Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Glow-in-the-Dark Dogs

Dear Readers,

Did you hear about the new glow-in-the-dark dogs? Some Korean scientists genetically designed dogs to glow in the dark when you shine an ultra-violet light on them.

Some people might think it's weird, or useless, but I think it's pretty awesome. Go science!

I bet there's gonna be some weird people out there who want their pet dog to glow in the dark, too.

Now if only those scientists could get dogs to spit giant flames of fire! Or jump a hundred feet in the air! Or grow wool!

It reminds me of that one time when scientists grew a human ear on the back of a mouse. Weird stuff.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Theatre Education Response Papers

Dear Readers,

Here are my Theatre 430 Response Papers from Spring 2007. Enjoy. Some of them are really crazy. Especially the second one. You should read the second one for sure.

[this first one does not have a title]

Recently I read the foreword, introduction, and first chapter of Learning to Teach Drama: A Case Narrative Approach. I found the foreword, which defended the setup of the book, to be very interesting. It said that the book attempted to bridge teaching theory and practice, and that made sense to me. Sometimes I feel like theory and practice are two separate worlds that never really meet up and do lunch. Rather, in textbooks, theory and practice are like oil and water. But Learning to Teach Drama attempts to, and so far I believe its doing a good job, bridge the gap

In the Introduction, the author writes, “When we frame and structure a previously lived event, the meaning of the event can change… after the recounting of an event, we understand it differently.” I agree. I do believe that an event and the recounting of that event are two very different things. Once you talk about something, you change it. Viewpoints are not perfect, memories fade, and so, as Robert Frost said, Nothing Gold can stay” Moments come and they leave and we can never get them back. We can only remember them through the images and words we have attached to them. I loved it when my high school drama teacher talked about the performance of a play as a moment in time that can never be retrieved. Even a video recording of a play cannot do justice to what the play actually was in that magic moment of performance. I feel as though my feelings would best be described with a poem, “Silentium” by the Russian poet Fëdor Tyútchev.


Silence: hide yourself, conceal
your feelings and your dreams –
let them rise and set once more
in the abyss of your spirit,
silent, white stars in the night –
wonder at them – and be silent.

How can one’s own heart speak?
How can another know?
Will they see what you live by?
A thought once spoken is a lie:
troubling the streams, you cloud them –
drink from them – and be silent.

Know how to live deep inside –
there’s a universe in your mind
of mysterious thoughts, enchantments:
they’ll be drowned by World outside
they’ll be driven off by daylight –
hear them singing – and be silent! …

But, as romantic as the idea of escaping into the universes of our minds is, we have to interact with other human beings. Physical and emotional well-being depends upon this interpersonal interaction. Not only that, but, if we are to learn from other people, those other people must talk to us about their experiences. Yes, something is lost in translation, or in changing mediums, but, what else are we gonna do? We’re not telepathic. So, if we are to communicate with others, and if we are to impart of the wisdom we have accrued, we have to blah blah blah.

On to the stuff about acting.

In the first case scenario, the author was worried about throwing students into performing scenes before they were able to handle it. The author seemed to think that progressing in drama was somewhat of a linear process. That is, you start with easy roles and move on to difficult roles. Although I agree with the author somewhat, I don’t think it does irreparable harm to let a middle-schooler play Hamlet if the middle-schooler really really wants to play Hamlet. In fact, I think it’s healthy to let students perform the roles that they are interested in. Sure, a great performance might not result from letting a middle-schooler do Shakespeare, but, hey, it’s not about the performance, it’s about the process.

Overall, it’s a good book so far and I expect it will only improve.

[this second essay does not have a title either, but it's really good!]

To be honest, the first thing to cross my mind when I read chapter 2 was, “Hippie!” Yeah, the student teacher had dimmed the lights and was playing Enya and had the students meditating. The teacher only needed to light some incense and turn on some psychedelic lava lamps to complete her hippiness. But, I shouldn’t be mean. The situation was real and the student teacher is volunteering his or her experiences that we might learn. Uh… I wonder how related guided imagery is to drama. I do find guided imagery kind of neat and relaxing, but I doubt that it’s closely related to theatre. The first scenario was just weird from the get-go. Let me get this straight, the teacher was doing guided imagery to help them come up with ideas for their masks? Why not just brainstorm like normal people by drawing bubbles and lines and words on a piece of paper? The teacher seems to think that altering your state of consciousness and retrieving some subconscious stuff is good to tap into some primeval imaginary land. But I think there’s mental states I don’t wanna get into. Our subconscious is, by definition, below our consciousness, and we ought to keep it that way. So what if in my subconscious I’m cankered with rage or I’m in love with my mother and I wanna kill my father? I’m busy trying to suppress that stuff! I believe that ultra-fanciful imaginations should be chained up, locked up and stricken from the record. The good of society rests on the fact that people suppress their desires, forget the unmentionable, and smile for the camera. Are social norms and mores bad? No! They’re fabulous! They keep my clothes on and my hands to myself! Let us not be deceived by weirdo pseudo-actors who claim their trippy acting methods are better than our straight-laced acting methods. Plenty of wonderful actors act greatly without tapping into the swampy unknown grey matter. Right now I’m taking Asian theatre, and in ancient Asian style, there was none of this Stanislavsky stuff. Acting in ancient Asia was pretending. It was storytelling and performing. Acting was not the metaphysical channeling of spirits or the mystical experimentation of astral projections in dark rooms with people chanting, with sensual elements so arranged to trip you out! (Have you ever heard of astral projection, man?! Some people have claimed to voluntarily leave their bodies, float around and go spy on people, undetected. Or sometimes they go visit dead relatives. Hmmmm…. Sounds a lot like guided imagery to me!) Seriously though, I worry about the intervention of evil spirits. There are ghosts around us, some good, and some evil. If we put our minds into a weird state, such as the state provoked by guided imagery, we’re opening the floodgates to evil-spirit land. Some forms of guided imagery is essentially saying “Come on in, evil specters! Possess me if you want! It’ll help me act for the Spring musical!” Listen, Barb, I’m trying to fight off insanity the best I can. At times, I desperately cling to reality. I defend my identity through normal interactions with other human beings, who help me define myself. Without the constant assurance of loved ones and acquaintances, I might act in ways unbecoming of a gentleman, to say the least. And I’m sure there’s others out there like me. Surely, some students are like that. And I’m not saying that students have mental problems, I’m saying that there’s a real spirit world out there, undetected by science, encroaching on our lives. Theatres are haunted enough as it is. We don’t need ghosts helping us get into character. We don’t need spooks distributing advice on script analysis. And we certainly don’t need demons doling out ideas for papier-mâché masks! So… what have we decided? We have decided 3 things: 1) “guided imagery” and other such exercises invite metaphysical bullies into our classrooms. 2) Enya should be listened to only on private property. 3) Stanislavsky was a bearded Viking whose hobbies included astral projection. Now, Barb, I might sound crazy but I don’t think I’m too far gone. And of course I would be able to tell, through rational means, if I were crazy.

Capitalism and Diplomacy in Twenty-First Century Arizona

Wow, the kids in the first case of chapter 3 were pretty bad. Methinks a new teacher would do well to put the Fear of the Teacher into their hearts. I’ve heard that a teacher shouldn’t smile too much in the first few weeks of the school year, that way, the students are afraid of you and they’ll behave. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I think teachers need to be forceful now and then. How forceful? I don’t know. Depends on the situation, I guess. Classroom management is rough; I’m not experienced enough to preach about the way to classroom perfection.

I was struck by a line on page 40: “I learned that listening and trust building is best when it comes out of the drama itself instead of being forced on students.” I believe that a proper study of good drama will get a class to behave sooner than a discussion about behavior will get them to behave. Let me tell a personal anecdote that should explain what I mean. I was bit by the acting bug during my sophomore in high school, when I was enrolled in my first drama class ever. Our class wrote (well, our class brainstormed it and then the teacher really wrote it.) and performed an anti-drug play in front of the whole middle school. I played the little brother of a drug addict. I had done some acting stuff in front of twenty or so of my classmates, but this was the first time I had done anything in front of a whole sea of people. I was so nervous, and I thought there was no way they could all hear me, so I delivered my lines really really loud. (By the way, some of the best acting advice I ever got was from my Dad. He said, before one of my plays, “Now Telemoonfa, be sure n’ talk real loud n’ real slow, so I can understand what yer sayin’.”) Being on stage in front of that many people was a rush. It was a thrill. It was electric! It was magic! Plus, being in that play, I got to rub elbows with Brian Downing, the oh-so-serious 11th grade actor! From then on, I loved drama. That performance really matured me. I treated my drama class differently after that performance. And while I’m sure I caused some problems in my drama classes after that, I could never forget the magical afternoon when hundreds of middle-schoolers saw me act.

I really think that if students have great experiences like the one I had, then they will come to respect drama. The students will want to learn the craft, the history, and the theories of theatre. Therefore, if the students love the subject, there should be no classroom management issues. Of course, this is a little idealistic. No matter how much a teacher or a student loves drama, there are certainly going to be bad days.

But I want to return to the line that struck me. “I learned that listening and trust building is best when it comes out of the drama itself instead of being forced on students.” I hope that when I’m a teacher I can let the drama itself work its magic. Do you really have to be an awesome teacher to teach an awesome play? The work stands on its own. The teacher needs to not get in the way of students loving a book, or a play. My European Literature professor said that an old wise teacher once told him, “If you’re ever teaching Don Quixote, and don’t know what to say, just flip open the book to anywhere, start reading aloud, and it will be good.” Miguel De Cervantes has done the hard work for you, says I. Let the students get Quixote from Cervantes, not filtered through a mediocre teacher. Let the students feel the magic. If they feel the magic, there shouldn’t be any classroom management problems.

But again I must confess, teenagers can be cruel, and no matter how much you love drama, they might not love it too, and they may even think you’re nerdy for loving drama. Alas.

As I read Learning to Teach Drama, I hear a lot of “Oh, the class isn’t ready to handle performance.” I don’t completely understand what this means. I guess if the students were rudely interrupting monologues, then the students wouldn’t be ready to perform. But I think sometimes you just need to be thrown into the spotlight. Ready or not, here performance comes! I refer you to my previous anecdote. I could have been prepared more; I could have been made to suffer through an eternity of embarrassing trust exercises, but instead, the teacher saw it fit to put us all in the spotlight. And I turned out just fine.

For the rest of this response, I refer you to the following quote on page 42: “Our school practices teach our students to be self-centered. At school we see the honor roll, the prestige of athletic competition, the refocusing of programs to individualized computer instruction and modularization, and the concentration on job skills rather than education.” Amen. Today’s schools are tragically driven by competition. In our capitalistic society, there are too many contests happening. Students feel constantly ranked and graded. Students aren’t encouraged to look after each other so much as they are encouraged to beat one another at a sport or get a higher test score, or whatever. But wait, there’s hope! It starts with a D. The second letter is R… OK I’ll just tell you it’s DRAMA! Yes, Drama! Drama can save the school by offering a cooperative learning environment. The very nature of theatre requires collaboration! Everyone’s a winner!

Now wait, I know what you’re thinking: “How can performing a few silly skits divert the primeval human urge to conquer one’s perceived foes?” To you, my hypothetical dissenting reader, I say drop dead.

Shame, Learning, Page 71, Marx, Theatre’s Historical Marginalization, and Perfection: All Explained in Five Easy Paginal Installments! (Paginal: of or refering to pages)

It’s a shame that drama is often the last fine arts option for students. Sadly, when kids get kicked out of band or choir or whatever, they come to drama. And so drama classes are sometimes composed of a disproportionate number of rabble-rousers. But part of me roots for the underdog. I’ve seen the movies where a new teacher in an inner-city school gets a group of gang members and ragamuffins and whippersnappers and then voila! An hour or so later, the kids are going to Harvard! It would be great to show a school administration what you could do with a troubled drama class. But then again, maybe that stuff is just movie stuff.

Learning is a two way process. It requires effort on the part of a teacher and a student. To a certain extent, the learner is responsible for his or her own education. Sadly, many students don’t see it that way; some students expect the teacher to wave a magic wand to fill up their heads with knowledge and skills.

Page 71 says “I do feel it’s important to make sure that there is some type of performance or presentation of students’ work.” I agree. In a dram classroom, there must be a show. Humans are generally, speaking, social creatures. They need interaction with other people. They also need a sense of real-world context for their classroom activities. Showcasing or publication is not only important in a drama classroom, but also in an English classroom. An indispensable part of the writing process is publication. (Publication could mean real publication in a magazine or journal, or it could mean just reading a poem in front of the class, or in front of elementary students, etc.) When students feel that their work connects to the real world, the work immediately becomes more meaningful, and their work improves. (I could go look up some research to back me up, but whatever.) I’m afraid that students feel that nobody listens to and nobody cares about them. If we want meaningful learning to occur, we must give students frequent opportunities to interact with the real world, instead of the sometimes forced and hokey school atmosphere. Examples showing interaction with the real world include reading the newspaper and looking for bias and propaganda and connotation, or publishing a school newspaper, or performing a children’s play for an elementary school, or putting on a real play for the public, etc.

