My Journey of Life and Learning (with occasional digressions)

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Long Time – No Post

So… I’m paying for this…I should probably use it!

As of August, 2017, I am teaching Freshman and Junior English at a high school here in Texas. I’m not openly stating the name for privacy reasons. Mine is the only high school in our small, rural district and I consider myself VERY blessed for being a first year, in-the-process-of-being-certified, high school teacher. My largest class has 23 students, my smallest only 8! This is a HUGE difference from my own high school where classes had 32-40 learners and our my graduating class had 450 students. This has been a LONG time coming, but it’s happening and I am thrilled!!

Biggest lesson, so far, is that I must institute and apply firmer class rules IMMEDIATELY at the start of school. I made the mistake of thinking, “This is only the first week of school…there’s time to establish rules, consequences and procedures.” Well, that was certainly the WRONG answer! My freshmen, bless their collective lil hearts, are still young enough to WANT to please. So – I teach four wonderfully receptive freshman classes (one of which must be composed of ALL the class clowns of the county), one moderately coooerative junior class, and THE junior class sprung from the deepest recesses of the lowest pit mentioned by Dante! This last one MAY have been tamed if I had been much more assertive.

The corollary lesson is that the smallest victories are most important. So what if the gang in the class from hell climb the walls (again, I’m working on that)? Jimmy came back to school after going truant and is now turning on assignments – the young man who wanted to physically intimidate me is talking with me and “sometimes” completing assignments. A student found the right word he wanted to use by GOING TO A DICTIONARY!

“Romeo and Juliet” was a successful unit, “The Crucible” tortured me as much as them. This second grading period was much less frantic. So…it all goes on!

Welcome back to my blog. Comment, I’ll respond!

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Got to Bring It Full Circle!

Today I had the chance to work with the same students I had when I introduced the topics of Antigone and Macbeth. That post is here if you wish to go back and read that so you have some better context. Bottom line is that I actually had the experience of watching students come full circle – from start to finish – with a couple of serious texts. There were, of course, the few that would make a point of goofing around and not paying attention if you told them that what you are about to say would earn them a million dollars with no effort whatsoever. The most, though, were actually willing to work through a decent discussion of the texts, their historic and literary contexts and formed coherent interpretations of their own. During the discussion of Antigone, a student commented, “These guys keep coming back to questions and stuff.” I explained that most of the old Greek playwrights were philosophers. After the bell dismissed the students, I went back to the teacher desk to take a look at the text for the next hour. There was a handwritten note left on my notepad thanking me for my patience and explanation of their text. What an awesome feeling!

There are times when I look back and wonder whether or not I’ve made an impact or been a positive influence. Of course I had positive feedback from soldiers that I taught when I was in the Army, but when you’re teaching someone how to actually survive or enable others to survive, it’s not really challenging to know that you’ve “done a good day’s work,” because you MUST do a good day’s work. When I worked with Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and youth in Church activities, I always kept in mind a quote I saw in a store, “No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child.” If anybody reading this can help me cite that correctly, or knows who first said/wrote that, I’d appreciate knowing. I’ve run into some men who had been Scouts in my Packs, Dens or Troops and I’ve been proud of each. Now I get to teach. One point raised in both of those literary works is the unexpected/unanticipated results of someone’s actions. I hope that little note is just the first indicator that I’m doing it right.

Literary Dystopias – Are We There Yet?

Oracle of DelphiBelow is the revised version of the introduction for my Master’s Thesis. Please read, respect my literary rights (don’t plagiarize), and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE provide constructive feedback. Plenty of you who will read this have your advanced degrees already. If I need to expound, shorten, condense, add, delete, say so.

Thanks!

Literary Dystopias – Are We There Yet?

