A few months ago a veteran teacher and administrator I know retired. When she left, she sent out a wonderful, long message to the staff, sharing a lot of experiences and feelings. I thought people might like to see some of these, so below is an edited version of that email. Impossible to read this and not respect good teachers:
Last night I learned about what might well be the most amazing historical story I’ve ever heard. I’ve been reading Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces which, among other things, has been teaching me a lot about the great stories of history that inspired many artists (such as the fascinating story of Judith and Holofernes, which I’d also never heard before, but which was the basis for several of the paintings I’ve seen so far).
By far the best story I’ve come across in this book is the one behind Theodore Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa (pictured at left). After seeing this brilliant but disturbing work and reading Sister Wendy’s background text, I looked up some more of the facts behind it. It’s…shocking. Breathtaking. Scary. Unbelievable. Straight from the pages of history, it’s a better story than Titanic and Apollo 13 combined. It reminds me a little of the tragedy of the Russian submarine Kursk, but this one is far worse.
Here’s the basic story, cut down from Wikipedia. Wow. Just…wow.
On 17 June 1816, a convoy under the command of De Chaumareys on Méduse departed Rochefort…. The Méduse, armed en flûte, carried passengers, including the appointed French governor of Senegal, Colonel Julien-Désire Schmaltz, and his wife Reine Schmaltz. The Méduse’s complement totaled 400, including 160 crew. She reached Madeira on 27 June.
Chaumareys had decided to involve one of the passengers, Richefort, in the navigation of the frigate. Richefort was a philosopher and a member of the Philanthropic Society of Cape Verde, but had no qualification to guide ships….
I just added a note to the right sidebar of “links to Gently Hew Stone.” Ardis at Keepapitchinin has included me in her collection of interesting links again, bringing her total of recommendations of me to five, making her by far my most frequent sponsor. I’ve enjoyed tons of hits from visitors directed from Ardis.
It’s a foregone conclusion that most, if not all, of my readers are familiar with Keepapitchinin. In case not, it’s a smorgasbord of writings from throughout Mormon history that show what our culture used to be like. Ardis is a terrific historian who finds old journals and periodicals and mines them for everything from jokes to embarrassing mistakes to inspiring ideas that we’ve forgotten. Her blog constitutes the Latter-day Saints’ most varied, reliable, and useful mirror of its face today and window into its past.
So why in the world is she deigning to bestow her grace upon this blog? Near as I can tell, all we have in common is that we’re carbon-based life forms who happen to be Mormon and who have roots in Southern Nevada.
Perhaps Ardis wants to encourage the growth of smaller, needy blogs. Maybe she is using the power accumulated by her work to foster the development of less fortunate writers. Struggling artists in the Renaissance had the Medici family; I have Ardis.
Well, then, I lament that I do not have a great artistic achievement to offer as a tribute to my patron’s honor, but I do have something that might tickle her fancy and offer an appropriate thank you: in 2002, I was called as ward librarian for the Lindell and Sahara chapel here in Vegas (I’m still the only male ward librarian I’ve ever heard of). Ours was the only ward in the building at the time, and I was given marching orders by the bishop to organize or clean out decades of outdated, unused materials. I took to the task with aplomb. Below is a list from my journal, only partially recording some of the gems I came across in the drawers, shelves, and cabinets of that old chapel’s Amazonian jungle collection:
- building blueprints
- two lb. barbell
- orange plush pumpkin
- service log for unspecified equipment, last entry dated 7/93
- office supply store catalog, 1986
- Primary flannel boards and records (45s), dated 1963-1969
- ten pair of left handed scissors, all in original packaging, priced 49¢ each
- Relief Society cultural refinement kit, 1978
- cassette recorder stiil in box, with K-Mart price tag, $25
- one copy of paperback self help book, Waiting…, apparently for girls whose boyfriends were on missions, 1981
- Ensign index, 1981-1985
- Portrait of First Presidency and Twelve Apostles, under Joseph Fielding Smith
- And my favorite: two cardboard covered wagons (presumably made in Primary) made with menus from the Sands casino. Menus dated 1959.
