Episode 3: Shakespeare Mystery Solved with Dennis McCarthy

May 16, 2017

All In with Pauline Hawkins

Dennis McCarthy

Dennis McCarthy is a writer and researcher who has discovered the author of Shakespeare’s source plays. His journey has been long, but he has not waivered. In fact, after 10 years, he has made even more discoveries. This is the first of two interviews with Dennis.
Three songs that would be on the soundtrack of his life: 1st song: “Dance this mess around” by B52s; 2nd song: “Suburbs” by Arcade Fire; and 3rd song: “Revolution” by The Beatles
Contact Dennis: dennismccarthy@4threvolt.com

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: March 2017

What roles do teachers have in creating kind and compassionate citizens?

Teaching is about investing in our future.

Teachers need to do more than teach content. We are so much more than knowledge transmitters and test proctors. We are human beings that have made it our life’s mission to improve the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

I became a teacher because I wanted to help children/teenagers become the best they could be. I had a few amazing teachers who changed my life, and I wanted to be that teacher for other people.

Teachers stand in front of the classroom and help a room full of people discover the beauty of knowledge, and discover who they are and who they can become some day. If teachers are not embracing the importance of their role, then they may be doing more harm than good. Whether we like it or not, we are role models; we are educational coaches and knowledge facilitators.

When I taught in the high school, I taught the whole child, not just my content area. I love English and everything in the curriculum: writing, grammar, literature and oral communication. But what I loved more was how the English curriculum lent itself to teaching my students life skills, particularly kindness, empathy, and compassion. I believe these characteristics are more important than content knowledge because they will help students become successful in all areas of life, not just in the classroom or with standardized tests.

As a mother, I am also a teacher and role model to my children. I am not the perfect parent by any means; however, I have been raising children for 30 years now; my daughters and stepsons are adults, living on their own, and enjoying happy, successful lives, through which they are contributing positively to society. Ian is thriving and making significant gains in school.

As I navigate through my parenting experiences, I struggle with many of the things parents and teachers are currently dealing with. I struggle as a mother on the other side of the desk with how my son is treated by teachers and students in the classroom. However, my experiences as a teacher have given me insight into my collaboration with my son’s teachers. What I do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that if we all work at behaving as and creating kind and compassionate citizens, we can effectively help our children become happy, successful adults.

As important as it is for teachers and parents to model and teach kindness and compassion, students have a responsibility to engage with this part of their education as well. It is through the daily lessons, contrived or not, that students discover who they are and who they want to be. If we all work together, we will help students acquire the skills necessary to become civic-minded individuals who continue our work in improving the world through nurturing, guiding and educating the world’s children.

Much of this comes from the “Introduction” to my book, Uncommon Core: 25 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in a Cookie Cutter Educational System. I have changed a few parts to focus on the question at hand.

The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: February 2017

How do we teach young people the rigorous critical thinking and research skills to distinguish news from propaganda? How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty, and recognizes reality?

facts-imageFirst, we have to have courses for young people to take that are centered on critical thinking. Most college campuses have an introductory course that stands alone or coincides with a writing class, but until college, most students do not have intensive critical thinking instruction.

In the critical thinking class I teach at GBCC, we read about and practice observation skills, word precision, facts and inferences, assumptions, opinions, viewpoints (and their filters), arguments, logical fallacies, and inductive and deductive reasoning. The most important part of this course is not the tests students take, but the discussions we have as we explore the concepts and share our experiences with critical thinking or the lack there of. What students learn is that they need to read, ask questions, be willing to say “I don’t know, but I’ll research it,” and then actually do it. They learn to spot those logical fallacies and not be duped by them. I tell them never to just believe anyone, not even me. They cannot trust the majority of sources, including mainstream media, because everyone has an agenda.