Oscar Wilde asserts that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” (382). This comment prompts exploration into the complex intertwining of fact and fiction within dystopian literature. Authors utilize fears or expectations based on events contemporary at the time of writing. The realization of these fears creates positive or negative consequences which are portrayed within the work of fiction and later readers are able to compare their realities to what of the authors’ fears and expectations have actually occurred. Rob MacAlear emphasizes that the fear presented with dystopian literature must be conceivably imminent, thereby persuading the audience that urgency is needed to avoid the situation presented within the dystopia (28). By using this model, authors may create their communities, cities, or planets, portray likely impacts and the readers are then left to consider how astute the authors’ forecasts may have been considering technological or societal change, how common the authors’ expressed fears were and how that impacted developments between the date of publication and today. In many cases, Wilde’s quote about Life imitating art proves true, as Pfaelzer observed, “nineteenth-century utopists anticipated much of today’s welfare state” (“The Impact” 453) and cites such developments as social security and universal education to support that observation.

The three specific texts herein examined present an “arc” of dystopian literature from the late 19th century through the beginning of the 21st century. Anna Bowman Dodd penned The Republic of the Future when “worker riots, class, race and sex struggles were widespread and sometimes violent” (447), the Industrial Revolution was occurring, and the activists proclaimed the virtues of socialism. Aldous Huxley published Brave New World when the global community was between two world wars, trying to reconcile the nightmares presented by technology with the dreams it simultaneously offered (Diken 153). Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, presents a view of a dystopia that exists based on technology and generational issues that are current with the present day. Medical advances, especially in the form of organ transplantation, add plausibility to Ishiguro’s piece. Isolation felt by the clones may be shared by modern readers for whom the world may have been shrunken through the internet and online discourse yet yearn for the personal contact that is being eroded through email, texting and other impersonal communications.

The narrative point of view is different in each of the novels examined and this reflects a temporal continuum concurrent with points of view and means of communication common to the time in which the authors wrote. Dodd’s novel is strictly an “outsider” affair as the omniscient narrator and protagonist writes of his adventure in a foreign land via personal letters to a friend and in this way is the most remote from the reader. In Dodd’s post-Victorian age, letters were a common means of communication, so the correspondence between Wolfgang and Hennevig would be understood to her readers. Huxley presents a modernist tale, the first paragraph contains only sentence fragments and this reflects the dominance of the mechanical over the humane which is the conflict throughout the story. The third person narrative style provides readers a glimpse into character thoughts and emotions which reflect compliance or resistance of respective characters as well as how they have been impacted by the mechanized, engineered world they share. Ishiguro presents a first person account similar to a memoir type of writing which brings readers into a feeling of sympathy and intimacy with Kathy H., the memoir’s author. By presenting his fiction as a memoir, Ishiguro removes the “aura of otherness” common to clone characters and by presenting her situation in this way, makes the story about Kathy and her compatriots and this removes the “bioethical alarm” so commonly sounded when the idea of cloning is broached in literature (Marks 333). Though Kathy and the other clones are not part of the common population, the first person view in the novel precludes viewing the clones as oddities or mere scientific creations.

Up for Air and Back Down

Somehow, I survived the Holidays, and most of Winter!

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Alright! Welcome to nobody who doesn’t read my blog. I KNOW it’s been awhile since I got on here and wrote anything. I don’t believe I even posted anything from my Studies in Shakespeare or Gender Studies class. Maybe I’ll go back, find one or two of my posts and share them here.

My bottom line on Shakespeare – I’ve always loved to read and watch his plays and I STILL really need to watch a live performance. At least by really studying, instead of just “reading for pleasure,” I feel I have a much stronger grasp of the subtleties and wordplay he so masterfully used. In my final paper, I tied Sonnets to specific scenes in a few of his plays. Seems most scholars love to go after the whole “gender” topic (which was basis for my ORIGINAL thesis, thank you James!) but that’s been severely analyzed, almost to the point of  cliche. Since I’m not usually one to “shrink” from a task and I remarked the common veins I noticed between the Sonnets and plays, with one week left in the course, I dove right in, worked my way through the paper and earned a good mark. Awesome experience all the way around. I’ll still read his stuff from time to time for fun, but now I have a whole different way of viewing it.

