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EDUCATION AND LEARNING

[MOTHER’S DAY GIFT: REVISION OF MAY 2014 POSTING]

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

MOTHERS’ DAY: The current holiday was created in 1908 as a day to honor one’s mother.  President Woodrow Wilson made the day an official national holiday in 1914.

Have you ever been asked, “Who is the person you most admired from your childhood?”  I believed from once upon a time that everything “must be true.  My mother said so.”

Yes, that worked for me, with my religion of motherolatry.  I thought it was true: My mother was all-powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise–seeing all.

M-O-M = G-O-D.

Then it happened: 9th grade for sure.  World History.  Discussion question about . . . and my answer: “My mother said so.”  And the teacher’s response: “Your mother is not God!” shouted back by my man-teacher wearing his black cassock.  “NO?”

How could I have been so naive?  How did I ever make it into high school believing that my mother had the VERUM VERBUM, the true word?  When did I stop believing?  When did I come to that realization the Game of Life was changing?  That I had to learn for myself?

verbum-dei

Somewhere, sometime, I said, “NO!” to Mom-God.  There I was, probably shaking while or after the words came from my mouth.  My Act of Rebellion.

And so it goes in the Game of Life, as we grow through adolescence into adulthood (which my pop-psychology taught me.  Or was that Gail Sheehy: Tryout Twenties, Turbulent Thirties, Flourishing Forties, Flaming Fifties, and Serene Sixties?).

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I cannot imagine not having a mother, losing her to disease [Steel Magnolias], in a car accident [Raising Helen], in childbirth [The Sign], to a hunter’s bullet [Bambi], or to the many other awful things that happen to mothers before their children know them. 

“I lost my mother when I was five.”  “I don’t remember my mother.”  “My mother died of cancer, when I was seventeen.”  “My mom never came home from the party.”

And on it went, as I read college essay after college essay, year after year, for over twenty years.  This question was my choice.  I wanted my students to do personal narratives by which they could express themselves–and do their best writing–I hoped.

As the semesters ended, I turned to my readings.  Often tired, I usually would become pensive while reading.  I tried to be an objective reader, weighing the writing against the grading standards.  Yet so often I was pulled into the story being told.  I think I was, at times, like Miss Lonelyhearts [by Nathaniel West], encountering sad story after sad story, truth stranger than fiction.  I could not help it.

Essays ranged from the “My mother took care of me when I was sick” to “My mom had it rough raising the nine of us with no father…or with a druggie father…or with an alcoholic father…or with a___ father.”  [How did she manage?]

While I was drifting off, and away from the papers, my own questions, my own answers snuck in: How did my mother manage to sleep, work nights (mostly), raise the four of us, and keep up with the household duties–and be a wife, too?

Doing the dishes was the job that fell to my sister, Janice, and me.  We learned–and were outstanding dish-doers.  “Glasses, knives, and forks.  Dishes, pots, and pans.”  That was The Sacred Order.  I learned that way, from Mom.  [Trait One: MANAGER]

Years before (maybe when in 9th grade?) as I was washing coffee cups after supper, I reached into the soapy water, reaching after a cup that slipped from my soapy left hand.  My hand went automatically to retrieve the cup, but the broken cup sliced into the fingers of my left hand.  Blood in the water.  Panic from the immediate intense pain, soap-in-cut.  My sister screaming for, of course, “M-O-M!”  [Trait Two: NURSE]

“Mom, can you read my story before you go to work?”  [Trait Three: GRAMMARIAN]  ‘Nuff said.

grammarian amazon

Mothers cheer us on: “You can do it.  Go ahead!  Go ahead!”  I remember vividly, her feeling good on a warm Saturday evening in Chicago.  She had just ridden the (used) small bicycle bought for me.  I ran alongside her with glee.  At the corner, she turned around, giving me the bike.  My turn.  My first two-wheeler.

