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This is a Samsung “Juke” telephonic device.   Why do I post a picture of it? Because we just bought one for the ten year old gel.  Yes, my 10 y.o. daughter now has her first cellphone.  (I didn’t get my first personal cellphone until, oh, about three weeks ago.)

On the one hand, I plead practical reasons.  To date, we have had a rayther complicated schedule of job commutes, school runs, social calls and sport practices.  More than once last year there were some last-minute changes of plan that might have worked out much more smoothly had we all been able to communicate with each other.  This schedule is going to become even more complicated by the fact that the gel will be entering 5th Grade next week not at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method along with her sisters, but at the local public elementary school.  (More on that later.)  In the face of all this whizzing about the NoVa suburbs, I realized that I would feel much better if the gel had some way to get hold of us at need.

On the other hand, I know that I am going to be drummed out of the Honourable Companie of Luddites for this.  I can see it now, the Members forming a hollow square while the Committee proceeds to snip off my cockade and confiscate my wooden shoes.

Ah, well.

The gel already has called me several times Just Because She Can.  She’s also become the latest authority on contact lists, speed-dialing, photos and something the young persons call “text messaging”.  Of course, I predict that she’s going to lose the bloody thing before the week is out.  I have tried to retain some shred of dignity by insisting that if she does, she will not receive another one.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Crecy, fought in 1346, a signal engagement of the Hundred Years’ War in which a small, long-bow armed English army under the command of Edward III and his son the “Black” Prince of Wales cut to pieces the much larger cavalry forces of France’s Philip VI.

When I remember this battle, I always think of Charles VI’s line from Act II of Henry V, in which he chides the Dauphin for dismissing Hal as a mere fly-weight:

Think we King Harry strong;
And, princes, look you strongly arm to meet him.
The kindred of him hath been flesh’d upon us;
And he is bred out of that bloody strain
That haunted us in our familiar paths:
Witness our too much memorable shame
When Cressy battle fatally was struck,
And all our princes captiv’d by the hand
Of that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales;
Whiles that his mountain sire, on mountain standing,
Up in the air, crown’d with the golden sun,
Saw his heroical seed, and smiled to see him,
Mangle the work of nature and deface
The patterns that by God and by French fathers
Had twenty years been made. This is a stem
Of that victorious stock; and let us fear
The native mightiness and fate of him.

Now the Bard might have been engaged in a bit of gratuitous Frog-bashing here, but I think his observation of the impact of the battle on the psychology of France’s rulers was perfectly legitimate: Crecy really was an outright disaster for France, a slaughter of a sizeable portion of the French nobility, as well as a harbinger of the downfall of the mounted knight as the supreme battlefield weapon. Of course, the fact that this took a long time to sink in on the French (because of complicated socio-political reasons) was demonstrated by their defeat at the hands of the English under similar conditions again at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and, of course, at Agincourt in 1415.

Via Fear and Loathing in Georgetown, I was amused by this post in which Miss Self-Important takes a hatchet to a WaPo lament penned yesterday by a high school English teacher in which she, the HSET, laments the attitude of her students toward the Great Books:

Ah, high school English teachers, perennial targets of Miss Self-Important’s ire. The newest installment of English Teacher Angst comes from the Washington Post, in which Angsty English Teacher laments that her students just aren’t having as much fun with Charles Dickens as they used to. When did high school students love Charles Dickens and fall all over themselves to write essays about him? Unclear. But moving on.

The problem seems to be that teenagers don’t get excited by “great books” in English classes, and as a result, become illiterate. Well, except that some of these books turn out to be of questionable greatness–“How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,” for example–and that the kids are actually reading a lot of non-assigned sci-fi in their free time, and so presumably are not illiterate. Nonetheless! This is a major problem for Angsty English Teacher, because her students (who are also brilliant creative writers in the making, it should be noted) sleep through her course and sometimes long for their next period gym class. I haven’t heard of many brilliant writers who don’t read or any pedagogy based on fun (except, in fact, gym class, which was the least fun experience of my life), but maybe this mysterious new species of “digital native” will overturn my anachronistic assumptions.

The HSET’s lament, if you read the original article, seems to be:

1) That her students don’t find Dickens, Shakespeare and those other boring, dead dudes, like….relevant to their lives;

2) Being made to, like, study formal literary structure and detail and, like, write essays about it  is so……non-creative; and

3) Forcing her students to, like, read books they’re not into is making her all, like, unpopular, n’ stuff!

The HSET’s solution to these problems of connectivity with her class? Abject surrender, apparently.

Personally, before surrendering I would recommend that HSET dig out her old copy of The Berenstain Bears: Draw It! In that particular story, a new art teacher comes to the Bear Country School.  On his first day there, he sets up a seemingly meaningless copying assignment for the class.  Sister Bear says something like, “But, how are we going to express ourselves?”  To which the art teacher responds, “You’re not. I am going to express myself by teaching you how to draw!”  And damme if over the course of the story, Sister, Brother and Cousin Freddie don’t begin to understand the point of all those exercises in form and composition!  As much as I generally loathe the denizens of Bear Country, I’ve always thought that their creators got it just about right with this book.

The purpose of high school English is to teach kids to read and write, to recognize literary structures and to be able to compose essays demonstrating that recognition.  We employ the Great Books in these exercises not because we expect most of the kids to fall in love with Faulkner or Hardy or Hawthorne or Homer, but because the skills of these authors have withstood the test of time and deserve to be studied.   As for appreciation of the art for its own sake? Remember, they’re just snot-nosed, know-nothing kids.  Mere exposure is good enough at that age.  (Heck, I was a goddam college English major and I didn’t develop any real taste for novels until a good fifteen years afterwards.  And I still only enjoy poetry in very small doses.)

As for HSET’s popularity with her kiddies? Well, all I can do is go by own own dim recollection: The teachers who made the most lasting impression on me and whose efforts I ultimately came to appreciate the most were the ones who actually made me work, not the ones who wanted to be my pal.


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August 2008