On Teaching Writing Vs. Teaching Literature

A couple of notable essays have appeared recently about focusing on teaching writing, as opposed to literature.  Here are a few money quotes, starting with the original piece in Salon:

It’s hard to blame anyone for not wanting to teach writing, which, while it might not involve manual labor or public floggings, is hard, grueling work. Often it demands maximum effort for minimum payoff, headache-inducing attention to detail, wheelbarrows full of grading, revision after revision, conferences with teary-eyed students. Who wouldn’t prefer to talk about books or stories or poems? Problem is, the hard, grueling work to be done doesn’t go away. Ask any college composition teacher.

 A reaction from another teacher, quoted at Instapundit:

Teenagers, already a cauldron of emotions, rather enjoy boiling over onto paper, as long as authenticity trumps accuracy or analysis. They “reflect” all the time, mostly on their cell phones in indecipherable shorthand. Building, supporting, and defending a thesis – that’s much less fun. Teaching them to how do it, and grading the results, is much harder work as well.

Others have chimed in, but you get the idea: teaching literature is fun and easy, whereas teaching writing is painful. 

It’s absolutely true.  Continue reading


Utterly and Completely Shameless Plug for a New Project

With one of my first posts here, I linked to a mysterious blog named “mormonocalypse”. A blog with no posts, that I registered only so that I could become a guest editor here at Gently Hew Stone as I previously had never used WordPress.

Well, for those that have waited for something to be posted there and have checked back anxiously daily (according to site stats, approximately zero, give or take zero) it has launched, albeit very softly. Mormonocalypse is “a blog about everything, with just a hint of Mormon.” At least, that’s the crappy tagline I’ve given it until I can come up with something better.

I could have done something classy, like talked to Huston before I shamelessly plugged my site, but I decided to forego class and just try to catch a few people surfing for something different before Sacrament Meeting tomorrow (oops, later today).

Please check it out and leave some feedback. I’m going to continue posting original material here, and I promise I won’t just lazily repost things from mormonocalypse. I can assure you they will be lazily original. And likely fueled by Mountain Dew binge drinking.

Check it out here.

How Do You Like the Theme to Garry’s Show?

Maybe because it’s Friday, maybe because it’s the start of a big three-day weekend, but I have to balance out the chipper post about Mozart with this one.

Remember the surreal 1980’s sensation, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show?  Man, I loved that as a kid.  Even though Jerry Seinfeld’s show would become far more popular, Shandling’s was first, and actually even more of an experimental show about nothing.  But far beyond being ironic and humorously angsty, it broke more TV conventions in more ways than anything else had, before or since. 

And, of course, the best part was the theme song, a textbook exercise in meta-fiction and doggerel, but boy was it catchy.  Just try getting it out of your head for the rest of the weekend. 

Parenting 101

During the year I spent working as a school counselor, I wanted to put a sign on the door of my office that said, “Parents: you are not doing your children a favor by excusing them from the natural consequences of their choices.”  That sign would have cut my work load–and stress–in half.  I’ve been thinking about that sign a lot as this school year winds down.

Recommended Listening: Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade, Mvt. 8

Several years ago, I picked up a CD called Mozart for the Morning Commute, which as its subtitle claims, really is “a lively bit of traveling music.”  Each piece selected for this anthology is marked “allegro” or “rondo,” meaning that they’re all pretty catchy, having quick tempos and repeating, almost pop-like themes. 

Though this disc seems to be out of print, plenty of copies, both used and new, are available through usual online sellers, including individual tracks for download.  My favorite by far–one that I can just listen to over and over again–is track seven, the 8th movement of Mozart’s Serenade no. 7, named for the Haffner family that commissioned it for a wedding.  It’s a perfect example of what this collection was meant to capture: one can hardly listen to it without thinking of movement.  Its almost childlike in its simple exuberance, the sound of kids skipping through a sunny meadow in June. 

Unfortunately,I couldn’t find a clip of the exact version on this disc to use here, but the one below is pretty close: it really picks up at around 2:20, with the theme–which could rival the hook of any top 40 chorus–coming in first at 3:50.

The Educational Rapture

From the Holy Book of Teacheriah, an Epistle to the Unionians, chapter 5, verses 5-10:

5  And in that great and last day, there shall be a famine of public-sector budgets in the land, and the houses of learning shall be in mighty want;

6  And there shall arise many great heroes, like unto the saints of old, who shall go forth armed with self righteous power to do battle with the Anti-Nice, that fiend who fails to respond to demands for funding, and his legion of dragons, the Fiscally Conservative Beast;

7  But lo, and verily, those Holy Activists, clothed with authority by virtue of their indignation, shall cleanse the lepers and raise the dead, and they shall multiply the few scant dollars in the treasury to become many millions, that thus the ancient bureaucracy may continue to thrive;

Continue reading

Political Action: A Plea for Education

I have to admit, this is an emotional rather than logical plea, but it is my way of yelling into the void to see if someone will listen. This is part of a campaign spearheaded by my friend Mark Jimenez and the group Nevadans for Funding Education. I’m extremely curious as to what its reception will be here. I’ve been sick for two days, so I will attribute any fallacies to the 2 ton elephant standing on my chest…(editor’s note: DANG IT, caught a typo AFTER I fired this bad boy off to the gov and representatives. Darn you writing in a web browser!)