However, within the constructs of my high school English classroom, I still made sure students received some critical thinking lessons. During research projects, I showed students how to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate sources, where to find those legitimate sources, and how to use them ethically. We also had a number of shared inquiry sessions during classes on the most controversial subjects that didn’t have easy answers. Here are a few questions I would ask during these sessions: Did George do the right thing when he shot Lennie? Who demonstrated the worst behavior in Romeo and Juliet? Who is responsible for the destruction of freedom and equality on Animal Farm? Through these discussions, students learned to listen to each other (regardless of whether they agreed with each other or not), go beyond their own experiences and care about people and/or characters outside of their own bubble, and look back at text support for their responses—all critical thinking skills.

Which brings me to me next point: Students need to read more, and not just for pleasure, but also for exposure to the human condition. Reading diverse texts will arm them with knowledge outside of their limited perspectives. People cannot be critical thinkers when they have limited knowledge and limited experiences.

Finally, it’s not just young people who need to learn these skills. We have far too many adults who are role models for these young people that do not have critical thinking skills. I’ve said it before and will say it again: We cannot expect our children to learn skills the adults in their lives are not demonstrating on a daily basis.

http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB

“Captain Trout” by Guest Blogger: Matthew Ferri

This is one of my favorite personal narratives from a talented student. One of the literary essays we read in College Composition is “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell. Matthew read that and remembered a similar event that has stuck with him. Here is his poignant story:

Just about a year short of being a “real man,” my father and my brother invited me on a week-long canoe trip up in the mountains of Maine, close to the border of Canada. My brother, Cameron, was part of the boy scouts and because I had done some community work designing the troop’s neckerchiefs, the Scoutmaster, Doug, asked my brother if I’d like to come. I was hesitant to give him a straight yes or no when they asked me to go, mainly because I wouldn’t know anyone going besides my brother and father.

Plus I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sacrifice a week of my summer to a canoe in the smoldering heat while listening to the sound of pre- pubescent boys squeaking their words at me. Out of guilt for not spending enough time with my brother and father, I agreed to go. I thought it might be a good experience to have before they forgot that I was an existing member of the family, rather than some sort of specter that haunted the fridge.

We packed our bags and set out on the road for a three-hour drive through the great scenic state of Maine. Mountains, old antique shops, road kill: They had it all. We drove up and down hills so steep our ears popped. When we finally got to the base campground, we got everything unpacked and set up our tents. We were on one side of a dirt road next to some docks and a lake that led out to the river we’d be setting out on in the morning. On the other side of the road were rows of RV’s and mobile homes people towed up there for their definition of “camping.”

The sun had sunk pretty low by the time two young men pulled up in their truck with a canoe rack hitched behind them. They got out and headed over towards us for some introductory conversation. One was not more than two years older than I was with a freckled face and red hair; the other was in his late twenties, much taller, and had a clean-shaven face ready to be filled in. These two were our river guides for the week.

The taller and older of the two extended his hand towards Doug and the rest of the adults chaperoning the trip and introduced himself as Seth, and the other, a little less confidently, introduced himself as Skylar. They all talked about the drive up, the troubles they had understanding some of the directions, and the types of snacks they got for their kids at the gas stations on the way up.

After a quick meeting about our plans for the morning, I retreated into my tent for the remainder of the night to write in my journal about a girl I liked. I felt a little like the odd man out. After all, that’s what I was. I was not a Boy Scout, and they had all been to campouts before where they had already formed their bonds. So, for the first night I sat in my tent writing and drawing bears while I heard the sounds of my brother and his friends laughing about dumb things each had been saying in hushed tones. They didn’t realize, however, that the tents were not soundproof. The adults, along with myself, could hear every typical inappropriate conversation one would hear out of the mouths of a group of fourteen or fifteen year-old boys.

I woke up the next morning to see their red embarrassed faces after the adults had told them how they kept them up with their chatter. Not one of them had anything to say that morning as they bashfully ate their breakfasts. I couldn’t help but smirk to myself at the end of the table as I ate my poorly prepared Boy Scout breakfast.

After breakfast, we packed up camp and hauled our canoes to an opening in the trees by the river where we would be taking off. My brother and I threw our gear in our canoe and started pushing into the water, my brother hopping in first once the bow was half in as I pushed behind jumping just before my feet touched the water. We took up our paddles and started rowing. We were off on our adventure, and for the rest of the week we would mostly be rowing.