I’m not sure how connected my next paragraph is to teaching drama, but... Students feeling disconnected from their schoolwork might be like workers feeling disconnected from their work. I remember reading in an anthropology textbook a while back the definition of alienation, and I think it had to something to do with the effect of modern work on people’s lives. Work changed immensely during the industrial revolution. Henry Ford changed factory work even more with his assembly line. Often times, in an industrial society, a man has to work in a factory, doing something as mundane as pushing one button, over and over and over, all day, every day, on an assembly line. The man receives a paycheck, which he exchanges for paper money, which is again exchanged for food. Besides being boring, this could be damaging to the man’s soul. You see, the connection between pushing one button and sustaining life is too far removed. Inside humans is a whole lot of instinct to hunt and gather, and maybe to sow and to reap, to provide for one’s self and loved ones and offspring. (Some disagree with me here. It’s always risky when you talk about human nature; people have been trying to figure out what that is for years.) But I feel there is a primal urge in a man to survive, to manipulate the naturally occurring elements about him to survive. Hunting, planting, harvesting, eating, warming: these things are natural, in a Henry David Thoreau type of way. How romantic is the idea of a man planting his own garden, eating his own food, teaching his young the ways of survival! He sees directly the correlation between his toil and his bread. In stark contrast to this type of work, modern industrial societies require factories. Thus modern workers feel alienated. Workers feel that they are a tool. I don’t claim to be an expert on Marx, but he came up with great thoughts on this subject. Here’s some stuff I copied and pasted from the Internet:

Alienation in the labour process

In a nutshell Marx's Theory of Alienation is the contention that in modern industrial production under capitalist conditions workers will inevitably lose control of their lives by losing control over their work. Workers thus cease to be autonomous beings in any significant sense.
In Marx's thought, the worker under capitalism is alienated because the products of his / her labor are removed from the worker's direct control, and replaced by "foreign", "alienated" products (e.g. money).

As the concept of alienation is developed in Marx' Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), the worker is seen to be alienated in several interconnected ways: (1) from the product of his work (which departs from him into the "system"), (2) from work itself (and hence - since Marx conceives of the human being as a fundamentally creative animal - from himself, from his innermost essence as a creative being), (3) from the species-nature of humanity as such (since creative, productive activity ceases to be a goal in itself and is transformed into a means for individual survival), and (4) from other humans (since their survival competes with his).

Perhaps this is a bit of a stretch, but students feel alienated because they don’t have enough interaction with the real world. To the students, their work is meaningless- it produces nothing valuable. The only person who sees the results of a student’s toil is the teacher, who grades it for a minute or so, records it in his or her grade book, and then usually forgotten.

We must restore man to his garden.

We must return students to their natural world.

Moving on, drama has been slighted historically. In Shakespeare’s day, rowdy guys left London City limits to go see a play. Hollywood is constantly demonized by Christianity. Drama seems unscrupulous, etc. Drama people look bad on the outside. When approaching a drama teaching position, I feel that we should acknowledge the underlying subconscious American thought stuff if we are to understand why drama classes get snubbed in high schools. Drama classes, many think, is where the weirdoes and stoners and homosexuals and losers go. It’s a sad thing, but I feel the belittling collective American attitude about it. And I don’t think I’m being too much of a victim here. But we who practice the arts of theatre know the grand secret. We are experienced in the magical truth. We know from whence our life-juice cometh.

Once again moving on, the book said, “I was disappointed that I couldn’t get more accomplished.” After talking to the students when the show was over, I felt quite differently. They told me how much they had learned and that it had been a wonderful experience.” Sometimes I want perfection in a performance. When I get less than perfection, I may consider the undertaking to be a failure. But I bet plenty of people learned in the process. I need to remind myself, “It’s OK, I’m doing better than I think I am, etc.” Even if a show doesn’t go so well, well, hopefully the cast and crew learned stuff anyway.

Moving on again, I’m scared to have special needs students in my classes. I have not had too much interaction with these types of people in my life. This article got me thinking about it though. I did have this epiphany: I could theorize forever about the ideal school, about mainstreaming vs. segregation, the purpose of special education, and the way society views drama, but eventually I have to get down to the nuts and bolts. I have to accept what I’m given and do the best I can. Perfection is not to be attained in this life; perfection is to be sought. Jesus and Plato back me up on this one. While we seek perfection, we need to operate in this world of imperfection.

Tough Times for Teachers

“Expect the Unexpected” was an emotionally hard chapter to read. I hope I don’t have to deal with any of these hard situations, like an extremely disturbed student, suicide, or sexual harassment, when I’m a teacher. One part of me thinks, “Why did we read about this? There were no answers to these troubling situations.” But this uncertainty is exactly what I appreciate about Learning to Teach Drama. It seems to me to be an unorthodox textbook, and I like that. There aren’t clear-cut answers to everything in life, and it’s nice not to have to read about all the answers that textbook-writers have contrived.

In response to the first case, some people are just downers, and you need to get away from them. I have this friend, who I have not seen or communicated with in a long time, and she’s poor and she’s manic depressive and she’s smart but she dropped out of high school. Every time I talk to her it seems like the world is unfair, everybody’s a jerk, and I just feel sad. But I get away from her for a while and it seems like everything is good again, when I surround myself with happy people. Rick, the emotionally messed up kid in chapter 6, seems like a downer to me. People are better off when he’s absent. Dang, that’s harsh. But true. Rough stuff. Emotionally hard. Sometimes people need to be removed from class. Where will they go? I don’t know- away from my class; that’s all I know. I can’t speak from real teaching experience; I have not been a teacher. But I do think that rules must be imposed upon students. They are not mature enough to handle freedom. They are aware of what they are able to do, but unaware of what they should do. Rules rules rules. Rules are important.

In response to the second case, about suicide: Rough. No answers. All I would say is don’t exploit the death. Don’t try to turn the tragic situation into a learning experience. Don’t do improv. exercises about the death. Don’t reenact the suicide- don’t try to learn, in a classroom, from anything so close to home. Be quiet. Be respectful. Behave like you would behave at a funeral.

In response to the third case, about sexual harassment: Yikes. Bad situation. I feel like since I’m 24, married, and kind of mature, a situation similar to the woman’s in “the Places I Went” won’t happen to me. But I’m sounding self-centered and self-absorbed. It’s a shame that stuff like that happens anywhere to anybody. I think the student teacher and the problem student should have been separated.

Now that I’ve finished the book, some general concluding remarks are in order. I loved the personal quality of Learning to Teach Drama. By “personal quality” I mean I really felt as though I was part of a conversation. A friendly conversation. I felt like I was conversing informally with student teachers and hearing about their experiences. And at times I fancied while I was writing these response papers, that the writers could hear me. Great book.


Essays from an Asian Theatre Class I took

Dear Readers,

Here are the essays I wrote for an Asian Theatre class I took in the Spring of 2007 at NAU.

Asian Elements in Wolf of Mount Zhong

Wolf of Mount Zhong by Wang Jiusi is a delightful Asian play with a strikingly different style than modern Western plays. When reading the play, one immediately recognizes how unusual it is. But just what is it that sets this play apart from the typical play likely to be seen in present-day America? What elements contribute to its foreignness? What are the tell-tale signs that this play is greatly removed from us by time and space? This essay answers these questions by identifying four of the play’s foreign elements. The elements discussed here are overt exposition, direct addresses to the audiences, unrealistic characters, and fable qualities.

First, Wolf of Mount Zhong contains overt exposition. In most modern Western plays, we learn about characters gradually through costumes, movements, vocal tones, but mostly through dialogue among characters. In Zhong, however, we learn about characters directly from the characters, telling us about themselves. For example, King Jianzi, Master Dongguo, the Local Deity and others establish background information by talking directly to the audience. It’s as if the characters act as mini-narrators for themselves. The first line of Wolf of Mount Zhong demonstrates this overt exposition: “I am King Jianzi of Zhao.” This line informs the audience quickly and clearly who the man on the stage is representing.

Second, Zhong employs a great deal of direct addresses, that is, lines delivered straight to the audience. For instance, Dongguo’s first line is, “I am Master Dongguo, and I’m from the land of Yan.” It wouldn’t make sense for him to be saying that line to himself or to his donkey, and there’s nobody else in that scene with him. So, Dongguo must be saying this line straight to the audience. This technique is very different from most modern Western plays, where events are portrayed as realistically as possible. The act of talking straight to an audience breaks the fourth wall, so to speak. It reminds the audience that they are in a theatre, watching a play. Some would consider breaking the fourth wall a flaw in playwriting, but for this ancient Asian style, direct addresses are fitting.

Third, the play contains unrealistic, two-dimensional characters. (How much more unrealistic can you get than a talking apricot-tree?) The characters do not seem to have real emotions and backgrounds. Rather, they are representing certain types of people. I would think that the actors acting in this play would not subscribe to the Stanislavsky system, look for inner motivation, or write a character analysis identifying their grandfather’s livelihood. Probably the actors wouldn’t really feel the parts; they would outwardly manifest those particular body positions, facial expressions and vocal intonations which correspond to the moments in the story they were representing.

Fourth, the play has the feel of a fairy tale, with a moral at the end. The moral comes at the point where the Local Deity says to Master Dongguo, “You are on the wrong track, scholar! You would do better to follow Confucius’s and Mencius’s doctrines of kindliness applied to moral rightness.” Thus the play ends with a pretty clear moral: while it’s good to be nice to animals, you can’t let them eat you. This clear moral at the end of the play starkly contrasts so-called good drama nowadays. I’ve heard several times that a good play, just like a good novel, is open to many different interpretations. I have also heard that a good play contains many different three-dimensional characters who are put into perplexing moral dilemmas, for which there is no easy answer. In contrast to most modern Western plays, Zhong relies more on storyline and themes to carry it forward, rather than on realistic characters.

Wolf of Mount Zhong does many things that modern audiences would consider wrong, sloppy, or unbecoming of a good play. It contains overt exposition, direct addresses, unrealistic characters, and a moral at the end of the story. Yet despite these unusual elements, Zhong remains a complete and delightful piece of art.

The Source Story for Hegemon King says farewell to his Queen

Many of William Shakespeare’s plays were based on historical events. Particularly, many of his histories and tragedies were not born in the Bard’s imagination; rather, he took a documented piece of history, studied it, and absorbed it. Then, he put the historical information into a poetic form, and resulted with a play. Similarly, Hegemon King says farewell to his Queen, whose popular Peking Opera version was written in the twentieth century, has its roots in the 232-202 BC. The main character, the Hegemon King, Xiang Yu, was based off of a real Chinese general named Xiang Yu. But the similarities don’t end there. When researching the source story for Hegemon King, I was surprised to find that so many of the events in the play were representations of what had actually happened over two thousand years ago. In this essay I will show what elements between the play and the history are similar.

First, Xiang Yu, in the play, was prideful. In real life, he was no different. (The following quote, as well as the rest of my quotes, not coming directly from the play, come from Wikipedia.com) “…his lack of political skills, the inability to accept criticism, and his inability to listen to wise advisors would eventually lead to his downfall.” Yes, Xiang Yu, according to our sources, was a cocky general. He had much more experience on the battlefield than he had at a bargaining table. And so we say that Xiang Yu’s tragic flaw was pride. A “tragic flaw” is typically a literary device, a thing that scholars analyze in a carefully crafted work of fiction. Granted, sometimes historians mold real events into stories, and may use terms like “the rising action of WW I,” but scholarly historians are careful not to cheapen the truth by turning real events into a show, with a beginning, a middle, an end, and with a good guy and a bad guy. Although storytelling makes for good drama, storytelling makes for inaccurate history. Thus, in Hegemon King, the line between fiction and non-fiction grows hazy.

Second, there really was a battle between two generals named Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, and there really was a field marshal named Han Xin. The Wikipedia article states, “Xiang and Liu would fight a five-year-year war known as the Chu Han Contention.” In the play, Xiang Yu says to Liu Bang, “Last time, at Guling, I spared your life, and these five years past I have never once clashed with you in personal combat.” So, Mei Lanfang was true to the time line of the war.
Third, Liu Bang really “ordered his army to sing songs from Xiang's native country of Chu to demoralize Xiang's army.” In the play, Han Xin sings, “I shall set another snare, with songs from Chu, their native land.” And so, songs from Xinag’s homeland were really sung by Liu Bang’s forces to discourage Xiang’s forces. This wasn’t just a clever tear-jerking plot device invented by Lanfang; it really happened. However, I did find a discrepancy between the play and the history on this point: the play suggests that Han Xin came up with the idea for singing native Chu songs, but the history says it was Liu Bang who came up with that idea. Which account are we to believe? Instinct tells me that it is always safer to trust the researched history, rather than the artistic play.

Finally, both in the play and in real life, Xiang Yu took his own life. In the play, Xiang Yu sees Lu Matong, and tells Matong that he will commit suicide so Matong can collect the money for the decapitated head. Then Xiang sings a song. In reality, though, Xiang Yu probably did not sing right before he committed suicide. Xiang Yu must have been out of breath at the moment. Also, wikipedia said about the suicide: “There are many different stories about Xiang Yu’s suicide. One famous example is when he was surrounded by Han cavalry, he saw an old friend and said ‘Are you Lu Matong? I have heard the Prince of Han has a great reward for my head. Here, let me give you this…’ After saying these words, he killed himself. (A legend indicates that he decapitated himself with his own sword, although many dispute whether such a thing is possible.)” So, since there probably was not a news reporter present at Xiang Yu’s death, writing down exactly what happened and exactly what was said, perhaps we can never know what happened way back in 202 BC.

The Chu Han Contention happened so long ago, that it’s impossible to know what actually happened. But while writing the play, Lanfang must have decided what facts to keep in, what facts to leave out, what to embellish, and etc. In this process of picking and choosing, the accuracy of the story is hurt, but the dramatic qualities of the play are enhanced. We will never be able to know just how true Hegemon King says farewell to his Queen is, but it is interesting to know that much of the play is based off true events.

Sailboats, Sailing Boats, and Sailing-Boats: Translation Issues in Thunderstorm

Plays are generally written to be produced and watched, not read. But many scholars, at times, treat plays as written literature. Scholars look for similes, metaphors, and other literary devices. In this brief essay, I have decided to treat Thunderstorm by Cao Yu as literature. But before we examine the play as literature, we must understand that Thunderstorm is translation literature. That is, it was originally written in Chinese, and then translated into English. Therefore, to understand literary devices we find in Cao Yu’s play, we must first understand translation generally.

