A firm believer in active reading, I’ve always enjoyed writing in my books. I journal in the margins. I’ve poopooed the use of digital books for this reason.
A firm believer in active reading, I’ve always enjoyed writing in my books. I journal in the margins. I’ve poopooed the use of digital books for this reason.
My daughter Scarlet and I visited a restaurant the other morning to purchase some bagels. I ordered a “Baker’s Dozen” of various styles; plenty of Scarlet’s favorite, the one with sugar piled on top. When I asked the person behind the counter to slice and toast two of the bagels, so we could eat them then and there, I was told that I’d have to buy two more bagels, outside of the baker’s dozen. “The Line, where they assemble sandwiches and cook things, would have to toast the bagels,” it was explained.
Rather than schooling the employee on customer-service or being difficult, I opted to have two of the baker’s dozen sliced right there and forego the toasting. I felt a little
cheap, but it was a principle-thing. I had purchased the baker’s dozen to save money. Buying two additional bagels would have canceled that, and then we would have too many bagels to eat over the course of the next couple of days.
You should know that there were, maybe, three people sitting and eating in the restaurant, and there was one person behind me in line. In other words, it was not rush hour. It seems to me that the main reason for the toasting needing an additional purchase was because the computer didn’t have a way to send an automated message to “The Line” when a baker’s dozen was being purchased. The only way for this worker to communicate that two bagels were to be toasted was by producing a separate order… Or, she could have grabbed a couple of the thirteen and asked the people working “The Line” to toast them… verbally… perhaps with hand gestures or signs.
Empathy: This deserves a whole series of Classy Blogs, but let me start here. In every single situation, I try to empathize with each person involved, because I believe attempting understanding motives is classy. When you know where someone is coming
from, it is easier to behave classy. In this instance, the girl taking my order could very well have been new. Perhaps she was told to only use the computer. Maybe she was specifically told to avoid extra transactions, outside of the automated system. “If a customer wants his bagel toasted, you HAVE to press the toast icon on the keypad,” a manager may have said to her right before I placed my order. It isn’t impossible for there to even be an unseen difficulty for this girl to walk the ten feet and talk to “The Line”. Her ex-boyfriend could be working over there, and they just broke up. Who knows? The one thing that I did know was that this girl could not see through the automation of the ordering system before her.
It reminded me of a movie that I do not recommend you watch. It isn’t the drug use and profanity that keep me from suggesting you see “Idiocracy”. The movie has gone from satirical comedy to frightening realism. Its preface is a world 500 years in the future that has become idiotic due to people’s intelligence devolving. While there are several ways this is depicted, one is the use of computers with nothing but icons on them. When I first saw it, I thought it funny, but watching it a year or so ago made me dangerously depressed.
Here is some more empathy: I understand why automation exists. The people at the head of companies want to make as much money as they can. This is only natural. I would like to have more money, too. By lowering the steps necessary to take care of customers,
limiting the amount of time a living human being is needed for communicating with people, the companies can hire fewer people, thereby spending less on employment. Also, automation can lessen the amount of trivial needs that their paid employees have to deal with. When there is bad weather and I call my gym to see if it is still open, I am surprised to talk to an actual person. I apologize for simply wanting to know if it is open. “Yes, we are open,” a courteous receptionist assures me. I feel badly for how many times that person is probably going to have to deal with my question throughout the morning. An automated system could help them.
On the other hand, when I have a pressing need or question that I know won’t be
addressed by an automated system, it is infuriating to have to jump through a million hoops to talk to a real person. Sometimes I mask myself as a person seeking to begin a new account just to get to talk to a live person. When I get “transferred” to a person who can “help with my specific issue,” my cynicism makes me wonder if my lengthy wait is just part of meeting the company’s hold-time-quota: “You’re going to wait, whether you realize/want to, or not.”