The next day we left early and rowed gently down the stream. All of the canoes were always close enough that everyone could talk and laugh as we went along our journey down the river, and the man my dad had paired up with was named Pat. He was the father of the scout named Quinn who only ate raw meat because he thought he was part wolf.

Pat was boasting about his younger days when he owned a fishing shop with his brother in the Philippines as he cast his line behind him, making sure to avoid any scouts. I listened to his stories of fishing as I stirred the water beneath me, glancing over occasionally as he passionately spoke. Eventually everyone had grown tired of his rambling and began their own side conversations. I hadn’t noticed their exodus from the one-sided conversation and continued to politely listen and smile as he uncomfortably directed his stories to me.

Once we made it to our next checkpoint, he showed me a few of the tricks he knew on the shore. I slowly got a hang of the cast form and technique for luring fish with a slight jerking motion of the wrist to make it look like the lure was swimming like a tiny fish. I even managed to catch a few small ones on the beach.

The next day was a beautiful one. We got up, made the routine breakfast, packed, and set back out on the river. I had been talking a bit more to each of the scouts by this day, and they seemed to like me. They all started treating me with less and less awkwardness and more like their big brother. As they got more comfortable with me, they looked to me for leadership. I settled their childish disputes of who had to do the dishes and things like that, and eventually I played card games and told them about my experiences with girls. They sat in awe as I told them stories, far from the adults, in a packed tent with a lantern hanging from a hook in the center. I became an idol to each of them. That’s when I realized that most of them didn’t have older brothers; that’s why they were scouts. I felt like Peter Pan among the lost boys.

We eventually rowed ourselves into a tighter area of the river that had much more vegetation, where fish could easily swim and not be taken away by the river’s current. There weren’t any good spots to pull the boats up on, so we just tied them to trees and climbed up this dirt and rock wall that was used in the past as a sort of natural staircase. After I set up my tent, I began fishing, not expecting much. I borrowed one of Pat’s lures and didn’t use bait. I cast and reeled in a few times, using the motions Pat taught me, the lure reflecting through the green murky water as I towed it through. It was almost strange how calm the water had been there, yet I knew there was so much happening underneath.

I felt a nibble and immediately jerked my rod so the hook would properly puncture the mouth of whatever I had on the line. I quickly realized this fish was not like any of the other bite-sized fish I had been catching that week. This fish was the king of the river. It was a nine-inch brook trout, bigger than any brook trout Pat had ever seen. The rod had bent a good 120 degrees as I wrestled this fish for its life. I saw the dark silhouette of its immaculate body as I pulled it closer to me and farther from its domain. My rod was on the verge of snapping when I finally got it out of the water; it was thrashing and splashing everywhere. I held it over the boat as I hauled it up. The line snapped, sending the fish to the floor of the canoe. It wriggled and sputtered about the boat as I tried to get a hold of it, its body still slippery from the coat of murky water. I grabbed a towel and grasped it firmly, and as I took the hook out, Seth looked over the top of the dirt stairs and shouted to the scouts, “Looks like Matty’s eatin’ good tonight boys!”

Brook TroutImmediately all 15 or so of the scouts ran over along with the parents to glance over the edge down where I was standing in the canoe with the trout wrapped delicately in a towel in my hand. I could feel his body rise and collapse, gasping for air. I wanted to put him back in the water as soon as I caught him and watch him slip back under the protection of the clouded water where he belonged to the river and the river belonged to him. I looked at the scouts as they peered back at me with anticipation. Waiting for me to say or do something with the exhausted fellow. I swallowed deep and said agonizingly what they wanted to hear, “I’m gonna eat him.”

They all went berserk as the adults smiled at their barbaric chanting of my new nickname, “CAPTAIN TROUT! CAPTAIN TROUT!”

They proceeded to take their chanting farther from the cliff where I was no longer in their view and could regretfully kill this fish for their amusement. I had never taken the life of anything bigger than a spider, and here I was about to slaughter a full-grown brook trout with my Bear Grills survival knife my dad got me for the trip.

