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SCHOOL/SCHOOLING

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“A good book is one that, for its time, is wise, sane, and magical, one that clarifies life and tends to improve it.”  –John Gardner, On Moral Fiction (1978)img0000071A

After some forty years in the classroom, teaching about writing and literature, telling THEM about so many greats…  On and on I would go, lecture after great lecture.  Book list and book list.  Reading assignment and reading assignment.  And, of course, test after test–to say nothing of those research papers and thesis projects.  I was the Giver, with all the pearls in the basket to hand out, like so many of my good handouts.  (I wonder how many of those made it home?)

They all supposed or assumed I liked everything we ever read for class.  Often times I was teaching what I was told to teach from the curriculum, not what was my choice, what I “liked.”  (Forbidden to teach The Catcher in the Rye?  Yes.  And I Am the Cheese?  That, too.)  Yet I did have opinions.

Nevertheless, I was doing my job–which included NOT speaking personals in the classroom.  Then as I became older, the classrooms became a bit friendlier (or did I?).  I became more pensive about my own education, recalling my being a student in high school and in college.  I did less professing, more suggesting.  Hah!  It took me only twenty years to “get it.”  These were (some of) the best of times (I admit, I still did get a lousy evaluation occasionally that set me aback).

young professorPicture of Young Professor 1983

So I began to write about reading.  And studying.  I even began to write a blog, this blog, about the importance of reading–

How We Come to Love Books

https://memoriesofatime.blog/2016/08/26/how-important-is-reading/

“Adults like to talk about their reading…to force the mind to recollect forgotten but important memories of how one became a reader.”  –G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill, Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books, 1988.

I had written how I became a follower/reader/addict of the writings of Joseph Joseph EpsteinEpstein whom I began reading so many years ago (more than 35!) who “taught” me about those “boring” books of the “masters” that are better left unread–  “Why I Read”….

http://memoriesofatime.com/2013/05/27/why-i-read/%5D

I questioned my education and whether I was an educated person, recalling my formative years and those who tried to influence my reading habits.  Was I an educated person?  Did my reading Ben-Hur do anything for me?  (That was a book given to me by my eighth grade teacher.)  I read the Bible once completely, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Cervantes, terrible romances, existentialists, Shakespeare.

I was reading what others thought was good for me.  What were my first books?  Spot and Jane.  I began a love life with books and reading: comic books, library books, and Sunday funnies.  My favorite comics (now expensive collectibles) were about war.  I was nine when the Korean War started.  My reading of everything about it (even on bubble gum cards) led to a life-long affair with war history.  By the time I began to baby-sit for the neighbor (whose husband was a former Flying Tiger pilot), I was a sixth grader reading The Junior Classics:junior classics etsy

My mom had bought them all beautifully bound, and had them placed, displayed, in the red-leatherette credenza we had forever.  (She must have paid a fortune for them.)  After I had the babies fed, bathed, and bedded, I went into the living room and read my classic stories: about Camelot, giants, heroes, myths.

Throughout high school, I read from those required lists–but took a charmingly delightful side-trip, with James Joyce, Graham Greene, Mortimer Adler, and others when I joined the Book Club.  Afterwards, the mainstream reading, through college and graduate school, was really more, and more intense, for this “English Major”: Shakespeare and Milton; Whitman and Dickinson; Thoreau and Emerson.  And?  I became a teacher.  One of those teachers…   Some Great Teachers: Growing Up with Reading https://memoriesofatime.blog/2015/12/23/some-great-teachers-growing-up-with-reading/

“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”  –Dr. Seuss

Yes: On my own I worked myself into Darwin, Chardin, and Eliade.  I have learned.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn–I return to it, and should more often.  It’s about me, not about some other kid.  And the famous epiphanous beach scene by James Joyce, which moved me for all time, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  I read (present).  I read (past).  I have read (present perfect).  I am reading…  I have surrounded myself with books for most of my life.  books surround me 2020And have much around me to read, if I am so moved.  Like Sisyphus, I am happy. 

Until quite recently, rather sedentary.  Now I have to answer some questions.  No slipping away, equivocating, hesitating– “Oh, there is time for the answers, Professor, but I think it would be best if you could write down your answers and get them to me whenever you get some free time.”  I was the reader now, not the teacher, not the blogger, not The Great Professor (but, perhaps, the “confessor” confessing?).  Someone “from out there” asked WHO?  WHAT?  WHY?

WHO is your favorite author and what might be a favorite quotation by that author?  Shakespeare may not be my “favorite” author, but my favorite play is his Othello.  It is the best Shakespeare did–for human weakness, love, lust, tragedy, marriage, evil, friendship, jealousy, treachery–all condensed.  It’s about a soldier who is not promoted, who plots to make his commanding officer jealous.  The quotations from Shakespeare abound.  From this play, one stands out that has surpassed “Chaos has come again!”  jealousy 719907557-OthelloIt’s my favorite: The soldier says, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; // It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock // The meat it feeds on…”  Beware the green-eyed monster jealousy!  To me, this is right up there with “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!”

