Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Gifts from Students: The Best Ones are Free: #SOL16

The mop angel I received from a student early in my career (1980s).
A conversation with a student:

Lizette: When's your birthday?
Me: Why do you want to know?
Lizette: My dad wants to buy you a neglige. He's in love with you and wants to get you one for your birthday. 
Me: (mortified) That's not necessary. I wouldn't be comfortable accepting such a gift, but thank you.
Lizette: (not to be deterred): Then how about a night gown. A flannel one. 
Me: That would be better but still not necessary. You don't need to give me anything. 

I'm sure I mumbled something about Lizette being a superb student. I'm sure I thought: "Who needs a flannel nightgown in Yuma, Arizona," which is where I taught in the early 1980s, the time of this conversation.

As a secondary teacher, I don't get many gifts and receive fewer from my current students than from those I taught in Arizona. This year a student from last year frequently drops by with cookies and brownies, which I often take home to my husband. 

Early in my tenure at Highland a debater gave me a leather briefcase. That's one of the most expensive gifts I've received. 

Once a parent picked me up at school and took me to her home for lunch. It was a touching moment from a woman who became a good friend during her time in Pocatello. Alas, we have lost touch. I taught several of her children and love them all. 

In the early years of my career a student gave me a mop angel that I put on top of my Christmas tree for over thirty years. My husband and I have a discussion about the topper every year. Last year was the first time he "won" as we bought all new decorations and did not haul any old ones up from the basement. 

The best gifts, however, come from the heart. They express gratitude and love through words and deeds. The card below is one I received this year from a student. It says exactly what I wish to give each student who learns from me and teaches me in turn. 
The card reads: "Happy Holidays to a teacher that always offers kindness, knowledge, and unconditional support. I will always think of you in my future success! Kumbaya."

The Kumbaya reference is a class joke of sorts. When the mood is a little heavy, I tell the kids we need a group hug and a Kumbaya moment.

Teens are a pretty generous demographic. Students in my school support close to thirty families via the Sub-for-Santa program. They provide gifts for all members of their sponsored family, regardless of age. They fill classrooms with food for the local food bank. They want to give to their community and do so without hesitation. 

We teachers talk about something transforming in the lives of readers around middle school. I see a similar change as teens move into adulthood. Often the generosity of the teen years evolves into cynicism and doubt about the world. 

I embrace the generosity of teens. Their inherent goodness is a gift that has given to me every day for over three decades. May you know the joy and gift of having young people in your life this holiday season. 

Happy Holidays!

Each Tuesday the team of teachers at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the
Slice of Life story challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their
unwavering dedication to living the writer's life. Head over to the TWT
blog for more slices of life. 
*This post was inspired by a thread on the Badass Teachers FB page about unusual, weird, and best gifts that prompted me to remember the exchange with Lizette in the wee hours of the morning. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

How I Remember Mama(s) #SOL16

My father and mom (Jean) in the early 1960s.
In John Van Drueten's drama I Remember Mama, the main character Katrin, a writer, reminisces about her childhood and the ways her mother, an adept manager of the family, influences and enriches her children's lives as they grow into adults fulfilling their dreams. 

The play opens with Katrin centerstage reading from a manuscript: 

For as long as I could remember, the house on Steiner Street had been home. Papa and Mama had been born in Norway, but they came to San Francisco because Mama's sisters were here. All of us were born here. Nels, the oldest and the only boy--my sister Christine--and the littlest sister, Dagmar.

Katrin looks at the audience and continues: 

It's funny, but when I look back, I always see Nels and Christine and myself looking almost as we do today. I guess that's because the people you see all the time stay the same age in your head. Dagmar's different. She was always the baby--so I see her as a baby. even Mama--its funny, but I always see Mama as around forty. She couldn't always have been forty. 

Once again, Katrin returns to the manuscript: 

Besides us, there was our boarder, Mr. Hyde. Mr. Hyde was an Englishman who had once been an actor, and Mama was very impressed by his flowery talk and courtly manners. He used to read aloud to us in the evenings. But first and foremost, I remember Mama.

I, too, remember mama. I remember mamas.

Mothers hold a unique place in our lives, and it's only natural to revisit our memories of these important women.

During my lifetime two women whom I call mom have influenced my life, my birthmother Hazel and my stepmother Jean. 

I met Jean when I was a wee one around two years old, and I think my father and Jean married when I was five. I spent most of my life in Jean's company--rather than with my birth mother--and began calling her mom shortly after my brother Steve's birth. 