I gently rested my hand, putting the trout on the seat of the canoe and pulled back the towel, past the gills, where I made an imaginary line that would end his life. I looked into his dark marble eye as I rested the knife across his shimmering body. “What a beautiful fish,” I thought. I pictured him gliding through the water with such mystery and momentum, without a care in the world. I thought of how he might have thought nothing could hurt him, before this, and in that moment I still had a chance to put him back in the water. I still had time. No one was watching, and I could make it seem like he got away from me. His chest was still rising and falling, slower now, showing his quickly draining life. I could just toss him over…but how could I bring back nothing to the lost boys? How could I lie to the scouts that looked up to me? I couldn’t. With one last glance of life the fish gave to me, I took.

The blade, short and feeble, didn’t cut through him easily like I hoped it would. No, it was painful; the knife barely made it through his whole thick body. As I sliced through him like an old tire, his mouth opened wide as if he were trying to scream. Expression of anything but regret left my face. Slowly, I slid his head off to the side, with his contorting jaw as a trail of blood followed my knife. I then turned his stomach toward me and sliced him down the middle exposing his innards. I could see everything that once gave the fish life, so I ripped them out too. When I was done, I looked down at the awful mess I had made. There were guts all over the chair with blood still covering my knife while the trout’s head stared at me, still moving his mouth. I drove the knife down through his eye to make his questioning stop, and with an angry motion of my arm, thrusted the blade outwards to the river where the head plunked into the water like a rock.

When I brought the “cleaned” fish up to the campers, the excitement had already faded. Now I had to cook him. We had no breadcrumbs, so my dad gave me pancake batter to use instead. I put the fish on the grill and cooked him, then dished him. By this time, I was not hungry. My stomach was noxious, and I couldn’t picture him without the rest of his body. I took two bites and passed him off to my dad. I slumped into my tent, while everyone else enjoyed my first and last catch.

 

 

Friday Writing Challenge: A Favorite Movie

Inside OutInside Out

I know. This is a Wednesday, but when I started writing about Inside Out last Friday, I realized this movie was a post I needed to write about, not for writing practice, but to explore why it impacted me so profoundly.

When I taught American Literature, I told my students that we study history to know the facts of a time period, and we study literature to know how people felt about those facts. That’s one of the reasons I love this movie. Inside Out goes beyond entertainment; it is film as literature. It’s a film that illustrates how we feel about the increase in childhood depression and parental over-involvement, and how we feel about creativity and imagination being replaced with rigid curriculum.

On the surface, Inside Out is a brilliant illustration of the way our emotions work to protect and guide us on our journey.

The story revolves around Riley, a young girl, and the emotions that work the control panel in her head. The first emotion we encounter is Joy with Riley’s first coo, which is immediately followed by Sadness with Riley’s first newborn cry. Next, we meet Fear; he keeps Riley safe. Disgust keeps Riley from being “poisoned, physically and socially.” Anger “cares very deeply about things being fair.” The personification of emotions lends itself to comedic situations.

The deeper level, however, illuminates two very real problems in our society today: depression and helicopter parenting.

Right from the beginning of the movie, we see that the battle between Joy and Sadness will determine what kind of life Riley has. What we discover by the end is that the key to a healthy, well-balanced life is to accept the importance of all emotions in our lives, and that Joy and Sadness complement each other, rather than cancel each other out. The other commentary is on helicopter parenting: Joy, as wonderful as she is, starts off bragging about Riley’s “mostly happy memories.” She wrongfully takes credit for Riley being happy, which gives her the false notion that she has to control everything in Riley’s life.

The movie takes us on Riley’s physical journey as she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents, as well as Riley’s emotional journey because of that move. With each disappointment Riley faces at her new home, we see that Joy pushes the other emotions out of Riley’s life. At first, it looks like Joy is right–always looking on the bright side of things is the best way to get through these problems.

It isn’t until Riley’s dad is angry on the phone and has to leave that we see Joy’s need to control Riley’s mood might become an issue. Riley is fearful and sad, but Joy won’t let Sadness take over. She insists on Riley being happy.