“You can do it.  Try again,” I heard as I tried to gain balance, but fell into the bushes.  Getting up, scratched arms be damned!, I tried again.  Her laughing encouragement behind me grew as I cycled away from her.  At the end of the sidewalk, near the alley, I stopped (applying the brakes expertly), then fell over–and off.  I turned back to see my mom waiting at the end of the street.  I rode to her.  “Expertly,” of course.  Yeah, wobbling from side to side, houses’ steps and bushes on the right, grass-curb-city street on the left.  I pedaled the gauntlet.  To Mom.  [Trait Four: CYCLIST TRAINER]

50s bicycle

50s BICYCLE (CREDIT: LIVEAUCTIONEERS)

“What do you think I should do?”

If there is one question I ask, probably more than any other, it is “What do you think I should do?”  My kids do it.  My wife does it.  We all do it.

Looking over my Early Asking Age to now, I realize this has to be The Ultimate Question: Each of us is a Grand Inquisitor.  We seek answers.  I seek (and sought) answers.  However, the answers that come from “What do you think I should do?”, though not unique to kids asking moms, make us Deciders.  For the answer usually is, “You’ll have to decide.”  It means, “You’ll have to make up your own mind–and live with it.”  This is not cold, harsh, cruel, but is concerning, caring, and–when I think more about it–allowing the Inquisitor to grow and live.  Therefore, we talk and discuss and ask: “What should we do?”

Yes, just like a mom, she said, “Yes, you’ll have to decide.”  Just as I expected, not unexpected.  [Trait Five: NON-DECIDER/DECIDER]

Good move, for, as we all know so well, not just Mother Nature, but “Mother knows best” (often).

So I would search those student essays for goodness and admiration, stories that demonstrated “goodness” and “admiration.”  “All the good” moms do . . . “is oft interred with their bones.”

NO!  The good DOES live after them.  I CAN recall the good times, the admired times; memories of the hard times, the rough times; illnesses, job layoffs, or . . . .”

Too, from Trait Five, I learned: to be able to reach decisions, come to conclusions, after rational thought, not impulse thoughts, but rather, like a good Indiana Jones Crusader, to choose wisely.

 So, “The person I most admire from childhood . . . .”

 © James F. O’Neil   2014;  Rev. 2017

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 ~Irish Proverb: “A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.”

happy-mothers-day shlomoandvitos.com

(CREDIT: shlomoandvitos.com)

 

Omne agens agit propter finem.    Every agent acts on account of an end.

To begin, let us focus on statements regarding human action from Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Contra Gentiles [I.II:1:6]: That is to say, every subject acts toward an end that is a good for him.

The act of love is the first of all acts and gives rise to all others.

Thomas asks whether love is the cause of all that the lover does.  His reply is brief yet incisive: “I reply that every agent acts for an end.  The end, however, is the good which is loved and desired by each thing.  Hence it is clear that every agent, whatever it may be, carries out every action from some love.”

The primacy of the person in Aquinas’ “moral universe” is evident.  The first affective motion is love (amor).  The priority of love holds not only for the passions, but also for the rational appetite or will.  Thus love is the most basic motion of the will and the principle of all moral action.  The absolutely first appetitive motion in rational beings is the love of persons.  It is this love that gives rise to all moral action, whether good or evil, since in all action the agent aims at the perfection of some person, either himself or another.  It is no surprise then to find Thomas explicitly stating this position: “The principal ends of human acts are God, self, and others, since we do whatever we do for the sake of one of these.”

BUT: “A subject isolated from sensory stimulus and social interchange begins to hallucinate rapidly and to lose all sense of reality.  Sadists who subject prisoners to solitary confinement understand intuitively that the cruelest punishment is to remove a man [or woman] from the community and thereby deprive him [or her] of his [or her] humanity.  Confusion results when community is lost.

HEALTH DEPENDS UPON THE CONVICTION THAT OUR ACTIONS COUNT.  I remain potent only so long as I get feedback which demonstrates that the force of my action is felt…I [obtain] the knowledge of the resonance of my actions, as well as the joy of knowing that my gifts are received and appreciated.

[I become] a responsible agent, with a sense that the future is open, [and] I understand myself to be essentially in a social context, and therefore my fundamental desires always involve other persons.”  –Sam Keen, To a Dancing God [1970]

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“To work together, words need help.  They need connecting words, and they need punctuation.  All methods of punctuation point the way for the reader, gathering, linking, separating, and emphasizing what truly matters.  These marks are more than squiggles on a page.  They are the ligaments of meaning and purpose.”  –Roy Peter Clark, The Glamour of Grammar, 2010.