For me Jean has always been mom. Not Mom Jean. Simply, mom. 

When mom (Jean) died this past October 6 after a long battle with Alzheimer's, I felt sorrow. I wanted to write about my memories of her in a respectful, loving way. She is someone I loved, but I loved the extended family she brought into my life more, and I love my brother Steve, one of the most generous and kind people I have ever known, most of all. 

That Steve and I have a close relationship is somewhat of a minor miracle because growing up in the same home brought nearly daily reminders that our place in the family order was unequal. My father doted on Steve; it was his dream to have a son, preferably one who would grow up and play baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals. Mom, of course, cherished Steve; he is the son who survived, who lived while her first son was stillborn. I remember mom's grieving for her lost baby even while rejoicing in her adoration of my brother. 

As the middle child (I have an older sister), as a step-child reminders of my place poked their way into my consciousness. 

Those who knew my stepmother, talk about her smile, her gentleness, and her kindness. She possessed a soft voice and a slow speaking manner. Mom bequeathed her even temper to Steve while I inherited my father's temperament. Mom had beautiful red hair that she'd let me brush. 

Mom and her sister Mary (also a ginger) and brothers Jack and Mike remained close throughout mom's life. She was their big sister. Theirs is a wonderful family who demonstrated their love for me throughout my life. I babysat for Mike and Sherry (his wife) when I was a teenager. I loved hanging out at their house, and I grew up loving their girls Jeania and Stacey. 

Mary did more to give me a normal and enjoyable childhood than any other single person. Once Mary passed her driving test, she hauled me to movies at the old Fox Theater in Joplin, Missouri; she took me swimming at the Carthage pool and to various pools in Joplin. Mary showed me the world other children lived in; were it not for her, I would have been land-locked and naive to the simple pleasures of many childhood activities. 

After Mary married Mike (her husband) and moved away, I visited. Mary is still one of the few people I'll confide in--to the extent that I confide in anyone. In our adult lives time has shrunk the distance in our chronology, and I think it's safe to say we respect one another as adults. 

Mom's mom, Grandma Young, normalized my life even more. She treated me as though I was simply one of her granddaughters and not a step-anything. Grandma Young bought me cool clothes at Christmas, my favorite being a purple pair of bell-bottom hiphuggers and purple body suit that showed off my curves in junior high. Grandma said, "If you got it, flaunt it," when my breasts popped in overnight. Grandma Young picked me up from school when I had my first period, took me to her house, and bought me all the supplies I needed. When she crocheted a bedspread for all her granddaughters, she made one for me, too, and I still have it and cherish it as an important family heirloom. I never thought of myself as an add-on to her list of grandchildren. She made me an equal. 

I want to remember mom the way I remember her loving and accepting family who welcomed me into the fold so many years ago and who still show me tons of love. I want to remember mom the way others remember her or at least allow pleasant memories to take the forefront in my memory. 

As I contemplated writing this post, I thought that time would bring me to a place of fond remembrance. I thought that good memories would supplant bad ones. I thought I'd remember differently. At best I resign myself to believing the parenting choices mom made for me were motivated with the best intentions, that gender inequity in families was the norm, that mom needed me to be an adult and take on added responsibilities at home when my father was so very ill, that mom wanted to protect me from making the choices my birth mother made and even the choices she made, bad choices such as dropping out of high school. 

Still, I know many of my insecurities and foibles owe their presence in my life to my childhood experiences, experiences shaped by my two moms.

If I were to write a memoir of my life growing up with my moms, both of them, it would read more like the memoir The Glass Castle by Janette Walls or the novel We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates than I Remember Mama. I do remember mama. I just don't remember her the way I'd like to remember, and those are memories I simply can't forget. 

Each Tuesday the team of teachers at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the
Slice of Life story challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their
unwavering dedication to living the writer's life. Head over to the TWT
blog for more slices of life. 




Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Satirizing the Thin-Skinned Orange One with Dryden's "Mac Flecknoe" #SOL16

Image via Google search, labeled for non-commercial reuse.
Having spent the last two weeks mourning the election results, I find solace and laughter in humor, especially satire and parody. 

One of the first poems from the 17th Century I loved in college and often taught in the early years of my career is John Dryden's "Mac Flecknoe." Typically, anthologies excerpt the poem as I've done here. 

The T.S. referenced in the poem's epithet is Thomas Shadwell. The poem mocks Shadwell and helped create the mock heroic epic. 