When Riley is remembering a funny moment from their travels, Sadness touches a gold memory orb, and it turns blue. Joy can’t turn it back, and she doesn’t understand why. Sadness needs to touch the happy memories, but because of Joy’s pride over her role in Riley’s life, Joy begins to make a series of bad choices that affect all of Riley’s emotions.

While talking to Sadness, Joy says, “Well…you know what? You can’t focus on what’s going wrong. There’s always a way to turn things around, to find the fun!” At first, it sounds like solid advice, but this might not be the healthiest way to deal with difficult and painful situations. Avoiding sadness implies that there is something wrong with that emotion.

Joy then wants the emotions to make a list of everything Riley should be happy about. At one point, Anger says, “No, Joy. There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now. Let us handle this.” If Riley would’ve expressed her anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, she could have gotten the help she needed from her parents. But when Riley pretends that she is okay, it leads to more suppression of emotions.

Riley’s mom says something to Riley that seems innocent and appropriate: “Your dad’s under a lot of pressure. But if you and I can keep smiling, it would be a big help.” Asking Riley to be their “happy girl” and to be responsible for her dad’s feelings are requests we should never make of our children.

After this interaction, Riley falls asleep and Joy controls Riley’s dreams– Joy doesn’t think the dream is appropriate for Riley. This is such a powerful statement on helicopter parenting. I’ve seen too many parents do this to their children–from sports to careers–parents are choosing what they think is appropriate, regardless of what the child wants, loves, or excels at.

Here is what I have learned as a mom, teacher, and child advocate: Parents need to love their child as he or she is, not as the parents want him or her to be. I get it. Parents have dreams as well–dreams about their children living a happy, fulfilling life. Who better to help their child navigate through that life than the parents who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses? However, once they start this process, parents rationalize the control over every decision and direction.

But the reality is everyone is on his or her own path–our children included. We really don’t know what another person needs in order to learn and grow. I know that the control comes from a loving place: Parents are trying to spare a child from feelings of heartbreak and disappointment. But when parents jump in and try to manage their child’s path, feelings, or experiences, they rob the child of a lesson he or she needed in order to learn and grow. If parents don’t let a child have the experiences of heartbreak, disappointment, and failure, the child will never develop the ability to figure out how to do it differently next time.

A great illustration of this is when Joy plays the accordion loud and fast the day after the first major crisis. Joy says, “I don’t think of it as playing so much as hugging.” Joy is trying to distract Riley and the other emotions from dealing with the real issues. If everyone does what Joy deems as the correct path, everyone will forget how horrible life is in that moment.

Throughout, Joy also tries to control Sadness. Joy’s goal is to help Riley have a “good day… good week…good year, which turns into a good life!” But whose definition of “good” is Joy using? She is using her own, and she thinks she knows Riley better than anyone. Instead of being one emotion in Riley’s life, Joy is trying to become the only emotion in Riley’s life.

When Riley starts crying on her first day of school, she starts a negative spiral, not because crying/sadness was bad, but because Riley feared the judgment. Then, because Joy couldn’t accept that Riley was sad, Joy tries to control the core memories, which leads to something in Riley breaking. If Joy would have allowed Riley to feel the sadness and fear, it might have led down a healthy path. Instead, Joy’s controlling behavior led to Joy and Sadness being sucked out of the control room. Riley is then left with only Fear, Anger, and Disgust to control her emotions–definitely a recipe for disaster.

Riley now has to navigate her life without Joy and Sadness. Disgust helps Riley give an attitude to her parents in the form of sarcasm. Anger leads Riley to tell her parents to “Just shut up!” emotionally pushing them away while simultaneously invoking Dad’s Anger.

Dad adds to the problems by not having an honest conversation with Riley. He says, “Things just got out of hand,” and “Where’s my happy girl?” These are distractions and avoidance rather than helpful when Riley can’t communicate her pain. After this interaction is when “Goofball Island” crumbles. Then Anger destroys Friendship Island. Riley’s three remaining emotions fight with each other and can’t access the necessary emotions to open up and release the pain. The beauty of this interaction, as difficult as it may be to watch, is that it shows how Anger, Disgust, and Fear push people away. Sadness, however, draws people in. We just have to be willing and vulnerable enough to let people see our sadness.