In the case of my morning bagel customer-service crisis, it was sad to see a young woman be boxed into an algorithm that didn’t allow her the ability to show the classic “customer-first” concept that makes the service industry classy. Doctors are equipped with an awesome amount of valuable information via the Internet, which can make their work of diagnosing patients’ ailments more effective. Who would be okay with the doctor texting you what they find? The 2009 movie “Up In the Air” gets it. George Clooney plays a businessman who is hired in order to fire people. When his job is threatened by an online career-termination skeem that a fresh, young mind thinks up, Clooney’s character insists that the inventor travel with him to witness the class necessary for handling this delicate procedure properly.
Fighting automation is a losing battle. “Let the robots take the jobs…” Kevin Kelly (2012) thinks robots should win the jobs that can be automated, “And let them help us dream up new work that matters.” There will be hiccups along the way, and Scarlet and I might have to eat a couple untoasted bagels, but it’s worth being able to type this on a computer instead of being busy with farm chores; one of the many ways robots have rescued Americans.
Judge, M. (Director). (2006). Idiocracy [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: 20th Century Fox.
Kelly, K. (2012, December 24). Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.wired.com/2012/12/ff-robots-will-take-our-jobs/
Reitman, J. (Director). (2009). Up in the Air [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Paramount.
Consider Cloning Your Creativity. It’s Classy.
A person is considered creative by others if he comes up with new and novel ideas. To use a cliche that’s been chopped down, chewed up, and spit out a billion times, in the same way a tree does not fall in a forest if no one is there to hear it, a person is only as creative as people recognize it. My suggestion: Cloning your creativity is classy.
This is classy because it helps you and others. It is helpful to you because it will make you feel meaningful and important. The greatest form of flattery is for someone to copy you. Sharing your ideas says, “Flatter me, please;)” Also, others may find ways to improve what you came up with. This shouldn’t make you feel badly. You invented the table. Others are simply lengthening the legs, sanding the rough edges, and polishing the finish. No one would be using it at all, had you never considered cloning your creative contribution to the culinary art! How classy.
Here is an issue: I came up with a lesson years ago that I hadn’t put together until just recently. I thought of having my students make “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories to make narrative writing fun and creative. (They can also explore multiple solutions to problems within plots.) In preparation for teaching a professional development class on using iPads in the classroom, I decided I’d finally try my hand at making one of these adventures. I created a planning paper, made a Google slideshow, hyperlinked slides together, and wrote a silly little story about the teachers that would be attending my iPad course. I even made a movie to show teachers how I did what I did, so that they could reproduce (clone) it.
I haven’t actually mentioned the “issue” yet. All this goes right along with the theme of this blog: Sharing your creativity is classy. Here is the issue: I just… just now, as I am in the middle of typing this blog, googled “Choose your own adventure lesson,” and do you know how many other people had the same idea as me? Well, it took Google half of a second to produce eighteen million hits. So, was my idea a creative one?
Has this kind of thing ever happened to you? Have you ever excitedly told a colleague or friend about a grand idea you had, only to have your audience say, “Oh, (so and so) did that last year”? Talk about taking the wind out of your creative sails!
Here is a classy consolation: How many artists were appreciated during their lifetime? Additionally, do you think Edgar Degas was the only artist who painted ballerinas? Did Michelangelo invent sculpture? As creative as people may seem, they are building upon concepts that already exist. It is what’s done with the creativity that makes it classy. A creative idea that sits in the classroom, confined to 24 students, and never tried by other teachers, isn’t any more useful than a tree falling in the middle of a forest is beneficial to a carpenter. Yeah, people are building tables all over the place. So, your raised wooden platform that people place food on isn’t all that novel in a global market, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make one. Many people had painted portraits of women before the Mona Lisa. What if DaVinci thought, “That’s already been done. I don’t want to look lame, copying others.”
Not classy: Failing to give credit where credit is due. No explanation needed. Also, withholding compliments is not classy. A person can feel jealous when a colleague is getting attention for his creativity. Don’t let corrosive competitive feelings creep into your soul. They will kill your creativity. This is not a war or competition. Be congratulatory. That is classy. An attitude of admiration will boost you forward, usher you into a collection of collaborative creators, and fuel cogitation. A poor attitude will find you lying under a fallen tree in the middle of the forest, trapped, forgotten, and nonexistent.
