Literacy Victories!

One of the best things I get to be part of as a teacher is introducing young people to great books they love. Granted, 99% of what I do in this department falls on deaf ears, but those glorious moments of success–few and far between though they are–really do make it all worth it.

Here are a few recent ones:

Last semester for a book project, one girl chose to read The Handmaid’s Tale from a list of options I gave. She loved it and, when they all had to do presentations on their books, she was overjoyed to learn that it’s being made into a series on Hulu.

Cormac McCarthy is always a safe bet. I often recommend his books to students, and they tend to love him. So many kids read his various books last semester that some classes had spontaneous compare/contrast discussions where they picked up on stylistic and thematic trends across his works. They did this on their own.

Earlier this month I had classes take notes on a documentary about Moby Dick. At the end of class when they turned their notes in, one girl was so excited about it that she had already put the ebook on her phone and said that she’d start reading it that weekend. This wasn’t assigned–she just wanted to read Moby Dick on her own. For fun.

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Nationalist Entitlement

A headline at Breitbart this week says, “Danes Should Not Become The Minority In Denmark.” A resolution just passed in their parliament to that effect. The article contains some predictably anti-immigrant sentiment.

So I looked up the birth rate in Denmark. It’s 1.7. Remember, 2.1 is considered steady, to keep the next generation the same size as the current population. Denmark has been below 2.1 since 1968. That’s nearly half a century.

I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to preserve “their” people–though to make it an issue of “us vs. them” is needlessly odious–since the loss of any ethnicity is tragic, but it bugs me when people say they want to preserve their culture…without ever doing what’s necessary to save that culture.

Nobody has a right to automatic cultural conservation. There’s hard work involved, and history teaches us exactly what that hard work is. It starts with creating a next generation. You can’t transmit your culture to children you didn’t have.

So don’t be surprised when others come in and that culture changes. Nature abhors a vacuum. Neither Denmark nor any society in a similar situation has a right to complain.

Notes and Quotes: December 2016

My online reading since last May in a nutshell. Note: Apologies and thanks to the fantastic Prufrock daily newsletter, which I’ve enjoyed for years now, and from which much of this content is taken. I can’t recommend subscribing to it highly enough!

*Arts & Entertainment*

“We made this guy listen to all 104 Haydn symphonies and put them in order of greatness”

The problem with contemporary art is that unlike modernism it “‘isn’t even contemptuous of old standards—it is wholly indifferent to them . . . . Sincerity, formal rigor and cohesion, the quest for truth, the sacred and the transcendental—none of these is on the radar among the artists and critics who rule the contemporary scene.’ Instead, Identitarians are obsessed with ‘a set of all-purpose formulas about race, gender, class, and sexuality on the one hand and power and privilege on the other.’”

J. M. W. Turner was ambitious and talented. He was also difficult: “A barber’s son, he rose through the class-bound ranks of late 18th- and early 19th-century Britain to become the nation’s most celebrated and controversial painter. And yet he ended life in scandal, living with a secret mistress under the assumed identity of a sea captain.”

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Shared Universes

Sometimes I wonder if very different stories might inhabit the same shared universe. It’s stylish now to pontificate about the wonders of a “Whedon-verse,” where all the films of Joss Whedon happen in the same fictional universe, or ditto for the movies of some other director, or the books of some writer…but what about different kinds of stories, ones that have nothing at all in common? Just imagine them happening at various times and places in the same world–no crossover, just independent living.

Bambi and A Walk to Remember and Blade Runner could all exist in the same world, in that chronological order–the talking animal fantasy could occur, and then decades later the romantic tragedy, and then decades later that same world could be a science-fiction dystopia. Why not? Or The Evil Dead and Fatal Attraction and Honey I Shrunk The Kids at more or less the same time. The world’s a great big crazy place.

Of course, not all universes are compatible. You can’t have a global apocalypse coexisting with a fluffy rom-com. No War of the Worlds happening with The 40-Year-Old Virgin in the same 2005. It’s not reasonable to suppose that the latter happened without any reference to the former, if they were occurring together.

Star Wars would be just fine paired with almost anything. Whether “a long time ago” refers to the time of Braveheart or to the time of Spartacus or to the time of The Flintstones, Earth could have gone about its merry little way as the Rebellion stood up to the Empire in a galaxy far, far away.