The crumbling Islands of Personality is an incredible visual for what happens inside of a person experiencing depression. I can only speak from my own experiences with depression, but it does feel like something is breaking inside. It’s hard to access the good memories. Anger and fear control my thoughts and actions, which then pushes away the people who love me the most. If I can’t have a good cry about it and share my pain with someone who lets me feel my pain without judgment or trying to fix me, the depression will last longer.

Halfway through the movie, Bing Bong, Riley’s silly, long-forgotten imaginary friend, shows up. He helps and hinders the progress, but in the end, it is this imaginary figure that becomes the catalyst to Riley’s healing. He also adds humorous scenes. I love Imaginationland, where Bing Bong is “practically the mayor,” for all the beauty and creativity Riley, at one time, accessed daily. It is Imaginationland that saves her in the end. Again, Inside Out subtly points to the importance of creativity and imagination. We should be nurturing that in our children, not taking it out of schools and forcing children to grow up too quickly.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust try to help Riley with her hockey tryouts, but, seriously, how can anything go well when Anger, Fear, and Disgust have the reigns? As Riley is struggling even to skate well, Disgust says a funny but poignant line: “It’s like we don’t learn anything.” Learning cannot take place if the main operating strategies of a child are embroiled in anger, fear, and disgust.

This interaction results in Hockey Island crumbling. As Riley’s Islands of Personality crumble, her dream worlds in Imaginationland are also being crushed. It is here that we see what Riley’s dad should have done when Riley was angry earlier.

Bing Bong is upset that his rocket was tossed into the dump. Joy tries to make silly faces, just like Dad tried to do with Riley, but that’s not the appropriate response to anger, fear, or pain. What is the right response? Giving the person permission to be sad, sitting next to the person and listening, holding his or her hand, and understanding the pain. Sadness sits next to Bing Bong and says: “I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone forever (Joy hates this and thinks Sadness is making the situation worse). . . . I bet you and Riley had great adventures. . . . Yeah. It’s sad.” Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness’ shoulder and cries. Sadness puts an arm around Bing Bong until he’s done crying. After Bing Bong feels heard, understood, and has cried, he can move forward.

Even though Joy has seen how Sadness helps in many situations, she pushes Sadness away when they try to get back to Riley through the memory recall tube. This interaction delays their return to the control room. As Family Island falls apart, it cracks the recall tube and sends Joy and Bing Bong to the abyss of lost memories.

This leads to the most important, poignant, and heartbreaking scene in the movie. Joy tries to get out of the abyss, but it’s useless. Bing Bong states: “Don’t you get it, Joy? We’re stuck down here. We’re forgotten.” Joy falls to her knees when she sees the blue core memory of Riley crying in class. As Joy watches other sweet memories fade into ash, she cries, “I just wanted Riley to be happy. And now…” Joy finally cries a long, painful cry–Joy finally feels sadness. She wipes a tear away from a gold memory, which rewinds the memory orb to show that the joy Riley felt with her teammates actually started with sadness. It was Sadness that brought Joy–that brought her parents to her side, that brought her teammates to encourage Riley. Joy finally understands the necessity of Sadness. She also understands that Riley’s path is not Joy’s to control. With renewed determination, she has a plan to get back to Riley: Bing Bong’s Rocket. Bing Bong helps Joy get out of the abyss, but he sacrifices himself out of love for Riley. Another beautiful illustration of love.

Back in the control room, Anger, Fear, and Disgust have realized their mistake and try to change Riley’s plan, but it’s too late. The console has turned almost black, and Fear states: “Guys. We can’t make Riley feel anything.” My heart aches here, not just for Riley, but for every student I have worked with who had that empty stare. For those beautiful lives that had stopped feeling well before they got to me. I was able to help some, but too many of them were too far into their depression to hear my pleas, to see me sitting next to them offering my shoulder.

