ETHOS

ETHOS

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Interest Journals

Started in 2005, these interest journals have evolved from a few notebooks with titles in Sharpie, to a shelf full of vibrant (I hope) topics. They are fun to get students writing on a Monday. I have written at least a page in all of them, so it's also a way for students to get to know me better, and vice versa. One of the challenges is to stay up on the reading. I used to read every journal, every time. Now, not so much. I award participation points and plan to have students write their name and the title of the journal they wrote in to help create accountability. As it is, I have two rules for interest journaling: 1) sign your name and date your entry 2) keep it school appropriate. Occasionally I have to deal with "graffiti"... essentially someone trolling someone else's entry, but this is much rarer than I would have thought. Often students enjoy hearing the voices of the past.







Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Current State of Illiteracy...

So, normally I don't let things like this bother me, but this time it's personal...they've brought books into it. Can you believe there are enough people in the world (mostly American, I'm sure) that are so eager to buy a book full of blank pages that said book has catapulted to the #1 bestseller in books on Amazon, and is currently out of stock? I understood when 1984 sold out on Amazon, but this baffles me.  According to the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, there are 32 million illiterate adults in the US, and, I'm guessing, most of them have ordered this book. But seriously, 21% of the adults in the US read below a 5th grade level. The US Department of Justice states that "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." Obviously, I think reading is important... I've dedicated my life to reading and writing. I guess that's why the success of a book filled with blank pages irks me so much. We are a country that touts its ignorance. I know it's supposed to be a joke, and a dig at Democrats, but it's scary to me how a book that has no words in it has better reviews than any of Hemingway's books. I feel the need to quote Isaac Asimov... he said, "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way though our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'" The cult is taking over, it seems. Well, at least they're currently taking over book sales on Amazon. There's so much that divides us in this country... the distribution of wealth, religious beliefs, race, opinions on healthcare... but there is perhaps no gap more concerning to me than the literacy gap. There seems to be very little a person can do to convince someone who his hell-bent on never opening a book to do so. A great America is an America that reads.





*Update: as of 8.29.17 there are 2,647 reviews and the book is up to a five-star rating.

** As of 10.20.17 there is another, identical product on Amazon. The gem I discuss above costs $8.86. The new copy, by Donald Walker, is $7.95. Nothing like a little free market competition to drive down the prices of the things that truly matter in life.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Argumentation: Rogerian Theory using Immigration

The documentary series 30 Days, specifically the episode on "Immigration," shows the controvertial issue in a way that appeals to modern teen audiences. This episode, which you can stream for free on Vimeo here, shows two sides of the argument; Frank George is a "Minuteman" that travels to the border on a fairly regular basis with his 9mm pistol and .223 rifle to report illegals crossing over to US border patrol; George is a legal US immigrant from Cuba. Armida "Gonzalez" (the family asked that their real name not be used) is an illegal, immigrant teenager whose aspirations include going to Princeton and making it to States on her high school golf team. The documentary strives to show the issue from both sides in 2006-2007 US.

Here's where Rogerian theory comes in; after students have finished the documentary, ask them to write to either Armida or Frank.  The difficult part, at least initially, is that if they personally agree with Frank, they must write to Armida and vice versa. Good excuse to teach business letter format, also. The most challenging aspect is arriving at common ground.

Here's the assignment prompt:

Your letter should both articulate the opposing side's view in a way that is unbiased, objective and complete in its ability to match the holder's intensity, use of vocabulary, and give a nod to current controversy. It should strive to establish common ground. If necessary, do research to present an educated, realistic common ground.


Transcendentalist Theme: Simplicity

See the Lonely Island in the Classroom blogpost on how to introduce the theme of simplicity to teenagers.

Also, see the post and video on tiny home builder Austin Hay.



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Impromptu Stories

I want to break up these Transcendentalist posts with a little activity that has helped keep me afloat during many a lesson that ended prematurely, or with many a group that was hard to keep focused. It's simple and fun... if you're a storyteller, that is. Choose three students to each contribute a word (maybe these are the students that are hardest to keep focused). Write those words on the board. Encourage zaniness or "randomness." Example:

1. Squirrels
2. Wheelbarrow
3. Guitar

Now, narrate a story, out loud, that connects these three elements. It might go something like this:

I was out back playing my guitar one morning, really enjoying the new spring sunshine, lazily picking notes and putting off spreading the mulch that sat in a pile on a tarp, off to one side. My wife hollered out, "I'm going grocery shopping; I'd like the mulch spread by the time I get back." I looked over at the locked shed where I kept my wheelbarrow and shovel. I had no idea where the key to that old rusty lock was, but I said, "Of course, dear." I kept picking the notes. Now, one benefit of playing the guitar out back is that for some reason, when I play the blues, the squirrels in the neighborhood all come into the big chestnut tree in the back yard. They sit like trained seals and listen. I swear. Today I was feeling good from the spring sunshine, so I picked out a particularly inspired blues tune. Sure enough, the squirrels came. There were gray ones, red ones, even a few black ones. My wife doesn't like the squirrels; "they they eat all the chestnuts, and then we don't get any," (she loves chestnuts), so it's almost as if they knew she was gone, because there had to be a hundred up in that tree. So I picked and picked. More came. So I sang, "my wife she don't know me / today's the day / she wants me to work / and I'd much rather play / the mulch is high / my voice is low / she wants me to shovel / but I say no / that mulch can sit there / that mulch can wait / the sunshine won't last / that's all our fate / so while we're alive / let's sit and play / the work can wait / for another day..." and on and on like that. And do you know what? Those squirrels, bit by bit started spreading that mulch while I played and played. Like a street musician pulling pocket change from passer-bys these squirrels bit by bit took the strips of mulch in their tiny hands and jaws and spread it like a well-oiled, albeit furry, machine. By the time I had run out of lyrics they had spread all of the mulch into the flower beds. "You guys did a great job," I said, beaming. "Wait here." I went inside and pulled down the large bowl of chestnuts we'd managed to harvest late last summer into the fall. There were quite a few. I'd daresay enough for each squirrel to have one. So, I took it out back and like a clown in a parade, threw handfuls of chestnuts to my helpers. They took their prize and went just as I heard the car pull into the driveway. I went out front to help my wife bring in the groceries. She said, " you don't look very sweaty." I said, "it's all done." She looked skeptical, but she loved the mulch! She hugged me and we went back inside to put away the groceries. "Hand me down that bowl of chestnuts," she said. "I think it's time we should roast some to enjoy." 

"About that..." I started, giving my most winning smile.    

So if you're full of hot air, like me, and like telling stories, try mesmerizing your class with this activity by coming up with something off the top of your head, like the above example. Or better yet, let them give it a try for themselves. Finally, you could adapt it to class writing and then have them read what they came up with.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Transcendentalist Themes: Nature and Non-Conformity

Forewarning, this post is going to be like a weird version of A Christmas Carol with babies, crying indians, and guys with  perms laying down difficult truths with uncanny, albeit perhaps computer generated, savor faire. Cool? Okay, just so we're on the same page be sure to click this link and listen while you read. If you've never seen the video, you might want to...

And mute the ads please. "Someone's always playing corporation games." Thanks. Now, crank the bass until the windows rattle.

Okay, now we can hang.

First, recognize that art will say more with zero words than you're capable of saying in an entire class period. Once you realize this, USE ART IN YOUR CLASSROOM. In order to prime students for Emerson's ideas in "Nature," spend some time exploring Thomas Cole's series titled "The Voyage of Life."

Use all four paintings. They're awesome. Luxuriate in exploring their details together. For purposes of brevity I'll get to the point here.

Childhood:


See that baby tweaking out on a lush bed of thick vegetation? That's you. That's how tight you used to be with greenery.

So how did we get here?


That's right... a crying Indian with a load of litter across his moccasins. Good question.

Perhaps we should jump ahead to what happens in adulthood... shall we?


Oh, snap! Look at that!  The vegetation has been swapped for a bunch of stupid, materialistic crap, like silks, gold, double mortgages, trophy wives, etc. In other words, this home boy is "knee deep in the hoopla / sinking in [his] fight"  It seems as if Emerson's opening lines carry literal weight... "To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child." So it seems that when our priorities shift from a connection with nature to an emphasis on worldly goods, our lives grow desperate... The Transcendentalists would agree: "In the woods, we return to reason and to faith."

So take your students into the woods. Okay, that sounds creepy. I mean, go outside, will ya?

When we go outside for the first time and tramp all around a few students always claim that it's something they never would have done at their sending school. "At _______ school, the kids would have been running for the fence, etc." Despite these highly unlikely outcomes the students use to exaggerate the lesser appetizing aspects of their sending schools, what we're doing is, with the exception of maybe environmental science class, kind of non-conformist...

Speaking of non-conformity... "macaroni plays the mamba," WTF? Hahahaha!

Emerson's essay "Self Reliance" relies on your students' understanding of the terms "conformity and non-conformity." Maybe 20% of my students have these words floating around in their schema; so what to do with the other 80%? I find value in these teaching aids.

Collins Street at 5 pm by John Brack.


Immediately students see conformity. Lives full of "quiet desperation." Heck, "it's just another Sunday, (okay probably Monday) in a tired old street." Spend some time asking students what they see. Let them tell you.

If this isn't enough, I like to use a few different children's books. Some that work well are Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches, and Jonathan Allen's The Little Rabbit who Liked to Say Moo. The former is great because it shows how we can get hung up on superficial differences, while the latter is excellent for audience participation. Have the kids make the loudest barnyard noises they are capable of making. And if you really want to indulge individuality, encourage them to make the one noise that makes them unique. Do it loudly.


As before, ask students to poach three direct quotes from the essay that deal with the concept of conformity / non-conformity. If some students are still fuzzy on the concept this scene from Dead Poet's Society should seal the deal.

What is America?! We're a country of rebels, for crying out loud, striving for the best way to live! Even Abe gets down!

I feel like the Transcendentalists were total rockstars; the original rebels with a cause. They offer us a portrait of hope for the future of America. Without them Rock and Roll might have never been invented! We need them!

As for us English teachers, "Don't tell us you need us, because we're the simple fools / Looking for America, coming through your schools."