Try to challenge your imagination and figure out the most extreme set of seemingly disparate stories that could actually inhabit the same fictional universe. They’re incongruous, but not mutually exclusive. What do you come up with?

 

Notes and Quotes, July 2016

As always, these are things that have caught my eye and stuck with me over the last few months.

*ARTS*

What are the most rock and roll sounding classical pieces?

Shakespeare in Art

The 40 Most Intriguing Musicians of 2016

 

 

*EDUCATION*

Advice For the Untenured Conservative Humanist: Some good advice and examples here

6 Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full of Crap

 

*HUMOR*

The Onion: College Encourages Lively Exchange Of Idea: Students, Faculty Invited To Freely Express Single Viewpoint

Are You Planning A Cake Hoax? These 5 Tips Will Make Sure It’s A Success

 

*LANGUAGE & LITERATURE*

Aeneid book VI translated by Seamus Heaney

The history of English can be explained in five words

The Burning Ladder: a poem by Dana Gioia

The Secret History of One Hundred Years of Solitude

 

*LIVING WELL*

Photographs of 1870s London

10 Incredible Hikes Under 5 Miles Everyone In Nevada Should Take

30 Most Colorful Cities Around the World

North Las Vegas jogging routes

46 photos of life at a Japanese internment camp, taken by Ansel Adams

The 25 Golden Rules of Running

Interview with The Iron Cowboy

Abe Blair Photography

I really want to stay at the Wild Rose Inn in Genoa, Nevada

A Patriotic Wish,” by Edgar A. Guest

32 Legitimate Ways to Make Money at Home

Donna Torres photography of Yellowstone

Alessio Andreani photography

The Top 10 Best “Top 10 Best Lists of 2015” of 2015

 

*POLITICS & SOCIETY*

I reflected at the lack of big families now and the derision that many people have for tight-knit families in general. Our society is now a culture of drifters who move place to place who seek solace in their hipster lifestyle and sense of social justice. Their sense of outrage is often a substitute for family or religion or both. There is less sense of community and human compassion for individuals now.

–Dr. Helen, “Love” — read the whole thing!

Jeannie Suk on transgender bathrooms

The Road to Serfdom in cartoons

Move over LGBTQ, the new acronym is LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM (No, this is not a joke)

The Culture War In One Graph: good discussion of values

And then there’s leftist religions.

Like a zealot or religious fanatic, leftist fanatics worship and use their made-up religions to fill the hole of nothingness that is otherwise known as their life.  This is why you NEVER see the captain of the football team with a 3.8GPA join the “anarchist/marxist/minarchist” trench-coat wearing, movie-theater-shooting, nerd crowd.  Or the studious Asian engineering major block the interstate near campus.  They have lives.  They have meaning.  They have purpose.  They have agency.  They have value to the rest of society.

But again, those things require work, effort, rigor, math, and intellectual honesty.

Ergo, why do all that hard stuff when you can just claim a religion?

You’re a feminist!
You’re going green!
You eat only organic/non-GMO/gluten-free/whateverthefrickthey’llcomeupwithnextweek!
You’re fighting racism!
You’re helping the poor!
You’re a pacifist!
You have a ADDHDHHDH Autism or Aspergers are bi-polar or whatever you want to tell yourself. 

You can claim allegiance to any one of an increasing number of bogus leftist religions and simply wear that trait on your sleeve like a badge of honor.  And the best thing about it, so AWESOME in fact that leftists masturbate to it, is…

you didn’t have to expend one calorie of energy on work to get it.  You simply “declared” you had this trait or believed this religion.  And now, not only does your worthless life have faux-worth.  You are a more intelligent, superior person to those troglodytes who don’t understand “intersectionality.”

–Captain Capitalism, “Traits Are No Substitute For Accomplishments” — read the whole thing! (And read Ed Driscoll’s expansion of the same)

WHY SCIENTISTS DISAGREE ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING

Let’s play the ‘blame Israel game’ with The New York Times

It’s dangerous and wrong to tell all children they’re ‘gender fluid

I was a transgender woman

When I recently asked a class of undergraduates at Oglethorpe University if any of them thought there were “no meaningful differences between men and women,” two female students raised their hands. When I pointed to the obvious reproductive differences between males and females, which give young women the unique ability to conceive and bear children, they looked at me as if I had committed an act of hurtful bigotry.