Literature is always purest in its original language. For example, I have a copy of the Odyssey that looks like a novel. It has chapters, paragraphs, and sentences. But the Odyssey was originally an epic poem. Homer’s work was poetry; a modern translator made it prose. This example makes it plain to see that, inevitably, literary gems are lost in translation. Yes, certain unknown gems are lost in the translation process, and we can never get them back. Even if we spent years learning the original language, we would have to virtually live in a different time and place to fully understand cultural context. Part of appreciating a play from a different time, culture, and language is recognizing that an outsider can never completely understand the play in the same way that a native speaker or an original audience member would understand it.

Nevertheless, if we abandoned all literature originally written in a non-English tongue, we’d be saying goodbye to Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Tolstoy, Homer, and, yes, Cao Yu. Of course we shouldn’t stop reading translated works just because they are translated. I am only pointing out that we must always remember that we are at the mercy of the translator. We do not read the work in its original glory- we get the filtered version.

However, most literary elements make a relatively smooth transition from language to language. Plots and characters, for example, make the changeover easily. Slang, idioms, alliterations, rhymes, and other word-plays, on the hand, are either drastically altered or totally lost in the translation process. And so, one can distinguish between the work of an original author and the work of the translator. I claim that in Thunderstorm, themes, characters, and stories should rightly be attributed to Cao Yu. However, good use of alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhymes, adept punctuation, and other such things should be attributed to Wang Zuoliang and Barnes, the translators.

In the rest of this essay, I’ll point out a few literary element originated by Cao Yu, and then some literary elements originated by Zuoliang and Barnes. In attributing literary elements to the author and the translator, I will refer to a single passage, found on page 277, where Chong is trying to woo Sifeng.

Chong: Sometimes I forget the present- (with a rapt expression on his face) I forget my home, I forget you, I forget my mother- I even forget myself. It seems like a winter morning, with a brilliant sky overhead…on a boundless sea… there’s a little sailing-boat, light as a gull. When the sea breeze gets stronger, and there’s a salty tang in the air, the white sails billow out like the wings of a hawk and the boat skims over the sea, just kissing the waves, racing towards the horizon. The sky is empty except for a few patches of white cloud floating lazily on the horizon. We sit in the bows, gazing ahead, for ahead of us is our world.

Yu uses a repetend when he repeats “forget.” (I know that this was the author’s doing because “forget” appears five times in the English page, and the Chinese symbol representing “forget” occurs five times on the adjacent Chinese page.) So, the poetic repetition of a word was carried over from Chinese to English.

Yu is also responsible for imagery. In the passage being discussed, Chong says, “a salty tang in the air”and, “The sky is empty except for a few patches of white cloud.” Thus, our taste buds and eyeballs are summoned as Yu creates sensuous language.

In this passage we can also see the handiwork of Wang Zuoliang and Barnes, the translators. The translators create an alliteration with “skims over the sea.” The repetition of the ‘s’ sound makes his speech all the more romantic. Surely Cao Yu could not have intended this- he was writing in Chinese!

To see more of the translators’ fingerprints, let me draw your attention to “a little sailing-boat.” It’s such a problematic phrase. Chong does not say “a little sailboat.” If he had said “sailboat,” we would understand that the boat is a specific type of boat- a sailboat. And we would also get even more specific- we would understand that it was a little sailboat, rather than a medium-sized or a large sailboat. Nor does the text say “a little sailing boat,” without the hyphen. “A little sailing boat,” would have meant that we do not know specifically what make and model the boat it is, but the gerund “sailing” would describe the boat. Or, “sailing boat” (Again, without the hyphen,) could also be the British alternative for the American “sailboat.” Instead of these two options, which both make sense, the translators wrote, “sailing-boat,” with a hyphen; so, I don’t know what to think. “Sailing-boat,” with the hyphen is not to be found in any dictionary I’ve seen. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that the translators made a mistake- as they have in other places in the text.

Perhaps you may think it strange that I’m making such a big deal about a little hyphen. I have two responses to your hypothetical concern. My first response is, when you’re dealing with literature, punctuation can make a huge difference. Why, scholars could spend pages and hours discussing E. E. Cummings use of punctuation, for example. Sometimes punctuation is just as important as word choice. My second response is, if I were an actor playing Chong, I’d like to know what type of boat I’m supposed to be imagining. Am I to imagine a sailboat or a boat that is sailing? It could conceivably make a minute difference in my performance!
If we were to read Thunderstorm in its original language, there would be no confusion. We would know which boat Yu meant. But since the play has been altered to reach English speakers, some confusing things have developed.

I could go on forever pointing out little things that have changed during the translation process. But, I suspect that what I have written is sufficient for my purposes. Overall, while it is interesting to think about the slight differences between the Chinese and the English version of Thunderstorm, I believe that no matter what language the play is translated into, its wonderful drama will come shining through.

The Chorus, Tarokaja and Jirokaja

As I read “The Demon of Oeyama,” the Chorus struck me as an interesting type of character. In “Tied to a Stick,” both Tarokaja and Jirokaja were hilarious. In this essay, I will discuss the characteristics of the Chorus, Tarokaja and Jirokaja.

The Chorus interested me because it is uniquely Noh. There is not really a modern day equivalent to a Noh Chorus. They don’t really have a personality of their own; they seem to switch freely from narrator to backup singers to the voices of characters who are too busy dancing or fighting to talk. Thus, the Chorus switches its functions. To a modern Western audience member, the Chorus morphing between these several roles would be confusing. But to someone familiar with Noh, the convention is understood.

Several quotes will demonstrate what I mean by “switching functions.” First, the Chorus acts as a narrator, describing the action. “He dashes forward/ seizes the demon’s arm, and they grapple fiercely.” (At first I thought that this language was redundant. After all, the audience can plainly see the actors fighting. But then I thought that much of the fight scene might be portrayed as a symbolic dance, so an explanation would be helpful to the audience.)
Second, the Chorus acts as backup singers when they sing, “What will go well with the wine? Among the flowers…” This seems to be a song that is not integral to the plot, but that is a pretty song for the audience to hear, and it sets a nice mood.

Third, the Chorus speaks for particular characters. Specifically, the Chorus speaks for the Shite many times. We see the transition between the Shite’s dialogue and the Chorus’ dialogue clearly in the following excerpt:

SHITE (opens his fan)
Indeed, it is true,

CHORUS indeed, it is true
That Demon’s Castle is near,

So, the Chorus is a very versatile and flexible type of “character,” if you can call the Chorus a character.

Next, I will discuss two very funny men, Tarokaja and Jirokaja, from “Tied to a Stick.” These men remind me of the three stooges, only more cartoon-like. Just get a load of these happy-go-lucky lines they say: “Great!” “Bravo! Bravo! Encore!” “Oh, goody, goody!” “A marvelous idea you’ve just had there!” At times Tarokaja and Jirokaja are best of friends and partners in mischief. They compliment each other and just have a jolly time together while their master is away. But at other times, they betray each other. Remember that in the beginning Tarokaja ploys with the Master to tie Jirokaja to the stick. And then in the end they both blame each other when the Master comes back.

Since Tarokaja and Jirokaja change so quickly, they should not be seen as realistic characters. They should be thought of more as clowns or comedians, who are just trying to get a laugh out of the audience. But even though they are far from being realistic, it is nonetheless a hilarious play. The audience laughs at their plight. The audience can identify with their desire for a good drink now and then. Also, at the end of the play, when Jirokaja chases the Master away, using his “warding off a night attack” secret technique, the audience can identify with that. Haven’t we all, sometime, wanted to chase away our boss or parent or other authority figure?

In conclusion, the Chorus from “The Demon of Oeyama” and the two clowns from “Tied to a Stick” are very interesting characters that can really only exist in Noh and Kyogen theatre. Yep, they sure don’t create characters like these anymore.

Obligation vs. Compassion

The Subscription List is a complicated serious Kabuki play dealing with loyalty issues. To quote from the editor’s essay before the play, “The conflict between giri (obligation) and ninjo (human sympathy) is a major theme in Japanese drama.” In much of Asian theatre, the conflict between loyalty and compassion is explored. The Subscription List is a great example of a play that addresses the giri-ninjo conflict. Two characters have this ethical dilemma: Benkei and Togashi.
Benkei is a priest that is a devoted follower of Yoshitsune. His true loyalty is made apparent in his lines to Yoshitsune, “Oh, my lord, it pains me to see you degraded and reviled. But your life itself is all-important.” Lest we think these words may be flattery or lies, the stage directions say, “(To Yoshitsune, with deep respect). As a loyal servant to Yoshitsune, Benkei is obligated to do all he can to save his masters life. He could be compared to a bodyguard for a public official.

Benkei’s big moment of ethical dilemma comes on page 228, when Benkei strikes Yoshitsune three times. Obligation utterly forbids a servant to strike his master. Human sympathy, though, requires Benkei to hit his master. Benkei’s deep remorse is shown both in the stage directions and in Benkei’s own dialogue. The stage directions say, just after the hitting, “Benkei’s lips quiver and he suppresses his tears.” Later, away from Togashi and the other guards, Benkei says, “I have struck my own dear lord. The heavenly reprisals are frightening to contemplate. How wrong I have been! How wrong!”

Let’s move on to Togashi. We are introduced to Togashi as a fierce samurai guard, loyal to his master, Lord Yoritomo. He is standing guard to find and apprehend Yoshitsune. As a samurai and a guard, Togashi is under obligation to stay true to his job, but his human sympathy gets the better of him and he lets the brother go on. In the beginning, Togashi is not sure of the true identity of the priest and the porter. The stage directions on page 219 say that Togashi is, “(suspicious and determined to test Benkei’s story.)” Later, though, the reader understands that Togashi knows who has come to the Ataka barrier. The stage directions on page 224 say, “Togashi is certain they are Benkei and Yoshitsune, yet Benkei has not faltered in his defense of his master. Impressed, Togashi decides to let them pass.” Thus, in the end, Togashi gives in to his compassionate feelings and lets the group pass.

At the end of the play, Benkei and Togashi share a special, understanding moment together. They respect each other as fellow samurais. They also enjoy some sake together! It’s as though the play is saying that at times it is appropriate to act based on obligation, and at other times it is appropriate to act based on compassion. Both ideals must be sought; only wisdom can dictate when a certain course of action should be taken.

“The Zen Substitute” as Farce

“The Zen Substitute” is a rollicking, irreverent, rib-tickling Japanese Kabuki farce by Okamura Shiko. But what is a farce, exactly? How does “The Zen Substitute” fit the characteristics of a farce? This essay will attempt to answer those questions.

The dictionary defines “farce” as, “a comedy characterized by broad satire and improbable situations,” and, “foolish show; mockery; a ridiculous sham.” The words in these definitions I want to stress are, “satire” and “mockery.” “The Zen Substitute” mocks several normally reverenced aspects of Japanese culture.

First, the chorus starts the play by saying, “Public tranquility!/ Domestic concordity!.../ Peace without!/ Peace within!/ No outside gale ruffles/ The harmony of the home.” After a few scenes, the audience quickly realizes that these pronouncements are sarcastic. If the chorus were honest, it would say, “Public uproar!/ Domestic conflict!/ Troubles within!/ Troubles without!/ A hurricane dishevels/ the harmony of the home.”

Lord Ukyo looks important when he first enters the stage. The stage directions say, “He cuts a magnificent figure in his voluminous court robe of pale-blue silk brocade patterned with silver and gold… In samurai style his head is shaven bare.” To the audience member unfamiliar with “The Zen Substitute”, Lord Ukyo appears to be practically an Asian King Lear- a noble, important, serious figurehead. But just about as soon as he opens his mouth and says such un-noble things like, “Hmmmmm….. Ah! I have it!” the audience understands that this guy is a clown, not a king.

Next, Lord Ukyo tries to appear to be pious in front of his wife. He bugs his wife about his spiritual needs and says, “What I’ll do is perform a seven-day-and-seven-night Zen meditation.” But really Lord Ukyo wants to visit his mistress. Lord Ukyo also tries to look really sweet in front of his wife. When his wife is out of the sound of her voice, he says, referring to his wife, “Where is the old shrew?” Then, when addressing her, he says, “Are you there, my love? Are you there, my sweet?” Then the chorus outs Ukyo’s false front when they say, “His words allure…/ But underneath it/ Lies, such lies!”

But not only does Lord Ukyo appear religious, the whole household seems religious. Indeed, at first glance, the house seems like a good Buddhist household. As evidence of their “piousness,” they have a family temple in their garden, and they frequently throw around such terms as “Buddha” and “Nirvana.” Contrary to their religious appearance, however, it turns out that they are hardly a devout family.

Another prized Japanese relationship is the relationship between a master and a servant. In the Subscription List, for example, Benkei is a perfect model of a loyal servant; his loyalty is celebrated. But in the Zen Substititue, Tarokaja doesn’t fake the Zen meditation out of a deep sense of loyalty and respect for his master. Rather, the servant fakes the meditation to save his own neck!

Several Japanese mores are centered around the way a man treats his wife. Traditionally, the man is supposed to wear the pants, so to speak; he’s supposed to be in charge. However, in the Zen Substititue, Lord Ukyo is scared of his domineering wife, Lady Tamamoi.

Let us return our attention to another part of the definition of “farce.” Besides being a satire, a farce includes improbable situations. Probably the most improbable situation in this play comes when Lady Tamamoi replaces Tarokaja. Lord Ukyo returns and, mistaking Tamamoi for Tarokaja, goes on and on about his wonderful time with his mistress. From page 263 to page 269, in fact, Lord Ukyo continues to blab about his hot time away from home. This is completely unbelievable. Wouldn’t he recognize that his “servant” was being way too quiet? And isn’t it a little much to believe that Lord Ukyo would insult his wife so much and so humorously? For goodness sake, Ukyo calls his wife “A decrepit old monkey who scratches around in the forest all day.” But of course this play has unbelievable elements; it’s a farce.