I’m going to cut to the chase. By not properly funding education, the legislators of our state are cutting off the metaphorical nose of Nevada to spite its face. “The system is broken!” is a popular refrain, and teachers are routinely made the scapegoats in the current education climate. People say “You can’t throw money at the problem!”, to which I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not saying we should throw good money after bad.

I’m saying, let’s not decimate what there is when we are already hurting.

The costs of cutting education in such a draconian and callous fashion may temporarily ease the budget crisis in Nevada, but the rise in foreclosures among educators, the flight of quality educators either to other states or other industries, inand Nevada’s complete inability to lure new educators to the state will result in costs that will not be as easily discerned as the all powerful bottom line. I haven’t even mentioned the students which will feel the brunt of these cuts both through the attrition of educators, and frustration of those that survive this fiscal bloodbath.

Stop heeding the call of special interests and lobbyists which are no doubt influencing our current policy, and dig deep to find REAL, sustainable solutions to what are some of the greatest challenges the great state of Nevada has ever faced. I crossed party lines to vote for this governor and many local and state representatives this past election. Please don’t turn your back on me and my fellow educators now in this crucial hour.

The future of our state rests in your hands. Please make the right decision.

The Secret, Hidden, True Origin of the Book of Mormon

An anagram is a word or phrase composed of rearranged letters from another word or phrase. 

I noticed this week that Book of Mormon is an anagram for Book From Moon

Yes.  I knew it all along.  That explains everything.  Anagrams don’t lie, people.

Stupid Rapture!: On Mocking the Beliefs of Others

Do you have your post up on facebook yet mocking R-day? I do. I wrote it last night. I have to admit, I stole it from another staff member and modified it, but I do think it’s rather clever:

Lesson plan for Monday (written on board): Mr. Hendricks was raptured. All students who were not and are not currently burning/suffering, please read pages…

Of course today there are about 100,000,000 status updates regarding the end of days, fire insurance, not being able to wait for all the looting, etc. As I perused many clever (and not so clever) updates, I couldn’t help but feel just a little bad for what I myself had written.

I don’t know much beyond a couple of media snippets about the groups that are trying to push today as the day that flaming Armageddon will rain down on sinners and apostates, but CNN’s coverage of them is beyond incredulous. The only thing they’re missing is a “Countdown to Nothing” widget on their homepage. The opinion of the general public ranges from ambivalence to extreme condescension. Do I believe that today is the day that all those guys with the “The End Is Nigh” and “John 3:16” signs in Ghostbusters was talking about? No. But do we have to go out of our way to mock what seems like the outlandish beliefs of others?

I say this, because only a couple of weeks ago, Google was all a twitter with the news that “The Book of Mormon” was nominated for what could be a record number of Tonys should they take home every award. Trey Parker and Matt Stone (yup, the South Park guys) have put together this little ditty, and if their track record for sacred cow takedowns holds true, I’ll bet Mormons come out looking really, really stupid.

My only question is, will we be quite so glib if the day after the Tony awards, critics have things to say like “The Book of Mormon is hard to believe as a sacred text, but boy, does it make a GREAT musical!”

School District Employee Writing FAIL

So, since it seems yours truly won’t be picked up for a regular summer school job this year, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks planning what else to do.  I emailed the substitute teaching department of my school district to inquire about subbing opportunities for summer school.  I fully expected to get a reply along the lines of, “That pool is full; we’re not currently accepting any new subs,” which would be understandable, but it couldn’t hurt to try. 

What I didn’t expect was to get a reply that managed to fit more writing errors into a single, fragmented sentence than your average remedial underclassman could if he tried.  I’m providing a screen shot of the email, because I think that if I just typed it, you wouldn’t believe that someone employed by a school district wrote it.  My original message is quoted in gray; the answer from the office is above it. 

My big question now: why are scores of my teacher friends being booted out of their classrooms when who knows how many anonymous, illiterate drones are taking up space in some cubicle somewhere?

Reviewed: “Weird Al” Yankovic’s New Children’s Book

A true story. Just like "UHF."

Celebrities writing books for children has already become a worn-out trend among our cultural elites, like rehab, or adopting kids from Africa.  However, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s just-released first book, When I Grow Up, succeeds despite any such baggage. 

Yankovic takes his signature zany humor–heavy on food jokes, non sequitur, and pop culture parody–and turns it into a cute story about a boy giving a show-and-tell presentation about what he wants to be when he grows up.  Like many great children’s classics (and Family Circle comics) it meanders from tangent to tangent, taking us on a silly tour of the author’s hyperactive but innovative imagination. 