Notably, Dryden announces his intent to poke fun at Shadwell in the poem's epithet. Dryden proceeds to skewer Flecknoe and Shadwell by referring to his "epic" subject as adept at "Non-sense, absolute" (ln 6), as being "of a large increase" (ln 8), and as one "at war with wit" (ln 12).

Even as a child, the speaker announces, Shadwell was dull and "confirmed in full stupidity" (lns 16, 18). And while others may occasionally meander into illogic, Shadwell "never deviates into sense" (ln 20).

The poem continues mercilessly in this vein for many more lines, and we must work to recover some of it's more archaic references. Still, the poem offers a timely reminder that as writers did  hundreds of years ago, we live in an age of satire, and at no other time is satire more relevant than when commenting on politics and politicians. 

From The Onion, to The Borowitz Report, to Saturday Night Live, to political cartoons, satire speaks truth to power through humor. I find Mac Flecknoe an apt description of Donald Trump, whom I view as rarely deviating into sense, whose rhetoric and shifting policy positions one can describe as "rising fogs" that "prevail upon the day." 

As does Mac Flecknoe in Dryden's poem, Trump seems to have proclaimed his children heirs to the executive branch: 

Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for nature pleads that he 

Should only rule, who most resembles me: 


Social and political critics alike argue that Trump's twitter wars intentionally divert attention  away from the pressing issues of the day, but I'm not convinced. Trump bears the marks of a  social media addict, particularly in his inability to understand SNL's satire and parody. 

True, "Mac Flecknoe" criticizes Shadwell's bad writing, but I suspect the ghost of Dryden will forgive me for taking a few liberties with his tightly-woven masterpiece given I'm applying it to one whose tangled syntax has given us bigly and the overuse of very in 140 characters. 

"Mac Flecknoe" by John Dryden 
A Satire upon the True-blue Protestant Poet T.S.
All human things are subject to decay, 
And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey: 
This Flecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young 
Was call'd to empire, and had govern'd long: 
In prose and verse, was own'd, without dispute 
Through all the realms of Non-sense, absolute. 
This aged prince now flourishing in peace, 
And blest with issue of a large increase, 
Worn out with business, did at length debate 
To settle the succession of the State: 
And pond'ring which of all his sons was fit 
To reign, and wage immortal war with wit; 
Cry'd, 'tis resolv'd; for nature pleads that he 
Should only rule, who most resembles me: 
Shadwell alone my perfect image bears, 
Mature in dullness from his tender years. 
Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he 
Who stands confirm'd in full stupidity. 
The rest to some faint meaning make pretence, 
But Shadwell never deviates into sense. 
Some beams of wit on other souls may fall, 
Strike through and make a lucid interval; 
But Shadwell's genuine night admits no ray, 
His rising fogs prevail upon the day: 
Besides his goodly fabric fills the eye, 
And seems design'd for thoughtless majesty: 
Thoughtless as monarch oaks, that shade the plain, 
And, spread in solemn state, supinely reign. 
Heywood and Shirley were but types of thee, 
Thou last great prophet of tautology:

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of LifeStory Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment tothe power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Morning After: A Dream Deferred or The Glass Ceiling Shattered #SOL16


Tomorrow morning we will awaken to the final count, the result of the 2016 presidential election. As a political junkie, I've followed this election cycle glued to my screens--computer, smart phone, television. I also subscribe to several print magazines: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Time. I devour political rhetoric and happily talk politics. 

But I am exhausted and ready for the morning after. 

I even took the pledge above, but I'll struggle with it regardless of the results. For I know that whatever the results, our nation will forever be changed from what it was to what it is. 

Will we be a nation of deferred dreams? Langston Hughes asked this question in "Harlem" which he wrote during the Harlem Renaissance: 

What happens to a dream deferred? 
      Does it dry up 
      like a raisin in the sun? 
      Or fester like a sore— 
      And then run? 
      Does it stink like rotten meat? 
      Or crust and sugar over— 
      like a syrupy sweet? 
      Maybe it just sags 
      like a heavy load. 
      Or does it explode?

Will the nation "explode" into riots of disenfranchised voters, victims of limited places to vote in states that have reduced the number of precincts by more than half? Will women struggle for another 32 years before seeing a female's name on the presidential ticket? It has been, after all, that long since Geraldine Frerraro ran as Walter Mondale's vice presidential pick. 