Here is the lesson that I dreamed up, created, and found out already exists… millions of times over;) https://tinyurl.com/y8pnpybm
Here is the movie that I made to show off how I did what millions of others have done before me. https://youtu.be/xzi1Q0nAsBc
Although I am laughing at myself for thinking that I was soooo creative, coming up with this lesson, only to find out lots of others before me have done something similar, I remain please with my product, and encourage you… I would be flattered if you were to check it out and even use it. Let me know what you think, and if there were ways to improve upon it.
Final thought: Where would this lesson fall on the SAMR spectrum? Is the use of technology Substituting, Augmenting, Modifying, or Redefining teaching?
Being a pawn in someone’s game is not positive, but why? We’ve all heard the analogy used, but what does it mean?
This evening I attended the second of three two-hour training sessions in Philadelphia, preparing me to coach a chess club this coming year. I sat directly across from a man who could teach a plant to play competitive chess. He cleared the chess board of half its pieces. Yesterday, we learned all about how to help kids comprehend the use of every chess piece, save one. This one covered two entire ranks* of the board before me.
“No other piece has more rules governing it than the pawn,” Steve Shutt told the table of teachers. As people produced parameters for the pawn (we came up with eight), I pondered the symbolism of the weakest piece being the most restricted. My first thought was that the rules protected the pawn. My blog title was going to be, “Protecting the Weak is Classy”. I found it curious that the symbol of something being meaningless enough to thoughtlessly use up without recourse would have the most regulations. A practical parallel might be that a ruler must regard certain stipulations in order to “pawn off” a person, and perhaps these were installed to safeguard the weak. That would be classy.
Alas, although the chess player has laws governing the use of the most prolific piece, these rules do NOT protect the weakest member of the team. On the contrary, it is the rules that make it weak. The pawn is not allowed to retreat; It can’t move backward. While other pieces can simply land on a space, capturing the piece occupying the square, a pawn is not allowed to attack straight on; It must attack diagonally. This restricts its movement, so that the pawn cannot move forward when something is blocking it. Pawns get stuck all over the board, forced to wait for the pieces in front of them to be captured or moved. Ironically, the ONE unique power of the pawn, its ability to move two squares forward for its first move, can even be stripped away through en passant!
There is good news for our symbolic pawn, however. As I mused about the plight of the pawn on the way home from my chess training, I was speaking with a fellow chess enthusiast and new friend, Alex Pappas. He pointed out that the pawn is the only piece that has the power to change. If the pawn reaches the opposite side of the chess board, it can change into any piece it wishes. Most players choose a queen, the most powerful piece, but the pawn is not restricted to changing into a queen. Finally, the pawn is liberated from all restrictions.
In the game of life, a person wielding power would do well to realize the potential of his/her pawns. A hidden talent could be a pawn. Perhaps the career path you have chosen does not permit you to be as artistic as you would like. Your creativity is blocked everywhere you try to use it. Keep pushing forward, and maybe your natural talent or personal passion will be honored in the end, providing you with power and opening exciting doors.
This is one of the most attractive things about America. Someone can grow up surrounded by peers who want to cut you off (diagonally), yet persist to rise above the tide, weaving in and out of adversity, to finally be crowned with riches and power. There are parameters that fence you in, but there isn’t anything tying you down. I’ll leave you with this: While climbing up is classy, holding others back or down is not…
It is interesting that the American Library Association (ALA) would choose a history text for its first-ever children’s literature award winner. Was the organization making up for only just now (1922) beginning to honor kids’ books? Were the organizers thinking they’d catch everyone up to speed? “This is what has happened in the past; Now, lets award one book each year.” I’ll tell you one thing: This is one classy history book. Here are 5 features I found to be extraordinarily classy.
1. Figurative Language: What struck me first and foremost was a combination of beautiful prose and mountains of metaphor. To begin at the end of the book, on page 482 Van Loon refers to the world as a “workshop”. He sees the steam, gas, and new-to-his-era electric machines forging a global factory. The story of Hendrik’s history ends a few
years after The Great War. He concludes the new world is a place where political lines are as important as the edge of a concrete slab under a picnic pavilion (my metaphor;) Van Loon sees the “Iron Horse,” machinery in general, as the true victor of the First World War, running wild over, across, and through the entire world, regardless of man-made borders. Was he right? What would Van Loon make of today’s robots, not to mention the Internet!? The previous nearly 500 pages are teeming with as many metaphors.