Gender studies – I was intimidated as hell. Only three men in the class, I was the only straight one. I guess if the whole point was to examine and see how authors and feminist philosophers can shake up the “hegemony,” all anyone would have to have done was interview me! My prof was very supportive, though, and nobody flamed me for anything – in fact all the feedback was very constructive. I learned about quite a number of very gifted authors and their works as well as some interesting philosophical views. My final paper focused on how “Offred” becomes a woman, as based on Simone de Beauvior’s writings, through her ordeal in Magaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Seems with that novel that everyone is worried about it “happening here,” especially in view of this upcoming election. Well, I saw much of the totalitarian government imposed on people in the Warsaw Pact during my Cold War time in West Germany and West Berlin. I guess, in a way, I kind of know how THAT story ends.

Then, I enjoyed my week between classes. Fifty two years old and just last Monday spent the entire day fishing entirely on my own. I always wondered about guys who did that and spoke so fondly about it. Well, I can attest that I attained a wonderful state of relaxation during the day – heck, didn’t matter to me if I even caught a fish.

Now I go into my study of WORLD LITERATURE!! Woo hoo! Hey, I really am excited! My prof seems excited to facilitate studies in the subject, which is quite a bit more than I can say of one or two profs in my recent past (ahem). But, I’m still relaxed, so I’m not going to rant (now).

First reading is by Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice.” One thing I already notice and I’m sure I’ll work into this week’s discussion somehow – Mann is German and in a footnote on page 82, mention is made to our protagonist’s name, “von Aschenbach.” The footnote claims that the “von” was reserved for nobility, which is not absolutely true. The name may be attributed to a person belonging to a family of note but nobility is NOT a prerequisite nor does anyone need to have “von” conferred upon them, though the German administrative procedure necessary to legally change a name is exhaustive and the Court would have to “grant” one the name change. More than likely, Mann could be making a swipe at Aschenbach. Historically there has always existed a regional rivalry between the predominently Catholic Bavaria and Protestant northern Germany. Mann is from Luebeck, which was a member of the Hanseatic League which was essentially a Plutocratic alliance of several European states. These merchants always held some degree of  contempt for those who were considered “nobility” by birth, though they (the merchants) were quite nepotistic themselves.

This observation is based on my three years of High School German instruction from a dear lady from Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland Palitinate), my eight months of studies at the Defense Language Institute with Frau Albrecht (eine huebsche Hamburgerin mit wunderschoene blaue Augen), Herr Doktor Professor Schulz (from somewhere in Florida) and my eight years service, speaking mostly German, in Germany. A good portion of my time was spent in Bremen, which was another member of the Hanseatic League, as was Luebeck. I was required to learn quite a bit about the history of that organization while working there. The German cities of Bremen (with its better known exclave of Bremerhaven), Hamburg, and Luebeck each still hold the title of “Free City” and have the same rights as the larger States.

Sometimes, it just seems…

I tried to post this last night from my “Smart-phone.” It didn’t work so well, so either my phone is smarter than I am, or *shudder* I actually believe that’s true. What a messed up world! But that’s another post.

What I wanted to post last night was this:

Church meeting…I’m there early…a lady I knew was there…I tried to make small talk…she was concerned because she was not in “Church clothes” for the meeting and I was there with my tie and coat…I reassured her that since she had likely just come from work, there was no problem…she had just come from work, so I asked what she did…she is a teacher…I said, “That’s great! I’ll need to talk with you and ask for your help because I want to teach and my Masters degree will be done by June”…she looked me up and down, asked me what I wanted to teach…”English,” I reply, like a good, optimistic scholar…”Good luck with THAT!” she says with a, too me, disheartening voice…

Here’s where the title comes in. Why is it that I try so hard to build others up just to have myself trounced? Regardless if she has had a bad experience teaching or not, regardless if she knows that English positions are hard to acquire, why pour rain on someone’s parade? Or, have I just been “brain-washed” through instructor training and in the Church that I need to nurture those around me? I don’t think that last one is true, because that would mean at the bottom of  it all, I’m just a “bad person” and I really don’t think that’s the case…I don’t think that’s ANYBODY’s case. So, the lady at Church likely just had  a hard, busy day in front of students…holidays are coming…Church meeting was early in the evening…she probably hadn’t had time to eat dinner…so she was maybe just cranky. As for continuing to build up others, maybe, someday, someone other than my wife, kids and family will think that I’m worth building up…so all my efforts won’t be in vain.