–“The Problem with Gender Studies

 

*RELIGION*

L. Tom Perry, “A Meaningful Celebration

Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord. To those without reason for optimism, it holds up the cross as a sign of hope. To anyone who does not win at life, it promises that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. At its center stands a truth that we are prone to forget. There are people who cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking. They need something more paradoxical and cruciform.

First Things

Reprioritizing Our Life toward Choosing the One Thing Necessary and the Better Part

To The Mom Who Is Exhausted, Depressed, and Completely Overwhelmed…5 Lessons from the Prophet Elijah

We Need to Gather to Zion Culturally

Defending the Faith: ‘From Darkness unto Light’ takes a fresh look at recovery, publication of the Book of Mormon

The Fake Flanders Bible

By1mwXIIMAAvSBeIt’s been more than 20 years since the episode of The Simpsons aired where Bart and Lisa have to play Bible Bombardment with the Flanders family, leading an exasperated Ned to demand of the Simpson children, “Don’t you know anything? The Serpent of Rehoboam? The Well of Zohassadar? The Bridal Feast of Beth Chadruharazzeb?”

I don’t recognize any of those references, so I finally decided to look them up, and…nothing. I can’t find them in the Bible anywhere. Clearly, Ned Flanders is such a serious scholar that he knows about secret parts of the text that the rest of us can’t find.

*sigh* This is even more disappointing than when I saw Pulp Fiction and went home to look up Ezekiel 25:17. Alas, it’s not even close to the real thing.

R.I.P. Trump

The word, of course, not the celebrity. It’s become appallingly clear that we can no longer use the verb “trump” literally, as in “My evidence trumps yours,” because of the taint associated with the name now. A sad loss. It was a great word.

I don’t expect it to be resurrected any time soon. Several years later, I still can’t refer to that darkening period at the end of the day–“twilight”–without students giggling. And don’t even try to address an issue by suggesting that it has “shades of gray.”

Wendi Adelson

A few days ago I was perusing headlines at Instapundit when I saw this one: “NEWS FROM FLORIDA: Wendi Adelson Discusses Her Ex-Husband Dan Markel’s Murder.” It took me a moment to remember where I knew that name from: 14 years ago, she and I were contestants on a TV game show called The Weakest Link.

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Notes and Quotes: April 2016

My biggest collection of links and excerpts ever!

*ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT*

“In my view there is nothing in opera – not even Don Giovanni or Cosi and certainly not the vulgar, strangulated hernia operas of the 19th century – that even comes near the greatness of Figaro which is a torrent of wit, melody and human sympathy….All great music is religious.”

Choral music not heard since era of Henry VIII has been played for first time in 500 years

 

 

*EDUCATION*

One Day In The Life Of An Urban Teacher

The concept of different “learning styles” is one of the greatest neuroscience myths

The elephant in the room: illiteracy.

Unmentionable, perhaps, but evident. Everyone knows that students read less and less, but few wish to speak of it. Professors in book-lined offices are prudish about uttering the I-word: To admit that our students are not fully literate undermines our sense of status and importance as professors. Administrators and departmental chairs seldom read course ­evaluation forms that state, “I found the course reading difficult because I am functionally illiterate.” Educational leaders are not commonly ­informed that reading a book from cover to cover is beyond the powers of many students.

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Coincidence or Commentary?

IMG_20151229_095131436

I picked up Saladin Ahmed’s fantasy novel Throne of the Crescent Moon from the library this week, having heard that it’s really original and well written. Most fantasy novels still take place in a fantasy version of medieval England, but this one is set in a fantasy version of the medieval Islamic world.

As soon as I opened it, though, I found this bookmark that some other reader had left in it. As you can see, the bookmark is an ad for a local Holocaust Resource Center.

I guess it could be a coincidence, but it’s not hard to see that there could be something behind it. A Jewish message placed inside an Islamic book? Seems like it might be supposed to say something political, but I’m not sure exactly what the message is. Who left it and why? There are no clues beyond what we see here.