Here is a fun passage for discussion:
And now that I have almost finished I discover that certain chapters gallop, that others wade slowly through the dreary sands of long forgotten ages–that a few parts do not make any progress at all, while still others indulge in a veritable jazz of action and romance. (p. 446)
Present Hendrik Van Loon’s self reflection prior to reading the text and then categorize the readings. Which chapters or sections would you label “gallop”? Are there any that were “jazzy” with action? Romance?
2. Evidence-Based: The forever swinging pendulum seems to have exorcised more than just public prayer from schools. A friend of mine told me recently that she was pointing out the similarities between the Greek myths and the story of Moses from the Bible. Her students had no idea who Moses was. Whether you are religiously-minded or not, this should alarm you. I am pleased to report that Van Loon mentions Moses, Abraham, and even Jesus in his history of mankind. He does this in a classy way. Rather than telling the reader what the Bible says, Van Loon provides outside sources. For example, a letter from AEsculapius Cultellus (Roman physician) to his nephew, written in 62 A.D. tells of a first hand account of treating Paul (the apostle) of the New Testament (p. 119).
3. Provides the People’s Perspective (a little): In addition to hitting many of the main events of history, Van Loon pauses to describe what life was like for a common person. Napoleon, his feats, the land his army conquered are all important facts to know. These
events affect the course of history. Van Loon provides more than just the basics in his blitz of history. He paints a picture of life for the Frenchman who was proud to take up arms to help Napoleon. The way the Roman Empire gradually usurped land and people, assimilating other cultures into its own is a lesson in and of itself, but learning about the life of a slave under Greek and Roman rule brings the everyday life of thousands to light. What was life like for them? It is easy to project attitudes onto others, yet the author of “The Story of Mankind” gets into the character of his subject illuminating everyday struggles and fears, helping the reader empathize with the characters in the story of history.
Here, I have a criticism. Of course with any history project it is going to be “The Story of Mankind” according to the author, who in this case is a Dutch-American professor from Cornell University. In his view Holland and England were heroes to the natives of the Americas in the seventeenth century (p. 324). With sympathy, he provides the mildly racist annotation, “During their first relations with weaker races, all European nations have behaved with shocking brutality.” Although it is interesting to read about France exploring and fortifying the Mississippi River, cutting English and Dutch settlement off from westward expansion early in the new world exploration, absolutely no attention is given to the “mankind” that already inhabited the Americas. Of course space is limited, but an entire chapter is devoted to the relationship between Russia and Sweden! One of the best books I have ever read, devoted to the people’s perspective, is “A People’s History of The United States” by Howard Zinn. Before reading this text, I did not realize that in the year 1491 the Americas were more populated than Europe and that the largest city of Europe paled next to the Aztec capital, modern day Mexico City. There is a youth edition.
Discussion Point: Page 449 suggests that “Athens and Florence, during the hey-day of their glory, had only one tenth of the population of Kansas City.” The larger-than-life influence of Greece and Italy on our culture makes it feel like these peoples must have had infinite populations. It was a bit of a paradigm shift to realize that a tiny group of people could have such a large influence over a vast amount of time.
4. Thought-Provoking: An informational text is naturally going to be educational, requiring cognitive engagement, but Van Loon has a knack for skipping the boring stuff of history and presenting ideas that get the neurons fired up. He assumes the reader already knows the basics of the American Revolution. Instead of covering the main points, Van Loon attempts to shine light on the unique angles. In the United States we focus very much on the ground battles led by our hero, General George Washington. How much attention is given to the weakening of the English army by its enemies from the European mainland, and how much that affected the outcome of our revolution?
Van Loon does an excellent job pointing out that there is always many factors that contribute to a single historical event. The famous Congress of Vienna, that ended The Great War are referred to as “reactionaries” in the chapter on “National Independence” (p. 381).