I’ve long been blessed by the good people over at www.refdesk.com. I’ve used their links to test prep sites as quick warm up activities in my classes, I’ve used their clearinghouse of crossword puzzle links for amusement, and I’ve gotten more than one fun family activity out of their collection of daily photography, especially the Astronomy Picture of the Day.
But today takes the cake. Today they proved that they’re worth their weight in gold. (Er, if they had weight, which they don’t, because they’re an ethereal, incorporeal Internet site. But if they did have weight, it would be substantial, like a herd of elephants carrying lead boulders.)
Today I noticed their “Article of the Day,” which was about a man named Michael Malloy. This is one of those true stories that makes me gape in wonder and ask, how in the world did I make it into my fourth decade before ever hearing about this?
Four acquaintances took out insurance policies on the poor drunken Malloy and then tried to kill him. But he proved bizarrely durable:
Marino owned a speakeasy, and gave Malloy unlimited credit, thinking it would soon put an end to him. Although Malloy drank for a majority of his waking day, which would kill an average man, it didn’t. To remedy this, Antifreeze, a deadly poison, was substituted for liquor, but still Malloy would drink until he passed out, wake up, and come back for more. Antifreeze was substituted with turpentine, followed by horse liniment, and finally mixed in rat poison. Still Malloy flourished….Then came a sandwich of soiled sardines, carpet tacks, and metal shavings…
There’s more, and it gets better. Definitely go read the whole thing.
I read William J. Bennett’s Book of Virtues to my children once. Well, by “once,” I mean for a year and a half, but it was worth it. As we read, I was intrigued by how much I was learning: I started the project to help my children develop character with good literature, but I had no idea that this collection could form the rudiments of a decent liberal education.
Bennett’s anthology presents an assortment of world literature that ranges deep and wide, giving us the greatest hits of history better than any of the college texts with which I’ve worked, and it plainly shows how morally didactic the classics are. I read something that referred to this book as an arrogant attempt to indoctrinate people with right-wing beliefs. Really? Where does Bennett twist a text to mean anything other than that for which it was clearly intended? Which of the virtues in here are peculiar to conservatives? Honesty? Patriotism? Faith? (Now, now, no cheap shots. Although, I would defy any socialist liberal to write a similar book that made such extensive use of classics to promote, say, the social and governmental experiments that their philosophy favors.)
As I read The Book of Virtues, I saw so many wonderful works that I’d never read or even heard of before (The Athenian Oath, the story of Cincinnatus, the funeral oration of Pericles, Roosevelt’s speech on “The Strenuous Life,” etc.) that painted such a glorious picture of our civilizational heritage, that I wanted to organize them into a timeline for use in instructing my children (I had also just read The Well-Trained Mind and loved it, hence my list’s preponderance of important texts). Bennett’s thematic chapters were appropriate for his purpose, but I wanted a way to use the text for a more academic setting.
As I made a list putting my favorite items in chronological order, I rounded it out with other historical events I deemed worthy for my children to study, including major historical events narrated in the scriptures. I also added some family events, such as the birthdays of my wife and I, and our children, though I deleted those from the copy below. For your entertainment and edification, here it is. (If I ever have a ton of time to kill, I’d reformat this with links to all these texts online.) References to page numbers in italics are to Bennett’s Book of Virtues; underlined references are to scripture:
5,000,000,000 BC Earth formed Moses 2, Abraham 4
64,000,000 BC Dinosaurs extinct
9000 BC Ice Age ends
2925 BC Egypt—Menes, first king of the 1st Egyptian Dynasty, Memphis
2570 BC Egypt—Great Pyramid of Cheops
2500 BC Egypt—Sphinx built to guard Great Pyramid
2300 BC Ur—Abraham Genesis 11-25, Book of Abraham
2000 BC Sumeria—Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s oldest story
1780 BC Babylonian text, Code of Hammurabi, world’s first written law
1500 BC England—Stonehenge completed after hundreds of years of building and use
1410 BC Egypt—Joseph interprets dreams (for Pharaoh Thutmose IV?) Genesis 40-41
1325 BC Egypt—Tutankhamen (King Tut)
1290-1224 BC Egypt—Ramses II, see Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” page 68.