Notes and Quotes: September 2015

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johansson Have an Older-Man Problem

Alien 3: The Lost Tale Of The Wooden Planet

The Noir-est of All the Film Noir Flicks

Why ‘Inside Out‘ Looks a Little Different in Japan [and] What’s on Captain America‘s To-Do List Across the Globe?

EDUCATION

Prior problem behavior accounts for the racial gap in school suspensions

If Reading Shakespeare is Hard for You, You Shouldn’t Be Teaching English

Still, I don’t mind her parading of her own ignorance or her rubbish about “the way it has ‘always been done’” nearly as much as I do her patronizing insistence that “students of color” are unlikely to get anything out of the plays. This was less an opinion piece than a plea for career counseling—clearly the author is not suited for her job.

Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature

It is really quite remarkable what happens when reading a great novel: By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else. The great realist novelists, from Jane Austen on, developed a technique for letting readers eavesdrop on the very process of a character’s thoughts and feelings as they are experienced. Readers watch heroes and heroines in the never-ending process of justifying themselves, deceiving themselves, arguing with themselves. That is something you cannot watch in real life, where we see others only from the outside and have to infer inner states from their behavior. But we live with Anna Karenina from within for hundreds of pages, and so we get the feel of what it is to be her. And we also learn what it is like to be each of the people with whom she interacts. In a quarrel, we experience from within what each person is perceiving and thinking. How misunderstandings or unintentional insults happen becomes clear. This is a form of novelistic wisdom taught by nothing else quite so well.

Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values, and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender, or personality type. Those broad categories turn out to be insufficient, precisely because they are general and experienced by each person differently; and we learn not only the general but also what it is to be a different specific person. By practice, we learn what it is like to perceive, experience, and evaluate the world in various ways. This is the very opposite of measuring people in terms of our values.

4 Things Transformational Teachers Do

Allowing productive struggle to occur, using artistic and scientific instruction, modeling symphonic thinking, and encouraging students to lean into constructivist problem solving can lead to the holy grail of transformational teaching: epiphany.

HUMOR

Parents Dedicate New College Safe Space In Honor Of Daughter Who Felt Weird In Class Once

Addressing students at the dedication ceremony, parents Arnold and Cassie Stigmore noted that while the college had adequate facilities to assist victims of discrimination, abuse, and post-traumatic stress, it had until now offered no comparable safe space for students, like their beloved daughter, who encounter an academic viewpoint that gives them an uncomfortable feeling.

New Magnet School Opens For Students With Interest In Receiving Competent Education

Several students told reporters they appreciate the new school’s highly original methodology, but conceded it may take a while to grow accustomed to the process of learning information and developing skills in a classroom setting.

LANGUAGE & LITERATURE

The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape

Eight years ago, in the coastal township of Shawbost on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis, I was given an extraordinary document. It was entitled “Some Lewis Moorland Terms: A Peat Glossary”, and it listed Gaelic words and phrases for aspects of the tawny moorland that fills Lewis’s interior. Reading the glossary, I was amazed by the compressive elegance of its lexis, and its capacity for fine discrimination: a caochan, for instance, is “a slender moor-stream obscured by vegetation such that it is virtually hidden from sight”, while a feadan is “a small stream running from a moorland loch”, and a fèith is “a fine vein-like watercourse running through peat, often dry in the summer”.

L’Engle’s Conservatism

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

‘The Wake’ Poses Readers a Novel Challenge

Would it be possible to write a book that contained only words that had existed in Old English? The answer was almost.

Mr. Kingsnorth invented what he calls a “shadow tongue”—a kind of middle ground between Old English and the language we use today. He ended up using mostly, though not exclusively, words that originated in Old English. He spelled them using the alphabet of 1066. That is, no “k,” “v,” “j” or “q.” And he used no capitalization or punctuation, save for a period every few sentences.

Then he wrote his whole novel in it.

Stephen King on novelists who arguably write too much

LIVING WELL

25 Life-Changing Style Charts Every Guy Needs Right Now

They do: The scholarly about-face on marriage

The Exquisite Role of Dark Matter

POLITICS & SOCIETY

The Browning of America

In days when people spoke more freely about such matters, dramatic change in the dominant population of the world’s dominant power would have been occasion for speculation and worry. About whether, for instance, as more of its citizens come from non-European backgrounds, the United States will change its idea of its cultural heritage. Or whether, considering the occasional tawdriness of whites’ behavior toward minorities in centuries past—displacing Indians, enslaving Africans, deporting Chinese—there is cause to worry about race relations once the shoe is on the other foot. Or whether European civilization, which from the time of Columbus to the time of Goodbye, Columbus, seemed to roll ever westward as if by a law of nature, is now beginning to ebb.