Through a series of incredible steps and feats, Joy and Sadness get to the control room, but it’s Sadness that has the power to remove the Idea Bulb and change Riley’s path. Sadness touches all the core memories, turning them blue so that Riley can finally speak her pain to her parents. It’s important to note that Riley’s parents speak their own sadness–they are honest with Riley; they don’t try to cover it up or sugar coat it. It is at this point that the three of them are in an embrace, crying and comforting each other so that Riley can finally smile again. Sadness brought Joy.

The rest of the movie is filled with much needed comic relief moments. We laugh through our own tears and, hopefully, accept the necessity of sadness in our lives.

Our Not so Magical Education System

New blog category: A Student’s Perspective. My students have a lot to say about the current education system. Instead of telling you how they feel, I decided to let them speak for themselves. Some articles originally appeared in The LHS Revolution (thelhsrevolution.com); others are created specifically for this blog. Their parents have signed permission forms to share their work here. Read, comment, question, but remember they are students; be respectful. Thank you, Pauline Hawkins

By Clark Valentine

Order of Phoenix

In J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry and the rest of the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are shocked to find that their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is from the Ministry of Magic. They know instantly that the Ministry is trying to control their education through the character of Professor Dolores Umbridge.

The students are even more surprised when they enter the Defense Against the Dark Arts class for the first time where Professor Umbridge greets them with her deceiving smile and new textbooks that contain a “Ministry approved guide to learning Defense Against the Dark Arts.” As Professor Umbridge begins to explain the goals of the class, Hermione realizes that actually trying the defensive spells is not part of the curriculum. Hermione points it out to Umbridge, who, without losing her sweet smile, continually insists that the students “have no need to practice the spells because they will not need to use them in life.”

Despite the students’ attempts to persuade her that it is necessary for them to practice the spells to properly learn them, Umbridge tells the class that as long as they have a conceptual knowledge of the curriculum they will know all that they need to know about it. Soon, she begins to lose her sweet smile, but still calmly says to the furious students: “It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be more sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is all about.”

Anyone who has read the Harry Potter series and has the same detest for Umbridge would agree that this statement is absurd. Readers will say that the young wizards need to learn the spells because they will need to be used in a wizard’s day-to-day life.  Plainly stated, there is more to a wizard’s life than just passing a test in school.

Now how is it any different for us Muggles?

A normal person goes through a similar type of schooling as the characters of the Harry Potter series did, just without the spells and mystics. In the current education system, teachers tell students that they need to read a textbook to understand the concept, but not learn how to apply it to life after schooling.

Most textbooks have complicated terms, equations, and formulas that students are required to memorize. The problem is that these concepts will have no further use to the students in life other than to get a “good grade” in the class. While students are learning these complicated, and in most cases, useless concepts, they are not learning life skills such as how to balance a checkbook, pay a mortgage on a house, develop social skills to communicate with coworkers, etc.

Not only are some of the concepts being taught useless to most students who will not follow a career in that path, but the teachings that may be useful to a student’s life are not actually being taught, but rather memorized in hopes to pass the upcoming test. Teachers tell students that they need to focus all their attention on passing the next test or preparing for a standardized test. Like Umbridge, teachers are not as concerned about the students actually learning the information to prepare them for life as they are concerned for the students to remember things that will allow them to test high on the TCAP’s, ACT’s, or other standardized tests.

Teachers and students need to check themselves to see if they are one of the people who follow Professor Umbridge’s philosophy that doing well on the upcoming test is what school is all about. People who follow this principle on schooling need to realize that students have the majority of their life outside of school and there is more to life than just studying and memorizing things for a test. School was not intended to be a place where students cannot look past the next test and temporarily memorizing terms, but rather a place where students can take the information and apply it to life so that when they graduate they can be well-rounded and knowledgeable members of society.

Sources: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 9

Gatsby and green lightWell after the denouement of the story, after we discover the fates of Gatsby and Nick, we get a final glimpse of Nick on the beach in front of Gatsby’s house. There seems to be nothing more to say, except perhaps a final reflection on the events of that summer of 1922. It is in that reflection that we are then treated to the most beautiful poetic prose in all of literature–the last three paragraphs of The Great Gatsby:

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailor’s eyes–a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capasity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning—-

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

We are all Gatsby to some extent; or, if we are not, then we have buried those dreams so deep within us that we don’t know they exist anymore.