By poking fun at Japanese customs and containing several far-fetched situations, “The Zen Substitute” is a textbook example of a farcical Kabuki play.

Nephi and Laban: Noh Stlye

I think it would be a cool idea to turn the story of Nephi killing Laban from the Book of Mormon into a Noh play. Since the story is serious, involves a God (the Holy Ghost), and involves a killing and a disguise, the story lends itself well to being a serious Noh play. If I were to adapt that story into a Noh play, I would assign the following characters to the following role types: Nephi is the shite. Laban is the waki. Zoram is the wakizure. The chorus would speak the words of Nephi as the narrator and musicians would provide nice backup music. For this essay, I’ve decided to adapt 1 Nephi 4: 6-19 into a Noh-type script.

(Nephi advances on the hashigakari, to enter the stage. He stops at the third pine tree and sees Laban, drunken with wine. He dances a little. He advances to Laban’s body.)

Nephi: I behold his sword.

(He dances with Laban’s sword in hand while the chorus sings.)

Chorus: I behold his sword.
I draw it from the sheath.
Oh what fine workmanship this is!
Oh what fine workmanship this is!
The hilt is gold and the blade
Is made from the most precious steel!
The hilt is gold and the blade
Is made from the most precious steel!

(An interesting solo flute melody indicates the Spirit’s voice)

Nephi: What is this I hear?
It is the Spirit talking to me!
I should kill Laban?
But I have never killed anyone.

(He dances while the chorus sings.)

Chorus: Nephi is conflicted. He knows
That Laban is wicked, and he
Sees that he is drunk, and he
Needs to get the plates, but Oh-
Still what a difficult task!

(Nephi prepares to smite Laban, but then he stops)

Nephi: No! I will not do it!
Never have I shed the blood
Of man, and I never want to.
But what’s this I hear?
The voice is coming again!

Chorus: The Spirit, for the second time,
Tells Nephi to kill Laban-
The Spirit tells him stronger
Than the first time.
The Spirit tells him stronger
Than the first time.
Now Nephi prepares to kill.
He raises the sword afresh.

(Nephi prepares to smite Laban again, but then he stops and nearly cries)

Nephi: No! No! No! No!
Please, Spirit, please God,
Do not make me do this.
Let there be another way.

Chorus: But now the Spirt comes
The third time, saying:
Slay him, for the Lord
Hath delivered him into thy hands;
Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked
To bring forth his righteous purposes.
It is better that one man should perish
Than that a nation should
Dwindle and perish in disbelief.
It is better that one man should perish
Than that a nation should
Dwindle and perish in disbelief.

(Nephi takes Laban by his hair and symbolically cuts off Laban’s head. Assisted by the koken, Nephi puts on Laban’s clothes and armor.)

To reiterate, I think this story lends itself very well into being adapted into a Noh play. It feels important and epic, and it has the intervention of a divine character, as many Noh plays do. I wonder though, if Nephi would be seen by classic Noh audiences as a weakling, instead of a proper samurai-type shite. A samurai would probably not hesitate as much as Nephi did to kill a man. But also, a samurai might consider killing a drunken man to be cowardly. I’m not really sure; I guess I would have to research more about samurai ethics to figure out how audiences would react to Nephi’s struggle. But as it is the end of the semester and I’m a little researched out right now, I trust that this lack of information, (but wealth of imagination) will suffice.


Abraham Lincoln, Part Two

Dear Readers,

Remember how I like Abraham Lincoln a lot? Well, I'm going through some of my old computer files and I found this thing I wrote for a Directing class at NAU, where I directed a scene from Abe Lincoln in Illinois by Robert Sherwood. Enjoy. I think the production went poorly, but overall I'm happy with the experience.

Why I picked the scene

Sometime in September 2006 I read the play Abe Lincoln in Illinois. I found it strikingly different from most plays written nowadays. It was different because it did not try to be ultra realistic. Abe was unashamedly heroic. Abe Lincoln in Illinois felt clean. One of the scenes in particular struck me as possessing great material. It was two great monologues, and it ended up being the scene that I picked to direct. The language was higher, bigger and grander than ordinary speech.

Warning! The following few paragraphs are philosophical and only tangentially related to the content of Theatre 352, (yet it could be at the very root of art!) If this unrelated content is not on your rubric, Dr. Maier, freely skip.

I don’t support art only for arts sake, as Oscar Wilde does. I do not believe that the creation or patronization of art is justified just because it is stylistically or skillfully impressive. Art is less important than religion. Artists should not be afforded special treatment in relation to laws, morals, etc. Art should be subjugated under a moral code, a higher plan. So, according to my current thinking and feeling, a badly-acted and -directed Abe Lincoln in Illinois would ultimately be better than some well-acted and -directed amoral masturbatory play.

Of course I believe that the study and practice of style and skill and ability are important. Indeed, I’ve spent thousands of dollars of my parents’ money for college tuition in an attempt to master what is essentially style. But at the end of the day, and I predict that at the end of my life, meaning and morals, not unbridled expertise, feed my soul. I am being platonic here; I am not a sophist. Yet in order to run a public school in America, and in order to enrich the mind, we must focus on skill. For who among us can agree on which morals are best? Practicality dictates the teaching of skill. But, I say, thank goodness for time outside the classroom. Abe Lincoln in Illinois fits into my moral life-view mindset. It furthers a greater cause, which is patriotism, among other things. Some may criticize the play as being mere propaganda. Perhaps it is propaganda, but it is propaganda I cherish. And to those critics who call Abe Lincoln in Illinois a thinly-disguised hokey Fourth-of-July presidential speech, I say, what play or artwork is not propaganda, at least somewhat? No play exists in a vacuum. Every play says something about life, and about the historical and social context in which it was created. Every play at least reflects the values of the playwright. I go so far as to say that every play has an agenda, whether subconscious or deliberate. I reiterate: art must report to a higher meaning. The scene I directed fits into a higher meaning.

Another reason I picked a scene from Abe Lincoln in Illinois to direct is because of something I read in an essay titled “Tradition and the Individual Talent” by T. S. Elliot. According to Elliot, great art is not great art because it is strikingly unique, but because it communes deeply with tradition and great ideas. According to me, Abe Lincoln in Illinois communes deeply with great ideas. It deals with a part of our national heritage. Look, Lincoln is on the 5 dollar bill and the penny! So I feel that all Americans of the appropriate age should know at least something about Lincoln.

Some theatre historians see storytelling as a possible origin of theatre. Ancient Greek theatre, before Thespis came along, consisted of a line of masked chorus members reciting a long poem or story. This type of theatrical performance has been repeated among several different places and times. For example, Beowulf was dramatically retold by one man over and over again, to audiences’ delight. For another example, Samuel Beckett wrote Not I, a play which consists only of a woman’s mouth, her lips and teeth and tongue, (the rest of her body is shrouded in darkness) speaking the play. Also, playgoers in the Elizabethan era wrote in their journals that they “heard” a play, not “saw” a play. These examples show that in times past, the aural aspect of a play was held in higher esteem than the visual aspects of a play.

Nowadays, theatre has changed from being a primarily auditory experience to being a primarily visual experience. Look at the Lion King. Look at Cats. Look at many of the big Broadway shows right now. I dare say they are more akin to three-ring circuses than to plays 500 years ago. Probably this visual influence comes from movies. Plays on a stage cannot replicate the special effects we’ve all seen in Mission Impossible 2, Spiderman 2, or Harry Potter 2.

I admit there is a place for quickly-moving, brightly-colored objects traversing a stage. I just feel that there is too much of that eye-candy in too many plays. Sometimes theater should return to the words, to the beautiful language. Yes, it is high time that theatre makes its heroic exodus from the Babylon of special effects to the promised land of beautiful language. My humble scene was definitely not Moses, but maybe, just maybe, it was one of the sons of Aaron.

Reflection on Rehearsals

Rehearsals were held at various times in November, usually in my apartment. I only had two rehearsals where all three actors were there, that was the very first meeting and our final dress rehearsal. Other than that, the actors did not see each other much in the process. I don’t think that’s a problem, though, because the scene does not require an ensemble cast. Also, meeting this way made scheduling easier.

The hardest thing about directing is knowing how to get what you want out of your actors. Did I say too much? Did I say too little? Who can answer these questions? Certainly no one could give me a script of what to say at every moment while directing. But time, experience, luck, and interaction with good directors should provide me with the wisdom to know when to talk and when to refrain from talking.

During the process, Dr. Maier, I seriously considered scrapping the whole Abe Lincoln scene and saying “see you later” to Tom and Joe and Rocky. I contemplated starting from scratch with a more audience-friendly scene. I thought, for example, that I could quickly put together a more entertaining Neil Simon scene or something. But, during a particular rehearsal, while chit-chatting with Tom, he said to me something like this: “The other day I was talking with my friend and I told her that I was going to be Abraham Lincoln. She laughed and said, ‘Oh, that’s so like you’” He didn’t say much more than that, and I don’t remember where the conversation went next, but, at that moment, I could see his happiness, and I thought to myself, “No, I should not cancel the scene! Tom loves being Abraham Lincoln. Shall I rob him of his delight and of his pride, to satisfy my ego-centered social ambition?” And then, the night of the performance, when I saw his mother come, and I perceived her love for her son, I knew that continuing with Abe Lincoln in Illinois was a good choice. Perhaps directing is more than the production of a good play.

Am I ready to direct again? Yes, I am. Next time, though, (If there is a next time) I will pick a scene that more easily lends itself to experimentation with levels, psychological areas, and etc.

I’ve learned many things about myself as a director during the process of producing my scene.

In a forced, anti-climatic conclusion, hopefully the preceding has adequately fulfilled the requirements of the final reflection paper.


Essays from Fall 2005

Dear Readers,

Here are a lot of essays from school (fall 2005, my first semester at NAU) that I have not put on Telemoonfa Time yet. I put some of my comments in brackets and italics. Enjoy.

[I wrote this Yvain paper really quickly. I was really scared about writing it because it was my first essay that I had to write at NAU. NAU is a lot harder than EAC. It's kind of a cheesy paper.]

Three Recurring Elements in Yvain

A butterfly in India flapped its wings too hard, which caused a rainstorm to ruin the picnic you were going to have in America. Instead of the charming meal outdoors, you went with your wife to a restaurant, where occasionally they accidentally put large chicken bones in the clam chowder. You ordered the clam chowder, got the unlucky dish, and choked. This caused your wife to scream, “Does anyone know the Heimlich Maneuver?” Upon hearing her cry, a man in a nearby booth rose and saved your life, using that wonderful throat-clearing remedy. All was well, until the rescuer insanely demanded a $5,000 reward, which you paid. Due to this unforeseen expense, you had no money to buy your children Christmas presents. Your kids never forgot the Christmas Santa didn’t come, and they developed severe emotional and psychological disorders.

As in the preceding unlikely anecdote, events in life can seem random. We cannot explain why things occur, or why they occur when they do. However, despite this randomness, there are patterns in life from which we can learn. The sun rises; the sun sets. Spring follows Winter; Summer follows Spring; Fall follows Summer, and Fall turns into Winter. People come; people go. We are angry; we are happy, and hopefully from these things we learn the best way to live and possibly we’ll learnthe meaning of life.

Much like the sporadic events in life, the sporadic events in Yvain (The Knight With the Lion) make us wonder what factors, if any, offer us completeness. Is there a theme to Yvain? Is there a point? Is Yvain a series of unrelated adventures, or are there certain elements that make the literary work cohesive?

In this essay I will show that just as we learn from examining recurring events in life, we can learn from recurring events in Yvain. What we learn from life’s repetitions is up for your pondering, but let me present three lessons we can learn from the motifs in Yvain: 1) The theme of interdependence teaches us that we need each other. 2) The theme of chivalry teaches us to prize good behavior. 3) The theme of piety teaches us to be faithful.

First, one of the recurring elements in Yvain is the idea of interdependence, from which we can learn that we need each other. Two relationships exemplifying this interdependence are Yvain’s relationship with the hermit and Yvain’s relationship with the lion. In Yvain’s relationship with the hermit, we observe that both parties entered into and fulfilled an agreement. The hermit provided Yvain with a daily meal. “…the bread and pitcher were always on the window ledge to feed the madman” (Chretien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. D. D. R. Owen [Vermont: Everyman, 1993], p. 320). In turn, Yvain provided meat for the hermit. “Not a single day passed without his bringing some wild beast to the hermit’s door for him.” (p. 320) By providing for each other, both Yvain and the hermit profited.

In Yvain’s relationship with the lion, we see that Yvain rescued the lion from the fire-spitting serpent, and in turn, the lion later rescues his master from many dangerous situations. For the rest of the tale, Yvain and the lion are loyal friends. “The lion stays close by his side, for never again will it leave him but always stay with him, wishing to give him service and protection.” (p. 327) Their relationship is glorified through the many noble deeds they perform and the adventures they have. So, through Yvain’s association with both the hermit and the lion, we can realize that, as humans, we depend on one another.

Next, the theme of chivalry teaches us to prize good behavior and courtly associations. In the opening lines of this tale, the narrator tells his audience why his story is worth being told and listened to: “For those who used to love had a reputation for courtliness, integrity, generosity and honour; but now love is made a laughing-stock… But let us leave those who still alive to speak of those who once were!” From this quote, we see that the narrator explains why he wants to tell us about some of the great people of the past. He says that the legendary subjects of his tale knew how to love and were full of true chivalry.

