tried out for a couple of months ago, I had to begin my application binder with a short essay about my “focus and philosophy of teaching.”  I didn’t get the award, but I still like what I put together for it.  Here’s what I wrote for this section:

        I.            The best teacher is a trusted mentor, and I strive to become such for my students.  This means that I establish a comfortable rapport, which I do by the same method used for creating relevance and interest in my curriculum: by utilizing students’ prior knowledge and interests of their cultural milieu and introducing material (and myself) accordingly.  This is consistently brought to my attention as one of the most effective things I do for students; their understanding of, respect for, and recollection of class learning and skills are greatly augmented by it. 

      II.            By no means, however, does this mean that I water down content or lower expectations for student work.  (Indeed, if my personable class atmosphere is the first thing that most students seem to remember about my classes, the strenuous work load comes in a close second.) Rather, I use our amiable relationship as a way to elicit greater effort from students—more diligence and attentiveness to their work, greater care for its quality, and a commitment to read, write, study, and think more.  As a mentor teacher, I begin by modeling these things myself, discussing with students what I’ve been reading, conferencing with them in person and via email regarding their writing for class and giving genuine feedback, and leading my classes with the tenor of one who is comfortable acting casually, but only because he is holding himself to exacting intellectual standards, and who is requiring the same from those whose minds are in his care.  As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I inspire desire.

    Continue reading

More General Conference Talks About Improving Parenting

Yesterday, I noted that five talks in this General Conference were about being more involved parents, and that I suspected today would be an extension of that.  There were another five talks today that were predominantly on this subject (though some others mentioned it briefly).  These were the talks by Cheryl Lant (three guidelines for spiritually raising children well), Robert D. Hales (ministering to youth), Bradley D. Foster (the importance and influence of mothers), Francisco J. Viñas (helping family and others to be spiritually born again), and Neil L. Andersen (parents must tell their children stories about Jesus).  Elder Andersen even joked at the beginning of his talk about how he’d been listening during Conference for how much of his talk had already been given by others!

While this Conference also continued the huge theme from last October’s Conference about developing stronger personal revelation by the Spirit (such as in the talk by Julie B. Beck), another impressive surprise this weekend was that Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve Apostles and James B. Martino of the Seventy gave very similar talks: each gave a list of characteristics to be emulated, exemplified by the Savior during the last few days of His mortal life. 

This certainly gives me some clear aspects of life to focus on for the next six months…

Two Great Resources On The Atonement

During this morning’s session of General Conference, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Twelve Apostles spoke about applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ in our lives and improving our understanding of it; he said near the end of his talk that we should all “establish a personal study plan to better understand that Atonement.” 

Two things that I’ve read came quickly to mind.  The first is the chapter called “Atonement” from Jeffrey R. Holland’s book, Christ and the New Covenant, which is one of the best books on the Book of Mormon that I’ve ever read.  This one chapter is about 50 pages long, and is a supremely comprehensive yet readable analysis of what the Book of Mormon teaches about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.  Sadly, this work isn’t available online, but it’s available fairly cheaply from Amazon

The other thing I’d recommend is the last chapter of Hugh Nibley’s book, Approaching Zion, called, “The Meaning of the Atonement.”  This is available online here, and explores the symbolism and spiritual significance of the Atonement, from multiple perspectives. 

I’ll read through both of these as soon as possible as a start, and see where my study can go from there.