At one English conference I attended, long into my teaching career, I listened to a speaker lecture about grammar, and teaching punctuation.  I heard him say clearly that the semicolon was such a sophisticated piece of punctuation that it should not be used until students were in 12th grade!  Sophistication, and more.

semicolons

It differs from everything else–the comma, colon, period–yet incorporates each with a semblance of “uniqueness”: slow…explain…stop.  All at the same time.  But it’s a slow-stopper, not a full-stopper.  A breather.  (“Take a breath,” it says.)  It is just so useful, so delightful, so important, and so special.  Not to be easily misused.  Roy Peter Clark describes it as an object that connects and separates at the same time, like a swinging gate, even: “a barrier that forces separation but invites you to pass through to the other side” (Glamour of Grammar).  It is so special.

But it wasn’t always so special then as it is to me now.  Memories of a time: My latest high school composition returned to me.  The paper had red-pen bleedings…D31…here and there, with some comments written in the margins, from my teacher Father William Flaherty.  william-flaherty-ma-stl

These bloody droppings, references to items in our writing handbook [which I still keep under pain of excommunication!], these codes, symbols, cryptic messages…D31…we would have to consult, we would try to learn well enough before the next theme or essay was due.  It did not always work that way so easily.  Repeatedly I would make those same mistakes/errors…D31…until…the semester ended. 

writing-handbook HANDBOOK USED 1956-1960

New semester: same rules about that pesky semicolon.  But more “sophisticated” examples for us to follow.  For the next year.  And the next.  Then the end of 12th grade.  Done with all the gobbledygook about punctuation and grammar rules.  “All done.  I’m putting that handbook away!”  Then: College.  More writing books, like The Elements of Style.  Never did I expect D31 to follow me, to become such a part of my writing life.  I was impressed with D31, impressed upon by D31:

“Use a semicolon rather than a comma before and, or, nor, but, and for in a compound sentence if–A Either clause is long–say, three or four lines.  B Either clause contains a comma, colon, dash, or parentheses.”    

That’s how I learned it; that’s how I used it; that’s how I taught it.  So here I am, so many years later, out of the classroom, yet still concerned with punctuation and with the special semicolon.

How special?  When I first read not long ago the words “Project Semicolon” in a blog posting, I thought it was another grammar site, part of the Common Core, intending to teach today’s students in elementary and high school grades the sophistication and beauty of using the semicolon.  I became excited that there existed devotion still to punctuation, and especially to my favorite special mark.  What a surprise when I clicked on the link:  http://www.projectsemicolon.org/

PROJECT SEMICOLON is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.  PROJECT SEMICOLON exists to encourage, love, and inspire.  How fitting a sign the “organization” has chosen to symbolize the purpose of the group: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.  You are the author and the sentence is your life.  Your story is not over.”  The mark is most often seen or displayed as a tattoo, placed behind an ear or on an arm or wrist.  It often represents the wearer’s past (the before), the present (the now), and what will or can be or should be (the future): a “slow-stopper,” not a “full-stopper,” indicating that there is more to come, more to the story. 

So why would someone ever have a tattoo of a punctuation mark, for everyone to see?  Is this like “wearing a heart upon a sleeve”?  I believe so.  To be very open about one’s emotions, not ashamed of the past, being honest; being loyal and truthful in the present, with no secrets; and perhaps never to forget the adventure of life to come, the future.  Openness and honesty is risky business.  It takes courage to admit, to “come out,” as it were.  And the tattoo is symbolic of this.  I like it, endorse it, support it, and support the organization.

semicolon-arm-tattoo

There it is: I am a marked man.  An impressed man.  My tat indicates a story to be told; or it promises, better, that something lies beneath the embedded ink and the skin–perhaps some “in-depth” meaning.  And that explanation is saved, remains, for another day.