 

 –WHAT is your favorite book and the main theme of that book? PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man I first read in high school then much later in graduate school.  The character Stephen Dedalus, a young man, by James Joyce, had to leave family, church, and country to grow into manhood–to question the taught values–then to accept or reject them, but not to take them without question.  I believe I am Dedalus, the Questioner.       

Do you have a favorite quotation?  What does that quotation mean to you and WHY is it your favorite?    John Milton, “On His Blindness” (1655).  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  WHEN I consider how my light is spent… “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?” I ask.  God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts.  Who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  john miltonThousands at his bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest. They also serve who only stand and wait.”  Milton lamented his blindness, and felt that he was not serving God the way he could be were he able to see.  But those are doing their duty, awaiting their assignments, even simply by being around.  I’ve felt that I have not always been able to be a do-er in many aspects of my life, but have been a follower, waiting to be invited or waiting to be told what to told.  In other words, waiting is also a noble office.

So, The Grand Inquisitor Classroom Professor has been inquisited.  No blood has been let.  All proceeded painlessly.  However, the process took time–and much thought, which I gave.  Sometimes easy to say “Best 10” or “Top 5”; but more difficult to announce, “And the Award goes to…”  Therefore, Dear Reader, Please answer the following…

WHO?  WHAT?  WHY?

©  James F. O’Neil 2017

readers and parents

“After all these years, I may have found my own best reader, and he turns out to be me.”  –Joseph Epstein

 

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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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“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.”

 

“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.”

interrobang

 

 

“There is no generally agreed upon definition of curriculum.”  [Wikipedia]

Using the statements below, design a curriculum–core, common, or otherwise–that will satisfy at least ONE school board, one school district’s parents, one k-12 faculty, one state board of education, one k-12 regional accrediting agency, or ONE NATIONAL STANDARD. 

Note the following: Curriculum can be envisaged from different perspectives.  What societies envisage as important teaching and learning constitutes the intended curriculum.  Since it is usually presented in official documents, it may be also called the written and/or official curriculum.  

However, at classroom level, this intended curriculum may be altered through a range of complex classroom interactions, and what is actually delivered can be considered the implemented curriculum.

What learners really learn (i.e. what can be assessed and can be demonstrated as learning outcomes/learner competencies) constitutes the achieved or learned curriculum.  In addition, curriculum theory points to a hidden curriculum (i.e. the unintended development of personal values and beliefs of learners, teachers, and communities; unexpected impact of a curriculum; unforeseen aspects of a learning process).

Those who develop the intended curriculum should have all these different dimensions of the curriculum in view.  While the written curriculum does not exhaust the meaning of curriculum, it is important because it represents the vision of the society.  The written curriculum is usually expressed in comprehensive and user-friendly documents, such as curriculum frameworks; subject curricula/syllabuses; and in relevant and helpful learning materials, such as textbooks, teacher guides, and assessment guides. [Wikipedia notes]

BEGIN THE EXERCISE IN YOUR BLUE BOOKS.  YOU HAVE 40 HOURS.

The Naming of the Parts

What I Learned in School Today

Using a Typewriter/Keyboard

Why My Signature Is Important

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

Making Change, Counting Money

My Handwriting Tells about Me

Rules for Capitalization

Cursive to Be Read

How to Take a Bath or Shower

Eating Well So I Don’t Get Fat–or Throw Up

How to Use Crayolas without Breaking Any

Drawing Trees and People–and Showing the Difference

Columbus Was Here–Somewhere

Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Baseball Diamonds

I Know Where Babies Come From–and Why

Is WISK Better Than TIDE?

Coarse or Fine

Hitler, the Pope, and Abraham Lincoln

The WHO Sing Beethoven’s Ninth

Input, Output, Shotput

“O Say Can You See?”

Domes, Arches, and Spires: What’s the Point?

Sometimes a Dictator Helps the World

R&D

When My Food Enters My Stomach

Do Rainbows Matter?

I Turn the Key; the Engine Starts

“The Play’s the Thing,” He Wrote.

Biology.  Reading.  History.  Chemistry.–Just Words?

Who Really Was Bernoulli?

NATO.  USO.  UFO.  CEO.  CFO.  MAYO.

Apples Fall from Trees–on Earth

The Man in the Moon Just Smiled at Me

Sometimes I Can’t Breathe When It’s Cloudy

Under Water Scares Me

Condors, Penguins, and Koalas

“Congress Shall Make No Law….”

Is There a Use for Poetry?

Another Plane Crashed in Russia Yesterday

A Hundred-Yard Universe, a Hundred-Meter Dash

“Mind the Gap!”

Whites, Lights, and Darks

 Question_mark_(black_on_white)

 

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