Certainly, a Clinton loss will shatter my dreams. Will I shrivel and weep or ooze with anger. I feel the load of this election and have struggled to articulate all that troubles me. As a life-long Democrat, I've at least been able to understand what drives folks to the elephant in the room. At times I've thought that were I living somewhere else I might even lean in a little to the right. 

Not this year. 

Sunday night "60 Minutes" featured a segment about our national mood and our inability to listen to and respect one another's differences in political opinion. Our "National Mood," the segment argues, is contentious and angry, both with the political process and candidate choices. No fewer than 80% of the electorate dislike our choices, claims pollster Frank Luntz. He put supporters of both Trump and Clinton in a room together, and chaos ensued as neither side listened to the other. The participants blamed social media and all other media, which the participants see as biased and focused on entertainment. As Luntz says, "We can't even agree on the same facts." 

This is a real problem. We have reached a place in which facts get denied and rejected outright. This paradigm shift differs from our interpretation of the facts. A fact is verifiable, but many ignore the science, environmental, historical, social on which we base and learn facts. When we can't agree on the facts, we can't debate or discuss what these facts mean. We can't talk about what to do about the facts. 

Yet I can't help but think Luntz misses much of the bigger picture. As he scolded the participants for not listening to the other side, I wondered why the emotional reactions. I simply can't listen to and respect someone who supports a sexual predator. I feel violated by such respect for someone I find so vile and reprehensible. The facts verify my claim, but many ignore these facts. That puts us in a wag-the-dog loop. We go round and round the same circle, forever chasing our political tales. 

How then do we awaken the morning after the election and move on, whether our side wins or loses? 

I'm in the 20% who likes my candidate choice. Simply, I'm with Her. I have followed Hillary Rodham Clinton's career since the early 90s, and while I have cringed at some of her comments over the years, I've grown to understand her wifely responses and separate them from her political aspirations. Some will disagree with and take issue with that. I understand. I've read much that HRC has written and found myself focusing more on the village necessary for teaching. 

We women have long endured secondary status, so I'm longing for a morning after celebration that allows me to shout the words of Maya Angelou in "Still I Rise." 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?Why are you beset with gloom?'Cause I walk like I've got oil wellsPumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?Bowed head and lowered eyes?Shoulders falling down like teardrops.Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?Don't you take it awful hard'Cause I laugh like I've got gold minesDiggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,You may cut me with your eyes,You may kill me with your hatefulness,But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?Does it come as a surpriseThat I dance like I've got diamondsAt the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shameI riseUp from a past that's rooted in painI riseI'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.Leaving behind nights of terror and fearI riseInto a daybreak that's wondrously clearI riseBringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,I am the dream and the hope of the slave.I riseI riseI rise.


I long to rise Wednesday morning and hear the sound of shattering glass and the breaking of the thickest glass ceiling in America. 

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 


*Last week Betsy Hubbard and her family lost much of their home and belongings in a house fire. As one of the members of the TWT team, Betsy gives tirelessly to our profession. Pleas consider helping Betsy and her family rebuild by donating to a fund on her behalf. Click here to donate now. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Loving My "Grecian Urn" Lessons: A Response to @Cult of Pedagogy #SOL16

Via Wiki images
"The only place Keats could have seen a Grecian urn is in the British Museum." Dante Cantrell, professor Emeritus at Idaho State University made this comment years ago during a discussion of John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn." The comment wedged itself into my mind.

I thought about Dante's remark as I read Sunday's post "Is Your Lesson a Grecian Urn?" on Jennifer Gonzalez's blog Cult of Pedagogy. Jennifer's argument against what she calls "Grecian Urn" lessons operates on two premises, both of which we need to recognize to understand how the argument veers off course into hasty generalization and an ironic twist given her use of a Grecian urn as a metaphor for pedagogically unsound lesson plans. In John Keats's acclaimed poem a Grecian urn symbolizes the power and beauty of art. More about that later. 

The first premise from Jennifer is one I accept: Teachers need to construct lessons that align with relevant standards and that actually teach those standards. I spent a year developing a course in English 12 for the NEA Better Lesson Master Teacher Project, which required me to do exactly that: develop standards-based lessons, so I speak with authority on this topic. Those lessons that teachers assign with no relevancy to standards my friend Michael LoMonico, senior consultant in education with the Folger Shakespeare Library, calls "building the Globe theater out of popsicle sticks." Such a lesson has nothing to do with Shakespeare's language. 