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

 

 

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In Search of Lost Time/À la recherche du temps perdupreviously also translated as Remembrance of Things Pastis that novel in seven volumes, written by Marcel Proust (1871–1922), often heard about, often to-be-read, often-never-read (finished).  It is considered his most prominent work, known both for its length and for its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine” which occurs early in the first volume.  The novel recounts the experiences of the narrator (who is never definitively named) while he is growing up, learning about art, participating in society, and falling in love.  The novel has been pronounced as “the most respected novel of the twentieth century” or “the major novel of the twentieth century.”

Involuntary memory, also known as involuntary explicit memory, involuntary conscious memory, involuntary aware memory, and most commonly, involuntary autobiographical memory, is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.  (Voluntary memory is characterized by a deliberate effort to recall the past.)

Precious fragments are those parts of involuntary memories that arise in everyday mental functioning, comprising the most common occurrences, characterized by their element of surprise, as they appear to come into conscious awareness spontaneously.  They are the products of common everyday experiences such as eating a piece of apple pie, or the smell of Crayolas, or the sound of a fire engine or freight train, bringing to mind a past experience.  (Not-so-precious fragments are some involuntary memories arising from traumatic experiences, repetitive memories of traumatic events, like those parts of PTSD).

Proustian memory: Marcel Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory.  He viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past,” describing an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake; then a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him.  From this memory, he proceeded to be reminded of the childhood home he was in, and even the town itself.  This becomes a theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding the author-narrator of previous experiences.  He dubbed these “involuntary memories.”  [Wikipedia information]

For further interest and current research on why you might be reminded of…when you see…, look at Chaining, Priming, Reminiscence bump, Trauma-related Intrusions, PTSD.

(Stressful and traumatic events, which may manifest as involuntary memories called flashbacks, may trigger a wide range of anxiety-based and psychotic disorders.  Social phobia, bipolar disorder, depression, and agoraphobia are a few examples of disorders that have influences from flashbacks.)

“The role of memory is central to Proust’s novel, introduced with the famous madeleine episode in the first section of the novel; and in the last volume, Time Regained, a flashback similar to that caused by the madeleine is the beginning of the resolution of the story.  Throughout the work, many similar instances of involuntary memory, triggered by sensory experiences such as sights, sounds, and smells conjure important memories for the narrator and sometimes return attention to an earlier episode of the novel.  Although Proust wrote contemporaneously with Sigmund Freud, with there being many points of similarity between their thought on the structures and mechanisms of the human mind, neither author read the other.”  [Wikipedia notes]

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“Rather than dictating information as absolutes, teachers should try to inspire their students to think for themselves.  We cannot focus on the teaching of facts alone, but rather, on the teaching of content as a means to the process of critical thought.”  –Joan F. Kaywell, U of South Florida, 1987. 

“All students have the right to be happy and productive citizens.

“The primary purpose of English is to provide each student with the reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing skills necessary for effective communication.

“Learning experiences must deal with current concerns of the students, bear some relationship to life outside the school…

“The study of literature provides vicarious experiences where direct experiences are impossible or undesirable.  Students may be prepared for various experiences through their reading…: teen relationships, death, injustice, prejudice, war, drugs and alcohol, crime, suicide.  It doesn’t matter how many facts our students know if the final choice is drug addiction, imprisonment, or the taking of their own lives.

“…it is far more important that students know HOW to find, use, and apply content to their lives rather than be able to ‘bubble-in’ WHAT they learn on any given day.

“An English teacher has the capability of offering students the skills necessary to learn anything (assuming there is motivation and confidence).

“No other subject can compete with English in the integration of school with everyday life.

“If a person cannot read, write, and communicate effectively, many doors to a successful future are closed for that person.

“There is no way we can teach all the facts in 17 years; there is no way we will ever agree on what facts must be learned….  But there are ways to teach students to think critically and creatively about the world in which they live.”

“The teacher’s task is not simply to implant facts but to place the material to be learned in front of the learner and through sympathy, emotion, imagination, and patience to awaken in the learner the restless drive for answers and insights which enlarges the individual’s life and gives it meaning.”

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

 

Stop all the clocks,…
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;…–W. H. Auden

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EXPERT: One who usually has advanced knowledge AND skills in a field and who UNDERSTANDS technical language and information in that field.  (He or she handles THEORY and practical applications with ease.)