5. Opinionated: Here is a topic deserving of its own blog. It is not classy to believe what everyone else believes, just because everyone else believes it. Believe something based on the evidence available and how much sense it makes. The classiest people possess their own independent opinions. With knowledge of subject and contemplative thinking, they form cognitive constructs that they then share with others. Additionally, they are prepared for varying opinions. An example of Van Loon’s “opinion writing” can be seen in the chapter “After Seven Years.” He explains that the men who were responsible for ending the First World War treated the, at that time (1921), modern situation as if it were colonial times (1719), rather than recognizing the rise of the industrial age and accepting a more global perspective. He points to the way they sat around a map and drew arbitrary lines dissecting land with little regard for the people and industries that lived there. It is heart-wrenching for me to read text written between the two world wars: “Meanwhile in their agony and distress the people will turn to the cure-alls offered by Bolshevism and Fascism” (p. 480). Was Van Loon a prophet? No. He simply took what he saw happening around him and formed an opinion. If only we can be so classy.
Watch out for…
Here is an online version of the entire original text, complete with illustrations and hyperlinks from the index items to the “pages” containing the relevant information.
Child Development Institute. (n.d.). How To Talk To Kids About Violence. Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/how-to-be-a-parent/communication/talk-to-kids-violence/#.W0CQJzNKhE4
Van Loon, H. (1921). The Story of Mankind. Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Company.
Zinn, H. (2007). A Young People’s History of the United States: Columbus to the War on Terror (For Young People Series). New York, NY: Seven Stories Press. [This was accessed for free via Overdrive through my public library. I read it on my iPad.]
Zinn, H. (1980). The People’s History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins.
Although I read “The Story of Mankind” first, I haven’t finished composing my blog for it. The book covers all of history, from the beginning of time to the “Great War.” (World War II hadn’t happened at the time of its publication–1921, so “World War I” was not numerated yet.) It is going to take me a couple of days to whittle my thoughts down to a handful of classy things. For this reason, I am providing my thoughts about the second ever Newbery Award winner, “The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle” (1923) first.
Hugh Lofting’s creation of a medical doctor turned veterinarian after discovering he can communicate with animals was so successful that it spawned 13 books in all. “The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle” is the second of the series. I was hesitant to jump into a sequel, having never read “The Story of Dr. Dolittle”, but was pleasantly surprised to find it very independent… and immensely entertaining, not to mention very valuable. Here are three classy takeaways.
Respect is given to enemies. In the beginning of chapter 48, “War!” news of a “thievish” and “envious” group of people preparing to ransack the provisions of a more studious tribe is communicated to the Dr. and his party. His response sums up the classiness of the doctor’s character: “Yet let us not judge harshly. Perhaps it is that they are desperate for food, having their own crops frost-killed before harvest” (p. 183). And, I won’t spoil it for you, but you will be as surprised as the Bag-jagderags when you read the end of “The Peace of the Parrots” to find out how the doctor treats these warmongering thieves. Discussion Point: What might someone else have come up with for “terms” of peace? Look up the terms of peace from other great wars.
Warning: With heavy heart I mention that this, like many old texts, contains traces of racism. I read the original 1921 version of the story that is now in the public domain. I thought that I would merely be mentioning the fact that the n word is used two or three times early on in the book as vernacular of England countrymen. But, upon further reflection, I want to mention a bigger idea. There is a character in the text, Bumpo, who is an African prince. This person studies at Oxford, which is prestigious, and one might, at first glance, think that this is doing Africans a service. When reflecting on the tale as a whole, however, I realized something disturbing that cannot be fixed by simple bowderization (Dominus, 2006). Bumpo, the Oxford student, is relegated to carrying things and cooking for the crew of the curlew (ship), while Tommy, an English boy of ten or eleven, is the doctor’s right-hand man. I’m not sure what kind of “discussion point” to make here, other than the fact that people have traditionally favored humans that look, act, and speak like themselves. This royal, presumably rich (Bumpo traveled to and paid for an education in Oxford.), intelligent (Bumpo was halfway through his studies.) man from Africa is portrayed as less of a person than Tommy. Think about it logically. Bumpo and the doctor have way more in common than do Dolittle and a boy. Tommy doesn’t even come from an educated, wealthy family! I must stop.