It seems that any major children’s author who works in verse, as Yankovic does here, is bound to be measured against Dr. Seuss, especially when the story also involves whimsical fantasy.  Yes, they are in the same category: as an accomplished veteran of the music industry, Yankovic brings his decades of experience to create smooth cadences here, something that most other verse authors (and musicians) seem to struggle with. 

Something else that makes Yankovic unique: he reveled in nerdiness long before it was cool to do so, and his attention to technical detail shines here, meshing comfortably with invented craziness and fluid meters.  Continue reading

Centers For Disease Control = Future Zombie Chow

On the plus side, at least the federal government is finally taking the threat of an imminent zombie invasion seriously.  Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America’s last line of defense in a public health emergency, posted advice on their blog about preparing for the fearsome outbreak, not of some flesh-eating bacteria, but of flesh-eating reanimated monsters. 

Contagion, plague, and terrorist-spread chemical weapons are all legitimate areas of concern, sure, but I think we all understand that the gravest danger (get it?) facing our nation is a rampaging army of ravenous undead. 

Unfortunately, the CDC post is pure dreck:

“If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak. CDC would provide technical assistance to cities, states, or international partners dealing with a zombie infestation. This assistance might include consultation, lab testing and analysis, patient management and care, tracking of contacts, and infection control (including isolation and quarantine). It’s likely that an investigation of this scenario would seek to accomplish several goals: determine the cause of the illness, the source of the infection/virus/toxin, learn how it is transmitted and how readily it is spread, how to break the cycle of transmission and thus prevent further cases, and how patients can best be treated.”

Unless this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, purposely bad strategy, whoever wrote this is doomed.  Has the author ever actually seen a disaster movie?  The CDC lists all the typical mistakes that timid bureaucrats make in such scenarios, resorting to the comfort of their routines, desperately trying to maintain the status quo.

They might as well just get drunk and run upstairs in high heels after saying, “I’ll be right back.” Everybody knows you don’t calmly analyze an emerging zombie outbreak–the ones who survive will be the ones who react with pragmatic fight or flight instincts.

In the CDC’s own scenario, we’ll just end up with a slightly larger zombie horde, many of them wearing white lab coats.

A Video Introduction

As an educator, it’s sometimes difficult to get those young go-getters to be excited about your subject. If you are an elective teacher, if you don’t recruit, it means being stuck with huge sections of first year students that never really wanted your class to begin with. Our school had the unique idea to create elective commercials to try to generate buzz around our classes. I wanted to create one, but realized that the only thing I really had around the house was:

1) My son’s Batman mask
2) Joker facepaint from Halloween
3) Our digital video camera

I filmed this in one night, edited it after school in a day, and now I somehow teach broadcast. I present to you, “The Interrogation”.

And yes, that is my son punching me in the face.

Lisa Simpson on the State of Affairs in Washington

We’ve all felt this way, haven’t we? That tinge of pride during the national anthem, the sweet savor of apple pie, the feel of an UZI before a Saturday morning shooting outing with friends. In my opinion, few speeches so encapsulate that type of pride in our great country than this one, delivered by Lisa Simpson, in an episode of The Simpsons called “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington:

“When America was born on that hot July day in 1776, the trees in
Springfield Forest were tiny saplings, trembling towards the sun, and as
they were nourished by Mother Earth, so too did our fledgeling nation find
strength in the simple ideals of equality and justice. Who would have
thought such mighty oaks or such a powerful nation could grow out of
something so fragile, so pure. Thank you.”

When I read today that shortly after approving the Comcast takeover of NBC, one of the FCC commissioners that approved the takeover is now working at a peach of a job (as a Comcast lobbyist!!!!!) I felt that the speech Lisa shared later in the episode much more closely resembled the state of affairs in Washington today:

“The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago,
and very little has changed. It stank then, and it stinks now.
Only today, it is the fetid stench of corruption that hangs in the air.

[Bart: Cool, a ruckus!]

“And who did I see taking a bribe but the “Honorable” Bob Arnold! Don’t worry,
Congressman, I’m sure you can buy all the votes you need with your dirty
money! And this will be one nation, under the dollar, with liberty and
justice for none…”

Well said Lisa, well said…

(Information regarding the Comcast deal can be found here.)

Good News / Bad News

Yesterday, a local Realtor group released numbers about home sales here, but the two big local newspapers reported on it very differently.  It’s more than a matter of vague interpretation: one said that numbers went up, the other said that numbers went down. 

It’s not that either was wrong: the optimistic headline in the Review-Journal is about how April 2011’s home sales were better than home sales were a year ago, in April 2010.  The more pessimistic Sun story simply compares April 2011 to March 2011, which had higher sales.  Frankly, the Sun story seems more relevant: though comparing numbers to the same time last year might have merits, it also looks like a cheap way to selectively report what you want to see, even if it’s not the full truth.  Or maybe I’m just cynical.

Not that this is a big deal at all–I just thought it was funny to see two such contradictory reports at the same time about the same thing. 

Glass half full


Glass half empty