PROFESSIONAL (non-expert): One who has the education and the ability to read and to understand difficult and technical information in a field.  (She or he is able to handle practical information and applications with some ease.)

GENERALIST:  A person with a broad general knowledge, especially one with more than superficial knowledge in several areas and the ability to combine ideas from diverse fields.

HUMANIST: Someone trained in the humane letters of the ancient classics, who uses those skills, or studies the humanities as opposed to the sciences.

SOCIALIST: A socialist is one who believes in “socialism” yet finds it difficult to define “socialism.”  (There are “socialists,” and then there are “socialists.”)  (One who collects monthly Social [-ist] Security income checks and complains only about the amount.) 

THEORIST: One who formulates principles or assumptions into some kind of system for understanding, whether scientific or not, or who attempts to provide explanations for “wonderosities” or “events.”

REALIST: One who deals with objective data, “just the facts”; one who “sees” practicalities, using the past and the present to extrapolate for the future.

IDEALIST: One who is not usually a pragmatist/realist, but is one who cherishes noble, often “ideal” principles.  Sometimes the idealist is seen as a visionary reformer, optimist, dreamer, perfectionist, and “romantic” with lofty goals–often impracticalities. 

PLAGIARIST:  One who dishonestly presents words or thoughts of another as if they were those of the writer or the speaker himself or herself.

OPTIMIST:  Someone who always seems to believe that good things will happen, seeing the brightness of the half-full glass, most often taking a favorable view of dire situations while predicting positive outcomes. 

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In 1989, at Stockholm, the 18th Congress of the Socialist International adopted a new Declaration of Principles, saying: Democratic socialism is an international movement for freedom, social justice, and solidarity.  Its goal is to achieve a peaceful world where these basic values can be enhanced and where each individual can live a meaningful life with the full development of his or her personality and talents, and with the guarantee of human and civil rights in a democratic framework of society.”  [–Wikipedia]

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“The sense that our nation represents a progressive rupture with the past breeds complacency about dispensing with the serious study of history, which sinks into a bog called ‘social studies.’”  –George F.  Will, “Learning from the Giants,” Newsweek (14 Sept. 1987).

George Frederick Will:  Pulitzer Prize–winning conservative political commentator.  In 1986, The Wall Street Journal called him “perhaps the most powerful journalist in America.”  He studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, (BA, MA), and received MA and PhD degrees in politics from Princeton University.  He has taught at the James Madison College of Michigan State University, the University of Toronto, and at Harvard University (in 1995 and again in 1998).  He has served as editor for National Review, has written for the Washington Post, and from 1976 until 2011 he became a contributing editor for Newsweek.  (“Often combining factual reporting with conservative commentary, Will’s columns are known for their erudite vocabulary, allusions to political philosophers, and frequent references to baseball.”)  [from Wikipedia]

In 1987, the best-seller list included E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s Cultural Literacy (What Every American Needs to Know), “ a daunting assortment of information Hirsch says must be mastered before true literacy can be claimed” (says Will), and Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, “an analysis of the damage done by higher education today.”

The chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (Lynne Cheney) argued then that “inadequate teaching of history in public schools is putting at risk our national character, dissolving the sense of nationhood that is our civic glue, and threatening to condemn our nation to perpetual infancy.”

[In 1987] 2/3rds of America’s 17-year-olds could not locate the Civil War in the correct half century…  We can teach children how to think [and] “to learn things worth thinking about,” to teach them “how to understand their world [and] the events and ideas that brought it into being.”

“…the serious teaching of history and literature…the core of the liberal arts curriculum.”

“Liberal education” is “intensely useful,” but “a certain elevation above utilitarian concerns, [with] …glimpses of the good … [and] rich in examples of noble human types.”

“History [should be] properly taught, not as a smattering of dates but as a spectacle of human striving…”

“…education should be first and primarily the transmission of treasures [implying] that some things are clearly and permanently more precious than others.  …there are discoverable and teachable standards.”

“The real hubris is in thinking we can dispense with the transmission of the achievements of the giants of other generations, on whose shoulders we stand.”

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