Saturday, March 4, 2017

Basal POTUS: See Donny Read #SOL17 Day 4

See Donny.
See Donny read.
See Donny look at the teleprompter.
Watch Donny read the words on the teleprompter.

See the GOP
Watch the GOP clap and stand
When Donny reads the words on the teleprompter.

Read, Donny, read!

Only read the words on the teleprompter!

Oh, NO!
Donny added some words.
No, Donny, no!

Talking Heads
See the talking heads.
The talking heads say, "WOW!
Donny can read the words on the teleprompter.
How presidential!"

The Base
See Donny's base.
Donny says, "It's time to unite for the good of our country."
The base says, "Donny is everybody's president. Unite!"
"Listen! Donny says, 
"Only I will make America great again."

The Resistance
See the Resistance.
"Run," say the resistors!
"Run from Donny's environmental destruction!"
"Run from Donny's 'bad hombre' racist policies!
"Run from Donny's Putin bromance!"
"Run from Donny's climate change denial."

See the resistance run and march!
See the resistance protest!
The resistance will keep America great!

Note: As I listened to POTUS's speech Tuesday evening, I knew President Trump was reading. The words from his mouth contradicted his every utterance during the campaign, contradicted his actions as president. I found myself appalled by the reaction to the speech, both by political commentators and the Republicans in Congress and his supporters, many of whom praised it and its deliverer as "presidential."  

The use of Ryan Owen's widow as a prop justifying a failed mission resulting in the death of a Navy seal, the loss of civilian life, and the destruction of an expensive aircraft for no justifiable reason troubles me. 

I've long viewed Donald Trump as an affront to civility and decency, and his reductive, simplistic thinking--in large part resulting from his disdain for books--fits with the sight word redundancy of the white-washed Dick and Jane books from the early to mid-twentieth Century. 

The ability to read words another has written on a teleprompter and expect the public to embrace those words as though the past is not prologue belies a special kind of tone deafness. 

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoringthis month's challenge and for promoting the writing life. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Used to Words: Finding Relevance in William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" #SOL17 Day 3

My AP Lit and Comp students do not like Addie Bundren, the matriarch in William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying. 

The group reading Faulkner's gothic modern novel have been quite critical of Addie, proclaiming her a mean mom who only loves one of her children, Jewel. They have shown little compassion for Addie, reserving their harshest criticisms for her. 

The students have fixated on Vardaman's observation: "My mother is a fish." And just as the Bundren children struggle to grieve overtly for their dying, ultimately dead mother, my students have approached her with a level of emotional detachment. 

Still, listening to students talk about Addie, hearing their condemnation of her, I'm reminded of the social-cultural conditions in which she "lay dying," and I find myself softening my judgment  and seeing her as a signal of all we have to lose as the new world order journeys toward destruction of many hard-won rights women have known during my lifetime. 

As I Lay Dying is a journey story told from multiple points of view. It's the tale of a family hauling the casket with their dead mother's body to her childhood home in Jefferson, Mississippi, which they do out of a sense of familial obligation. 

There are 15 different first-person narrators in the novel, yet Addie gets only one of the 59 sections in the book, and we hear her voice only after she is dead. That seems appropriate as Addie says, 

I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time.

Addie's father physically abused her and she continues the cycle with her own children as she 

would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them. 

This desire to beat her offspring accompanies Addie's vicariously reliving her own beatings. This violence precipitates Addie's decision to marry Anse, to settle for Anse. 

Simply, Addie's marriage is one of expediency, a mode of escape. She says, 

I would hate my father for having ever planted me

Addie sees life as a cycle. As a woman she's trapped in her preparation for death. Early in the novel we witness Addie watching Cash build her coffin with the precision Noah used to build the arc. Most of the novel forces the reader to see Addie in her coffin, but her father's home symbolizes a tomb in which Addie lives; only by marrying Anse can she move from one "resting place" to another. 

So I took Anse. And when I knew that I had Cash, I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don't ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride. 

In short, Addie's life is a construct, one grounded in tradition and patriarchy. It's Anse whom Addie holds responsible for the conception of her two oldest children before she's ready for childbirth. It's Anse whom Addie proclaims as dead when he insists she bear more children. 

He did not know that he was dead then.

Addie pushes against tradition, both traditional marriage and motherhood, and it's this tension that renders Addie dying as she yet lives. Thus, in giving in to tradition, in fulfilling her obligation to her husband and her children, Addie lays dying. 

But Anse also dies. 

And then he died. He did not know he was dead. 

Both the irony and paradox of forcing women to abide by traditions they neither construct nor desire forces the death of their husbands, and in Addie's case, the madness of her children. A forced "love," a love embodied only in alphabet text, a word empty of form and shape and meaning apart from its literal being embodies emptiness. Faulkner illustrates this through Addie. 