It’s so easy to tear a building down…a sledge hammer, bulldozer, maybe a crane…all too easy to use. Creating or repairing a building requires so much more…plans…planks cut just right…nails, screws…plywood, sheetrock panels, all those have to be cut to just the right size…

 

Conclusion of ENG555

Last Journal Entry…Well now…let’s see if I can express this appropriately…

This is the end…I can feel it…the claws of savage certainty are clutching, grabbing at my skin, barely hanging onto my bones…

My mind has been ravaged by those deep thinkers of the European archipelago that is Greece…Plato, Gorgias, Phaedrus, Socrates…With a reminiscent smile I think of what I took from them; what they gave to me…Rhetoric…Persuasion…Exploration through questioning…The secrets of syllogisms finally revealed…The lapping of the waves on Santorini…The concept of whether ‘tis better to be a lover or an enemy…Though the sun still shines on the Acropolis, I sail westward…Farewell rhetorical fathers…

Between the billows of fog, I see a green land…sea birds whirl overhead…I pull my cloak closer ‘round me…As we pull in two men wait on the dock…My two companions, Sara and Liz, and I speak concerning what we expect them to reveal to us…They are obviously learned men…One wears the raiment of the clergy, the other a pure academic…

The Right Reverend, Dr. George Campbell explains the application of philosophy to us and enlightens us regarding how it was necessary to provide a deeper understanding to the natives of the island on which we stand…His view is that the art of rhetoric is the basis for all other arts; that one must be able to persuade by mastering English…He makes a point I have long held, that “Without communication, there can be no wisdom”…After speaking with Dr. Campbell, the fog rolls in heavier…

When the air lightens a bit, Dr. Alexander Bain introduces himself…Next to him, seeming to materialize from the very air is a very large bookshelf, quite anomalous for dock on a damp shore…Bain explains that the only way progress can be made is for English to be classified and standardized…He hands me a copy of English Composition and Rhetoric: A Manual…Within the pages of this tome I find the basis for what I have always been taught about my beloved English…To inform, persuade, and enjoy…What parts of speech are and how they fit together…How attention to these details ensure effective communication regardless if spoken or written…In stunned wonder I peruse the book, amazed that a mind could so precisely and analytically categorize utterances…I look up to compliment Bain…The fog has lifted…Bain is gone…I am alone…

I survey my surroundings…No horizon…No sky…I am standing on a flat surface…All is stark white…Not blinding or unpleasant; just white, barren, empty…I am alone…

Gradually, from nowhere, yet from everywhere, I hear voices rising and falling in tone and volume…I see a series of groups approaching me…They are not walking toward me, I am not walking toward them, but we move, drawn toward each other…In the first group, I hear one voice above the others first – a woman’s voice – explaining how wrong it is that so long has lapsed since any real innovation has occurred in the study of Rhetoric…Voices rise in assent and dissent among the crowd, “Truth is immutable,” “Outlining is part of the rhetorical process,” “Is what was valid then valid now?”…Some, clad in Cold War regalia speak of the importance to compete with the Soviet Union…I hear the name “Dartmouth” repeatedly ringing through the air…A group rises from the crowd and announce that they have seen where the problem with English composition rests…As this Dartmouth group descends back into the throng, the cavalcade speeds from my view and another appears…

Within this new group, three stand out from the crowd…One alone and two together…The first laments the pressure upon students to “write what they think professors want to read”…To present their thoughts in a foreign language known as Engfish…To overcome this, he says, “Good writers don’t waste words, their voices are authentic, they make the readers believe, they share experience with the reader, they create surprise, they build, ask something of their readers and reward readers with meaning”…From amid the crowd come many voices of agreement…Some disagree, insisting on strict adherence to formalities within the language, opposing free expression…

The two who have been waiting raise their voices and insist that pre-writing could eliminate many problems for English writers…Writing should be a creative endeavor, a journey of discovery, with the transference of the writer’s ideas being the most paramount concept…

The fog deepens…all fades…the sun sets…I await the next dawn…

I sleep…

I wake with the cool heat of the sun caressing my face…there…coming toward me…a large, round building and within it, a stage…I hear men speaking of taming shrews…Hermia and Lysander…Puck…a hunch-backed fratricidal king…Slylock demanding a pound of flesh…I have heard these voices before, but there are other strange ones among them…