Now listen to one of the several glorifying descriptions of a party that King Arthur and his knights have: “…there were some ninety ladies there, every one beautiful and attractive, noble, intelligent, prudent, sensible and a damsel of high breeding. So the men could enjoy themselves by embracing and kissing them, talking to them, looking at them and sitting by their side:” (p. 314) This scene of chivalry and good behavior tells us of people who knew how to have a responsible good time. They could enjoy the company of the opposite sex without degenerating into base creatures of lust. These are members of high society who understand the etiquette and propriety linked with their social standing. Is not this the type of behavior worthy of our emulation? I submit to the reader that the glorification of courtly social interactions among the nobles illustrates how we too should conduct ourselves.

Finally, the recurring element of piety shows us that we should be faithful. Over and over, we hear characters in this story praying to God, invoking the blessings of heaven, and name-dropping each member of the Trinity. For example, when the maiden searching after Yvain is tracking him down, the text reads: “A maiden might well be highly alarmed to be unescorted in a forest in bad weather and on a foul night so dark that she could not see the horse she was riding. That is why she called continuously on God first, His Mother next, and then on all the saints of either sex:” (p. 346)

For another example, shortly after Yvain frees several damsels from their slave labor, they give to him beautiful faithful parting words. “…each [damsel] bows before him [Yvain] and in their prayers express the wish for him that God may grant him joy and health and the achievement of his desire wherever he may go in the future.” These damsels certainly have faith in God, which is shown by their parting words to Yvain. So, all throughout this story, characters walk in the fear of God and are always mentioning his name. What can be the point of this except to teach that the faith of these people was inseparably connected with their lifestyle? Could King Arthur and his legendary knights of the round table existed without the heavy influence of Christianity? I believe not. So, by showing the faith of these characters frequently, the author subtly instructs us to be faithful.

The motifs in the sometimes episodic Yvain were not put in the story by accident. Rather, the author deliberately repeated certain themes to catch the readers attention and to suggest something important. In review, the theme of interdependence teaches us that we need each other, the theme of chivalry teaches us to prize good behavior, and the theme of piety teaches us to be faithful. Just as in life, that seems random at times, there are motifs in Yvain that help us hold the story together and learn important lessons.

Upon Reviewing NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts, In Prose.

When some teachers here the word standards, they think of standardized tests: kids silently filling in scantron sheets with # 2 pencils. But a standard is only an idea that says something meets a certain criteria or level of achievement. Standards aren’t bad. They are our friends! With this happier vision of standards, the NCTE (National Council for the Teachers of English) has published a document called the Standards for the English Language Arts. This document is a list of 12 standards that the NCTE believes should be applied to Language Arts class around the country.

The list of standards reminded me of the Bill of Rights; (Only it’s not as influential or historically important) it is a short list of brief statements that could be interpreted many ways. It does not spell out things like, “sophomores must read the Scarlet Letter” and “3rd graders will have cursive mastered by April 10th” Instead, this list is general. It empowers teachers to think for themselves about what is best for their own curriculum in their own particular classrooms. It acknowledges English Teachers as professionals who understand what knowledge is worthy of study in the classroom.

By being general, it avoids controversy, mostly. I found a few things in there that some people might disagree with. One was:

8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

What could be the problem with this? Ask the Amish. And ask Neil Postman and ask that guy who wrote the Medium is the Massage. Some intellectuals are fearful that technology is changing our brains and changing our schools in a negative way. In Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman proves how school curriculums have been changed by the television and videos and other electronic-vision paraphernalia. He cites an educational TV program called “the Voyage of the Mimi”, in which a family takes a lovely voyage on the ocean to observe whales. “The Voyage of the Mimi” shows plenty of beautiful shots of whales breeching, of the ship sailing. It also develops characters and attempts to get us emotionally involved with the ship crew. In the process of all this entertainment, the students are supposed to learn about the different whale species and learn science stuff. I myself actually went through “the Voyage of the Mimi” curriculum in 7th grade science class. I memorized different whales names, learned rudimentary oceanography, and etc. So I know what Postman is talking about here. So, Postman says that the only reason science-classes learned about whales for a long time was because whales are televisable, that is photogenic and able to be televised. Cinematography is involved here. Entertainment is involved here.

But most people don’t have a problem with standard # 8. In today’s world, to get most good jobs and become “successful,” you need to know how to use a computer. And to understand allusions to pop culture or to have chit-chat with your co-workers on your smoke break, you should some TV. But again, the NCTE totally discriminates against the Amish here. (ha ha ha)

The next possibly controversial standard is standard # 10:

10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum.

What does this mean, exactly? Is this against the English Immersion philosophy? I would say yes, it is against the English Immersion philosophy. And where are we going to get enough bilingual teachers? This standard is not very specific. In conclusion, the standards generate discussion and want clarification.

Talking vs. Writing

I want to know what it’s like to grow up in an oral-only society. I imagine that people would be together more, spatially. They would have to gather together to transmit news, values, and heritage to one another. Mostly knowledge, in both oral-only and literate societies, is passed on from parents to offspring. But also elders, community members, and peers teach children about the society they live in and the world around them. In an oral-only society, knowledge is created and shared by the group. (Sort of like Constructivism)

In contrast, a written language, a highly literate population, and a mass availability of printed materials changes a few things. We are now able to say, “Go by yourself into that corner and read this book by a dead guy who lived really far away.” Perhaps a written language, a highly literate population and a mass availability of printed materials isolates us from another. Perhaps mental and emotional disorders are on the rise because we have cut ourselves off from the warmth that friendly faces and comforting hands bring. In isolating ourselves, we lose a sense of community, of shared values, of a place in society, of usefulness, a sense of purpose, of being known by name and likes and dislikes, of tradition, and self-worth. We see ourselves as a function of a large machine, the company we work for, the society we live in. We are a number; our emotions are non-productive; knowing our neighbors is not as important as knowing the periodic table of the elements or the multiplication table.

But I don’t want to romanticize oral-only societies and demonize highly literate societies. I’m a supporter of reading and writing; after all, I’m planning to be an English teacher. See, I believe that a written document can provide stability. Or it can help us think and sort out all the stimulus that bombards our eyes, ears, mouths, noses and skin. Books can take us to other worlds in our imagination like Never-never land, Narnia, the Middle-Earth, or Gotham City. Literacy and technology don’t have to lead us into 1984 or a Brave New World or an unemotional uncaring electric circuit computer robot soulless metropolis. We created the alphabet! We created the computer! They are tools for us to use! We are the masters of technology! Technology is not our sovereign! We can keep values, traditions, communities, and families where we want them, alive in our breasts, if we care enough.

I have a great respect for the Amish. Although I disagree with their doctrine, I respect their way of life. The Amish have not allowed literacy or technology to interfere with their religious beliefs or their culture. They have strong family units; they share what is important with each other. Even though a television or radio is available in a short walk’s time, they have been intractable enough to shun these modern inventions. Even though modern farming equipment would make their work ten times easier, they prefer to do it the old hard way. I believe we can learn from the Amish; we can hold on to important values while still using convenient new inventions. Again, we just have to care enough to do so.

The preceding has been some of my thoughts after reading the article “Protean Shapes in Literacy Events” by Shirley Brice Heath. In this article, Heath explores the line between oral-only cultures and highly literate cultures. She reports a study on levels of literacy in Trackton, a town which contains people who can all read and write, yet they still rely heavily on oral tradition ways. Trackton is “a Piedmont community of the Carolinas between 1969 and 1979.” I loved the sentences, “Among Trackton adults, reading was a social activity which did not focus on a single individual. Solitary reading without oral explanation was viewed as unacceptable, strange, and indicative of a particular kind of failure, which kept individuals from being social. Narratives, jokes, sidetracking talk, and negotiation of the meaning of written texts kept social relations alive. When several members of the community jointly focused on and interpreted written materials, authority did not rest in the material themselves, but in the meanings which would be negotiated by the participants.” Again, this reminds me of Constructivism, where the meaning of a text is constructed through people discussing the text.

The people of Trackton have a greater respect for their community members than they do for a pamphlet some carpetbagger brought in. By studying the oral literacy habits of Trackton residents, we can see the line between oral-only societies and highly literate societies. We can take the qualities from both ways of communication and uhh… think about them a lot.

[I think this next one has a funny title.]

From Goo-goo and Gaa-gaa to Goulash and Gerontomorphosis

Jerome S. Bruner’s article “Learning the Mother Tongue” proposes a new theory, explaining how children learn their first language. In the first paragraph, Bruner quotes St. Augustine’s explanation of the language acquiring phenomenon. Augustine says that as older people pointed to objects and said the corresponding word, he associated the object with its word. Therefore, we must assume that after a few years of enough adults pointing to enough stuff and saying the corresponding word, he became fluent in English. Upon first glance, this explanation seemed alright to me. After all, when I point to a ball and say “ball” to my niece, and after a few repetitions she says “ball,” I fancy myself an English language teacher extraordinaire. But this simple explanation that linguists, by the way, accepted for centuries, does not account for the complex grammar rules prevalent in all languages. Nor does it account for the volumes of vocabulary words, many describing abstract qualities that cannot be pointed at.

Nevertheless, Augustine’s theory held. It stuck around until the famous linguist Noam Chomsky proposed his LAD (Language Acquisition Device) theory. “According to this view, language was not learned; it was recognized by virtue of an innate recognition routine through which children, when exposed to their local language, could abstract or extract its universal grammatical principles” I had to read this sentence a few times before I understood what it meant, and I looked up the word innate in the dictionary. It turns out that innate means, “existing in one from birth; inborn; native.” So, Chomsky said that just as some animals have instincts, humans have a language acquisition device. Does this mean that people come to this earth with knowledge? Maybe that is what Chomsky was saying.

Now, Jerome S. Butler has proposed a new theory. It seems bold to me to propose a new theory that dissents from Augustine and Chomsky, but if Butler is a linguist and feels like he knows what he’s talking about, then I say more power to him. Butler calls the new theory the “fine-tuning theory” In this theory, and I don’t understand it completely, the child learns through dialogue, attempts to communicate. In other words, the child learns a language by trying to communicate. First a child cries and reaches something, and the mother gives the child oatmeal (or a cookie or milk). This is communication happening. Eventually the child learns the word for oatmeal (or a cookie or milk) and says it. The parent understands the child and communication has happened on a higher level. So, it is only through talker-child interaction that a language is learned. In the words of the article, “According to this theory, if the LAD exists, it hovers somewhere in the air between mother and child.” This is how I’ve come to understand the fine-tuning theory as presented in this article.

The rest of the article describes communication between a talker and a child at different ages. It focuses on the fine-tuning theory and tries to support it with research.

I thought that this was an interesting article about an interesting subject. I’m taking an introduction to linguistics class right now and my professor, Fredricka Stoller, said that the way children learn a language is miraculous and nobody understands it. I’m certain that language acquisition will continue to be discussed in the future. More studies will be done. More theories will be proposed.

However, I don’t think the human race will ever figure it out and nail it down or make it a fact with a capitol F, just like Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. After all, humans haven’t figured out yet where they’ll go after they die, even though they’ve been thinking about it ever since birth came around.

Poem Explicating vs. Tire Changing: What’s Better?

During the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I had a job at a department store as an overnight stocker. One of my co-workers, who I came to respect, dropped out of high school as a freshman. He said that he had never much cared for reading, writing, or math. In today’s society, we would call him dumb, right? He’s not as smart as high-school graduates, is he? Perhaps we would pass such a demeaning judgment on my former co-worker, but you should have seen him operate the forklift, or the pallet jack, or the walkie-stacker. Or I wish you would have been there to see him fix the cardboard baler. You see, my high-school dropout friend had mechanical skills and hands-on know-how that made me stand back in awe. My association with this co-worker taught me that everybody has different strengths, weaknesses, and different ways of learning. In this essay I’ll briefly discuss Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, my strongest intelligence, and how I plan to apply this theory as a high-school English teacher.

Howard Gardner, psychologist and author, proposed in his theory of multiple intelligences in 1986. According to this theory, some learn a new concept or skill by talking about it, some by reading and writing about it, and others by applying it hands-on. If this theory is true, (and I and most educators are convinced that it is), the questions then follow: in what ways do you and I learn and how can educators capitalize on this new theory?

It turns out that my strongest intelligence is Interpersonal. Our class textbook states, “Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand other people, an ability that we all need but is particularly important for teachers, salespeople, and politicians.”

As a high-school English teacher, I plan on nurturing the different intelligences in my classrooms. I will not have all my students memorize new vocabulary words by recitation, thus only appealing to the verbal/ linguistic intelligent people. I will assign creative projects like drawing a picture about a poem, or writing a poem about grammar rules. Perhaps I could have students act out some of the stories we’ll read. Whatever assignments and lesson plans I create in the future, I will always strive to produce new creative assignments that appeal to all of the 8 different intelligences as outlined by Howard Gardner. When I am a teacher, I will try to nurture student’s strengths, thus boosting their confidence and motivation, and appreciating who they are as individuals.

[I quoted a lot of the Bible in this next paper. Remember, all these essays I'm posting today came from the fall of 2005, my first semester at NAU. That's when I was still pretty fresh off of my LDS mission, and I was pretty fresh from a college where Mormon thought dominated the campus- Eastern Arizona College. I bet I would not quote the Bible in a paper I turned in nowadays. I'm too enlightened for that.]

How to Be Successful and Better

Lisa Delpit wrote an article titled, “The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse” which addressed some of the issues teachers have had with teaching minorities. Many teachers may have trouble teaching minorities the dominant discourse, because they feel that they are destroying the students’ culture. “Dominant discourse” here means the dominant culture or the richest, most powerful culture. In America, it is generally understood that white males have most of the money and influence. To illustrate, remember that all the U.S. presidents have been white males, most politicians are white males, and most business leaders are white males. There is a dominant discourse, or a unique literacy, that exists among these movers and shakers. A way of speaking, writing, and reading is shared among these white males. This dominant discourse is akin to secret clubhouse handshakes and code words. So, are we supposed to teach the dominant discourse in school?