Milton Friedman puts a young Michael Moore (type) in his place:

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

In fact, gender dysphoria—the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex—belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychosocial conflicts provoking it. With youngsters, this is best done in family therapy.

The larger issue is the meme itself. The idea that one’s sex is fluid and a matter open to choice runs unquestioned through our culture and is reflected everywhere in the media, the theater, the classroom, and in many medical clinics. It has taken on cult-like features: its own special lingo, internet chat rooms providing slick answers to new recruits, and clubs for easy access to dresses and styles supporting the sex change. It is doing much damage to families, adolescents, and children and should be confronted as an opinion without biological foundation wherever it emerges.

The Irresponsibility of Celebrating Transgender Children

This is the future that our new culture is proclaiming for troubled kids — a future of genitals that are like “wounds” and suicide rates that skyrocket beyond all reason, more than nineteen times that of the general population. After being put forward to the world as a transgender child celebrity, how free will Jazz Jennings be to pull back from the brink? In a world of red carpets, fame, and acclaim, who will tell Jazz the truth?

Symbolic Incoherence: Millennials and YOLO

Of Bicycles, Sex, & Natural Law

Natural law has not failed because it is an inadequate understanding of the realities of human life. Insofar as it has “failed,” this is the result of rebellion against the limited creaturely status of human beings on the part of the contemporary cultural elite, provoked by many factors, including, no doubt, a large dose of technological hubris. But there is no alternative to something like natural law, because, whether formulated well or poorly, it is simply a recognition of the reality of what men and women are and of their actual situation in this world. To the extent that the mechanistic, Darwinian understanding of the world is incompatible with natural law, it is both wrong and intrinsically immoral. There is no substitute for natural-law morality: in its basic form, it’s the only game in town.

Robert Conquest’s Three Laws of Politics

1. Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

12 Times Mass Shootings Were Stopped by Good Guys With Guns

Liberal mag Vox cancels article they asked a philosopher to write because it didn’t toe the party line closely enough.

RELIGION

The Limits of Gifts

The Church is renewing its emphasis on the Sabbath and on teaching children on that day. Children can’t make choices for the Kingdom unless they have experienced the Kingdom. Otherwise they would be like Hydarnes, knowing only half. There is a saying abroad that public schooling is child abuse. That saying exaggerates. But there is probably a religious equivalent. Leaving the holying of your children to the Church alone is parental neglect.

Great summary of a Book of Mormon wordprint study.

How to Read the Book of Mormon . . . S-L-O-W-L-Y

You might think that mining the same territory so closely so many times would result in eight people saying the same thing every day in our papers, but it doesn’t at all. Every day, when the other seminar participants present their findings, I think, “Wow. How could I have missed that connection?”

That’s how rich the text is.

….

The irony of this to me is that every time I have engaged in the hard work of burrowing deeply in the Book of Mormon, the center has always held: The book stands up to close scrutiny.

Notes and Quotes: March 2015

EDUCATION

The “learning styles” myth

Middle school reading lists 100 years ago

“Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One”

Occupy the Syllabus

The Last English Teacher

Economic truths about college

 

LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

“Why the World Still Loves Shakespeare

“Dust to Dust: At 75, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is less persuasive than ever”

Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy

Tom Stoppard: I have to dumb down jokes so the audience can understand

Quantifying Literature!

 

LIVING WELL

NASA: The largest picture ever taken

 

POLITICS AND SOCIETY

“97 Articles Refuting The ‘97% Consensus’ on global warming

“1350+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarmism

“The Absurdity of Gender Theory”

“An Open Letter from the Child of a Loving Gay Parent

“University bans use of ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ in all correspondence”

“Sorry, liberals, Scandinavian countries aren’t utopias

Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say

 

RELIGION

Explicating the Allegory of the Olive Tree

Bible

 

 

 

 

–From Read the Bible for Life

BoM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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