Where I take issue with Jennifer's argument is her second premise, which indicts performance-based tasks such as acting as "Grecian Urn Lessons," as well as "neat-o tech" projects, both of which take time for students to complete, and to Jennifer's thinking, too much time on a project diminishes its value. Of course, this begs the question: How much time is too much time?

In his book Fearless Writing: Multigenre to Motivate and Inspire, Tom Romano articulates the value of immersion in big projects, those projects that inspire and motivate students to explore, create, and discover through critical thinking: 

"Multigenre writing is an immersion in a big topic of personal importance. I want students to taste such passionate immersion. I want them to experience how that immersion, combined with the possibility of multiple genres, can waken a boldness of expression in them. Students' subjective experience with multigenre will affect their attitude toward writing. It will affect your attitude toward teaching."

A multigenre project may appear "Grecian Urnish" to the untrained eye and even to many teachers who don't understand the time-consuming nature of writing and creating. But multigenre engages students creativity and passion for learning in ways traditional research cannot. Yes, it takes more time, but it's time well spent when a student suddenly awakens to the power of her own voice. 

Digital stories and illuminated texts likely fall within Jennifer's paradigm of "Grecian Urn" lessons as they, too consume time. They also engage students in literature and help them understand imagery, tone, diction, and figurative language. I good illuminated text requires a student to verbally interpret/perform a poem in such a way as to demonstrate insight into the literature. 

Similarly, Jennifer's indictment of acting as "Grecian Urn" lesson planning shows a woeful lack of understanding of the academic nature of dramaturgy. I hold a certificate to teach drama, and my study with the Folger Shakespeare Library reinforces the validity of performance pedagogy in all classrooms. It's through performance, through playing with Shakespeare's language that students as young as third grade grow to love Shakespeare. 

A couple weeks ago I wrote that after participating in a brief performance activity while touring the First Folio exhibit at Boise State University, my students asked if we could study Hamlet in AP Lit and Comp this year. 

Two weeks ago students performed a readers theater production of A Doll's House. This activity necessitated a close reading of the assigned act, which means students read most of the play multiple times. It necessitated students cut the act to ten minutes; that each group plan for costuming, props, vocal cues, pauses, etc. Additionally, I required students to annotate their scripts and perform for a colleague's class, which meant they had to write an introduction for their scenes. We followed this with a formal in-class essay, which students are currently revising. It's a messy process, but one worth the time and energy.

Simply, there is no better way to engage students in the study of a dramatic work of literature than through performance. The ancient Greeks embraced this notion not only through performance of such classics as Antigone and Orestes, which is the play in which Euripides penned something I find poignant in our time: 

When one with honeyed words but evil mind
Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.

The Greeks valued rhetoric, and they worked both for excellence in presentation and style. Drama activities support Cicero's Five Cannons of Rhetoric, and rhetoricians recognized their importance in our communication: 
  • Invention
  • Arrangement
  • Style
  • Memory
  • Delivery
As a speech and English teacher, I value helping students understand each of these cannons and know that the creative learning opportunities I offer lead them to greater command of verbal and written communication as well as the deep reading skills they'll need to be college and career ready. Our students need more opportunities to commit their learning to memory. 

Thus when I see a generalized statement that devalues these learning opportunities grounded in sound pedagogy, I'm concerned. 

Finally, using the Grecian urn as a metaphor for bad lessons resonates with irony. In Keats's poem, he describes a pair of lovers frozen in time as they run toward one another. This depiction of art on the urn mirrors the poem's last two lines, lines immortalized in English literature as some of the most important utterances celebrating art and artistic expression: 

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Rather than toss those Grecian urns on the scrap heap of pedagogy, maybe it's time to dust them off, and display them in our classrooms for all to admire and cherish as we embrace the young lovers frozen in time and eternity. 

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

*For another perspective and response to the Cult of Pedagogy post I address, check out "Drama is Not a Grecian Urn" over on Huff English.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

False Equivalencies and the Thinking Logically #SOL16

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 
I teach students to think logically. 

Scratch that. 

I work to teach students to think logically.

This election cycle has complicated my work. 

My own thinking has veered into the illogical at times as the roots of polarized thinking take hold. 

I found myself succumb to confirmation bias Sunday. For the uninitiated, confirmation bias results when we think new evidence supports our existing beliefs and/or theories. 

Consequently, when I viewed a video about False Equivalency posted on FB by Media Matters, my initial response was to think it affirms my own beliefs about the merits of Hillary Clinton's candidacy compared to those of Donald Trump. 