Those who have learned not to expect too much–those who have stopped dreaming–have stopped trying so they are not disappointed when they fail. If they didn’t want it in the first place, then it doesn’t hurt as much.

But what about those of us who, like Gatsby, refuse to give up, even in the face of failure? Should we smile at the contempt in others’ eyes? Should we pretend we don’t see how they pity us? Even as we see the future receding before us, even as we see our hopes and dreams wash away like sandcastles with the tide, should we live the life we have and forget about the life we want?

No. Not this Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 7

DaisyOf all the characters, I’m anxious to see Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Daisy Buchanan. Her part will be the most difficult to play. She is the woman Gatsby has been dreaming about for five years. Even Nick, her cousin, seems to be infatuated with her as well. He pays particular attention to describing her voice in Chapter 1:

            I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.

. . .

            I looked back at my cousin who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth–but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

Throughout the novel, comments about her enticing voice spark curiosity, but also confusion. What could be so charming about it?

It’s not until Chapter 7 that Gatsby identifies the nature of her alluring voice:

            “She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of–“

            I hesitated.

            “Her voice is full of money,” [Gatsby] said suddenly.

            That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money–that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it. . . . High in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl. . .

The magical quality of her voice is money, according to Gatsby, but it’s so much more. Daisy’s voice is the sound that calls to him at night, promising him love and security, but delivering death and destruction with her siren’s song.

Carey Mulligan has big shoes to fill, but I will try not to anticipate perfection; Gatsby proves there is nothing to be gained from that.

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 5

Gatsby and DaisyOne of the interesting elements of the novel as a whole is that the plot structure mirrors that of a Shakespearean Tragedy: Chapter 1 is the Exposition; Chapters 2-4 is the Rising Action; Chapter 5 is the Turning Point; Chapters 6-8 is the Falling Action; and Chapter 9 is the Resolution. Like all great tragedies, death incites the Turning Point; however, The Great Gatsby‘s Turning Point is not the death of a person, but the death of Gatsby’s dream. Additionally, it is not a quick death but a slow hiss as the inflated illusory dream meets reality.

Fitzgerald shows this slow hiss as Nick observes Gatsby’s reaction to finally being with Daisy:

Chapter 5

As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams–not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

Gatsby was the epitome of the rags-to-riches story; he was able to start with nothing and achieve great wealth through perseverance and opportunity (albeit illegal opportunity). He envisioned who he would one day become, but he made the mistake of placing the success of all of his dreams on the shoulders of a woman who could never carry that kind of weight. After all, she is merely human and could never live up to the perfection Gatsby had imagined.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts or your favorite quotes from this chapter in the comment section below.

 

The Great Gatsby: Chapter 4

Gatsby partyChapter 4 opens with Nick juxtaposing the church going people with the people who enjoy Gatsby’s hospitality. Contrasting these images emphasizes the contradictory nature of the people Nick encounters throughout the novel; whether they are new money or old money, these people are morally challenged and judgmental, and definitely unworthy of the hospitality Gatsby showers on them. (Nick refers to these people often as “moths”—a telling and appropriate description for the purposeless, powdery creatures who crash Gatsby’s parties.)

Chapter 4

     On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages along shore the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.

      “He’s a bootlegger,” said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. “One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.”

Nick is disgusted with these people; however, Gatsby is not immune from Nick’s judgment. Throughout this chapter, Nick shows how Gatsby himself is a contradiction. Gatsby constructs a fantastic tale about his past in order to make Nick believe he is worthy of Daisy, which only infuriates Nick. By the end of the chapter, Jordan Baker shares the truth about Gatsby and Daisy, which helps Nick understand him a little bit better: “He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.” In Nick’s eyes, Gatsby has now separated himself from the moths.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts or your favorite quotes from this chapter in the comment section below.