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By James F. O’Neil

“To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humour of a scholar. . .   Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.  Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be digested. . . .  Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. . . .”  –“Of Studies,” Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

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My first research paper, as I re-call, was finding out about Scotland.  This search had to be started in sixth or seventh grade.  I discovered lakes, cities, and climate–and probably something about wool, whiskey, and politics.  I had only the encyclopedia: that’s all we had back then.  I learned the basics from that first paper.  (I have often referred to that kind of paper as “The Switzerland Paper”: about banks, lakes, and chocolates.  And that is basic.)

swiss chololate

SOME SWISS CHOCOLATE

During high school, I am sure I wrote a few research papers (“term papers”); but I recollect one in particular for an education class: I wrote about Friedrich Froebel and the founding of the kindergarten.  I may have had eight or ten sources.  Yet what I do remember more than anything else–not the long hours writing nor the time-consuming typing on my portable 1955 (manual) Underwood typewriter nor the submitting the paper, but the thrill of being in a library, a great library, doing serious research.  I delighted being in the Chicago Public Library (downtown) and also at the Newberry Library, a special place for researchers then over age sixteen. 

newberry library chicago wikipedia

NEWBERRY LIBRARY, CHICAGO 

Throughout college, the papers came and went, and on into graduate school and post graduate work: papers, papers, papers: Shakespeare, sonnets, Jesus and school administration, Arthurian romances, the G.I. Bill, teachers and in-service activities, manic depression and school administrators, chaos and adultery, public service, the aorist tense in Greek, “Poe the Philosopher,” water symbolism in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man–and more, many more.

Some papers I hated as chores; most I loved as opportunities for knowledge and writing experience.  From this, despite the grade and the time spent, I learned time-use, planning, and library skills.  More than that, I learned organizational skills and meeting deadlines.  All this was not easy; learning sometimes hurts.  (And, I am sure, there were tears of frustration–but never a late paper.)

From this, I also developed a sense of researching–and my three questions: What do I already know?  What do I want to know?  And, What do I need to know?  Where those questions came from, I do not know.  But they have always worked for me.

Of course, I had to learn documentation skills: “the old Turabian” was all we had back then.  And I learned it–and even wrote a little research handbook for students.  Now MLA, APA, and OWL far exceed anything we had–but so has the amount of knowledge increased, with electronic access to this knowledge.  How lucky I am now to see this, to use this, to be a part of global knowledge and learning.  “I just love the Internet!”

But the smell of books, walking the stacks, sitting and reading and taking notes in England at the Cambridge University Library, or at the US Library of Congress, the libraries at the University of Minnesota, and in any small-town public library does more for me than sitting at the computer, drinking coffee, doing a Google Search.  “I love the smell of a musty book in the morning!”  Nothing like doing research . . . But I found that it takes heart, organizational skills, and a sense of the past: where I came from, where I have been, what I have done.  All this enters into my questions: What am I doing this for?  What do I want out of this?  To me, that is what doing research is all about.  “What’s it to me?”

Having done professional stained-glass work, I learned the most difficult aspect of craftsmanship was not cutting the glass, not the pattern making, not the assembly–no matter how large or small the project–but choosing the right glass, the right textures, the right colors. 

glass Ready for Foil

GLASS RESTORATION PROJECT: CUT AND READY FOR COPPER FOIL, THEN SOLDER

Choosing the right glass is likened to the most difficult aspect of doing a research project: choosing the right topic.  “Choice of topic: the hardest part of all,” I say. 

I have never chosen anything dumb or stupid; I have chosen (for the most part) wisely.  Not everything came back an A, of course.  Can’t have all A’s.  But can’t have all gold medals, can’t always win the Super Bowl, can’t always be #1, and can’t always be perfect.  However, I have learned I can do my best, and have that sense of accomplishment (relief?) when I submit the project.  AHHH!  Done.  And on to the next, for there is always a next–no matter how big or small, no matter in school or on the job: “Look this up for me, will ya’?”  “You have a paper due . . .”  “I need to find . . . Can you help?”  “As a member of this parent-teacher committee, . . . ”

“Hafta’ what?”  Know facts.  Document.  Have opinions.  Present feelings.  Solve problems.  Search.  Learn.  And make a presentation: to the family, a board, a committee, a boss, a reading club, a course instructor, a hearing officer, a judge–on and on and on.  There is no easy way.  And it all begins with the basics, with “My Switzerland Paper.” 

And these are my thoughts today on doing research.

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2019  

PS: All of the above is rated at the 6th grade reading level: my computer figured that out; but I used to know how to do it without the computer.  I researched it . . .    

PPS: I was once told that a “good” 1500-word paper takes about 40 hours–plus typing–from choosing the topic to the last bit of punctuation.  (Getting it right takes time.)

 

 

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By: James F. O’Neil

“Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.”  —Francis Bacon

Instead of math genes, I received an inordinate number of right-handed-ness-es: dexterities.  I received the keen sense of making precise o’s and p’s and q’s in 3rd grade cursive handwriting.  (I have no memory of writing skills in 1st and 2nd grades.)