My second reaction to the video included disappointment at the speaker's use of profanity. I had hoped to use the video as a teaching tool, but the taboo language, although infrequent, rendered the video inappropriate for use with high school students. I posted a comment to this effect on the discussion thread accompanying the video. I received a response by the creator of the video, Michael McElroy, which he has since deleted. 

In essence, Mr. McElroy resorted to an ad hominem attack, calling me an irrational person, someone incapable of "rational thought" because I challenged his use of profanity. Mr. McElroy based this remark on a belief that "adults" should be able to handle the language he used. Perhaps they should, but even in this time of political chaos, I'd argue that a sense of rhetorical decorum elevates a speaker's ethos. 

I responded to Mr. McElroy's ad hominem attack: 

Clearly you don't understand my point. And instead of trying to understand it, you resort to an ad hominem attack. I teach high school students in an ultra-conservative Mormon area. Out of respect for cultural norms, I don't use profanity. your use of it would ring as a mark on your credibility to my students, both at the ninth grade level and among the dual enrolled students. There is something inherently wrong w/ the inability or refusal to consider a potential audience. I requires students to learn the basics of the VALs framework and psychometrics. Know that as a rational thinker I'll exercise my right to ignore your voice in the future. 

A little further down the thread, I saw a comment labeling the video "propaganda." It's at this moment I began thinking of the video as girding confirmation bias. Indeed, the video does degrade Donald Trump. It does seek to present "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view." It qualifies as propaganda.

At its core the idea that Donald Trump fails the litmus test of respectability and preparation necessary in a candidate for the highest office in the U.S.A. resonates with me. He is, by many metrics, a vile man. 

However, the video offers an analogy of the election as a horse race. The analogy, call it a metaphor , works up to a point. It fails when it frames Donald Trump as a "wild bull." Simply, a wild bull would not run in a horse race. For the analogy to pass the test of logic, the Donald Trump equivalent in the video would need to be a horse. That is, it must be like the other animals in the race at least in this basic way. Since it is inherently different, the video presents an illogical argument vis a vie its representation of other candidates a s race horses and Donald Trump as a bull. 

I found myself pondering this Media Matters video and realized that had it not been for the questionable language in it, had it not been for the presenter's attack on me, I might have used the video in my Communication 1101 class. 

I almost allowed the bias of Media Matters to confirm my own bias through an illogical argument. That's the inherent problem of consuming information that merely affirms our own beliefs and values.

Each year I begin my Communication 1101 class with Aristotle's words that "It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it." That's my challenge in a difficult election cycle if I am to model the logical thinking I've come to expect from my students. 



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"A Doll House" Mentality in Presidential Politics #SOL16

During my AP Literature and Composition class's study of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, Donald Trump's now infamous journey on Billy Bush's "Access Hollywood" bus has defined the news cycle. 

I could not pry my eyes and ears from the onslaught of talking heads and cable news programs loops replaying that conversation between Trump and B. Bush from 2005. It literally became my personal Groundhog Day repeated every evening when I returned home from work. 

Reading A Doll's House in the context of Trump's sexual abuse of women illuminates for me how far we have come as well as how far we have to go in our treatment of women. Ibsen's play resonates as remarkably relevant these days. 

For example, throughout Ibsen's drama, Torvald Helmer objectifies his wife Nora by referring to her with animal imagery: 

"Is that my little lark twittering out there?"
"Is it my little squirrel bustling about?"
"The same little featherhead..."
"my little skylark"
"My little songbird must never do that again."
"little singing bird"

Images of Nora as a child, a girl, an animal permeate the play to frame her as subordinate to her husband. 

Helmer lives the life of a man incapable of self-reflection. At one point he refers to the hypocrisy of Krogstad, one of his employees. Similarly, Trump has characterized his accusers as "liars" and pawns set to destroy him and deflect attention from the foibles of his opponent. Speaking to Nora, Helmer says,

Just think how a guilty man like that has to lie and play the hypocrite with everyone, how he has to wear a mask in the presence of those near and dear to him, even before his own wife and children. . . I assure you it would be quite impossible for me to work with him; I literally feel physically ill when I am in the company of such people.

Ironically, Hlemer doesn't know his own wife has a secret, one for which Helmer owes his life. It's this hypocrisy and this refusal to reflect on his own choices that speaks to me as a woman in the 21st Century. Once he realizes Nora has borrowed money from Krogstad, rather than thank his wife for her efforts to save his life, he unleashes a torrent of insults:

"Miserable creature--what have you done?. . . ."

