A Few (Hundred) Words from W.R.A.P. Day 2

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WRAP = Writing and Reading Alignment Project, btw…

Today, our workshop group spent the day discussing Abraham Lincoln and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

First, I’ll just go ahead a recommend reading everything you can about and by Lincoln.  You can come back to this blog when you’re done…in 2031.

Last night, we were assigned to read a handful of excerpts by and about the 16th President.  Part of what we’re doing at this workshop is discussing (and exemplifying) the learning strategies we want our upper level HS students to take with them to college.  Regardless of one’s attitude toward higher learning or academia, to me it’s everyone’s individual responsibility to absorb as much information about any topic of interest.  Should you care about Lincoln?  I think so.  Will you?  That I cannot answer.

However, by exposing students to texts (written and visual) about a topic within our subject area, we are directing them toward a more informed and educated perspective.

Amazing what an education can do, eh?

Lincoln, we discussed today with the shared texts, remains a superhero American figure.  Was he completely pure and free from criticism?  Hardly..  Am I answering too many of my own questions?  You decide.

For our afternoon discussion of Harper Lee’s renowned novel (and subsequent award winning film), we zeroed in on some passages and scenes that, after close analysis and guided questioning, prompted some debate and varied points of view.  Hooray!  Intelligent people with differing opinions!  (And no one felt the need to shout louder than his/her counter nor record the opposing views as fodder for YouTube!)

If you feel like doing something that feels very illegal and immoral, you can watch the full movie here.

And, while I’m showing how I learned how to hyperlink, here’s one way to obtain the newest Harper Lee book.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve been told there are not, in fact, any zombies.

The benefit to all of this could be summed up as follows:

Second-grade students may not need to be privy to the questionable details of Lincoln’s tactics or the deep-rooted racism in the American South during The Depression.  However, over their next ten years, they need to develop a more crisp view of history and literature (and of course all other fields available to them) to better prepare them for life after high school.  Part of how this is done is through a responsible teacher/instructor seeking out texts that have those differing viewpoints.

You know how you smack your forehead any time someone you know on Facebook shares an misinformed, biased article from a site that has a name like SkrewedUpNewz.com?  It’s incredibly dangerous that those people ACTUALLY BELIEVE what they are reading!   They are much more likely to retain that and pass it along to the next generation.  While I’m not going to go on about an individual’s right to believe whatever the hell they want, can we agree that, for the sheer hope of advancing as a society, we can have some type of boundaries?  Was that another question?

Okay, so much of this was not presented exactly as I’m reporting.  But this is my blog, so I would be remiss if I didn’t explicitly say that W.R.A.P. is not responsible for this old-geezery rant.

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“Find the Bad Guy” – Jeffrey Eugenides (2013)

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Finally got around to reading this story from The New Yorker from almost a year ago!  He’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers!

Don’t read any more of this short analysis without reading the story yourself.  For example…here ya go.  Click the following words

“Find the Bad Guy” by Jeffrey Eugenides

Hey!  You’re back!  If you’re really wise, upon finishing this essay, you’ll seek out a couple more reviews and perhaps decide to write one  yourself.  That is, of course, unless you are Jeffrey Eugenides.  (If you are he…Hey, buddy!)

Okay.  I’d like to talk briefly about two elements of this story that stood out.  Prior to this story, my experience with this author was zilch, unless you count watching the movie The Switch dozens of times late at night with my wife.  Charlie D. is, hold on now, a rather likable guy.  Sure, he made a poor decision during a booze-induced, wife’s-outta-town depressive state.  Who hasn’t?  Seriously, though, let’s step down from our high horses for a few and evaluate the guy.

The guy is a jokester who loves his kids and tries to love his wife.  He’s very good at measuring distances with his eyes, but that talent was superseded by his inability to properly read a temporary restraining order.  There’s no doubt that the relationship with the babysitter should not have progressed in the manner that it did; Charlie seems filled with regret when thinking of that version of himself.  It’s a deal-breaking event, but he’s slowly returned to civilized behavior.