In the other direction…women’s voices rise…sweet one moment…insistent the next…apologetic and nurturing one moment…demanding and accusing the next…

When these two groups meet, sometime around December 14, 2015, I will be in the middle…maybe some from previous classes will accompany me…maybe I will be alone…let me at least have another, or two, good, instructional professors…

Teaching Philosophy and Activity

So, things are drawing to a close in ENG555 and LIT 512. I’ll post this up here, if anyone reads it, feel free to comment. From what I understand, a teacher’s “Teaching Philosophy” changes and evolves with them. So, if my current philosophy seems naive, find a classroom for me to get into! It’s pretty hard to write about “being” a teacher when the door is constantly SLAMMED in my face when I try to “become” one. (Geez, here I go ranting…maybe I’ll post another blog in a bit and let my unleash my full tirade…)

Well, I’ll say this last bit, then post my Philosophy and Activity –

IF THERE IS SUCH A DIRE SHORTAGE OF MALE TEACHERS WHO WANT TO TEACH AND HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE YOUTH OF THIS NATION, WHY AREN’T YOU ALL KNOCKING MY DOOR DOWN???

Okay, now for the Philosophy and Activity:

PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING

“Learning is a lifelong process and I have as much to learn from my students as they have to learn from me – and each other!”

My students each come from a family and culture that is unique to them. My years of experience instructing adults and the travels I have made help me to respect and help others respect the individual learners in my class and ALL who enter my classroom are learners. Digitization and the common usage of English across the internet are only two reasons to explore our own expression within the traditional, conventional ideas of English studies while requiring us as world learners to reach out and develop understanding.

All have the right to know what occurs in my classroom. Each student has the right and expectation to have ample opportunity to share their voice. They will listen to and read the works of others. In this way, we will each discover new ways to express ourselves and also discover new ways to listen. My students will know what is expected and required of them. I maintain a door that is always open to all learners. Each class will have an individual website providing syllabi and class blogs on which students will provide each other feedback and discuss class topics.

I will provide ample material for students to apply critical thinking and discover how they can make projects meaningful to them and applicable to them as individuals. As we examine works of literature, my learners will progress as individual readers, critics and writers. I will mentor my learners as I encourage them to “take ownership” assigned texts and ask them demonstrate that by responding to assignments in a personal, insightful manner. As assigned tasks become alive to us as learners, our writing and creative expression will thrive.

TEACHING ACTIVITY
“Just because it’s been written before, doesn’t mean you can’t make it yours!”

OBJECTIVE: Empower students by helping them realize that “classical texts” are accessible, translatable to today’s speech and frame of reference. Students will rework an assigned piece through brainstorming, reflective writing and engaging in peer feedback. This exercise will be repeated with different styles or periods of literature, such as the Classicists, Romantics and Modernists. As the students become more proficient, we will use larger selections. The student writing will allow for creative flow and allow learning through peer feedback and participation.

BACKGROUND: Stylistic characteristics of the assigned piece will have been introduced and discussed before beginning this activity. Word lists will allow students to research, learn and assimilate any new vocabulary. By the time students begin this activity, they will have become familiar, through word lists and class discussions, with some of the language and imagery presented in a classic literary piece.

PROCEDURE:
1. We review as a class examples of the style specific to the piece.
2. We will identify and discuss any words that need further clarification. We discuss student expectations regarding the piece we are about to read.
3. As a class, we read aloud “The Tell Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allen Poe. (NOTE: I submit this work by Poe as an example. It could just as easily be “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, or some other work.)
4. Students make notes of where in the story their expectations were met or not met. We will pause as needed to clarify any points.
5. Each student will identify a section of 2-3 paragraphs that interested them.
6. Students will rewrite their sections using words, phrases, etc. that THEY would use to retell the story. These will be shared with the class and ultimately on the class blog.

FEEDBACK: I will review with each student the style and word choice they used. In situations where the student had difficulty, I will explore with them ways to paraphrase, letting them arrive at their ultimate solution. I will end my feedback always on a positive note.