Well, first, Delpit says that it is possible to teach the dominant discourse in a classroom. Some have wondered that if a school culture is so different than a home-life, can a dominant discourse really be taught in school? In other words, can a black kid from the projects learn to be like George Washington? Delpit says yes, people can distinguish between their home discourse and their school discourse; it’s just kind of hard.

But whether the dominant discourse can be taught or whether it should be taught are separate questions. Again, some teachers feel that by teaching the dominant discourse to minorities, they are destroying the minorities’ culture.

But is destroying culture always a bad thing? I would say no, it’s not. For example, suppose you met a culture that practiced female infanticide. Would you say, “Wow, how neat, I really appreciate your traditions.” Or would you say, “That’s wrong! Stop doing that!” I would say the latter. But this hypothetical scenario brings up a good question: Is one culture inherently better than another culture? And what does “better” mean? Who decides what better is? The people with the biggest bank account or the biggest military? The majority? Should we vote on what “better” means? Or does a Higher Power decide? Here’s a hard pill to swallow: Deuteronomy 7: 1-6, from the King James Version:

1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
2 And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
4 For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
5 But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.
6 For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.

I wouldn’t call the Old Testament God multicultural.

But of course destroying a culture isn’t always right. Suppose I went to Mexico and saw some guy wearing a sombrero, knocked it off his head and said, “Hey stop wearing that funny-looking hat! Wear a New York Yankees ball-cap instead!” I don’t think that’d be too cool.

But what do we mean by better? Do we mean happier, or more peaceful or richer or more powerful? I don’t know. (This is supposed to be an English paper, not a philosophy, sociology, anthropology, or theology paper. Although they all get mixed together, don’t they?) But I think we can agree that in America it’s good to “succeed,” meaning to be healthy, to have money, and to not do anything illegal. And if we want students to “succeed” in this way, we have to give them the secret handshakes and the passwords into the dominant discourse. I guess it all goes back to the question of what a school’s purpose is. If school is supposed to be a social escalator, then I say it’s necessary to teach the dominant discourse. If people feel that the public schools are destroying their culture, maybe they should write poetry about it or attack the schools with guns and create their own schools. But if guns aren’t a part of their culture, than I guess they have a lot of peaceful protesting to do.

Oh, so much societal stuff to think about; so little time. Anyway, I think Delpit says in her article that we should teach the dominant culture to minorities, because the dominant discourse is a person’s passport to success (whatever that means) and gives them a better life (whatever that means).

[The last sentence of this next essay is the funniest part, I think.]

How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?

When I type the word envisionment on my computer using the latest Microsoft Word software, a red squiggly line appears beneath it. The red squiggly line means that envisionment isn’t a bona fide dictionary-approved word. Rather, “envisionment” is the latest in a string of freshly invented terms I’ve found after reading several scholarly articles about English education. Indeed, envisionments is in the tradition of “whole-language method”, “transaction”, “scaffolding”, and “weaving.” But before I criticize the making of another catchy term, I must acknowledge the marvelous substance behind this new word.

Langer introduces, describes, and defines his term “envisionment” in the first section. The author says it: 1) refers “to the world of understanding a person has at any point in time.” 2) Is built “when we make sense of ourselves, of others, and of the world.” 3) Is similar to Rosenblatt’s idea of transaction, and 4) Grows and changes and becomes “enriched over time, with thought and experience.”

So, different people get different meanings out of different texts.

Langer says we make envisionments when we receive any type of information, not only when we read. For example, we make envisionments when we see a movie, meet a new person, or watch the sun set. We take in information with our eyes, ears, mouth, nose, skin, and possibly our souls, and then we internalize and interpret the information. As humans, we desire all this information to make sense. We have a passion for meaning. So, we connect new information to previously-processed information. When we see the sunset, we may think: “Oh good, the sun set. I knew that was going to happen. It happened yesterday, and it will happen tomorrow. Now it will get darker and darker because the sun is not giving the earth light anymore. This new information, the sun setting, fits in with the routine- my paradigm”

So, different people get different meanings out of different texts. Thus, when I ask, “How many fingers am I holding up?” to people with varying degrees of sight, I might get a few different answers.

But even though envisionments are made in nearly every facet of life, the author concentrates his chapter on the envsionments that are made during reading. To further illustrate the meaning of “envisionments,” Langer reprints a poem called “Forgive My Guilt” along with notes made by Jim, an average seventh grader, as Jim was reading the poem. An excellent comparasin is made between the idea of meeting a new person and Jim’s reading of “Forgive My Guilt”

There are four stances the reader can take during envisionment building. They are:

1) Being Out and Stepping into an Envsionment. This stance refers to the position of the reader upon first encountering a text. The text is new; he or she knows nothing about it. Hypotheses are formulated based on not much antecedent information.

2) Being In and Moving Through an Envisionment. This stance refers to the position of the reader when he or she has read some of the text and has a good idea of what it’s about. This is when an envisionment is established and then refined here and there.

3) Stepping Out and Rethinking What One Knows. This stance refers to the position of the reader when the text affects the way the reader looks at the world. For instance, I’m reading a pretty controversial book right now called The People’s History of the United States that does not put Christopher Columbus in a very good light. I used to think that Columbus was a brave righteous hero inspired by God to find America. But this book shows me some of his negative attributes, like his tendency to exploit Native Americans. So that book has made me rethink what I call my knowledge.

4) Stepping Out and Objectifying the Experience. This stance refers to the position of the reader after he has completed a text and is reflecting on it. It’s the critical eye- where you wrinkle your brow, stroke your beard and say “hmmmmmm.”

We assume these stances in a non-linear sequence, and it’s hard to say when one stance starts and where one stance ends; they all can blend together.

Anyway, I loved the chapter. It was clear. It made sense to me, gave me something to think about, and taught me a new buzz-word to throw around. I can see the mission statement on my resume now: “Telemoonfa: weaving knowledge into students, while simultaneously scaffolding envisionments”

[E. D. Hirsch really is an interesting guy with really interesting ideas about culture and education. I would like to read more of his stuff some time.]

E. D. Hirsch and Cultural Literacy

Once, during free time in my sophomore English class, my friend and I were discussing comic books. Specifically, we talked about the works Alan Moore, including V for Vendetta, the Watchmen, and others. My English Teacher, Mrs. Butler, was sitting by us and said she couldn’t participate in the conversation, since she wasn’t familiar with the writings of Alan Moore or comic books in general. Mrs. Butler, even though she had a bachelor’s degree in English and had taught high school English for several years, couldn’t converse with us 14-year-olds because she was not comic-book literate.

Comic-book literacy is based on knowing the prominent superheroes of the Marvel and DC universes, knowing some of the characters from the other comic book publishing companies, and generally being aware of the possibilities inside comic book worlds. So, being able to converse about comic books depends upon shared knowledge. If you are not familiar with the world of comic books, you can not, figuratively speaking, join the kids in the tree house and say, “Who would win in a fight, Wolverine or Gambit”

The same goes for other topics of interest. I can’t have a meaningful conversation about the laws of thermodynamics with physics majors; their jargon and concepts would confuse me. Beyond personal interesting topics, there are ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds that differentiate and divide us. For example, when a jaded New York City hot-dog vender speaks to an Amish preacher, you might as well be talking about Martians and Earthlings coming into contact.

But is there something that Americans should have in common? Is there a shared knowledge that American adults collectively feel should be passed on to the next generation via free public education? These are the major questions asked and answered by E D Hirsch, Jr. founder of the Core Knowledge book series and proponent of the cultural literacy movement.
In this paper I will 1) write a brief biography of E. D. Hirsch 2) Quote and discuss Hirsch’s motives for writing his books 3) Defend Hirsch’s educational philosophy.

1) Brief Biography of E. D. Hirsch

First, Hirsch’s biography: E. D. Hirsch is the author of several books, all having to do with education, mostly English education. He wrote Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake, The Philosophy of Composition, The Schools We Need, the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, and, most famously, Cultural Literacy. He is currently a professor of English at the University of Virginia and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. He has been involved in educational reform for many years, being an influential author, speaker, and intellectual.
And what type of person is he? I get the feeling from reading his writing that he is a practical, old-fashioned man. A quote in one of his earliest books is very telling.
“For I write as one converted from aestheticism to the more practical side of an English teacher’s responsibilities.” (Hirsh, The Philosophy of Composition, xiii) So, he wants to depart from flowery creative writing in the classroom and focus more on practical composition.

I would also like to say that I do not know E. D. Hirsch personally. I do not know what his family is like. I don’t know how he interacts with children. I can only catch glimpses of his character from reading the things he has written. And, since his writings are not about his own life, but about his educational theories, a subject he feels strongly about but which does not involve his own life to a great extent, I really don’t know who Hirsch is.

2) Quotes and Discussion of Hirsch’s Motives

Second, Cultural Literacy, Hirsch says, “presents a broad challenge: to bring the currently hidden curriculum out in the open where it belongs and to make its contents the subject of democratic discussion.” (Hirsch, 145) Hirsch, with his books, has added to the national discussion concerning school reformation. He invites the reader to become involved in this important national discussion. In fact, he gives you his contact information: “Comments and suggestions are welcome and should be sent to Dr. Hirsch at the Department of English, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903.” (Hirsch, 146)

Another quote: “To suggest that it is undemocratic or intolerant to make nationwide decisions about the extensive school curriculum must not any longer be allowed to end the discussion.” Hirsch raises a good point here. Can’t we, as adults, and as American citizens, decide on the content that we want taught to our children? If not, then what business do we have reproducing? If, after decades of life, we feel that we cannot discern a good book from a bad book, or a worthwhile story from pornography, and if we further cannot decide on what content is best for our children to study, then what do we think of ourselves? Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, asks, “Shall we carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we shall wish them to have when they are grown up?” (Hirsch xvi) Of course the desired answer is no; we will not carelessly allow our children to hear such things. We will guard them, protect them, and teach them what we have found to be good.

Another quote: “By stressing the essential role of content in reading, this book should have punctured the myth that reading and writing are like bike riding or map reading, skills that require only a narrow range of specific information plus some practice” (Hirsch, 144) All throughout Hirsch’s writings, he stresses that effective communication is based upon shared knowledge. “Common knowledge or collective memory allows people to communicate, to work together, and to live together. It forms the basis for communities, and if it is shared by enough people, it is a distinguishing characteristic of national culture.” (Hirsch, Dictionary of Cultural Literacy ix) Is there any who disagree with this? Is it not understandable that people create meaning in groups? Also, the sounds of words are arbitrary, but the word’s meaning depends on those who employ the words.

3) Defense of Hirsch’s Educational Philosophy

Cultural Literacy turned about to be a best-seller. It was widely talked about among teachers, administrators, intellectuals, and parents. Some, like William J. Bennett, Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, and editor of The Book of Virtues and The Moral Compass, praised it, while others derided the book and its ideas. Probably the most controversial part of Cultural Literacy is the appendix, titled, “What Literate Americans Know.” This appendix consists of a long list of what, like the title says, Hirsch thinks “literate” Americans know. Here is a sample of that list, taken from the M section: “mainframe, mainspring, mainstream, majority floor leader, make a clean breast of it, make a mountain out of a molehill, make a virtue of necessity, make ends meet, Make haste slowly, Make hay while the sun shines” (Hirsch, Cultural Literacy, 186). The list has been criticized as being narrow-minded, Euro-centric, white, male, and middle-class. But I think that we should be allowed to get specific about the content we want taught in public schools. And Hirsch is simply offering a list of things that most literate Americans understand. I would like to offer my support for Hirsch’s ideas and defend his educational philosophy.

In this paper, I have provided a brief biography of Hirsch, quotes from E. D. Hirsch, discussion about those quotes, and argued in his favor.Just as Mrs. Butler, my high school English teacher, could not converse with my friend and me about comic books, so too are people unable to converse in the democratic process and climb the social ladder if they don’t know the key shared knowledge. Hirsch has brought this argument to the forefront of the national public education discussion. His ideas are controversial, and so I would recommend that all concerned parties would read both Hirsch books and the books of his opposition, to get a clear view of the issue.

[This next one is about Utopia, the book by Sir Thomas More]

Raphael Nonsenso Is Radical; Let’s Listen To Him

I come from a straight-laced Christian family. So when my older sister brought her new boyfriend, Eric Woodall, home, the family was unsettled. Eric had long dyed-black bangs, but the rest of his head was shaved. With enough hair gel, he could spike up his hair like devil horns. Once, he showed me his diagram of his theory of the universe, complete with parallel universes and vortexes, drawn on a napkin.

Having such a character close to me made me question my lifestyle. He confronted me with radical ideas, departing drastically from my upbringing. Back then, my middle-school brain thought, “Maybe this strange character really does have the answers. Perhaps he’s enlightened. Perhaps he comprehends the meaning and the intricacies of the universe.” Likewise, Sir Thomas More presents a character like Eric Woodall in his book, Utopia. This provocative character is Raphael Nonsenso. What Eric Woodall did to me, Raphael did to Thomas More.

In this essay I will: 1) Show how Thomas More the character and Raphael Nonsenso differ in appearance and in levels of political involvement. 2) Affirm that Raphael incites us, the readers, to ponder our society. 3) Claim that a conversation involving opposing points of view is therapeutic.

First, Thomas More the character and Raphael differ in appearance. Although there is no explicit description of More’s appearance in Utopia, we can infer a few things. We know he is a middle-aged man, with a wife and children. When the story occurs, he is on a business trip. The following passage suggests that More, the character, is a rather ordinary gentleman who follows social norms. “I then walked up to Raphael and shook hands with him. After making a few stock remarks, as people generally do when first introduced…” (More, Utopia, trans. Paul Turner [New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 2003], p. 17). I imagine More being clean-shaven, and typically dressed.