3. Science: Although purely and fantastically fictional, this fun novel paints scientific study in a perfectly delightful, exciting, and adventurous light. When other books have kids seeking treasure with buccaneers, Stubbins (the boy’s last name) joins an unlikely captain on the most exhilarating voyage any boy could hope to experience. This tale brings science to the plane of pirates, making knowledge and study as exciting and valuable as gold dublins!
Here is a bonus classy point. I loved the emphasis on thinking in this book. It seemed to me ironic that someone who does so much would be named “Do-little”. I was pleased to see his name changed, albeit temporarily, late in the book, to “Thinkalot”. It was rewarding to see this quality pointed out, rewarded, and admired in a children’s book. And with that I leave you. This was a very classy classic that I plan to read to my class this year. I look forward to the thought-provoking discussions my class and I will enjoy.
Lofting, H. (2012). The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Sterling Children’s Books. [Bowdlerized version, omitting or changing several racially inappropriate phrases]
Dominus, M. (2006, January 23). The Bowdlerization of Dr. Dolittle. Retrieved July 8, 2018, from https://blog.plover.com/book/Dolittle.html
The cream of the crop is (usually) very classy. Thus, I have decided to begin a new branch of The Captain of Class focusing on Award-Winning Books. A couple of years ago I purchased a poster from Scholastic Book Publishers that had pictures of all of the John Newbery Award winners on it. After laminating it, I hung it on the wall to inspire reading high-quality literature. When I look at it, I feel a sense of pride in how many of the winners I have personally read.
One day, as I looked at the poster, a seed of an idea rooted itself in my mind: If the ones I have read were as good as I remember, I bet the others are great as well. Borrowing a metaphor from “Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000 winner and recent read aloud), this seed of thought sprouted into a tree that all but required I read every single one of the books featured on that poster.
I recently conveyed this plan to a friend, and he told me about a grad class that required he read many of these. “They were really quite good,” he remembered. I chuckled. “Well, they won the most prestigious award that children’s literature has to offer,” I suggested.
Going in chronological order, beginning with the very first winner “The Story of Mankind” by Hendrik Van Loon from 1922, the year the award was invented, I plan to read each book and provide my two cents about its being used in the classroom. There are endless reviews of books out there, but The Captain of Class will be focusing on the “classiness” of each book. (Perhaps I will develop a “Class-o-meter” once I have a few of these under my belt.)
My goal is to let teachers and parents know what to expect when reading each award-winning book; what to look for, what to get out of it, and what to watch for, if there are any age-questionable material. For instance, I read one of my favorites, “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” (1967), by E. L. Konigsburg to my third grade class this past year. This classic was thoroughly enjoyed by all. In addition to constantly telling my class that this idea of two kids running away was more believable many decades ago, and that no one should even dream of this today, I had to skip an entire paragraph in the middle (p. 75). It talked about a candy bar being poisoned with marijuana, and drug dealers using this tactic to create dope addicts (Commonsensemedia.org). Luckily, I am a quick reader and saw some verbiage ahead of time, so that I nixed that section. I did not remember that being in the book at all! It isn’t all that terrible a thing to be in the text, but I felt out of place explaining to my 8 and 9-year-olds what dope addict and marijuana were.
Although I believe that knowledge and understanding are classy, so is innocence. Naïveté should be chipped away, lest you break the spirit altogether. This new family of blogs aims at providing readers with the tools necessary for navigating the Newbery Award winners so that classrooms can make the most out of their reading, while preparing readers for potential problems. Whether you are a teacher or parent, it would behoove you to know about concepts that minds could be too young to absorb.
I hope that you will find this blog inspiring and helpful, not to mention classy;)
“The John Newbery Medal”, American Library Association, November 30, 1999. http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/aboutnewbery/aboutnewbery (Accessed June 28, 2018)