The fire pit, on the other hand, is a wonderful symbol.  Throughout the story, we learn its varying value to the key players–it’s a wasteland to his wife, a sanctuary for Charlie, and a rite of passage for the sitter.  For anyone who has experience with doomed relationships, the situations here become (ahem) close to home.

Story Idea from Unsuspecting Colleague

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I met a teacher from a neighboring school corporation this week. She has spent something like 20 years volunteering in Belize to help keep schools open.  Amazing stuff!  She shared the following anecdote that sparked an interest in me for perhaps a future essay or short story:

In Belize (and perhaps elsewhere) it is customary for parents of newborns to wait 30 full days before naming the child.  The rationale is twofold:  one, sadly, is due to the rather high infant mortality rate in that country; the second reason is that the parents have about a month for the child to develop a personality so they can assign the most appropriate name.

I find the first part hauntingly sad and the second rather beautiful.

Some notes from W.R.A.P. Day 1

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The first day of my teacher workshop went well…. I plan to go through yesterday’s and today’s events a little more in depth this evening.  For now, I just want to type some ideas that crossed my haggard mind throughout Workshop Day 1 (Monday, July 27):

In no particular order:

1.  using the “apples” scene from Goodwill Hunting to emphasize original thought vs. ability to regurgitate (plagiarize)

2.  When Red is freed near the end of Shawshank Redemption:  This was his first honest series of words to talk about rehabilitation.  He didn’t say what he thought they wanted to hear; he spoke from his heart (and was rewarded, justfully)

3.  Teachers have a tendency to cherry-pick the curriculum (in an upper-level HS course).  In short, that could inadvertently be seen as that teacher’s agenda and not an encouragement of emphasizing an appreciation for varying (and opposing) points of view

4.  good writing does not equal exceptional proofreading skills

5.  I can teach what Voice is, but I cannot tell a student what HIS Voice is

6.  cosmetic hangups (below-average grammatical mastery) can kill a potentially poignant/brilliant POV if that’s all the teacher “corrects” or points out on a draft

7.  We need to encourage a “learn to think” attitude (when it comes to debate or POVs) and not a “learn to think like me”

8.  The Friends episode where Joey utilizes the thesaurus function on a personal letter in hopes of “sounding smarter” by “using bigger words” – These “big words” have little value when used out of context (the Voice is completely lost)

9.  We should consider (and vocalize outright?) what is at stake with every writing assignment.  A five-minute response to a short story vs. the entrance essay on a college application.  We want their best writing all the time, and a teacher who only points out flaws with each writing will lead to student burnout and distaste for writing

10.  Students have a tendency to withhold their truest POVs in fear of being “wrong” or in the minority.  How can we encourage them to always write what they truly believe?

11.  Future argument assignments:  1) I assign a topic/POV/stance; 2) the student selects his/her topic/POV

A Week at Indiana University (Day .5)

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Good evening (depending on when you’re reading this), everyone!  I’m in a dorm at Indiana University.  I’m 39, and I’m fulfilling a childhood dream of going to, staying on, and being in Bloomington.

I’m here for a teacher workshop.  The details of such may not interest you, so I’ll keep that stuff to myself for now.  If time allows, I’ll blog about the actual conference separately after we get started tomorrow.

For now, I just want to write a few words about getting here.  The dorm where I’ll call home for the next four nights is about 10 x 12 with a shared bathroom with the neighboring dorm.  I’ve always pictured dorms to have bunk beds (because all of the ones I’ve been to had exactly that number), but this is a single.  It’s conceivable that these may be utilized by sophomores or upperclassmen, but I have no way of knowing for sure.  There weren’t any hangers provided (like one would find in a hotel closet).  All of the furniture is natural wood–quite sturdy too.  It makes me speculate how many IU students have used this desk, that bookcase, and the wobbly dresser over the years.

Is this too boring?  I think so too.  Well, I’ll wrap this up and potentially get something more intriguing along later.

Toodles…