Raphael Nonsenso, on the other hand, is described by Thomas More, the character, as “…an elderly foreigner with a sunburnt face, a long beard, and a cloak slung carelessly over one shoulder. From his complexion and costume I judged him to be a sailor.” (More 16) Since he is an aged foreigner, this suggests wisdom and new ideas. The sunburnt face shows that he spends much time outside. Also, the getup of a sailor would differ greatly from the outfit of a businessman. So, Thomas More the character and Raphael Nonsenso differed greatly in appearance.

They also differ greatly in their levels of political involvement. Thomas More, the character, works within the established governmental system, while acknowledging its imperfections. Although he may encounter frustrations dealing with officialdom, More accepts his society as a good attempt at social order and peace. We see that he personally participates in the government when Book One opens with More, the character, running an errand for King Henry the VIII of England. This, by the way, reflects the real life of Thomas More, who was a lawyer, a politician, and, at one time, the second most powerful man in England.

Raphael, however, is a nonconformist who lives on the outskirts of the established governmental system. He does not compromise his ideals to work within what he sees as a fundamentally flawed system. Instead, he devotes his life to travel, intellectual pursuit, and adventures. The difference is exemplified in a dialogue between More and Raphael. More, after hearing of Raphael’s wisdom about government, philosophy, and several other subjects, says to Raphael “But surely it would be quite in keeping with this admirably philosophical attitude if you could bring yourself… to apply your talents and energies to public affairs? Now the most effective way of doing so would be to gain the confidence of some great king or other, and give him, as I know you would, really good advice.” (More 20) Raphael rejects More’s suggestion. Raphael explains that kings really only want yes-men around them: advisors that always simply agree with them. Also, he replies that kings are usually preoccupied with their own wealth and power. Raphael further criticizes kings by saying, “They’re far more anxious, by hook or by crook, to acquire new kingdoms than to govern their existing ones properly.” (More 20)

Second, Raphael Nonsenso incites us to reconsider many of our fundamental views. By showing us radically different living arrangements, marriage rituals, and wealth distribution, we are encouraged to think, “Where do these radically new ideas fit into my worldview? Would some of these new ideas improve my society?”

Consider for a moment the marriage rituals of the Utopians. Before a couple decides to marry each other, both the man and the woman are stripped nude. This procedure is attended by a male chaperone and a female chaperone. They both inspect each others bodies, and then make the decision of whether or not to marry. The Utopians defend this tradition by arguing, “When you’re buying a horse,… you take every possible precaution. The animal’s practically naked already, but you firmly refuse to buy until you’ve whipped off the saddle and all the rest of the harness, to make sure there aren’t any sores underneath. But when you’re choosing a wife… you’re unbelievably careless.” (More 84)

Both modern readers and readers of Thomas More the author’s time would probably disagree with the Utopians marriage customs. The most glaring beef is the lack of love. How can you compare the magic and mystery of a romantic courtship, engagement, wedding, and honeymoon with purchasing a work horse? So, this example of a controversial Utopian custom makes us sit up and say, “Wait a minute; Utopia may not be so utopian.”

Next, Raphael confronts us with another thought-provoking aspect of Utopian society: their simple laws. The Utopians possess simple laws because they feel that, “it’s quite unjust for anyone to be bound by a legal code which is too long for an ordinary person to read right through or too difficult for him to understand.” (More 87) Immediately, this may cause readers to wonder why most law books are so reader-unfriendly. This passage may also cause us to ask: why do we need lawyers who get rich by interpreting cryptic texts? We are drawn into a debate here, in which we must attempt to explain why society is the way it is.

Finally, I claim that hearing and thoughtfully considering new controversial ideas are therapeutic. Not only should we listen to and think about radical ideas, but we should respond to them. Thomas More the character, after hearing Raphael’s description of Utopia, says, “I cannot agree with everything he said…But I freely admit that there are many features of the Utopian Republic which I should like – though I hardly expect – to see adopted in Europe.” More (More 113) Which features would Thomas More, the character, like to see adopted in Europe? He does not say. But I get the sense that Utopia is designed to get us thinking about these issues, and then to reaffirm our beliefs in our values. Characters like Raphael should not be locked up and silenced, but we should listen to and respond to them. Listening to such characters is a therapeutic exercise, in which we take an inventory of our own lives and societies. We are invited to discern what is important, what should stay the same, and perhaps what should change.

In this essay, I have: 1) Shown how Thomas More the character and Raphael Nonsenso differ in appearance and in levels of political involvement. 2) Affirmed that Raphael incites us, the readers, to ponder our society. 3) Claimed that a conversation involving opposing points of view is therapeutic.Raphael Nonsenso, like Eric Woodall, the boy my sister brought home once, confronts us with radical new ideas. These nonconformists and the thoughts they bring challenge our ways of life. But not in an aggressive, attacking way. Rather, they encourage us to defend our own opinions and our ways of life. And after we have listened to the new ideas and then carefully respond to them, we become better prepared to explain the status quo and to live our lives.

[I think this might be one of the best essays I've written, as an undergraduate, anyway. I wrote it really quickly, too, like the morning it was due or something.]

The Decameron as Subversive Literature

Historically, much of what has been viewed as respectable, socially helpful
writing has been produced in the church, the government office or the university. Treatises, sermons, law books and textbooks have preserved social order by providing a permanent record of values, laws, customs, and other social demands. This writing has helped convince people to stay in their place as a peasant, or to be content with their lot in life. "Don't rebel. Go to church. Do what the government official tells you to do." This seems to be the language of documents preferred by the ruling class. And by being written on stone, or on paper kept safely in castles, these writings are hard to overturn. But the Decameron is subversive.

In the fourteenth century, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron with this purpose stated in his Preface, "I wish to make up in part for the wrong done by Fortune, who is less generous with her support where there is less strength, as we witness in the case of our delicate ladies. As support and diversions for those ladies in love... I intend to tell one hundred stories…" (Boccaccio, The Decameron, trans. Mark Musa & Peter Bondanella [New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 2002], p. 5) Also, in the Authors Conclusion, Boccacio defends his work as saying that the work itself is not harmful. He says that words become hurtful or helpful depending on the heart of the reader. If the readers are good, they will receive from the stories good things; contrariwise, if the readers are bad, they will receive from the stories bad things. Also, Boccaccio says that his stories were written only to entertain ladies, who are seeking to pass the idle hours of the day. But these claims only hide the author’s real purpose: to change society.

From reading and interpreting the Decameron, I claim that Boccaccio saw the inequality, injustice, and intolerance all around 14th century Italy, and, with his book, attempted to reverse the unfairness. In this essay, I will expose several themes and ideas throughout the Decameron that work counteractive to the status quo of the day. The social and cultural institutions attacked by Boccaccio are: 1) divine right 2) the Catholic Church 3) marriage covenants 4) the inferiority of women.

First, Boccaccio challenges the social institution, divine right, which give kings their kingdoms and give peasents their poverty. In the seventh story of the sixth day, Madonna Fillipa, "in a lovely tone of voice," said, "The laws should be equal for all and should be passed with the consent of the people they affect." And, she continues "...when this law was put into effect, not a single woman gave her consent, nor was any one of them ever consulted about it; therefore, it may quite rightly be called a bad law." (p. 464) Madonna Fillipa here presents a profound political philosophy that in fact underscores the government of the United States of America: that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. How blasphemous this would be in 14th century Italy! Then and there, society did not allow for much social mobility. If you were born a prince, you would become a king. If you were born a peasant, you would die a peasant.

Next, the Decameron challenges the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. There are many stories which aid Boccacio in his assault. One story tells of a convent of nuns, who have been married to Jesus and taken a vow of celibacy, who all sleep with Masetto da Lamporecchio, the gardener, who is pretending to be a deaf mute. Another story tells of Ser Cepparello, a wicked man, who makes a false confession just before his death and afterward gets appointed to Sainthood, and has his name changed to Saint Ciappelletto. If believers pray to Saint Ciappelletto, the story asks us, then who other wicked people are feigning intercession? Another story tells of a young monk who seduces a woman, and has sex with her in his cell. The Abbott catches the monk, but, in the end, both get to have sex with the woman whenever they want.

These stories expose some of the corruption Boccacio saw in the Catholic Church, but one story even offers the possibility that other faiths could also bring salvation. In the first day and third story, Melchisedech, a Jew, tells a parable about three rings, which represent Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Melchisedech says, concerning these three faiths, "…each believes itself to be the true heir, to possess the true Law, and to follow the true commandments, but whoever is right, just as in the case of the rings, is still undecided." (p. 45) To readers in the twenty-first century, this does not seem offensive. We recognize that there are many churches, creeds, denominations, faiths, and spiritual paths now available. We can learn about different religions any time we want. But in Boccaccio's time, the Catholic Church reigned supreme. There was no church shopping as there is today; everybody was Catholic, they attended mass, attended confession, and said thousands of Hail Maries in their lifetime. So, to bring up the possibility that there were other churches containing truth in the world, and that those churches possibly were true, was extremely liberal and controversial. In response to Melchisedech’s parable, the Pope would have said, “It is decided who is right! We, the Catholic Church, are right!” By telling this story, Boccaccio wanted the people of his time to question their faith.

Third, Boccacio challenges marriage covenants, including the sexual faithfulness required with such covenants, by presenting strong, noble, righteous people, who also cheat on their spouses. One example is Madonna Fillipa. Fillipa is described as, “…beautiful and more in love than any woman could be,” and “the most beautiful and very well-bred as well as most courageous,” and she possessed, “a steady gaze and a firm voice,” (p. 463). Surely these descriptions invite us to side with Fillipa, to hold her in high regards, and to respect any action she would take. Well, Fillipa also found it good to take a lover, and sleep with Lazzarino many times while her husband was away.

Another example of such an unfaithful person is Guiglielmo Guardastango, from the fourth day and ninth story. Guardastango “happened, nonetheless, to fall totally in love with the very beautiful and charming wife of Sir Guiglielmo Rossiglion,” (p.349). And his lover, Rossiglione’s wife, “knowing him to be a most valiant knight… began to fall so much in love with him that her only desire, her only love, was for him…”(p.350). How could this pure love that brought so much happiness be wrong? Again, Guardastango, who stole the wife of his friend, is presented as a noble romantic hero who was doing what Love would have him do.

The examples of both Madonna Fillipa and Guiglielmo Guardastango show us Boccaccio’s views on adultery. Boccaccio felt that as long as two people were in love, and their lovemaking did not physically hurt anyone else, then what’s the harm in fooling around? Some people feel this way today, but back in 14th century Italy, the Catholic Church and societal norms highly frowned upon such behavior. In fact, they not only frowned on it, but asserted that such action would get you sent to Hell.

Fourth, Boccaccio challenges the notion that women are inferior to men. In the author’s time, women were very much seen as inferior. In high society, they were used as bargaining chips and married off for unromantic reasons. Women had virtually no power when it came to government and important civic decisions. But the Decameron affirms that women are capable of being leaders, and should not be in such a lowly station. In this book we learn of two noble women: Zinerva and Pampinea.

Zinerva is a refined and resilient woman, who, despite her husband’s lack of faith in her, manages to rise to the top of the situation. She cleverly disguises herself, gains favor with the Sultan, figures out the mystery, and heroically restores justice.

Pampinea is a character among the seven ladies in the frame story, and seems to be the leader of the ten who leave the city. In the Introduction, she says, “…proper use of reason can do harm to no one. It is only natural for everyone born on this earth to sustain, preserve, and defend his own life to the best of his ability… And if the laws dealing with the welfare of every human being permit such a thing, how wrong or offensive could it be for us, or anyone else, to take all possible precautions to preserve our own lives?” (p. 16) Here Pampinea shows wisdom, logic, reason, and leadership. She does not express foolishness and the need to be guided by a man.

In the positive portrayals of Zinerva, Pampinea, and many other women, Boccaccio shows us that women should be treated equally. They are brave, strong, possess leadership abilities, and often have more sense then men so. Again, today this idea is celebrated, and you can even major in Women’s Studies at college, but back in the 1300’s in Italy, such things were unheard of.

The Decameron is subversive literature. It does not perform the social service that a sermon or law would serve, while disguising itself as merely an entertaining collection of stories. It counters many of the honored norms of Boccaccio’s time, including: 1) divine right, 2) the Catholic Church 3) marriage covenants, and 4) the inferiority of women.

[my favorite part about this next one is that I use the word "phantasmagoria"]

B, C, A, C, D, B, B, C, A, C, B vs. an Interpretive Dance

How do we know if students have learned? After 50 minutes of lectures, group activities, reading, or worksheets, do the students understand what has been taught? These questions have been around ever since school has been around. The answers involve assessment. To assess is to gauge the level of someone’s skills and knowledge. In other words, to assess is to examine something in order to judge or evaluate it.

Before I discuss what types of assessment there are, let us ask the question: is any assessment necessary?

I can think of a few areas where assessment seems vital. A driver’s license and a certification to practice medicine come to mind. We do not want whippersnappers, ragamuffins or nincompoops not using their turn signals here and transplanting kidneys there; no, we want safe drivers on the road! And we want a sparkly glow-in the-dark neon flashing stamp of approval on the forehead of any scalpel-toting romper wanting to dig around our pancreases! Thus, doctors get their name changed when they enter into doctor-hood. Instead of Mr. or Mrs. or Miss or Ms. Somebody, they become Dr. Somebody. Their name immediately signifies their knowledge and skill to all prospective patients.

So, status-quo makers have deemed it mandatory and good to assess students. Types of assessment break down into two camps, which I call the B, C, A, C, D, B, B camp, and the interpretive dance camp.

Each camp thinks the other camp consists of morons. No doubt the camps would exterminate themselves in a gory brawl involving exposed gall bladders and moans of considerable decibels if it weren’t for strict societal norms restraining such phantasmagoria.

To quote a member of the touchy-feely interpretive dance camp, who viciously attacks B, C, A, D, B, B adherents, Claire B. Berube says that all standardized tests are used everywhere only because, “1) it is cheap. 2) it is easy to read. 3) it is simple to grade.”