Ultimately, Addie's marriage to Anse functions through rote repetition of marital and familial obligations. Addie fulfills her duties, but she's also left to clean up her house after an affair that results in Jewel's birth. 

Several things about Addie's passage strike me as relevant: 

Cora judges Addie, calling her sinful and admonishing her to eschew her sinful nature, but Addie has a response that echoes one of Faulkner's themes, the idea that language fails to articulate the challenges of modern life.

People to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.

This idea resonates in that it recognizes a propensity to castigate women who want control over their own bodies as sinful, as in need of salvation. Thus, we see an onslaught of attacks on Roe vs. Wade. We witness the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides much-needed health screening for women. We see the proposed abolition of the Children's Health Insurance Program. 

My students' reactions to Addie echo their idealism and the value they place on marriage. It speaks to their desire to one day have families and their sense of obligation a mother has to her children. 

But Faulkner offers a cautionary note that reaches past the early twentieth century into our world, and that warning signals that we must not waste nor lose sight of the past and its relevance to the present. That language has power only so long as we do not allow words to become 

just a shape to fill a lack.

As with Addie, we have been 

used to words for a long time.

And I would think the high dead words in time seemed to lose even the significance of their dead sound. 

Otherwise, we, too, will soon be dead already and not even know it. 

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring
this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Single: Ready to Mingle #SOL #SOLSC Day 2

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring
this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life. 
"I'm single and ready to mingle." 

"Good to know." 

"Yea, there's about six girls in here I could go for right now."

"Did you hear that, ladies? 'T' is single and ready to mingle and wants to date all of you." 

"Yea, especially Lexi over there."

"Did you hear that, Lexi." 

If I were to consider the conversation above from a rhetorical stance and use conversational analysis as a mode of analysis, I might come to a conclusion vastly different from the one I hold as T's teacher. 

By way of introduction, T is a freshman student in my fundamentals of communication class (speech). At the time of T's "I'm single and ready to mingle" proclamation, students were preparing to present Twitter bios, an introductory speech designed to get students in front of their classmates and talking. 

It's a simple assignment. All a student needs to do is create a short bio such as one finds on Twitter, take the bio to the front of the room, and talk about it. Read: Talk about himself/herself. 

Nevertheless, T refused to present his Twitter bio.

T is shy.

Let that sink in for a moment. 

T, a student who readily announced to all he's "single and ready to mingle," is shy. 

T also stutters. He has what I'd characterize as a mid-range stutter. 

T's stutter is accompanied by a mild lisp. 

Yet this shy student who stutters has charmed me and all his classmates. 

We are charmed by T's friendliness, by his sincerity, by his vulnerability, by his honesty, and by his shyness. 

I tried everything I could think of to get T to present his Twitter bio. 

I offered to stand next to him at the front of the room. 

"No. I can't. I'm shy."

I offered to let T present his bio with his back to the class. 

"No. I can't. I'm shy."

I offered to let T sit at his desk and present his bio. 

"No. I can't. I'm shy."

I offered to hold his hand and walk with him to the front of the room.

"No. I can't. I'm shy."

I offered hand-holding by Lexi. Still, the same response. 

I asked all in the class to go to the front of the room and instructed T to sit at his desk and present his bio. The class went to the front, and T responded: 

"No. I can't. I'm shy."

The class echoed my cajoling, reminding me of a Greek chorus. 

Still, no amount of pleading would coax T into presenting his Twitter bio. 

Toward the end of the period I told T that he's my project for the year, that before the class ends I'll have him at the front of the room talking. The class agreed to help. We are on a mission to learn more about T than that he's "single and ready to mingle." 

*I used a screenshot of my Twitter bio to show students how to create their own. I found some pointers on the internet that I dumped into a brief Ppt. This trimester I created a template for my SPED students who struggle with abstract concepts. 
**Looking for a creative exit ticket to gauge understanding of character? Try having students create a Twitter bio for a character. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Welcome #SOL17 Day 1


One word that says so much. 


A new month, a new trimester, new classes, new students. 

All are welcome! 

That's the promise of public education. 

I sensed this same feeling of openness, of being welcome last week while in Madrid, Spain as the EF tour bus I rode in to the Presidential Palace passed a public building with a huge banner hoisted across its facade. 


Can you see it in the upper right-center area of this photo I snapped through the bus window?


I long to see my country open its arms once again and sing to the huddled masses this inclusive message.

Welcome. It's no longer a roaring greeting beckoning the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free," but I still hear a wide whispering of


But a wide whispering can collectively rise together in a crescendo that waves a banner for the world to see and hear. Our country may be less welcoming in its current incarnation, but we can each announce our "welcome" to all who seek refuge.

*Welcome to the annual March Slice of Life Story Challenge. I'll be posting daily through March 16; that day I'll be departing on a European vacation, but I'll make every attempt to share daily slices from the Mediterranean coast. I know I'll feel welcomed during my travels and hope you'll feel welcomed in this virtual space.