In the upper right-hand corner of our wooden desktops was a hole that held a small glass bottle filled with ink.  (The small bottle was called an “inkwell.”  I don’t know what the small hole was called, other than “the small hole to put the inkwell in.”)

school desks billchance.org

SCHOOL DESKS. PHOTO CREDIT: billchance.org

A handwriting teacher would appear once or twice a week.  She would stand before us, giving directions for a lesson.  As we began, she would walk down the aisle.  A ruler would hit a desk, then another, then closer.  I would sit properly, having my paper ready at the correct angle to my body, with my left hand across the top of the paper.  I was learning The Ruler Method.

wooden rulers etsy.com

THE RULER. PHOTO CREDIT: etsy.com

So I would pick up my ink pen, with pen point.  I proceeded to dip into the well of learning, then to scratch out my name.  Cursive.  Practice and practice upon the vanilla-colored paper with its graduated red and blue lines.  Dip, scratch.  Dip, scratch.

lined paper squidoo.com

LINED PAPER. PHOTO: squidoo.com

[Note the paper facing LEFT]

Making motions with the pen, I copied from the board the letters the teacher had chalked on the lines painted onto the black slate.  Cursive letters, upper case and lower case.

Week after week, month after month after month, I perfected the letters of my name, scripting the J and O and N.  (I also fell in love with the Z, how it dropped down below the base line, taking up three lines, unlike the lowly e and others who got merely a half space.)

Cursive-writing-formation-guide typefacefont.com

CURSIVE I LEARNED. Source: typefacefont.com

We children-students all wrote alike by the end of 3rd grade–except for the “lefties” who were dragging ink across their pages, ending up with ink on their left-writing hands, but still using ink from the right-side inkwell.  No discrimination then: all sat up the same way, the paper at the same angle on the desktop, facing to the left.  Otherwise…The Ruler.

By 8th grade, after six brutal Ruler-Years, I had been made in the image and likeness of one of Mr. Palmer’s Chosen Disciples.  I was tested, weighed, and found not wanting.  I was a Palmer-ist.  (“There is no value in any penmanship drill ever invented unless it is practiced with correct positions of body, arms, fingers, penholders, paper, and with exactly the right movement, and at exactly the right rate of speed.”  — http://palmermethod.com)

Then whatever happened to Palmer cursive? 

I learned of Zaner-Bloser as my own kids were learning cursive.  No more Palmer Method.  Then arrived a simplified handwriting, manuscript to cursive, with a mere tilt of the letter-making pen: D’Nealian, controversial, but well taught.  Taught early and easily by…no handwriting specialists anymore.  Not needed.  Gone, like the dodo bird.  Ancient.  Mysteriously vanished.  And today few care.   

“You write like a girl!” is not often heard anymore, as I sign my name.  More likely, “What nice handwriting you have.” 

I do all right now when I have a good gel pen or a fiber point. 

I had some good fountain pens, with “bladders,” and the cartridge types: Parker, Waterman, and, of course, Sheaffer. Then I experienced the quiet that came with the invention of the gliding roller-ball (with its bloppy ink), yet still have good Cross pens, which are too slow now, and require too much motor effort for arthritic fingers.  

Yet nothing has been able to match the grace and speed and style of my Palmerism as a gel-ink pen is able to do.  No refilling,  no “perfect” gold nib needed.

The gel pens scratch beautifully, making noise as I press out the thoughts-onto-paper, carefully or sloppily.  I even enjoy hearing cross outs and corrections.    

As I write, sometimes I am back in the 3rd grade (still aware of The Ruler).  I write and write, sitting as I was taught: left hand holding down my paper, right index finger near the tip of the pen, small/little finger resting on the desk supporting my hand–with the reddened indentation on the middle finger, holding the weight of my words.  This is pleasurable writing, personal writing. 

I am a happy writer.

Looking back, I am so glad I was taught by those demanding much.

And The Ruler Method?  An un-truth….  However, it makes good stories.  The ruler-in-the-hand was nothing more than a symbolic mace, held and carried (and threatening) as a sign of order and authority.  I never had my knuckles rapped in writing class.  The Protectors of the Ruler [Method] knew better: They did not want damaged disciples who might have been too swollen to copy notes or write spelling exercises.

“Blessed are those….”  I am blessed with good penmanship.  I was a good Disciple–and one who had a great Fear of the Ruler.  I learned well.  I can print, write, copy, and sign (especially my name, which I am so proud of and so want to be legible.)  The sound of my pen scratching out letters across a blue line pleasurably reminds me of the days of “hard” that turned into “easy”–and to handwriting success.

Cursive rules!

© James F. O’Neil  2013

Note:  As I write this, some states do not require public schools to teach cursive reading or writing.

Most adults–and college students–abandon cursive writing for a hybrid of mostly print letters joined occasionally in a cursive style.  (In 2012, handwriting teachers were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, the publisher of cursive textbooks.  Only 37 percent wrote in cursive; another 8 percent printed.  The majority, 55 percent, wrote a hybrid: some elements resembling print writing, others resembling cursive.) 

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