"What a horrible awakening! All these eight years--she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all! For shame! For shame! I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it. . . No religion, no morality, no sense of duty------ How I am punished for having winked at what [your father] did! I did it for your sake, and this is how you repay me. . . ."

"Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future...And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman!"

Rather than owning his remarks and behavior, Donald Trump has insulted the women he sexually assaulted as too unattractive. His surrogates have added additional abuse by rationalizing his behavior. 

Make no mistake, Donald Trump described sexually assaulting women. He has recounted to Howard Stern walking in on young girls half naked as they prepared for the Miss Universe competition. 

For Donald Trump, women are his "joy" and his "pride." He blames women when his happiness is challenged by his own ingratitude and by his own actions. He blames women for having ruined his future. One need only listen to his conspiracy theories about the media being out to get him, about the election being rigged to know this. 

And all this misery coming Trump's way is "because of a thoughtless woman." 

Come November 8, my hope is that Donald Trump will have one more Torvald Helmer moment. That moment at the end of A Doll's House has reverberated throughout literature for more than a hundred years. It's the moment Nora leaves her husband and the audience hears the slamming of the door as she exits. 

May Donald Trump hear the slamming of the electoral door as women respond: "I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being..." And as reasonable human beings, we will no longer sacrifice our honor for men like Donald Trump and Torvald Helmer, men who sacrifice so little for the women in their lives but expect women to sacrifice all. 

As Nora tells Helmer when speaking about sacrificing honor: "It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done." 

*Side Note: I began the unit by having students view a fabulous video inspired by A Doll's House. We discussed the ways Nora unmasks herself in the play. 


Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Celebrating William Shakespeare's First Folio: Photo Essay #SOL


The First Folio on exhibit at BSU.
This artifact has been rebound.

Last spring my colleague Debbie Greco and I made a reservation with Boise State University to take our students to the traveling First Folio exhibit, sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the American Library Association as part of their year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the First Folio's publication.

We each chaperoned a bus of students on the trip and allowed some nerdy colleagues and an administrator to tag along on the trip a few weeks ago.

Along the day-long journey a few weeks ago, I snapped some photos of students as they

  • traveled on the bus,
  • toured the main exhibit,
  • participated in a performance activity featuring a cutting from Hamlet, and
  • learned about the printing process in Elizabethan England. 
On the bus, anticipating the adventure. 

An introduction to the First Folio, shown in the case.
Meeting the Cardboard Bard. This guy gets around.
I've seen him at NCTE Annual Convention in the exhibit hall. 

Kaden and Logan commiserate over a facsimile of the First Folio.



Supplementing the First Folio exhibit with other rare texts.


Performing a scene from Hamlet: Shakespeare on the Lawn!


Attendees at the NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta will have the opportunity to tour the First Folio visiting Emory University and can reserve a spot on the NCTE website.

Shakespeare through the years. Part of the main exhibit. 
The day after we returned from our folio field trip, we had an opportunity to debrief. During our discussion students asked: "Can we read Hamlet?" By way of assessing the success of a lesson, a request to read Shakespeare doesn't get any better! 

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

House Call #SOL16

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for
sponsoring the Slice of Life Story Challenge
every Tuesday. Find more slices on the TWT blog.
Last night, shortly before 8:00 p.m. and fifteen minutes after I arrived home from work, my doorbell rang. Normally such unannounced visitors signal a solicitation from a neighborhood boy scout or student athlete raising money for team jerseys or equipment.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my GYN through the sidelight, especially since I'd already changed into my loungewear, baggy pants with a book and eyeglasses motif.

The doctor who makes house calls harkens to a bygone era before managed care and other artifacts of modern medicine. And even though Dr. Michael Jones lives in my neighborhood, even though his daughter Jocelyn is one of my exceptional former students, even though Dr. Jones and I have had many informal conversations, I never expected him to visit my home in a professional capacity. Yet there he stood in blue scrubs, having taken a slight detour before going home after delivering four babies during the day.

Only recently did I begin receiving treatment from Dr. Jones, and I've only been in his office one time. During that initial meeting we discussed the results of an ultrasound and biopsy I had a few weeks ago, necessary tests for a problem that manifested itself shortly before school started and that my primary care physician recommended.