In conclusion, I am a distant philosopher. I have retreated from this world’s ills. I live off rain and raven meat. I collect shiny rocks and store them in a leathern knapsack. In accordance with this, my intellectualism, I have taken the name “Mr. Detached Observer” to be my own. I side with neither camp, considering them both to be waves of the ocean, winds of the sky, or small clouds that are part of a bigger metaphysical cloud.

I Can Transact Better Than Laurence Olivier Can Regular-Act

The article “The Literary Transaction: Evocation and Response” by Louise M. Rosenblatt discusses the transaction that occurs between a text and the reader. Some people think that a text contains one ultimate meaning. If your view of a texts meaning conflicts with that one ultimate meaning, then you’re wrong. Speaking of interpretations, probably no text in recorded history has so many different interpretations as does the Bible.

I spent two years as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Virginia, Virginia, and Ohio. As a lay preacher I would often discuss the Holy Scriptures with people with different interpretations of the Bible. Some people believed that the Bible meant one thing, and others thought it meant another. Different interpretations of the Bible have led David Koresh to claim he was Jesus, Mr. (I don’t remember his first name) Armstrong to claim he was the prophet Elijah returned, and Puritan ministers to execute alleged witches. But, on a more positive note, different interpretations of the Bible have also led people to bake bread for their new neighbors. Again, different sects, all of which claim that the Bible is Holy Writ, believe different things about the nature of God and his plan for us. Does not this show that a text is open to interpretation? Moving away from the Bible, what about the cryptic poems of T.S. Elliot? Different people come away with different interpretations of his poems.

Now let us take the example of a play director, presented with a script. When he or she gets the script, they have different ideas as to how they want to present the play. They may want to tinker with lights, costumes, sets, etc. They may see some characters as more key to the stories than others would. In short, they have transacted with the script and come away with a unique vision of how the play should be presented.

Some of us are familiar with the Rorschach ink-blot test. In this psychologist test, the doctor holds up meaningless ink blot, purposely made to represent nothing recognizable, and asks the patient, “What does this look like?” If the patient says, “knives, guns, blood, death, and carnage,” chances are the guy needs a few more therapy sessions. If the patient says, “Flowers, smiles, chocolate-chip cookies and a hug from my grandmother” the doctor stamps a big red OK on the patients hand. This test works insofar as it relies on the transaction between the patient and the ink-blot. If there was no transaction, this test would be nullified.

You can probably tell by now that I believe that a transaction does take place between the written word and the reader. But is there a transaction that occurs with all texts? What about a sign that says, “Employees must wash hands before returning to work”? Is there room for interpretation here? I don’t see any. Every literate person reading that sign would surely know that the sign means that, if you are an employee there, you have to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom. If someone were to say they felt the sign meant that they were supposed to wash their spiritual hands with the soap of vortexes or something hippie like that, we might have a lot of dirty-handed, albeit free-spirited, employees making our hamburgers. Who wants that? Not me.

I proclaim that some types of texts have a one ultimate meaning, while other texts are open to interpretation. But what texts fall into what category? That, my friend, is the million dollar question. And I am in no position to answer it.

By now you’re probably thinking that I didn’t read the article at all, that I just took the idea of transaction and digressed about it for two double-spaced pages, but no!- and to prove to you my scholarliness, I’ll summarize a little.

Louise M. Rosenblatt comes up with two terms to define two different types of reading. For the fact-gathering, coming-away-with-the-one-ultimate-meaning type of reading, she uses the term efferent. And the feel good, it-means-whatever-you-feel-it- means type of reading she calls aesthetic.

The article also says that children prefer aesthetic reading over efferent reading. Children naturally react to the sounds of words, the tone of a book, they identify with a protagonist, and so on. Only when we turn wide-eyed toddlers into fact-memorizers, through formal schooling and other adult-ifying means, kids know they have to read efferently.

My pick for the most important pair of sentences in the whole article is:

“Sometimes, of course, readers adopt an inappropriate attitude- for example, reading a political article aesthetically when they should be efferently paying attention to the facts. And many people, alas, read the texts of stories and poems efferently.” This brings us back to the question: what should be read aesthetically and what should be read efferently? Again, I have no idea. But let’s keep talking about it!

Indeed, may the discussion of transaction forever pervade the thoughts of our minds and the feelings of our hearts!

Giving, Understanding, and Trusting: Native Americans in the Classroom

Native Americans are longer the stuff of campfire tall tales. They’re real. They’re here. And they’re in our schools. Chapter 28 of Literacy by McCarty and Watahomigie firstly provides some statistics about how many Native Americans are attending public schools, stressing the prominent presence of the indigenous people. Certainly if I stay in Arizona to teach, I’ll have some Native Americans in my classroom.

Next the authors talk about how the United States educational system has historically dealt with Native Americans. We used to take children away from their families, cut their hair, give them pilgrim-looking clothes, spoke English at them, and otherwise “civilized” or “Americanized” them. Back in those days kids were physically punished for speaking their native language or showing loyalty to their own culture. This history can’t be ignored; the prejudices are still very much with us. It’s good to learn about the past, because it helps us understand the present. In the 1960’s the Native Americans fought for their civil rights much like other minority groups. Discrimination is less prominent, today, against Native Americans, but, like I said, is still around. For instance, when I played cowboys and Indians as a boy, I always wanted to be a cowboy. Why? What’s the matter with being an Indian? (I don’t know if I actually played cowboys and Indians, but my Dad got me a very Western-looking rocking horse for me once.)

Next the authors exhort us to appreciate the language diversity and cultural diversity that exists among the Native Americans. There are hundreds of different languages, tribes, rituals, and legends from the North and South Americas. They don’t all have mo-hawks, live in teepees, smoke peace pipes and scalp pale-faces. They aren’t all like the Indians from Never-never land. We must appreciate this diversity and avoid stereotypes and generalizations. On the other hand, we need to recognize that they are different from WASP’s, and they may learn differently. So, the article discusses many different types of Native American culture and says we need to appreciate them all. I agree with that.

Next, the article moves into more practical application classroom activities. The main point I got from this portion was that we need to attempt to understand Native American culture. We need to care for our students individually, learn about their home life, their parents, tribal traditions, etc. I believe that everybody has a unique story to tell. I believe that all student backgrounds can enrich the lives of others. Every heartfelt student poem is beautiful and valuable. I’m grateful for my parents and teachers who listened to my opinions and concerns, even though, looking back, some of them were underdeveloped or immature. So I want to provide the same sort of loving, caring, understanding environment for my students, regardless of their particular color, creed, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. We need to be involved with the community to be sure that all cultures are represented in the classroom. (I believe that at the same time, though, that the dominant discourse must be taught.) We need to remove personal prejudice and bigotry from our souls. This does not mean we have to compromise our own beliefs or lifestyles, but it does mean that we can’t be imperious.

This article by McCarty and Watahomigie helped me appreciate how badly need bilingual educators are needed, especially on Indian Reservations.

Addendum: I learned that an “orthography” is the newly written form of a traditionally only oral language. People are writing down some of the oral-only languages in order to preserve it. But in the act of writing it down, some tribal elders say, you destroy some of its magic. That’s understandable to me. Whenever a novel is turned into a movie or a play, or translated into another language, things are lost in translation.

Someone said once, “The medium is the message.” In other words, how you tell a story is almost as important as the story itself. Picasso used oils, not markers, because oil paints best did what he wanted. Similarly, special things about oral only languages are lost when orthographies are made. Is this sad? I don’t know. Cultures come and cultures go. I guess it is sad that English colonization and the Industrial Revolution and assembly line and the computer have changed so much.

[I like this next one a lot. I talk about myself!]

22 Years of Progress: Telemoonfa’s Musings about His Own Literacy

Clearly I remember my three older siblings, Morris, Christy, Leah, and me lying on the living room floor of the house we grew up in, each with a book in hand. Mother walked in and said something to the effect of, “Wow, all my kids are reading books, instead of rotting their brains with that Super Nintendo! Isn’t that great?” She warmly smiled and then went about her business.

Through this experience and others like it, reading got me positive feedback from the adults in my life. The grown-ups at home, at school, at church, and at other social situations all smiled or patted my head when I talked about reading books or showed some of my English skills by using big words. So, as a child wanting love and attention, I read books. It was as if the all the adults had decided on a set of values and were doing their best to pass on their respect for reading to the younger generation by positive reinforcement. To the literate kids went smiles and lollipops, and to the struggling readers went remedial classes and red frowning faces on their schoolwork.

However, psycho-analysis aside, I believe that I naturally did like books and did enjoy reading.
But, before I began reading by myself, I had other people read to me. I remember my father either telling or reading me bedtime stories. Sometimes he told me stories extemporaneously about his youth growing up on a farm in Wyoming. He would also tell me three billy goats Gruff, the three little pigs, and little red riding hood. He told me fairy tales and other children’s stories, orally, without referring to a book, so every time it was a little bit different. I enjoyed the funny voices my Dad would use. He had a low, grumbling voice for the troll beneath the bridge, saying, “Who’s that walking on my bridge?” And he had a high, girlie voice for Little Red Riding Hood, when she said, “My, Grandma, what big teeth you have!” He also made entertaining sound effects and hand gestures throughout the story. Other times, he read me children’s books before I went to sleep. Other people in my family read to me, too, sometimes. When my older brother Morris was a teenager and loved The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, he wanted to read the book aloud to me. I’m not sure how long that lasted; I don’t think we finished the whole book, but still, it is a good memory of gaining a respect for books.

Another influence on my literacy early in my life was church. Every Sunday growing up our family would attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, where I would go to Sunday school and learn stories from the scriptures. At church I learned about the holy books- books that we sang about, memorized carefully, and handled carefully. So before I could read or write on my own, I was being instructed in the ways of spirituality through religious classes in the church building.

At home, I’m sure I could sing the alphabet song before entering kindergarten. My older brother and sisters were a big influence in that. I heard the big kids say their ABC’s and I saw them read books, so just by being around them, I started to become literate.

Then my formal education came. I must say, as most Americans do, that school is where I really learned how to read and write. From kindergarten throughout elementary school, we learned the alphabet, the sounds the letters could make, and correct English grammar. We also learned how to read simple words, spell correctly, write proper sentences, and otherwise become literate students.

Gradually I became able to read and write on my own. But even though I was able to do those things, I was not always prone to do them outside of school. After all, kids usually like T.V. and video games, or more active entertainment like sports or playing outside. My friends and I in middle school would spend much of our summer-times in the desert building forts, riding bikes, and using our imaginations. And at home, much of my free time was spent keeping up with cartoons and sitcoms or blasting away digital enemies on the Super Nintendo.

But my mother frowned upon too much time in front of the television, encouraging us to read books. I remember that at the beginning of many of my elementary and middle school summers, Mother would take the kids to the library and sign them up for the summer reading program. Upon signing up, we received a chart with many blank squares forming a path to a drawing of a pot of gold or a fantasy island or something fantastical. Every year the chart was different, but the idea was that for every 15 minutes you read, you got to color in a box. Once you filled in enough boxes, you returned to the library to redeem little prizes like candy, bookmarks or miscellaneous doodads. The prizes were small, but they were enough to motivate me to check out some R. L. Stine books from the library and read about children getting scared by mummies or vampires or whatever monster was in the neighborhood.

Around 6th grade came the biggest love affair with books of my life: Comic Books. It probably mostly came from my older brother Morris, who proudly possessed an impressive comic book collection, but it also came from a Saturday morning cartoon, X-men, that I was in love with. And maybe it also came from some of my friends who also liked comic books. There was something about superpowers and dialogue balloons that really captivated my imagination. For years, I spent all the money I could squeeze out of my parents on comic books. I went to comic book shops, bought a few at grocery stores from the magazine aisle, but mostly I ordered them from catalogs. I organized my comics by title and chronologically, checked their price in “Wizard” magazine, and wouldn’t let my little brothers near them. At one point, I even wanted to become a comic book artist and write my own comic book stories.

I mostly read the X-titles, namely, X-men, Excalibur, the Uncanny X-men, Generation X, X-Factor, X-man, and X-force. But I also dabbled in Spiderman.

But then, around my freshman or sophomore year of high school, I slowly lost interest in comic books. I guess I could blame it on what was happening with the X-men at the time. Professor X, the leader of the X-men, had some really bad part of his psyche come alive and this negative-thought-substance-stuff turned into Onslaught, this really really bad and powerful dude who threatened the entire Marvel Universe. Onslaght ended up killing a bunch of superheroes. By Professor X turning into Onslaught, he fulfilled Bishop’s prophecy that one of the members of the X-men would betray the team and cause the death of a bunch of them. I didn’t like this storyline. I was tired of all the crossovers and huge storylines where you have to buy 20 titles a month to keep up with it, and alternative holographic or chromium covers to comic books. After a long break from the comic book scene, I returned for a short time when I read the Maxx series and the Watchmen graphic novel. Those were more mature than the X-men comic books and were very good. But the Golden Age of my comic-book love was gone, and the Silver Age soon fell.

I still read some books besides comic books, but mostly I read for school assignments. In school, I did well in my English classes, and my English teachers were always my favorite ones. And I enjoyed many of the readings that I was assigned throughout high school, especially Lord of the Flies.

Additionally, on the various aptitude tests they administered throughout my formal schooling, I fared better on the English portions than on the math and science portions.

So now I’m twenty-two years old, attending college, majoring in English Education, and planning to become a high-school English and Drama teacher. Boy, my Language and Literacy class especially has helped me understand more about literacy and think about how people learn how to read and write. I still enjoy reading and writing, and I know that literacy will be a big part of the rest of my life. I’m thankful for the literacy skills that I have, and look forward to passing on the value of literacy to the next generation.