Last week I had a second ultrasound. It's the results from this latest procedure Dr. Jones came to my home to discuss.

Tomorrow I will have a more through type of biopsy and exam that will give Dr. Jones a look into my inner being to see why I have a fat womb that now more closely resembles an amoeba than a uterus. These, of course, are my characterizations. Sadly, Dr. Jones said I can't blame my fat butt on my fat uterus as there is no causal relationship between the two.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not a little afraid that I won't "pass" my test tomorrow. I've never been as proficient in biology as I am in English and speech, and I don't have any way to cram for this test. I'll have to "wing it," as we say in teaching.

Last night I awoke at 2:00 a.m. and thought about life and losing life. I've always been keenly aware of the temporality of life since my father died at 39. Last spring I read Paul Kalanithi's haunting memoir When Breath Becomes Air. Sometimes books find us and speak to us when we need them most. I've wondered if Kalanithi's story is such a book, but I don't know yet.

Both during my office visit with Dr. Jones and his house call, we talked about life and the value of doing all we can in our time to make a contribution to the moment. We shared our mutual belief that the brief lives we live require us to do our best to make meaningful choices.

We live in a moment but "human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete," Kalanithi reminds us.

Regardless of what tomorrow brings, I'll face my own mortality again. For now all I can do is remember "the physician's duty is not to stave off death or return the patients to their old lives, but to...work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence" (Kalanithi). This moment allows me to recalibrate and reflect.




Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Susan Glaspell's "Trifles" from the Trump View of Women View of Women #SOL16

"Come up to the fire, ladies."

The opening line in Susan Glaspell's 1916 one-act play Trifles offers a window into the current election cycle. 

My AP Lit and Comp students examined Trifles in a lively discussion on the day Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in the first presidential debate. I contemplated my students' observations about the murder of John Wright and our discussion about whether or not Mrs. Wright had reason to kill her husband. 

Together, we looked at the textual evidence supporting a justifiable homicide as well as passages that gave us pause about the murder. 

  • Did Mrs. Wright fear for her life after discovering her husband had killed her canary? 
  • Was Mr. Wright both physically as well as emotionally abusive to his wife? 
  • Why did Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters withhold information about Mrs. Wright's quilting from their husbands? 
  • What clues does Glaspell reveal through both stage directions and dialogue? 
Together we examined evidence so that we could unravel the mystery of what drove Mrs. Wright to kill her husband as he lay in their bed with her sleeping on the inside. 

I asked students if they know the significance of a canary in the mining industry. I shared with them the legal concept of imminent danger and how we see this working in the defense of police officers who shoot and kill unarmed African American men. 


Monday morning I had read an article in The Atlantic titled "Donal Trump's Cruel Streak" that resonated with me both in the context of Trifles as well as in concert with Trump's claim that he has the best temperament, an assertion he reiterated during the debate. Prior to offering a menagerie of Trump's cruel acts and comments and inviting us to "judge for yourself" the cruelty of Donald Trump, Condor Friedersdorf announces his thesis: 

Donald J. Trump has a cruel streak. He willfully causes pain and distress to others. And he repeats this public behavior so frequently that it’s fair to call it a character trait. Any single example would be off-putting but forgivable. Being shown many examples across many years should make any decent person recoil in disgust.

I wondered how Mr. John Wright would describe himself were he to have that opportunity. At one point in Trifles, Hale characterizes Mr. Wright as a man who wants only peace and quiet. In contrast, at first the audience is led to think Mrs. Wright fails as a wife given the unkempt state of her home. 

Many have written about Donald Trump's tone deafness to women's issues. In this sense, he's like Mr. Wright about whom Hale remarks: "I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John." Images of cold underpin this observation throughout the play.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton's powerful political ad "Mirrors" captures that paradigm, that tone of cruelty evident in Trump's treatment of women: 

This election Donald Trump invites us to "come up to the fire." But as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale reject the idea of incriminating Mrs. Wright by offering evidence that she had reason to murder her cruel husband, as a demographic group college-educated women have denounced Trump's offer to warm ourselves by his dangerous, misogynistic rhetoric. 

We see through the window from which Trump views us. And through that window, we look into a mirror reflecting our future in a Trump presidency and know many of his supporters don't understand our "getting all stirred up over a little thing like a--dead canary."

Thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for their faithful commitment to
teachers and students. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

*The ideas expressed in this blog reflect only my thoughts, my beliefs and are in no way offered as representative of my employer or any other entity.